Saturday, April 02, 2011

Irish Press Council now taking online only sites as members

The Press Council published its annual report for 2010 yesterday. It details some interesting cases (1|2) involving reporting which reuses material from social networking sites and blogs, but more importantly for Irish websites the launch also revealed that the Press Council is now taking online only media as members.

From the Irish Times:
With the increase in news gathering and reporting increasing on the internet, chairman of the Press Council Daithí Ó Ceallaigh said web-based organisations or publications could benefit by joining its independent regulatory regime.

“When this happens – and at least one new web-based organisation has already been accepted as one of the recent new members of the council – we are ready to play a positive role in light of our own experience in support of the highest possible journalistic standards.”
This is a significant development. Membership of the Press Council and adherence to its Code of Practice offers periodicals a significant benefit in establishing a defence of fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest. The narrow definition of "periodical" in the Defamation Act 2009, however, created doubt as to whether an online-only publication would qualify for membership.

Eoin O'Dell took the view that it wouldn't (a view which I shared) though the last Minister for Justice later took a contrary view, claiming that:
The question of whether publications existing "on-line" only, either now or in the future, wish to come under the umbrella of the Press Council - and abide by its code of practice - is a matter for those publications. Nothing in the Defamation Act precludes this. Neither have I noticed any express limitation of jurisdiction in the Articles of Association of the Press Council on membership by on-line publications. Some recent commentary from media experts seems to have missed this point.
The Press Council itself has now clearly taken the position that online-only periodicals are eligible for membership, which will certainly cause a number of Irish websites to consider joining.

One note of caution, however: it will ultimately be for a court to determine whether an online-only site is a "periodical" for the purposes of the defence of fair and reasonable publication. The views of the Press Council on this point will be relevant but certainly not conclusive.

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