Media Landscapes

Ireland

Written by Michael Foley

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The Republic of Ireland is situated on the western fringes of Europe. It is militarily neutral but a member of the EU and is in the Eurozone. Six of the 32 counties are within the United Kingdom, which has a devolved government and has a different media legal and regulatory environment to the Republic of Ireland. The population of the Republic of Ireland is estimated to be 4,203,200. Even with a rise in the number of foreign national settling in Ireland over the past 10 to 15 years, 87.4 percent of the population are classified within the census as white Irish. 7.5 percent of the population are white European, mainly from other EU countries. There are also relatively small numbers from Asian and African countries.

The official language is Irish, or Gaeilge, which is spoken as an everyday language by the people who live in a small number of communities along the west coast. However, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the language and there has been a growth in the number of schools that teach through Irish. However the main spoken language is, by far, English, which is also the language of most of the media. Irish language media has tended to be government supported as part of its policy to support the language.

Ireland has a relative underdeveloped economy since southern Ireland gained independence in 1922, a fact that was underlined by high emigration, unemployment and other factors common to struggling economies. Since the mid 1990s, however, that changed dramatically with the emergence of what came to be known as the Celtic Tiger, and Ireland experienced one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Growth, measured in GDP, averaged six percent between 1995 and 2007.

In a single decade unemployment fell to about four percent, which is more or less full employment. Factors that fuelled the economic boom were low corporation taxes, greater access to third level education, and social partnerships between governments and trade unions. Low taxes and a light regulatory regime attracted foreign investment, mainly from the US, and consequently by 1997, nearly half of all manufacturing jobs were in foreign-owned companies, illustrating the importance of a growth-orientated approach, helped by EU funding. However, a huge reliance on a property bubble- property prices rose more rapidly in Ireland between 1996 and 2006 than in any other developed country- meant new houses mushroomed right across the Irish landscape.

The property boom meant the Irish economy and the banking system was especially vulnerable when a downturn came, which happened with the banking crisis of 2007. Just as in Iceland, the boom came crashing down as it became clear the economic growth had been fuelled in recent years by huge loans given for property development or for buying property.

In 2008 the Government gave guarantees in order to recapitalize the banks, nationalized one bank, and in 2009 brought in the toughest budget in the history of the state, with huge reductions in public servants’ pay, a pensions levy, cuts in social welfare payments, and cuts in other tax funded area. A growth in unemployment has led to a severe reduction in the government’s tax take. There has been a halt in building and a severe reduction in consumer spending. It has also established the National Asset Management Agency, a ‘bad bank’ that will take over the bad debts incurred by the banks lending policies during the period of the property boom.

All these developments, both the boom and the subsequent downturn, have had a profound impact on the media environment with implications for ownership, employment as well as media diversity.

Ireland has traditionally had a strong and highly competative print media. It is divided into daily national newspapers and a strong regional sector of weekly newspapers. The national newspaper market is further divided into distinct daily and Sunday markets. Northern Ireland has its own newspapers. There are few sales of Belfast newspapers in the South and similarly with south newspapers sales in Northern Ireland, with a few exceptions, are insignificant.

There is little tradition of subscribing to newspapers and there is increasing evidence of readers willing to change newspapers depending on the front page. The strong link between newspapers and ones political affiliation, which was a strong feature of the Irish newspaper market broke down during the 1980s and 1990s, and saw its death knell in the demise of the Irish Press Group in 1995. The three newspapers in the group had been established by one of the founders of the State, Eamon DeValera, in 1931and for many years was read by those who held a traditional nationalist view and supported DeValera’s Fianna Fail party. Due to a number of factors and after many attempted to save the group, including going tabloid, which drove away its aging traditional readers without attracting new younger readers, the newspapers finally collapsed.

A unique feature of the Irish print media scene is the strength of the British press in Ireland. It is obviously a factor of both the geographic, cultural and linguistic closeness of the two countries combined with a degree of post colonialism, but it is still a unique phenomenon. Since the mid 1990s newspapers published in London had targeted the Irish market, using Irish editions- often little more than then the word ‘Irish’ appearing on the mast head and two to four Irish pages wrapped round British content. British newspapers have always been available in Ireland and read, often for sports coverage of British soccer and horse racing, but as the Irish economy grew it became an increasing attractive proposition to specifically target Ireland in order to gain advertising revenue. Rough circulation figure comparisons suggest about one quarter of all daily newspaper sales are for newspapers published in London and one third of Sunday purchases.

