Saturday 27 December 2014

Ministers warned journalism here at serious risk over lax copyright

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Published 09/11/2012 | 05:00

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has voiced his strongest opposition yet to the Privacy Bill being drafted by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

The Labour minister said he didn't want to see Mr Shatter's draconian law being enacted by the Government.

Mr Rabbitte's comments came at a conference where he was warned media jobs were being put at risk by allowing websites to steal journalism.

Mr Rabbitte and his Labour colleague, junior minister Sean Sherlock, were told they risked wholesale job losses unless they safeguarded copyright.

Website giants are taking journalism at no cost and offering it for free -- even though it is costing jobs and livelihoods in the trusted media sector.

One website had taken journalism worth €110m but put nothing back into the industry, the ministers were told.

Mr Rabbitte acknowledged that newspapers played a "critical role" in explaining events to people and setting out expert opinion and analysis.

But the minister was warned there was a fear at a European level that the future of newspapers was at serious risk by the ongoing copyright review process here.

Mr Rabbitte spoke at a gathering in Dublin last night of the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) and the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA).

He said challenges flowed from the behaviour of some newspapers in callously invading the privacy of individuals.

Mr Rabbitte said that, notwithstanding "some of the stuff you have to read", the Press Council had done a good job.

He said he felt the Press Council had performed better and exceeded expectations compared to when it was set up.

"I don't agree with the Privacy Bill, that was designed by the previous government, and I don't see that being readily enacted by this Government," he said.

While the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry in Britain is awaited, he said the co-regulatory approach seems to have served the country well so far.

Balance

"And I see no reason to amend that. This balance between freedom of speech and the rights of the individual is critical to the health and well-being of democracy and civil society; it must be preserved at all costs," he said.

Mr Rabbitte also said that the concentration of ownership and control was a valid concern. He said it was an area government must be prepared to engage with when it arose. "And I count ourselves in that number," he said.

The minister said there was an existing system in place for the evaluation of media mergers and acquisitions, but it was due an overhaul.

The Government was working on a system to transfer this media function to his Department of Communications.

NNI chairman Matt Dempsey highlighted the problems associated with the unauthorised use of copyright material published by newspapers.

Mr Dempsey said some news aggregators and search engines showed a "blatant disregard" for copyright, leading to significant amounts of revenue being drained from the industry.

One search engine operating in Ireland offered around 150,000 newspaper articles two years ago at a cost to the publishers of around €46.5m.

Last year, the same search engine offered more than 350,000 articles at a cost equivalent to more than €110m.

"The clarification of Irish copyright law and the strengthening of its enforcement is therefore a golden opportunity to realise this potential revenue; to enhance the economic performance of the newspaper industry and other affected industries, and to safeguard the thousands of jobs that are dependent on copyright as a protection for original work," he said.

ENPA president Ivar Rusdal said such a position existed in other countries, including his own country, Norway.

"We would very strongly ask for that and recommend that this country could establish such a system," he said.

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