THE NATIONAL Union of Journalists has called on the Government to set up a Commission on the future of the media in Ireland. NUJ Vice President Barry McCall made the call at an NUJ meeting in Tullamore, Co Offaly following the closure of the Offaly Express newspaper by Johnston Press.
Addressing NUJ members in the aftermath of a community gathering in solidarity with Offaly Express staff Mr McCall said that Johnston Press had been allowed to scoop up titles across the island of Ireland with no regard for the consequences.
The Competition Authority, Mr McCall said, “had ignored the implication for loss of media diversity within the regional press sector and had stood by while long-established newspapers with proud histories were acquired by speculators with little appreciation for heritage or community. In a changing media environment the government must expedite plans for the transfer of media competition policy to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources but there is a need for a wider review of media policy. This could best be achieved through a Commission on the future of the media, which would look at all the challenges across all platforms.”
Mr McCall said: “We have seen the consequences of buccaneers arriving on the Irish media scene and acquiring established newspapers at inflated prices, funded by banks who displayed equal disregard for commercial realities. It is workers, in the first instance, who have been forced to pick up the tab for the commercial failures across the national and regional newspaper sectors. Local communities have also suffered with the demise of local newspapers.”
In relation to Johnston Press Mr McCall said: “There is a deep irony that the company’s 2011 annual report featured a logo declaring ‘At the hub of local communities’. The Offaly Express was certainly at the hub of the local community and today we salute the editorial and commercial staff who served the newspaper and the people of Offaly with enthusiasm, diligence and total commitment since 1984.”
Irish Executive Council Cathaoirleach Gerry Curran also paid tribute to the staff: “The Offaly Express personified all that is good in a local newspaper – a strong sense of community, a commitment to editorial excellence and an active engagement with readers.
It is regrettable that Johnston Press has decided to cease publishing a newspaper which clearly was held in such high regard and affection.”
Irish Organiser Nicola Coleman, who has responsibility for the regional press sector, told NUJ members that the union is committed to seeking to protect regional newspapers and employment within the sector “against great odds”.
Ms Coleman said: “Under the weight of a debt burden and a decline in advertising revenue regional newspaper owners face enormous challenges but the answer does not lie in undermining the values which characterise successful local newspapers – local staff led by a locally based management team who know and understand their own community.”
Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley, himself a native of Co Offaly, thanked the local community for their support. The Friends of the Offaly Express on Facebook and an on-line petition had been widely supported while the staff had received many messages of goodwill.
“As we gather in Tullamore we lament the passing of the Offaly Express but we do so in a spirit of celebration because the current staff and their predecessors have much to celebrate. We wish all of them well in the future and we salute the spirit in which they have produced the final souvenir edition.”