The sales of Ireland’s national newspapers, including those British published newspapers that offer Irish editions are about, Irish Independent, 152,204; Irish Examiner, 50,346; The Irish Times, 114,488; Irish Daily Star, 102,884; Irish Daily Mirror, 64194; The Irish Sun, 96,725; Irish Daily Mail, 52,144; Evening Herald, 71,187. The total sales of daily national newspapers stands at 704,172

The sales for Sunday Titles are: Sunday Independent, 272,174; Sunday World, 277,504; The Sunday Business Post , 57,783; The Sunday Tribune, 65,727; Irish Daily Star Sunday, 59,691, Irish News of the World, 134,461; Irish Sunday Mirror, 40,224; The Sunday Times, 116,541; Irish Mail on Sunday, 122,991. Total Sunday Titles Circulation: 1147096. These figures are for the six months, January to June, 2009.

However, like newspaper sales throughout most of the western world circulations are on a downward trend, a trend that appeared to quicken towards the end of last year. Sales for the second half of  2009 shows:

  •  The Irish Times: down 7.4 percent
  •  Irish Independent: down 3 percent
  •  Evening Herald: down 7.4 percent
  •  The Irish Examiner: down 6.6 percent
  •  The Irish Daily Star: down by 6.9 percent

Sunday newspapers also suffered. The Sunday Business Post's circulation was down 4.9 per cent over the last six months, the Sunday Independent was down by 0.8 per cent, the Sunday Tribune was down 9.5 per cent and the Sunday World was down 5.2 percent.

British newspapers that publish Irish editions were not uniformly affected by the trend, with some showing small increases.

The Irish Times is the oldest national newspaper, founded in 1859 as a ‘unionist’ newspaper, that is one that supported the union of Britain and Ireland. However, since the middle of the last century it has developed into a liberal newspaper, which would see itself as in the same newspaper tradition as the Guardian of London, Le Monde or Liberation of Paris, or El Pais of Madrid. It has strong European and world coverage. It is owned by a non-profit making trust since the early 1970s. It was a pioneer in online newspaper presence. It hit financial crisis about seven years ago and was forced to cut down on the numbers employed, which impacted on its world coverage and it reduced the number of correspondents it maintained overseas as well as the number of journalists employed in its Dublin newsroom. It still has resident staff correspondents in London, Brussels, Washington, Paris as well as contract journalists in Berlin, Eastern Europe and other areas of the world.

It has diversified over the past ten years, investing in an expensive online property site, called MyHome.ie,  a small investment in radio, as well as a group of Dublin local newspapers, the Gazette Group and a women’s magazine, The Gloss. The Gazette Group has had to make severe cuts in recent times and the Gloss now only appears as an insert in the Irish Times.

The Irish Independent is the mainstay of the global media company, Independent News and Media (INM) and was founded out of the merging of a number of newspapers that reflected political change at the end of the 19th century. It has traditionally been a mid market, conservative newspaper, loyal to the Catholic Church and the more conservative of the two political parties that emerged out of the struggles for national independence and the civil war in the first years of the Irish state in the 1920s. Today it is a mid-market paper that remains conservative, but is less loyal to traditional sources of authority in Ireland, which, of course, have also lost their authority. Its Sunday version has developed into a mix of fierce polemic combined with gossip-led celebrity journalism. The group has interests in Australia, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It is also the largest newspaper group in Northern Ireland.

Since 1973 Independent Newspapers, later INM, has been controlled by Dr Tony O’Reilly, a businessman and former chairman of Heinz Corporation. However, in 2009 Dr O’Reilly (79) stepped down as chief executive in favour of his son, Gavin. He did so in the middle of a battle for control of the company led by businessman, Dennis O’Brien, who also controls substantial radio interests in Ireland and abroad. Mr O’Brien has managed to gain 25 percent of INM and has very publicly fought with O’Reilly over differences concerning the direction of the company and issues of corporate governance. In March of 2009 the board was restructured and O’Brien gained three nominees on the board of INM. The boardroom battles for control of the company, worth about €1.5 billion world wide, were a mystery for most Irish people and times it seemed more personal than related to business. The story has moved from the business pages of the newspapers and has taken on some aspects of a soap opera. One of O’Brien’s demands was that the group sells off the loss making London Independent and Independent on Sunday, which have never made money since INM purchased the two titles in 1995. However, talks are taking place with the Russian tycoon and former KGB agent, Alexander Lebedev, the owner of the London Evening Standard and the Russian liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

The Irish Examiner emerged out of the Cork Examiner, founded 1841, the Republic’s only regional daily newspaper, serving mainly county Cork and surrounding areas. The group Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH), owns 17 newspapers, including the Examiner and three radio stations. The group’s newspaper holdings are mainly regional newspapers with the exception of the country’s main business paper, the Sunday Business Post. The Examiner has been in the hands of the Crosbie family since 1872. In 1996 the newspaper’s name was change to The Examiner and in 2000 to the Irish Examiner.

