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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Freedom of the Press

I am calling for a debate on independent journalism in this country, and this Government's attitude to it. Does the Government believe that the inconvenient truths are still truths, or that the public has a right to know these truths? Is it the Government's philosophy that oversight and accountability are outdated concepts, and that those seeking to engage in investigative journalism should watch themselves, lest they fly too close to the sun?

Today, the United Nations celebrates world press freedom, although, as RTÉ's Yvonne Murray noted, there is nothing to celebrate. Eighty-six journalists were killed in 2022, making it the deadliest year yet for that profession according to UNESCO, while hundreds more were attacked or jailed. While no such murders took place in Ireland, it would appear that character assassinations are alive and well. The use, or abuse, of parliamentary privilege to single out The Ditch - a minor, independent news outlet - and launch an attack on its credibility has rightly been met with condemnation. The National Union of Journalists has criticised it, stating that it was unfair that the Tánaiste was free to speak as he wished, while Irish journalists are subject to extremely restrictive defamation laws, and I have to agree.

We have seen a few grassroots Irish media outlets spring up over the past few years. A person would not have to do much reeling in the years to see the impact those outlets have had in the context of the stories they have broken and the role they have had in shifting the Overton window in Ireland and forcing us to reckon with the serious issues facing this country. The free press is often the first casualty in the demise of democracy, and the murder weapon is usually the ever-tightening bands of legislation that constrain, constrict and eventually kill any ability to exchange any information that challenges the status quo. While authoritarian regimes usually imply frog-in-boiling-water-style gradual increases in censorship, our progressive Government has decided to progress things at a brisker pace with the sweeping changes to be introduced by the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill) 2022. Having been passed by the Lower House last week, the Bill will soon be before us here. Many of us will be aware of the international attention the legislation has received, with both Twitter's Elon Musk and Donald Trump Jnr. contributing, all of which has been entirely critical of the contents of the Bill and the extremely chilling effect it is guaranteed to have on the free exchange of ideas, which is the bedrock of any functioning and healthy democracy. I urge every single one of my colleagues to study the Bill carefully, read the contributions made in the Lower House and come to their own conclusions. This will be a watershed moment in Irish legislative history, and they do not want it to be on their conscience that they sleepwalked into it.

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