Media must be supported in the public interest

The Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists has warned that many journalists in Ireland are fearful for their livelihood as a result of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.  Séamus Dooley said that at a time when the public is dependent upon professional journalists for reliable, verifiable, independent news and information the media industry is in turmoil and must be supported. He called on the government to examine “imaginative means” of supporting vulnerable sectors of the industry.

In a statement following a meeting of the union’s Development Committee today, Séamus Dooley said:

“Across Ireland and the UK professional journalists are providing information across all platforms. The NUJ has long championed the concept of public service broadcasting and its value has been evident in these  grim days.

We have consistently called for a Commission on the Future of the Media in Ireland to examine how the State can assist news organisations to survive and flourish and it is extremely regrettable that these calls have gone unheeded. Regional and national media, newspapers and broadcasters, play a vital role in serving the community. Their importance in this unique crisis is underlined by the damage caused by the abuse of other platforms by keyboard warriors and conspiracy theorists posing as experts.

RTÉ, as the national public service broadcaster, has shown that the organisation can meet the challenge of a national emergency and has done so across all platforms.

Public interest journalism is vital in times of crisis yet many journalists are deeply apprehensive about their future as a result of the decline in advertising revenue, barriers to circulation and the precarious financial position of many companies.

While media organisations may be tempted to introduce layoffs or redundancies we believe that in the current emergency newsrooms must be fully staffed. The time when readers and listeners require a service is not the time to reduce resources.

This is an especially difficult time for all freelance workers. Freelance journalists and photographers are in an especially precarious position and the NUJ will do everything to assist these members.

We call on publishers and broadcasters to avail of all the supports available in order to ensure continuity of production.  The government should explore imaginative means of supporting media organisations under financial pressure as a result of the virtual collapse in income.”

The joint chairs of the NUJ’s Irish Executive Council Siobhan Holliman and Dara Bradley have called on the public to support journalism by buying newspapers, in their shops or on line.

Siobhan Holliman, who is also NUJ nominee to the Press Council of Ireland said: “Our members are working flat out in challenging circumstances. If journalism is to survive we need the public to buy newspapers. It’s not enough to “like” a headline on Facebook or retweet a picture on Twitter.”

Dara Bradley stressed the role of the media, especially regional newspapers and regional stations, in promoting a sense of community and social cohesion.

He said:  “The link between the public and the media is best illustrated by local newspapers and radio.  In this time of crisis people rely on us for information. We are the community notice board, the sound post and the mirror which reflects community life and our industry cannot be allow to sink under the weight of this crisis.”

Meanwhile Séamus Dooley has supported the call by Newsbrands for the key role of the media to be formally recognised by the Irish government.

He said: “The NUJ believes that media organisations should be granted “essential service status” in the event of further movement restrictions, including keeping publishers, retailers and wholesalers operating and able to deliver newspapers. The free movement of journalists should be facilitated to allow NUJ members to fulfill their role in the public interest. Our members are aware of their responsibilities to carry out their duties in a responsible manner.

It is vital that existing newspaper retailers continue to stock newspapers at current level and that the supply chain to printing plants and for the supply to retailers and home delivery customers is not impeded.

I would also like to see the major supermarket chains, including the larger European chains, stock local papers.”