Until the 1970s Irish newspapers were essentially serious, seeing their role as involved in nation building, a role common in newly independent states. Some attempts at lighter formats, such as the Sunday Review, an early tabloid owned by The Irish Times, which was published between 1957 and 1963, failed to find an audience. In 1972 the Sunday World was established. It was a traditional tabloid in the British model, with its red masthead and cheeky style. It specializes in crime and showbiz coverage. A number of other newspapers have adopted a tabloid format. The Evening Herald, owned by INM is a tabloid format and the Irish Independent comes in both broadsheet and tabloid versions, but is not a tabloid in the traditional sense.

The Irish Star is a daily tabloid owned by INM and Express Newspapers in the UK. It does carry some content found in its British version, but the Irish version has evolved into a different newspaper and is clearly an Irish tabloid, rather than simply an Irish edition. It is offers a mix of campaigning journalism, with much sport, showbiz and celebrity journalism.

The other tabloid daily newspapers are the Irish Sun and the Irish Daily Mirror. Both are Irish editions of British newspapers and in Britain both are highly successful. The Sun, for instance, is Britain’s most popular newspaper that specializes in irreverent stories and headlines. However, what is interesting is that the very consciously Irish tabloid, the Irish Daily Star outsells both and with a higher cover price.

Regional Newspapers

It is possible to count over 100 local and regional weekly newspapers in Ireland, but probably about 60 with significant circulations and impact within their local areas. Until the 1990s most were family owned and had long histories, often going back to the 19th century. However, as the Irish economy experienced growth, regional newspapers, many operating as monopolies in their circulation area, were seen as attractive and profitable investments and were bought by major media groups. Today most regional weekly newspapers are owned media groups, as the following shows:

Independent News and Media now owns: the Kerryman;  The Corkman; the  Bray People;  The Wicklow People; The Carlow People; The Wexford People;  The Dungarvan People; The Enniscorthy Guardian; The Gorey Guardian; The New Ross Standard; The Fingal Independent; The Drogheda Independent; The Argus; The Sligo Champion;  Ireland’s Own;  The Belfast Telegraph and  The Sunday Life in Northern Ireland.

The company also owns two newspaper wholesale and distribution companies, Newspread  and in Northern Ireland, Wholesale Newspaper Service Ltd, as well as the the Irish Independent; the Sunday Independent and the Evening Herald titles. The company also has a half share in the country’s biggest selling tabloid, the Irish Daily Star, a controlling share in the Sunday broadsheet, the Sunday Tribune and the Sunday tabloid, the Sunday World

Thomas Crosbie Holdings, the owner of the Irish Examiner owns The Kildare Nationalist; the Laois Nationalist; the Wexford Echo; the New Ross Echo; the Waterford News and Star; the Roscommon Herald; the Corey Echo;  the Down Democrat; the Western people; the Evening Echo; The Kingdom; the Sligo Weekender’ the Enniscorthy Echo; the Gorey Echo as well as three local radio stations, Red FM and Midwest Radio and WLR FM.

The Alpha Newspaper Group, which owns 12 regional weeklies in Northern Ireland bought a number of newspapers in the south, including the Longford News; the Roscommon Champion; the Midlands Tribune and the Tullamore Tribune.

The Celitc Media Group now owns the Westmeath Examiner; the Anglo Celt;  the Meath Chronicle; the Westmeath Independent and the Offaly Independent.

The Gazette Group of newspapers, a string of weeklies that serve the Dublin suburbs is owned by The Irish Times,

Many analysts maintained the amount of money that changed hands for newspapers in the early years of the economic boom was unrealistic. However, given the health of the advertising market, especially in areas such as property and recruitment, it appeared any amount of money was worth to get in on the economic windfalls. The newspaper sector today is totally unrecognizable to anyone who knew it in the late 1990s, with most family owned titles now owned by media groups. However, many of the same papers that were so eagerly bought up are now on the market again, victims of the advertising downturn.

Radio is and has been hugely popular in Ireland. Listenership surveys show a consistent 85 percent of adults listen to a mix of national, regional and local radio everyday. The most popular programmes have traditionally been news-driven morning programmes, drive-time news programmes in the evening, and magazine and phone-in programmes. Increase in unemployment has hit the drive-time programmes listenership figures since the downturn, but there is still a healthy interest in news-driven, talk radio in Ireland, with news-led programmes constantly coming top in the listenership surveys. While the majority of the commercial radio stations are music driven, there is little doubt that Irish audiences like talk.

RTE operates four national radio channels; Radio 1 with traditional public service radio programming; 2 FM a 24-hour music radio station; Raidio na Gaeltachta with public service radio programming in the Irish language, and Lyric FM, a 24-hour classical music and arts channel. RTE Radio 1 is the most popular single station, though in some areas of the country some local radio stations, in particular, have successfully challenged its supremacy, like Highland Radio in Co Donegal in the north west of the country, which has the highest market penetration in its area in the country.

