Editorial: 'RTÉ facing hard fight in an era dominated by fake news'
If the media is now struggling against a tide of fake news and alternative facts, navigating a way out should be a matter of paramount public importance.
The international committee into fake news and disinformation, involving members of 12 parliaments, held its third meeting in Dublin yesterday. As fate would have it, it was also the day when news about RTÉ's travails broke.
The national broadcaster's difficulties have been well rehearsed. Like all media organisations it has been forced into a global market place without borders, but has been operating on a model adapted when it held a virtual monopoly.
All media understand they must either adapt and remain relevant or else fade away.
Heavy dependence on the TV licence and failure to capitalise on the competitive edge it has in advertising have exacted their toll.
Yesterday Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary told the Dáil he believed Ireland's entire media is on life support.
RTÉ is now answering the hard questions other media outlets have had to confront.
But it is also true that no media organisation can stand up to the internet super-powers in terms of reach, revenue or unchecked influence.
Like many other media, RTÉ is living with the consequences of giving away that which costs money to produce. The media survives by supplying vital, reliable, relevant information of value to people. Its currency is trust, but counterfeiters are left free to debase it every day.
If the public cannot rely on the sources from which it gets its facts, the way is open for distortion and manipulation.
We have seen how the harvesting of personal data was abused as a political tool to manipulate electorates. Artificial intelligence analysis of online profiles and behaviour has been used for interference at every level. When private corporations wield more influence than domestic governments we have to worry. There has been aggressive resistance to regulation and legislation by the global giants.
The dissemination of hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories has been used to foment civil unrest and create division.
The Green Party's Eamon Ryan suggested micro-targeting of online users could be dealt with at a national level, but asked how could overall governance happen?
Did it need to be at an EU or a UN level? It is a pertinent question. Allowing unverified and toxic streams into the news cycle is a threat to society and democracy.
Yet the tech giants seem immune from accountability. Their defence is as they are not 'communicators' but merely platforms, they can shirk responsibility. Funding models do need to be looked at, and the Government has a duty to provide a level playing field as far as a licence or State subvention goes. Like any other diet you will get what you pay for, over feeding on content without having a clue about its composition must come with a health warning.