Irish government must address Iconic newspapers’ behaviour

The NUJ has strongly criticised the behaviour of Iconic newspapers, one of Ireland’s largest newspaper groups, and calls for a more robust attitude to media ownership by the department of communications.
The union is demanding that further media acquisations by FormPress Publishing Limited/Iconic Newspapers Limited, owned by UK businessman Malcolm Denmark, should be subject to intense scrutiny.
The company has laid off dozens of journalists, made a number of editorial staff compulsory redundant, temporarily shut two newspapers and maintained a significantly reduced staff to work on the remaining titles and websites.
Despite NUJ opposition, the company decided to lay off dozens of editorial staff rather than apply for the government’s coronavirus temporary wage subsidy scheme on their behalf. However, the NUJ understands that the company applied for the scheme for those who remained working. This followed written assurances by Denmark to staff that the company was in a stronger financial position than most to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
FormPress have also imposed compulsory redundancies and these appear to have been inflicted on journalists who have less than two years’ service each – meaning the company avoids paying statutory redundancy terms and instead is only required to pay for the notice period, outstanding wages and any annual leave owed.
Ian McGuinness, NUJ Irish organiser, said: “It is abundantly clear that FormPress is financially healthy and while, like all companies, it will have suffered a financial shock due to the coronavirus crisis, it has decided to act in the most cynical manner to inflict misery on our members during this crisis, during which we have all seen how quality journalism is needed now more than ever.
“FormPress has exploited the crisis; using it as an opportunity to get rid of some employees permanently and cheaply. It has also moved to temporarily slash its wage bill by forcing lay-offs of some editorial staff, refusing to apply for the wage subsidy scheme for those employees. This has left those individuals with no choice but to claim social welfare in the form of the coronavirus pandemic unemployment payment, so the Irish state will now have to solely pick up that bill.”
Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, added: “The NUJ has previously called into question the commitment of the company to media diversity and editorial independence. Despite our serious concerns, the minister for communications merely waved through its previous acquisitions as a matter of formality.
“Now FormPress are attempting to lead a race to the bottom in terms of standards, and whoever the next minister of communications might be, they must take a more robust and inquisitorial approach to FormPress, as the biggest company in the local newspaper market.
“The ownership of such a large number of media titles by Malcolm Denmark and FormPress is a threat to decent work, media diversity and a healthy democracy in Ireland.

“The NUJ’s concerns regarding the business approach of Denmark has been shown to be fully justified. All parties engaged in government formation talks in Ireland need to prioritise the development of a strategic approach to media ownership. In many ways the threats posed by this group are a consequence of the failure of successive governments to take this issue seriously.”