In early 2006 there were 54 licensed independent ‘sound broadcasting services’ (radio stations) in Ireland. Like print one of the issues with radio has been ownership and there is little doubt radio has been regulated with a light touch.

Communicorp, which is controlled by the businessman, Dennis O’Brien, owns Dublin’s 98 FM, and Spin 103.8; Spin South West, the national music and talk station, Today FM and the national talk radio station, Newstalk. Communicorp did control Independent Network News (INN), which supplied national news to local radio stations, but closed it, with the loss of 16 journalists’ jobs. It was said the reason was the down turn in the advertising market.

Meanwhile the Northern Ireland holder of the British commercial television franchise, UTV, has entered the radio market and now has eight radio stations in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. These include stations in major urban areas, such as Dublin’s Q102, and FM 104Limerick, Live 95 FM, Galway’s Galway Bay FM, Beat, based in the south east and includes Waterford City and Cork City’s Cork 96 FM. It also has the station for the two counties, Meath and Louth, LMFM. In Northern Ireland it operates the radio station, U105, and, of course, the TV channel, UTV.

RTE, the public service provider, operates two national stations, and Irish language station and an arts and classical music station. However, it has also began broadcasting digital radio, with six stations now available on a DAB system.

Ireland’s public service broadcaster Radio Telifis Eireann (RTE) has dominated broadcasting in Ireland since the 1920s and even in a more competitive world continues to do so. It is funded by both a license fee and advertising. RTE operates two national television services: RTE 1, and Network 2. Ireland has a third public service broadcasting channel, the Irish-language Telefis na Gailge (TG4). Apart from the public service broadcaster TG4, indigenous competition to RTE television is the private commercial general television channel TV3.

The year 2006 saw the start up of three additional commercial television channels: a sports channel; a general entertainment channel, Channel 6, which has since been rebranded by its parent company TV3 as 3e; and the Dublin City Channel, a cable television channel. They have been joined by a number of other ‘city’ channels, for Cork, Galway and Waterford. Three community channels have also been licensed. In total the regulator has licensed 14 television services

Even before RTE television was established in 1960 people living on the east coast of Ireland or near the border with Northern Ireland were able to receive British television, especially the BBC. At that time and for many years afterwards, massive aerials that could pick up British television from either Northern Ireland or Wales dominated the skyline of Dublin. For over 40 years, however, British television has been received via cable and more recently satellite. In terms of channel share of viewing in 2005 the 2 RTE channels were the most popular with over 30 percent market share. The other main channels were TV3 (11.5 percent), BBC1 (8.6 percent), UTV (7.2 percent), Channel 4 (5.1 percent), BBC2 (4.3 percent), TG4 (2.7 percent), Sky1 (2.5 percent). The commercial channels seek advertising revenue in the Republic, making the island of Ireland in effect one media market. UTV is unique in that it has more viewers outside its franchise area of Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, than within it. This environment, which now includes many specialist sports, film and other channels offered to viewers to opt for particular satellite or other packages, means RTE operates in a highly competitive media market.

50 percent of RTE’s broadcast material is domestic product, but in the case of the other Irish stations, domestic product content ranges from 27 percent to 45 percent.

The Irish film industre grew from a tiny, rather amateur activity prior to the 1990s to a vibrant and commercially viable industry with significant employment into the 21st century. Its growth can be put down to a supportive government, led by the then Minister for Arts and Culture, Michael D Higgins, tax breaks and the revamping and professionalising of the An Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) as well as organisations such as the Irish Film Institute. Another impetus to the industry was the encouragement of independent production companies and the policy of earmarking some of RTE’s budget for independent programme makers, who might also be involved in film. The EUs audio visual policy and the encouragement of European co productions had a major impact on the industry in Ireland. A report carried out for the Film Board suggested the industry was worth over €550 million and represented 0.3 percent of GDP. Probably more importantly it employed over 6,000 people. The report was carried out in 2008 and due to adverse economic conditions over the past two years, that figure has probably declined in the meantime.

Over the past 20-years Ireland has produced a number of producers and directors giving it an influence disproportionate to its size. Film makers such as Jim Sheridan, Neill Jordon, Conor McPhersn, Martin McDonagh, Damien O’Donnell, Paddy Breathnach, Thaddeus O’Sullivan and Pat Murphy and film actors, such as Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Brenda Fricker, Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea either have or are growing international reputations.

In reality  there are two film industries in Ireland; the indigenous industry and the international productions that keep crews and actors working and brings in investment. Big productions have also brought  immeasurable benefits to Irish tourism and the promotion of Irish culture. The indigenous industry is increasingly seen as central to the creation of a smart digital economy, providing experience to those developing new technologies and giving outlets to writers and other creative workers.

