The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) published a new Media Plurality Policy in 2019 that sets out how BAI will support and promote media plurality. The BAI’s role in promoting and supporting media plurality is undertaken in the context of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act (2009) and the Competition and Consumer Protection Act (2014). The BAI works together with and supports media plurality activities undertaken by the Minister for Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). Under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act (2014), both the Minister for Communications and the CCPC have key powers related to maintaining plurality. It is the role of the CCPC to review media merger proposals over a certain financial scale threshold to ensure that they will not substantially lessen competition. It is the role of the Minister for communications to make a determination on whether a proposed media merger will be contrary to the public interest in protecting plurality of media in the State.
Media plurality is defined in the BAI policy as Diversity of Content (the extent to which the broad diversity of views including diversity of views on news and current affairs and diversity of cultural interests prevalent in Irish society is reflected through the activities of media businesses in the State, including their editorial ethos, content and sources) and Diversity of Ownership. Consideration of media plurality is especially important given the rapidly evolving and converging media environment. Reporters Without Borders has criticised the high concentration of media ownership in Ireland and the need for defamation reform as these issues threaten press freedom. Independent News and Media (INM) control much of the daily and Sunday newspaper market as well as one of the few national commercial television company, while broadcasting was dominated by the semi-state company RTE. Frequent defamation suits and the extraordinarily high damages awarded by Irish courts also pose a significant threat to press freedom. In November 2019, the Minister of Justice pledged to reform the Defamation Act in 2020 to tackle these issues. The reform is long overdue as a review was intended within five years of the law’s passage in 2009.
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that a EUR 1.25 million award in a defamation case in Ireland was a breach of the right to freedom of expression. The Communications (Retention of Data) Act (2011) was due to be revised and replaced, however no bill has yet been tabled. The General Scheme of the Communications (Retention of Data) Bill (2017), which came in response to judgements of the Court of Justice of the European Union, has received criticism for failing to provide specific protections for press journalists.
Current challenges to media plurality as defined in the BAI Media Plurality Policy (2019) include: changes in consumption patterns away from traditional media; concern regarding issues of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation on political, social and cultural matters which is evident via discussions on fake news in the social media sphere and elsewhere; the aggregation of personal data by media businesses, in particular social media businesses, and its use in ways that are neither transparent nor ethical; the impact of news filters, intermediaries and algorithms that can lead to polarisation and to a limitation of exposure to a diversity of viewpoints; threats to the sustainability and quality of news and cultural production due to the loss of income from the decline in payments for news content and from shifts in advertising towards online media.