Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. However, archaic defamation laws are still in place under which journalists remain guilty until proven innocent. A defamation bill introduced in late 2006 was still under debate in parliament at the end of 2007, though it had been passed in the Senate earlier in the year. The proposed law would abolish criminal, seditious, and obscene libel, but allows for a sentence of up to five years for “gravely harmful statements.” The law also includes the defense of “reasonable publication,” under which journalists would not be held liable for defamatory statements if they acted in accordance with professional ethics and the public interest. The law is expected to give official recognition to the independent press ombudsman and the newly formed Press Council. The ombudsman, appointed in August 2007, would be responsible for investigating and adjudicating public press complaints. Unresolved cases would be passed along to the Press Council, which was established in January 2007. A Privacy Law proposed in 2006 was not discussed in the Senate in 2007 and is unlikely to be passed in the near future.
In late 2006, Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy and senior correspondent Colm Keena were accused of publishing classified information in an article disclosing details of the investigation of Bertie Ahern, the prime minister, by the Mahon Tribunal, a government anticorruption body. Following their indictment, the journalists destroyed all relevant documents in order to protect their source. In October 2007, the high court ordered Kennedy and Keena to answer questions before the tribunal or face up to two years in prison or a fine of 300,000 Euros (US$460,000). The questioning was postponed pending an appeal to the Supreme Court scheduled for early 2008. In February, freelance reporter Mick McCaffrey was arrested in connection with an August 2006 article about police mishandling of the 1997 arrest and imprisonment of an innocent man on murder charges. McCaffrey cited a confidential police report in the article. The police demanded that McCaffrey reveal his source and seized his telephone records. McCaffrey refused but was released nonetheless the next day.
The national public broadcaster, Radio Telefis Eireann, dominates the radio and television sectors, but the growth of cable and satellite has begun to weaken the state broadcaster’s grip on the industry. According to the U.S. State Department, there were 58 independent radio stations and 2 independent television stations operating during the year. British public and private television offers the main competition to Irish programming. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, media cross-ownership is permitted within limits—press groups may own no more than 25 percent of local television and radio. Newspapers are dominated by the Independent News and Media Group, though diversity in views and political affiliations was seen across the multitude of dailies and weeklies produced in 2007. Internet access is unrestricted by the government, and 50 percent of the population uses the internet regularly.