Some of the most successful Irish films include: The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006): Michael Collins (1996): Angela’s Ashes (1999): The Field (1990): the Commitments (1991): Once (2007): Inside I’m Dancing (2004): In Bruges  (2008)

Censorship of  films has been a feature of the Irish film landscape since Irish independence. The long list of banned films  and the cuts that often made films unintelligable were famous. The bans and cuts were usually made in accordante with a strict adherance to Catholic teaching. A liberalisation process of film censorship had begun in the 1960s under the then Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan. The office of the film censor was changed in 2008, to that of the office of film classification in 2008. The change was made by the son of Brian Lenihan, himself also as Justice Minister.

Telecommunications in the Republic of Ireland, are regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). The Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources has overall responsibility for national policy and regulation. All of Ireland's communications infrastructure is now digital but progress in broadband technology has been somewhat slow. ComReg’s role covers all kinds of transmission networks including:

  • Traditional telephone wire
  • Traditional television and radio
  • Radio Communications including fixed wireless
  • MMDS and deflector operators providing TV services
  • Mobile operators providing voice and data services
  • Licensing Framework for Satellite Services in Ireland
  • Postal delivery network

ComReg’s role includes encouraging competition in the communications sector by facilitating those who wish to enter the telecommunications market and by regulating entry to the network and services. Its role is part of the liberalisation of the telecommunications market. In a rapidly evolving sector, both in technological and commercial terms, ComReg provides the framework for the introduction of new services such as 3G.

Deregulation of the marketplace has meant new entrants to the market now account for 32 percent of the market share.

Broadband is now available in Ireland via DSL, Cable, Wireless and Satellite. ComReg the Irish Communications Regulator has claimed  DSL is available to about 88 percent of homes and businesses, however this figure is disputed by many business and other pressure groups claiming it only reflects the number of telephone lines connected to a broadband enabled exchange, not whether those lines are of a high enough quality to receive a DSL connection. There are constant complaints about the actual speeds of the broadband connections available. New ways of viewing online material, such as file sharing and video streaming that requires constant speeds, rather than sporadic speeds, as is needed when looking at individual speeds, has exacerbated the problem.

In 2008 the Minister for Communications, Eamonn Ryan, has announced new planned investment in broadband infrastructure, which may see every household in Ireland capable of receiving broadband speeds of 100mb by 2012. .Five percent of lines connected to broadband-enabled exchanges cannot avail of DSL, due to distance and other issues. Business interests complain that companies are falling behind in the area of online commercial activity because of lack of broadband and adequate speeds.

There are four mobile telecommunications providers - 3 Ireland, O2 Ireland, Meteor and Vodafone Ireland.

The two most popular online services are provided by traditional media outlets, RTE- the public service TV and radio provider- and The Irish Times, the main quality newspaper. The Audit Burean of Circulation, which gives circulation figures for newspapers has also started proving a similar service for online services indicates that Rte.ie has recorded 2.93 unique users per month, while irishtimes.ie has 2.3 million. Independent Digital, which includes a number of news sites and classified advertising sites also recorded 2.3 million users, but the number of visitors to its news site, independent.ie was 1.8 million. Despite such credible numbers most sites run by traditional media are still struggling to make their online services viable, as advertising and other revenue is still small and in most cases hardly covers the operational costs. The Irish Times did charge for its online content for a number of years, but decided to return to the traditional free model, when it saw its users go elsewhere.

A range of online competitors to traditional media has emerged.  Many of these sites are generating significant traffic and operate with minimal resources and not all could be considered to be commercial ventures. They tend to be niche players, for example Politics.ie for political news and views, Beaut.ie for fashion and beauty, AskaAboutMoney.com for personal finance etc.

Traditional advertising models are under threat and newspapers have lost much of their classified advertising businesses. Sites like Daft.ie are now dominant in property, while sites like CarZone.ie are dominating motoring classified.  The Irish Times and The Irish Independent have had very mixed fortunes with websites they have acquired.  The Irish Times bought MyHome.ie, a major property sales site at the top of the market, but it has since lost out to other sites, such as Daft.ie, with no traditional media connections.  Search engine marketing -- mainly Google AdWords -- is also sucking revenues away from newspapers, in particular.  In 2010, online will be the third largest advertising category in Ireland, behind press and TV and is expected to grow by 9 percent this year when the overall market is expected to decline by 7 percent (source: Billetts)

The cost base for traditional media's online offerings is generally far higher than for online-only ventures, but traditional media might feel somewhat aggrieved as it is they who are covering news and current affairs that becomes the basis of the content of many online sites. However, there are indications that new news and current affairs sites are being planned that might generate original content.

