Wednesday 12 December 2018

Call to reform 'draconian' defamation laws and cut VAT to support journalism

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Ireland's "draconian" defamation laws should be reformed and VAT on newspaper sales cut as part of measures to support journalism amid a rise in "fake news" on social media.

There is also a need for urgent political consensus on moves to ensure independent journalism has a "strong and robust future" according to Newsbrands Ireland, which represents the newspaper industry.

The organisation was responding to a Fianna Fáil proposal for a €30m fund to support high quality print and online journalism.

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Denis Naughten welcomed the contribution from the opposition party.

However, he made no commitment that such a fund would be introduced and questioned one of Fianna Fáil's suggestions for how it would be raised.

Fianna Fáil's communications spokesman Timmy Dooley set out options for paying for the fund. They are a levy on internet giants' advertising, ring-fencing VAT from newspaper sales, or a combination of both. "This is about the preservation and protection of quality journalism. We have a proliferation of news content not properly researched or verified on digital platforms, which leads to fake news," he said.

His party is proposing the establishment of a print journalism unit within the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to deliver schemes to support journalists at local and national levels. It would also deliver grants to support newspaper publishers to provide public service content.

The appointment of a minister with responsibility for the media is also proposed.

Newsbrands Ireland chairman Vincent Crowley said 'fake news' had emerged as a national and international challenge. He said the Fianna Fáil proposals were a welcome step forward.

He said: "There is now broad agreement on the need to support Irish journalism. We urge all political parties to work together to forge a policy programme to deliver the change required."

Mr Crowley also said: "We believe much more can be done in relation to VAT than set out in the policy document.

"We also believe the matter of reform in the area of defamation is long overdue."

Newsbrands Ireland wants the Government to reduce and ultimately eliminate VAT on newspapers. It also wants reform of Ireland's defamation laws "to ensure the stories that need to be told, are told".

Separately, Mr Naughten spoke of the need to support quality journalism in the "era of fake news". He welcomed Fianna Fáil's proposals adding that he was "willing to look at any suggestions in this area".

However, he raised concern about using VAT receipts for the fund, telling RTÉ Radio that Fianna Fáil would have to answer how that money would be replaced.

Mr Dooley said he was open-minded on how the fund would be raised. He said: "You can take €30m from a growing economy - we're growing at 4pc - or it can come from the 6pc levy. So it can be cost-neutral."

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock said the desire to support quality journalism was "laudable", but claimed Fianna Fáil's proposal would only fund print journalism and this was "bizarre". Mr Dooley insisted online news outlets would also be able to seek funding under the proposals provided they met the same standards as print media.

Irish Independent

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