24 November 2003

Alert

WAN concerned about plans to establish a statutory press council


(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 20 November 2003 WAN and World Editors Forum (WEF) letter to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern. A similar letter was also sent to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell:

Mr Bertie Ahern, T.D.
An Taoiseach
Department of the Taoiseach
Government Buildings
Upper Merrion Street
Dublin 2
Email: taoiseach@taoiseach.gov.ie

20 November 2003

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 100 countries, to express our serious concern about plans to establish a statutory press council in Ireland.

At our World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Dublin in June, we were impressed by your understanding about free press issues and are surprised that these plans are being proposed by your Government.

We understand that following recommendations published in March by the Legal Advisory Group on Defamation, the Irish Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is seriously considering legislating to establish a statutory press council. The proposals are subject to a six-month consultation period that ends on 31 December 2003.

The Legal Advisory Group on Defamation recommended a wide range of changes to the republic's libel laws, many of which have been welcomed by the media, but also argued in favour of the establishment of a statutory press council. Under the Group's recommendations, the council would consist entirely of government appointees, be responsible for drawing up a code of standards, make all decisions on alleged breaches of that code and be able to invoke the powers of the Circuit Court to enforce its decisions.

We consider that the establishment of a statutory press council would not be in the best interests of the Irish people and would constitute a setback for the independence and freedom of the press.

As you are aware, the regulation of newspapers and magazines is a delicate exercise of balancing freedom of the press with the maintenance of high standards of journalism. We believe that the establishment of a statutory press council would fail to respect the necessary distance between the government and the press, thereby undermining the credibility of both institutions and opening them to accusations of bias. An independent press council would best serve the public by respecting the proper distance between the government and the press, and encouraging lively but professional journalism.

We are also concerned that the establishment of a statutory system of regulation might have a negative impact on the newspaper market in Ireland. As you know, the Irish newspaper market is closely entwined with that of the United Kingdom, with many British newspapers circulating widely in Ireland and many Irish papers distributed in Northern Ireland. The establishment of a statutory press council in Ireland would be in sharp contrast to the voluntary code adopted in the UK and could pose an obstacle to the effective functioning of the free market, placing Irish newspapers at an unfair disadvantage and contributing to legal confusion in overlapping markets.

We also believe that by adopting statutory regulation of the press, Ireland would be setting a poor example to emerging democracies, where statutory press councils are often exploited as mechanisms to maintain state control of the press. While not suggesting that your government would seek to influence the press in such a blatant manner, the enactment of a statutory press council in Ireland would undoubtedly be cited by less democratic regimes seeking to suppress critical newspapers and journalists.

In conclusion, we strongly suggest that your Government should reject calls for a statutory system of regulation and instead establish an independent press council to implement an agreed upon code of standards drawn up by the media. Such systems of regulation have proven effective in the vast majority of European countries and have been shown over many years to effectively regulate the press, while ensuring both the independence of newspapers and the credibility of the government.

We would be pleased to offer any assistance that you might think appropriate in your deliberations.

Yours sincerely,

Seok Hyun Hong
President
World Association of Newspapers

Gloria Brown Anderson
President
World Editors Forum



Source

World Association of Newspapers
7 Rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire
75005 Paris
France
contact_us (@) wan.asso.fr
Fax:+33 14 742 4948
Ireland
 
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