RTE now has a number of dedicated digital radio services and its FM services are also available in digital format. However, commercial radio has been slow to go digital.

Ireland had no national news agency. There was a government  funded agency which operated between 1949 and 1957. There are a number of private news agencies mainly operating within the court system, offering media outlets pictures and stories from the Courts of Law. Many Irish newspapers subscribe to international news agencies, such as Reuters, the Press Association, AFP, or take services offered by newspapers overseas.

The National Union of Journalists, which operates in both Britain and Ireland organises  journalists in print, broadcasting and online, including photographers and production workers. It also has in membership many public relations practitioners and information officers, as well as civil servants who are working in communications, such as those who work for the Government Information Service (GIS). The NUJ is by far the most significant media trade union, with nearly 90 percent of all journalists as members. Its press card is the only one recognized by the Irish police and defence forces and other agencies. It also comments on issues relating to press freedom, legal issues relating to the media and campaigns for media reform. The NUJ, though linked to the union in Britain, has its own executive and structures and publishes its own small magazine in Ireland. It is affiliated to the Brussels based, International Federation of Journalists.

Film workers, broadcasting production workers and other media workers who are not in the NUJ tend to be members of the largest general workers union, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, which has special sections for media workers. In has also incorporated the actors union, Irish Actors Equity.

Union influence had reduced in recent years. A number of new employers have refused to recognise union for bargaining purposes. These include the commercial television service, TV3 as well as a number of radio stations. News Corporation, which has been traditionally hostile to trade unions, does not recognise union in Ireland, similar to other countries where the company operates. Irish owned media tends to recognise union and have agreements with them. Despite a new refusal to recognise union, the majority of journalists still retain NUJ membership.

There are well over 100 production companies involved in film, programme making and animation. Many are also involved in making advertising and other media work. Independent production was given a major boost in 1996 with the established of TG4, the Irish language television channel, which operates as a publisher-broadcaster and has no production facilities itself and so relies on outside production companies.

As well as producing programmes for RTE and other broadcasting companies, independent production companies also apply to the Sound and Vision fund to make programmes, both radio and television, reflecting Irish culture and heritage. This scheme is funded from five percent of the television licence fee under the Broadcasting (Funding Act) 2003.

It is hard to discern a national media policy in Ireland. It took nearly 20 years to reform libel law and government has yet to deal effectively with issues of media ownership. What has characterized the relationship between government and the media is a deep suspicion, especially of RTE. The new broadcasting legislation, which reduces the powers of the RTE Authority in favour of an authority for all broadcasting has been described by a number of observers as detrimental to public service broadcasting.

A strong belief in the market has informed media policy, with government loath to interfere in issues surrounding ownership and other issues. A threat of privacy legislation hangs over journalists who have been told that legislation that has already been approved by Cabinet could be introduced at anytime.

Debates surrounding media and the law have been dominated by defamation and libel in Ireland since 1991 when a government appointed body, the Law Reform Commission, recommended major changes in Ireland’s libel laws, easily the most draconian within the EU. Successive governments have resisted the campaign led by media organization until recently. A new defamation law came into affect on January 1st, 2010. As far as the media is concerned the new law has not materially changed the balance between the right to publish and the right to ones good name. The presumption of falsity remains- that is the assumption that the media is guilty and must prove the statement published is true and/or fair comment or honest opinion. There are new grounds for defence that have been incorporated into the law, including qualified privilege, and innocent publication. The new law gives a shorter limitation period, the possibility of the courts issuing a statement of wrong, without any damages and also it will now be possible for the media to issue an apology without the assumption that the newspaper or other outlet is therefore  admitting liability.

There are still fears the government could bring in a privacy law, especially as one has already been prepared and approved by the government. Many politicians are fearful of what they perceive as a growing ‘tabloidisation’, or lowering of standards, within the Irish media. Whether politicians are being too sensitive or have a genuine point is for debate. Some editors have suggested the privacy bill would make it difficult to publish or broadcast contentious news stories, as subjects of stories would be able to stop publication, if contacted to comment, by claiming their privacy would be breeched. It could mean the normal and ethical journalism practice of giving people the opportunity to comment on stories concerning them might be dropped. There is little doubt that if the government goes ahead and introduces a privacy act, it would be challenged, probably to the European Court of Human Rights.

The other area that has faced change has been in the broadcasting area. Late in 2009 the new Broadcasting Act came into force, which established the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, The Broadcasting Act 2009 provides for a significant expansion of the role and responsibility of the old Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, which had no responsibility for Public Service Broadcasting, namely RTE, which now comes within the ambit of the new body.

