Dublin City University
Brexit and its fallout have dominated news coverage with the Irish media expressing strong opposition to Brexit. Concern about the influence of ‘fake news’ has continued, and moves to clarify internet users’ rights over their data are expected.
Irish media were largely in a state of consolidation in 2017. In recent years, the Irish broadcasting market has undergone a number of changes, and some of these issues are still being worked through. Losses continued at the public sector broadcaster RTE, where director general Dee Forbes has said the broadcaster again expects to make a loss in the current year and described the organisation’s successive deficits as ‘unsustainable’. As elsewhere, a lack of gender equality in the media industry generated significant comment and controversy, with calls for more proactive measures to increase gender balance in broadcasting. RTE TV news maintains its dominant position as the most consumed offline news brand in Ireland, while digital-born site thejournal.ie continues to stay just ahead of RTE Online.
TV3, the second-biggest Irish TV network, which was bought by Virgin Media for €80m in July 2015, had been in the final stages of preparing a rebrand of its three channels to reflect the name of its parent company. This was put on hold in early 2018 with the company saying it had other priorities. The channel is claiming a 23% increase in viewership,1 buoyed by sports rights and entertainment formats.
There were no closures in the newspaper sector and indeed the UK-based The Times (Ireland) launched a daily print edition. The Irish Times agreed a deal to acquire all the publishing and media interests of Landmark Media Group, the Cork-based company that owns the Irish Examiner, the daily Evening Echo, and seven regional titles.
A deal for Independent News and Media (INM), which publishes several national and local titles, to buy regional group Celtic Media fell through in June 2017. It had been opposed by the journalist union (NUJ) on the grounds that it would weaken media diversity. Ireland fell from 9th to 14th place in the annual Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders; the non-profit cited concentration of media ownership as a major threat to press freedom in Ireland.
There were also substantial changes to the boardroom at INM with the departure of both the chairman and chief executive. The former Telegraph Media Group executive, Murdoch MacLennan, became chairman in March 2018. In addition, the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement is seeking to appoint a High Court inspector following whistleblowing at the company from the former chief executive. The Data Protection Commissioner is also considering an investigation into allegations that a data breach at the company had allowed outside companies to have access to confidential information about some journalists.
All print titles suffered declines in circulation. The Irish Times combined print and digital sales were down 2% year-on-year, though the audited digital edition was up 29%, as more people switched from print to digital. The Irish Independent had a combined print and digital edition circulation of 92,903, down 6% year-on-year. The Irish Examiner had a print circulation of 27,589 in the second half of 2017, down 8%. The Times, which launched an Ireland edition in print form in June, recorded an average monthly circulation of 10,111 from July to December. The Irish Daily Mail suffered the largest decline among the larger papers — over 11%.
More broadly, the central debates about digital media in Ireland concern the circulation of ‘fake news’, particularly in relation to the UK’s Brexit referendum, the US presidential election, and concerns about the May 2018 referendum on abortion.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner is to issue guidance to users in terms of how they can trace why they are receiving particular advertisements and stories on social media, how they can mute or turn off receiving ads from those sources, and how they can amend their preferences to control the types of ads they are served. Meanwhile the High Court in Ireland has decided to make a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union in proceedings between the Data Protection Commissioner, Facebook Ireland Limited, and data privacy activist Maximillian Schrems, concerning the validity of allowing Facebook to transfer personal data from the EU to the US.
The smartphone has overtaken the computer/laptop in terms of news access for the first time. Reach for both television news and print has fallen steadily in the last few years, with the percentage reading newspapers and news magazines in the past week now at just 37%.
Trust in media in general has now returned to ‘normal’ levels following a dip last year possibly related to a ‘fake news’ debate which featured heavily during and after the US presidential election. Low levels of trust in search and even lower levels on social point to the possibility that audiences are beginning to engage with the results of algorithmic ranking of news by the platforms.