Tuesday 27 June 2017

Minister wants Defamation Act to cover online media

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte ordered a probe into an RTE show which defamed a priest
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte ordered a probe into an RTE show which defamed a priest
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte -- who is finalising a bill on media mergers -- is hoping that online content will be covered by the Defamation Act in the future.

Addressing a conference on media diversity in Dublin yesterday, Mr Rabbitte said our defamation laws had yet to come to terms with the rise and proliferation of new media.

The Press Council, which regulates the print media, is investigating whether some sectors of the online media will volunteer to come under the auspices of the Defamation Act.

"The protection of the Defamation Act is given to members of the council," said Mr Rabbitte. "That hasn't happened with the online media, and I think they're looking at whether you can identify segments of online media that might willingly subscribe to the protections of the Press Council, and membership of the Press Council.

"It's very complex, and there's no point in pretending otherwise, it is very difficult, but it's a fact of modern life."

Mr Rabbitte also said his department was working on a bill on media mergers. A draft is expected to be published in the coming months.

He said the criteria applied when assessing any future proposed mergers would include the likely effect of the media merger on plurality and the undesirability of allowing any one individual or undertaking to hold significant interests within a sector or across different sections of the media industry.

Mr Rabbitte ruled out using a portion of the proceeds from the proposed broadcasting charge to fund national newspapers. He said using the State to subsidise newspapers could lead to conflicts of interest.

He was responding after Alan Crosbe, chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings, which owns the 'Irish Examiner' and 'The Sunday Business Post' among other titles, called on part of the proposed charge to be given to the leading newspaper groups.

"I don't think the business of the state subsidising the production of newspapers would be a good idea; there are inevitable and foreseeable problems that would arise from that," Mr Rabbitte said.

Mr Crosbie claimed that a widening of the public service charge to include newspapers would "acknowledge the contribution to public service of newspapers too".

He also accused "most" new media companies of "stealing" content. New media, if left unregulated, "has the capacity to destroy civil society and cause unimaginable suffering".

Irish Independent

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