THE REPRESENTATIVE body for Irish news publishers is urging candidates to support the role of public interest journalism in the upcoming general election.
NewsBrands Ireland, who represent Irish publishers both in print and online, is asking candidates to respect the role that these journalists play in the democratic election system, and to ensure citizens are safeguarded from fake news and the spread of misinformation.
In recent years there have been many examples of outstanding public interest journalism which have affected real change in society -from recent investigations that uncovered wrongdoing or illegal activity, to campaigning journalism which achieved tangible results, to the reporting of issues or stories which changed the public discourse.
NewsBrands Ireland CEO, Ann Marie Lenihan said that to ensure voters are fully informed upon voting on February 8, it is imperative that credible sources of news are supported.
"Now, more than ever, it is vital that quality journalism is protected because democracy is about voters making an informed choice at the ballot box and that can only happen if there are credible sources of news, where information is factual, trustworthy and accurate," she said.
"Without a vibrant local and national news publishing industry, who will report on the courts, the Oireachtas, the County Councils, local and national sporting events, raise awareness of important societal issues and campaign for change?
"As is evident in other countries, without credible sources of news, where information is factual, accurate and politically impartial, public trust and democracy itself are undermined."
The appeal comes after representatives and supporters of various political parties accused members of the media of favouring certain parties, or of ignoring others.
The reach of news publishers, as well as the economic and employment contribution of the news publishing industry was also highlighted to election candidates and includes 4,600 jobs - direct and indirect, €135m in exchequer revenues, €58m annual margin value to retailers from newspaper sales, and a €14 typical spend by a newspaper purchaser in their local shop, equal to an annual value of €1.9bn to the retail sector.
The representative body also outlined how 2.6 million people, or 69pc of the population, read a newspaper or news website at least once a week.
NewsBrands Ireland is seeking practical support from government to ensure that 'fake news' can be combated by the trusted journalism produced by news publishers.
They called for an extended brief for the incoming Minister for Communications to include all media, not just the broadcast sector, "ensuring the Minister has full oversight of our complex media landscape and public service journalism is supported across all media".
They also called for an immediate reduction of VAT to 5pc on newspapers and digital news products, with the ultimate goal of reduction to 0pc, as is the case in Britain and other EU countries.
Finally, they called the long-overdue Review of the Defamation Act to be completed and reform to Ireland’s draconian defamation laws.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan promised in November to begin reforming defamation laws by early this year, however because of the general election, these changes have not yet been set in motion.
Independent Newspapers group managing editor Ed McCann said at the time that the reality of juries in defamation cases affects everyday journalism and the resulting discrepancies in damages awarded makes our system "a laughing stock internationally".
"The impact on that every day for journalists is, we talk about a chill factor but there's actually a fear factor," he said.
"Just to very simply demonstrate the point, you have to look no further than the Kinsella case where someone was awarded by a jury €10m.
"It's ludicrous. Then, seven or eight years later, the Court of Appeal overturns it and reduces it to €250,000 but in the interim you have racked up hundreds of thousands in costs.
"It makes the system look like a laughing stock internationally. People in other jurisdictions can't believe it. It's embarrassing."