Call for ‘essential service’ journalism status; NUJ appeal for crisis forum on jobs

Call for ‘essential service’ journalism status; NUJ appeal for crisis forum on jobs

National and local news publishers and the journalism they produce should be given ‘essential service’ status in the event of a further restrictions of movement during the Covid-19 crisis.

In a direct appeal to government and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, the representative bodies for the national and local news publishing industries, NewsBrands Ireland and Local Ireland, said the 'vital role' of news media in informing the public must be recognised and protected.

A co-signed letter from Newsbrands ceo Ann Marie Lenihan and Local Ireland director, Johnny O’Hanlon, went on: "News media ... are crucial to a healthy democracy, and particularly crucial during the current crisis where citizens must have access to accurate, fact-checked information, produced by professional journalists.

"As a trusted source of quality news, Irish newspaper groups are well-placed to counter misinformation, which is rife on social media."

Newsbrands Ireland ceo, Ann Marie Lenihan
Newsbrands Ireland ceo, Ann Marie Lenihan

The representative bodies went on to stress that in the event of futher restrictions being placed on movement it was important that news media outlets are designated as an essential service and that steps are implemented to minimise the impact of disruption on the supply chain and support its continuity.

They warned that “quality journalism and news delivery rely heavily on advertising revenues” and said that sharp declines across national and local newspapers advertising meant publishers were facing huge financial pressures.

As result the industry groups concluded:

"Appropriate provisions to facilitate the flow of news to the public must be incorporated in emergency planning arrangements in the immediate future."

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has appealed for a “crisis forum” between the media industry, unions, government, and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

The NUJ said such a forum was rgently needed to adress and discuss how journalism could be supported during the coronavirus crisis.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said one of the key priorities of any rescue package must be to ensure that workers remain in employment so that the best possible service is provided to readers and listeners.

“Across Ireland and the UK professional journalists are providing information across all platforms. The NUJ has long championed the concept of public service broadcasting and its value has been evident in these grim days. Throughout Ireland, North and South, our members are fearful for their future.

“We have consistently called for a Commission on the Future of the Media in Ireland to examine how the State can assist news organisations to survive and flourish and it is extremely regrettable that these calls have gone unheeded.

"Regional and national media, newspapers and broadcasters, play a vital role in serving the community. Their importance in this unique crisis is underlined by the damage caused by the abuse of other platforms by keyboard warriors and conspiracy theorists posing as experts.

 NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley.
NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley.

Mr Dooley said the appeal was "not special pleading" but a call to act on the acknowledgement by An Taoiseach that journalists have a key role to play in this period.

"While the concentration is rightly on the massive challenges to the health services it is vital that media organisations are equipped to play their role in the provision of information."

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