Irish Media Regulation.
Posted by Gerard Hannan
In any discussion of media regulation it is necessary to consider three major factors, global influences, national influences and local influences. Ireland, proclaiming itself as a democratic and less authoritarian society than others, asserts to offer considerable constitutional freedom to media. This is untrue. This article, by looking at the depth of global, national and local influences on the primary organs of media; audio, visual and print, demonstrates that these ‘freedoms’ are illusive and misleading and creating the fallacy that media can be controlled at any level. The reality is the exact opposite. In fact, with the advent of technology and the expansion of capitalism (consumerism) we, as consumers and text receivers, are at the end of a long line of global, national and local regulators who dictate what we hear, see, read or think on any given matter at any given moment. This article concludes that Ireland has adapted international philosophies, ideologies and practises in the creation of numerous media regulatory bodies and has inadvertently altered the dynamics of Irish media regulation.
Broadcast Media in Ireland is regulated in comparable fashion to any other developed country. Ireland has freedom of the press enshrined in its constitution, “…the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.” In the broadcasting sector this right is defended by The Broadcasting Act (2009) which outlines amongst its primary functions, “to revise the law relating to broadcasting services and content…” There are three main ‘guardians’ of these rights in Ireland and these are; the Department of Communications which decrees, “To facilitate the provision of quality broadcasting” .
Secondly, the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) which states as it’s clear objective, “to ensure that broadcasting services best serve the needs of the people” and further states, “that democratic values enshrined in the constitution especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression are upheld…” Finally, the government agency of considerable impact on Irish broadcasting and communications is COMREG which monitors and controls the distribution of licenses, “Comreg issues licenses in accordance with this Act (Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926) and the 1988 Broadcasting & Wireless Telegraphy Act.”
It is a common illusion that organisations that produce media have a free hand to say and do as they choose. They are not only controlled by the law, state bodies and other institutions but also by a number of other significant factors. Regulation can be loosely defined as control over impact. As each new media emerges so does demands for its regulation. Government influence over the broadcast media in Ireland is fundamentally exercised by legislation and the allotting or termination of licences. Media regulation is necessary but media control is not. The ultimate consumption of texts is contaminated by global laws and rules influencing the end product or text before it arrives to the local marketplace.
In the Irish print media industry (we are concerned primarily with newspapers, magazines, journals and documents for general public consumption) there are a number of significant regulatory bodies demonstrating government and ‘self’ regulation. The primary media regulator is the law itself. As with any civilised country the Media and the Law in Ireland have always been, and perhaps will always be, at loggerheads in debate as to what is permissible and what constitutes defamation and libel. In 1991 the Irish Government appointed the ‘Law Reform Commission’ which recommended draconian changes in Irelands libel laws. A new defamation law came into affect on January 1st, 2010 but Politicians remain concerned about ‘tabloidisation’, and lowering of press standards, within the Irish media and propose a “privacy act” which is still in the legislative process.
There is little doubt that if the government goes ahead and introduces a privacy act, it would be challenged, probably to the European Court of Human Rights.” The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) with its stringent ‘code of ethics’ which includes a ‘conscience clause’ stating, “Journalists have a right to refuse work that would break the letter or spirit of the code.” In effect this means that a journalist can decide to regulate what he/she reports on without fear of retribution. The power of the NUJ as a regulatory body should not be underestimated. In the recent past it spearheaded a campaign with other activists called ‘Let In The Light’, and forced the Irish Government to introduce a Freedom of Information Act in 1997, “At the time it was considered a major contribution to accountability and openness and was praised internationally by free-speech advocacy groups.”
However, in 2003 the Government amended the Act by limiting what the government was required to disclose. This was seen by journalists as a major attack on press freedom. The third most important regulatory body is based on British and Swedish models. The Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman which was set up in 2009 with the dual role of preventing ‘media abuse’ and ‘abuse of media’ expressed as; “to safeguard and promote professional and ethical standards in Irish newspapers and magazines.” This organisation ensures that the freedom of the press is never abused, and that the public interest is always served; “we have now come to the stage where we should consider the need to protect people against the power of the press.” Such principles of press regulation are globally inspired. Here we see three clear examples of global regulation on local (national) media.
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About Gerard HannanMedia Student at MIC/UL in Limerick, Ireland. Worked as a Broadcaster/Journalist in Limerick for over 25 Years and has also published four local interest books.
Posted on March 29, 2012, in Media and tagged Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, European Court of Human Rights, Government of Ireland, Ireland History, Irish, Irish Government, National Union of Journalists, Wireless Telegraphy Act. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.