The Irish media landscape is somewhat nervous in 2023: in particular, global job losses at tech companies have major implications for Ireland as Dublin is the European headquarters of many of them, including Meta, Twitter, and Microsoft. The high cost of print, allied with the general cost-of-living crisis is also testing the sustainability of print production.
The Future of Media Commission Report was finally published in July 2022 after a long delay during which the government deliberated about whether to implement its main recommendation to replace the RTÉ licence fee with direct state funding. In the end the government decided to retain the current RTÉ funding system but subject it to ongoing review.
Meanwhile the commission, which was set up to find ways of boosting the media industry in straitened times, had all its other 49 recommendations accepted by the government. The industry overall, which serves a vital public service of providing information trusted by many – as witnessed during the COVID-19 crisis – faces multiple problems: the rising cost of living and the ever-increasing competition for ad-spend by companies such as Google, Facebook, and TikTok.
One major recommendation, which came into being in January 2023, was the immediate reduction of VAT on newspapers – both in print and online – from 9% to 0%. This was designed to help traditional media transition to digital content, especially at a time of ballooning newsprint costs. It is hoped this financial advantage won’t just be passed on to shareholders but will improve digital content and newsgathering and help preserve or grow journalism jobs. In October Peter Vandermeersch, chief executive of Mediahuis Ireland, publisher of titles including The Independent, told the Business Post, ‘Somewhere in the future, there won’t be print editions during the week’.1
Pundits and reporters were generally happy with the report’s recommendations, in particular with plans for a new Media Fund to foster public service journalism. The fund’s first action was to announce a focus on investing in local democracy and court reporting. The resources given to improved and wider court reporting were particularly welcome, and schemes will be rolled out across 2023.
Despite this good news for journalism, the economic downturn has seen a number of job losses across the sector. In August there were redundancies at Times Ireland and the Irish section of the Sunday Times.2 This led to the termination of the Times Ireland digital weekday editions; digital-first stories are now published ahead of the Sunday Times newspaper. The Irish Mirror and the Irish Daily Star, two titles owned by UK company Reach, announced job cuts in January due to falls in advertising and digital revenues. In March, Mediahuis also announced an ‘extensive’ round of job cuts.
It is not just the traditional media facing layoffs: significant job cuts were also announced across the year by multinational tech firms, including Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google), Twitter, Amazon, HubSpot, Stripe, Dell, and Microsoft. According to the Central Bank, so far 2,300 people have lost jobs in Ireland, but this is expected to rise. The Irish Times3 commented that, if this is largely a readjustment following growth during COVID, ‘then the sector may return to growth before too long’.
In March a new Media Commission was established, Coimisiún na Meán, which replaces the former Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Among other things, this new body will regulate broadcasting and audiovisual online safety content under relevant EU directives. It will also impose a levy on providers of audiovisual media services to fund production of European media. Another scheme will provide funds to community broadcasting to support good journalistic practice.
This year’s survey data suggest a slight tightening of belts in terms of payment for online news media in Ireland, down 1 percentage point from last year to 15% of those surveyed. The top titles named by our respondents were the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Guardian, and the New York Times. The percentage who say they listen to podcasts is down 2pp at 44% but similarly two of the most cited podcasts are from publishers based abroad, reflecting the permeability of the Irish market. (See chapter News podcasts: who is listening and what formats are working?).
Professor Colleen Murrell
Dublin City University
The decline of TV and print as news sources has accelerated over the past eight years, while online has remained steady with no signs of it making up the gap.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in general remains relatively high in Ireland and the 5pp fall to 47% from 52% last year seems to reflect a return to the levels seen in 2017 and 2019 pre-COVID. At the brand level many scores have declined slightly but RTÉ remains the most trusted brand, closely followed by local or regional radio and the Irish Times.
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1 Emmet Ryan, ‘Mediahuis Chief: The Money we Get from the Vat Reduction will Go into Developing New Platforms’, Business Post. 1 Oct. 2022.
2 Donal MacNamee, ‘Staff at Sunday Times and Times Ireland Offered Voluntary Redundancy in Overhaul’, Business Post, 29 June 2022.
3 Editorial, ‘The Irish Times View on Job Losses in Tech: A Warning Signal’, Irish Times, 23 Jan. 2023.