Following a campaign led by members of the National Union of Journalists and other activists  through an organisation called Let In The Light, the Irish Government introduced a Freedom of Information Act in 1997. At the time it was considered a major contribution to accountability and openness and was praised internationally by free-speech advocacy groups. However, in 2003 the Government amended the Act, putting in place payments for Freedom of Information requests and limiting what the government, especially, was forced to disclose. This was seen by journalists as a major attack on press freedom.

There are examples of cross-ownership of print, audiovisual and online media but there is no anti-trust legislation to prevent media concentration except general competition law, which has shown itself not really up to dealing with the complex area of media ownership.

The Press Council of Ireland was established on January 1st, 2008. The Press Council of Ireland is unique in that if has an ombudsman and a press council. The Council is a sort of court of appeal for complainants who are not satisfied with the actions of the ombudsman and his reading of the code of practice. The Council was established following a long debate and campaign for changed in Ireland’s defamation laws. The Press Council is funded by the industry and has a representative of the journalists’ trade union and members of the public, who apply to be members and are interviewed.

There is also a legally established complaints structure for broadcasting, incorporated into the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which came into in 2009, succeeding the old Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

Advertising has the Advertising Standards Authority, a voluntary body that regulates the industry. The Public Relations Institute of Ireland has its own code of conduct as well as offering training and other services for the industry.

Late in 2009 the new Broadcasting Act came into force, which established the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, The Broadcasting Act, 2009.   It replaced the old Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, which was responsible for licencing independent commercial radio and television. The new authority is responsible for all broadcasting, including public service broadcasters including RTE.  The Authority has to consult with the Minster responsibility for Communicationson a range of public service broadcasting matters including assessing the extent to which RTE and the Irish language station, TG4, has fulfilled its public service commitments in respect of its public service objectives. It also reviews the funding levels to ensure there is the funding necessary to carry  the public service role.

The BAI will also licence independent, commercial, broadcasters, examine ownership issues and operate a complaints procedure. However, it is its role within public service broadcasting that caused much controversy. There were those who worried about the new BAI, heir to a body, the BCI, which never had any public service remit at all, now taking over so much of the regulatory functions of RTE’s own Authority, which remains, but with diminished responsibilities. Obviously issues concerning the independence for the Public Service Broadcaster are uppermost in the minds of many employed in RTE and other interested observers.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has a number of functions, as set out in legislation. These functions include : to develop of a Statement of Strategy for the regulation of broadcasting services in Ireland: to develop broadcasting codes and rules; to develop of a right of reply scheme; to licence broadcasting and multiplex services; to provide guidance for RTÉ and TG4 and to consult with the ComReg on frequency planning and allocation for radio and television services.

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) was established in 2002. ComReg is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector (telecommunications, radio communications and broadcasting transmission) and the postal sector.

The printed media has a voluntary regulatory system, the Press Council of Ireland, which was established in 2008.

Practitioners, preferring ‘on the job’ training, have viewed journalism and media training generally, with some suspicion. Despite this, however, journalists are increasingly been recruited from degree programmes, both undergraduate and postgraduate.

The two main providers of media and journalism education and training, are the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Dublin City University (DCU). DIT offers undergraduate programmes in journalism as well as media practice for film and broadcasting. It also has post-graduate programmes in public relations, advertising and in journalism, including a programme in international journalism as well as a number of digital media post graduate programmes. DCU has undergraduate journalism and media degree programmes as well as a number of masters programme. National University of Ireland, Galway, offer a one year Masters programme in journalism, while the University of Limerick has recently established an undergraduate and post graduate programme in journalism. There are many non-degree programmes also offering journalism, usually two year courses. There are also a number of private colleges that offer journalism courses.

The main academic journal offering analysis on media and journalism is the Irish Communications Review, which is published by the School of Media at DIT. A number of other journals some times deal with media issues within the context of sociology, politics or culture. There has been a major increase in books concerning media and journalism in Ireland in recent years.

There are a number of degree programmes for those seeking to pursue communications studies. Most of these are theoretical in emphasis. DIT offers a programme in film and broadcasting, with a fifty-fifty split between theory and practice. University College, Dublin and National University of Ireland, Galway, and Trinity College, Dublin have film studies programmes. The National Film School is based at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire, south of Dublin.

The Mediacontacts.ie  website gives details of media contacts and other information, including conferences, training and related material. The traditional source of much media information in Ireland has been provided by the Institute of Public Administration’s annual year book. Circulation figures for newspapers and magazines is provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the ABC. Readership information tends to be considered commercially sensitive, though the headline figures are published in the business sections of the newspapers, especially The Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post.

Radio listenership figures are published quarterly by the Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) which can be found on the Radiowave website.  A number of academics are examining the Irish media and the most research active are to be found at the School of Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology and the School of Communications at Dublin City University.

