The National Union Of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed concern over Denis O'Brien silencing of media and the role his control over much of the media plays in the lack of media opposition.
The NUJ are concerned that the media failure to defend Dáil privilege may shatter public trust. Then more cynical amongst us might think that would be a good thing, for too long media outlets in Ireland have been spoon feeding the population with one side of the news in the service of those with wealth and power. O'Brien is at least doing us the 'favour' of making the control those with power over what can and cannot be reported very obvious.
NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley has warned that faith in the media would be shattered if proprietors and editors did not challenge threats to parliamentary democracy and freedom of expression.
"It is gravely concerning that media organisations felt constrained from publishing the comments, made under Dáil privilege, by Deputy Catherine Murphy concerning financial matters relating to Denis O’Brien and his alleged relationship with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).
"The fact that the national public service broadcaster was constrained from broadcasting material freely available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and that other print and broadcasting organisations felt similarly constrained, raises fundamental questions about our parliamentary democracy and the right of the media to report freely on parliamentary proceedings. A courageous stand in defence of the right to report parliamentary proceedings would have served the public interest. Faith in the media’s ability to do its job will be shattered if this challenge is not faced head on. This is a defining moment for the media in Ireland.
"In normal circumstances one would expect a united media campaign to defend freedom of expression. I am calling on all media organisations and their representative organisations to seek urgent High Court clarification of the implications of the current injunction secured by Denis O’Brien against RTÉ on the freedom of print, broadcasting and online media to report on parliament. The fact that Denis O’Brien exercises a controlling interest in so many newspapers and radio stations in Ireland limits the possibility of a united front in defence of freedom of expression. That in itself underlines the need for urgent action to limit concentration of media ownership in Ireland."
It's notable however that rather than publishing Catherine Murphy’s comments the NUJ like almost all other online sources have chosen the safe path of just linking to the comments on the Oireachtas website. The chilling effect that the fear of O'Brien has had even on online publications is a quite extraordinary measure of the deeply anti-democratic nature of the society we live in.
The mainstream media are part of the problem in that regard, its positive that the NUJ and the better journalists do what they can to resist the reality they find themselves in. But 'he who pays the piper calls the tune' is why Solidarity Times - Free the Media, Be the Media needs to exist.
Words: Andrew Flood
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