Dublin City University
Brexit has dominated news coverage in Ireland, the EU country most likely to be affected by the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. At the same time the government continues to examine the role of platforms in disseminating misinformation and over political advertising – something which came into focus during a hotly contested vote on abortion laws.
Ireland went to the polls twice in 2018, first with a referendum on abortion in May and then a presidential election. The referendum was preceded by a ‘citizen assembly’ which debated the issue and ensured factual information was available for voters. Nonetheless, issues arose particularly concerning political advertising on Facebook. A voluntary group, the Transparent Referendum Initiative, used open-source software supplied by Who Targets Me to analyse messages which were being promoted to voters. It discovered that some adverts from outside Ireland were appearing in people’s news feeds. Partly as a result of this, both Facebook and Google – whose European HQs are based in Dublin – announced moves to put a halt to political advertising during the course of the campaign. The election of Ireland’s president was more contentious than usual – the role is largely ceremonial – as a result of populist coverage of remarks about an ethnic minority made by one of the candidates.
Between Brexit and the two polls, it is unsurprising to see 76% of Irish people expressing an interest in political news. More broadly, the digital news environment saw a slight shift with the development of some online partisan alternative media initiatives, mirroring developments in other countries, raising critical questions about mainstream news providers. Media Literacy Ireland’s ‘Be Media Smart’ campaign, supported by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), has been providing educational resources on how to evaluate news sources.
There have been shifts in media regulation, which could ease the pressure on the press. Some titles were engaged in defamation cases, often settled out of court. One of Ireland’s largest media owners, Denis O’Brien, tried to sue the Sunday Business Post for defamation but was unsuccessful. Recently, the High Court reduced what had been the most substantial payout under the Defamation Act from €10m to €250,000, strengthening the case for reform.
NewsBrands Ireland launched a campaign ‘#journalismmatters’ – a five-point plan to support independent journalism which called for the reform of defamation, the introduction of a media minister in the government, and provision of more training. It also successfully lobbied the government to reduce VAT on printed newspapers which took effect in January 2019.
Journal Media created a new investigative platform, Noteworthy, supported by the Google Digital News Initiative fund, allowing the public to suggest topics for journalistic investigation. These topics are then assessed and opened up for crowdfunding.
Media plurality in Ireland reduced somewhat over the past year with the acquisition of the Landmark Media group by the Irish Times. The deal ended the ownership of the Irish Examiner by the Crosbie family whose custodianship began in 1872. Nonetheless, the latest BAI Report on media ownership and control concluded that there has not been a significant change in plurality due to changes in control in the 2015–17 period.
The public service broadcaster RTÉ continues to struggle to make sustainable revenues, raising concerns over the future of its channels and signalling a need for further reform. The government allocated an additional €8.6m of funding. The BAI also recommended an increase in PSB funding of €30m for RTÉ and €8m for TG4. RTÉ faces challenges in appealing to younger audiences and relaunched its streaming app to help this.
TV3 became Virgin Media in August 2018, a deal which had been agreed the previous year. Virgin Media Ireland, which also owns mobile and broadband services alongside its subscription and free TV channels, says profits rose by 7% in 2018.1
There were several redundancies in newspapers. The DMG Group which owns the Irish Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday announced it2 was seeking 35 voluntary redundancies, which comprised about 20% of its Irish total. News Corp UK & Ireland is shutting the local print edition of The Times and making staff redundant.
Independent News & Media is set to change hands after its Irish billionaire shareholders accepted an offer from Belgium’s Mediahuis to buy the business for €145.6m. Denis O’Brien – who is one of Ireland’s richest men – was the biggest single shareholder in INM, which publishes the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent as well as a popular online version. The titles had already announced they were seeking 30 redundancies after a 15.4% fall in pre-tax profits in 2018. INM had signalled plans to had signalled plans to introduce a subscription model in 2020.3
The prevalence of digital news use has not fluctuated much over five years, holding at an average of 84%. However, the use of TV news has continued to decline by almost 10 percentage points over four years to 67%. In line with international trends, the use of smartphones continued to increase, over the past five years rising to 64% from 52%, while the use of computers and laptops continues to fall.
Trust levels are relatively high by international standards with the highest trust among RTÉ consumers. However, continued discussion about the quality of news media and regulation of online political advertising has been an ongoing debate in Ireland which may have contributed to an overall decline of trust in news to just 48%.
- www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/revenues-at-virgin-media-ireland-rose-7-in-2018-1.3809619 ↩
- www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/daily-mail-to-cut-more-than-20-of-its-irish-staff-1.3811222 ↩
- www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/independent-news-media-eyes-digital-subscriptions-as-profits-fall-15-4-1.3842795 ↩