Information about the advertising industry can usually be found at the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland (IAPI), but also in the business sections of the newspapers.

The bodies representing aspects of the industry, such as the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) publish reports relating to newspapers, as the BAI, which commissions  research relating to broadcasting.

Information ragarding media law in Ireland can be found, among other sites, on that of the media law lecturer, Marie McGonagle, of the Department of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She is the leading academic authority on media law in Ireland.

Media and Journalism studies

The Irish media is going through a period of intense change. From the mid to late 1990s until 2008 the country experienced unprecedented economic growth. This had a profound effect on the media, increasing revenue and income, attracting huge investment from out of state. It changed the media ownership patterns of years, leading to a dangerous level of concentration of ownership in the hands of a few major media companies.

The media and journalists have also been at the centre of major changes in society, opening up areas to public scrutiny that had hitherto been closed, especially the Catholic Church. It also investigated areas of public life and politics unearthing levels of corruption that few realized existed. Following media investigations a number of tribunals of inquiry have been sitting investigating the allegations first made by journalists.

At another level there are fears the media has become increasingly tabloid with subsequent issues concerning privacy. However, the new Press Council has been introduced and it is hoped that the press will be able to regulate itself and so convince the government not to introduce privacy legislation. A massive reduction in advertising revenue has led to major financial problems for much of the media, especially print.

The economic boom in Ireland can probably be dated from 1995 and ironically that was the year the Irish Press group collapsed. Along with an increasingly healthy economic environment the end of the Irish Press group, after years of struggling, meant a number of out of state media organization targeted Ireland, assuming there were readers now seeking a new newspaper. The British press had long been active in Ireland, but now it arrived in Ireland with a new aggression, offering more Irish content and going head to head with Irish newspapers. Some commentators have suggested a new tabloid culture arrived in Ireland at that time, which changed the Irish print media.

The economic prosperity meant that regional newspapers, for many years, remained in the hands of small family owners were seen as valuable properties and were bought up and became part of major media groups. Following the crisis in the economy a number of newspapers have closed, others are up for sale while others are downsizing, with pay cuts and a reduction in resources available to journalists and other media professionals to carry out their work.

There has been some increase in the number of online publications and activity, though developments in this area have been surprisingly slow. However, it is expected to speed up as more people are connected to broadband in line with government policy.

The recession has halted major media developments, other than in the online line and digital areas. There is a government commitment to switch off the analogue tv service by 2012 and there is evidence of increasing developments in web based publications, given that online advertising appears to be the only area of advertising to hold up, all be it from a low base. The next few years should see a number of online developments as well as possibly a number of regional newspaper closures.

  • Brian O’Neill (ed), 2010, Digital Radio in Europe, Technologies, Industries and Culture, 2010. Intellect Book, Bristol, UK.
  • Burke, Ray, 2005, Press Delete; The Decline and Fall of the Irish Press. Curragh Press,  Dublin.
  • Corcoran, F, 2004, RTÉ and the Globalisation of Irish Television: Intellect Books, Bristol, UK.
  • Horgan, John, 2001, Irish Media, A Critical History since 1922. Routledge, London.
  • John Horgan, Barbara O'Connor and Helena Sheehan (eds) 2007,Mapping Irish Media: Critical Explorations: UCD Press, Dublin.
  • Julian Carlson (ed) 19990 Banned in Ireland: Censorship and the Irish Writer. Routledge, London.
  • Kiberd, Damien (ed) 1997 Media in Ireland, the Search for Diversity, Open Air, Dublin.
  • McGonagle, Marie 2003, 2nd edition, Media Law, Sweet & Maxwell, London.
  • Morash, Chris, 2010. A Media History of Ireland, Cambridge University Press.
  • Mulryan, Peter, 1988, Radio, Radio, the story of Independent, Local, Community, Pirate Radio in Ireland. Borderline Publications, Dublin.
  • O’Brien, Mark, 2001, De Valera, Fianna Fail and the Irish Press, Irish Academic Press, Dublin.
  • O’Brien, Mark, 2008, The Irish Times, A History, Four Courts Press, Dublin.
  • Ó Drisceoil, Donal,1996. Censorship in Ireland, 1939-1945. Cork University Press.
  • Rockett, K., Gibbons, L. and Hill, J. 1987, Cinema and Ireland, Routledge, London.
  • Rockett, K. 1996, The Irish Filmography, Red Mountain Press, Dublin.
  • Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger by Fintan O’Toole, Faber, London, 2009.
  • Walsh,  Maurice, 2008, The News From Ireland, Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. I. B. Tauris, London.

Michael Foley
head of journalism and communications department
School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology
2 Aungier Street
Dublin 2, Co. Dublin City, Ireland,
Tel: +353 1 402 3000
Email: Michael.foley@dit.ie