Broadcasting (Amendment) (Protection of Journalism) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Broadcasting Act 2009 to make it a breach of contract or licence under the Act to prohibit a member of the National Union of Journalists from communications media for reason or reasons of occupation, employer, or employment status.

I will share time with Deputy Crowe who is a co-signatory to the Bill. This legislation is in response to the blacklisting of journalists by Communicorp Media. In October, Deputies from all parties signed a joint letter to Communicorp Media urging an immediate end to the ban from its radio stations of certain journalists, including the highly respected and award-winning journalists, Tom Lyons and Ian Kehoe. The initiative had the support of all party leaders, including the Taoiseach. Three months on, however, nothing has changed. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, has not made any significant move to address the issue and it is clear that only a change in law will change anything.

The Bill proposes to make it an offence to ban a journalist who is a member of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, from the airwaves for reason of occupation, employer, company or employment status. We limited its scope to members of the NUJ for a number of reasons. As we do not have a legal definition of "journalist" in law, to apply the legislation to journalists more broadly could open broadcasters to the possibility of court cases being taken by any person who uses the label "journalist". This could result in frivolous cases being taken that are designed to punish broadcasters for what might be a genuine reason for not including a person on a show. Limiting the scope of the Bill to NUJ members creates a certain standard or threshold as to who can or cannot avail of the legislation, if passed. The second reasons is that we believe in trade unions and that all journalists should be in the NUJ and trade unions. People are stronger for being members of unions and the legislation supports this.

It is very important that this Bill passes. We cannot have certain media outlets banning journalists because they do not like what they have to say or because of who they work for. That is not how journalism or broadcasters should work. Every broadcaster has a responsibility to be fair and impartial, even if it is privately owned. That is not the case in this scenario. We hope to move the Bill during Private Members' time.

I am introducing this Bill with my colleague, an Teachta Cullinane, to ensure that journalists are not discriminated against while doing their job for reasons of professional affiliation or status. The Bill amends the Broadcasting Act 2009 to make it a breach of contract or licence under the Act to prohibit a member of the National Union of Journalists from communications media for reason or reasons of occupation, employer, company or employment status. It is a timely Bill as we have seen increased attacks on the rights and freedoms of journalists worldwide. In the past five years, the Council of Europe's platform to promote the protection of journalism has reported 256 serious violations of press freedom in the member states of European Union, including the murder of 14 journalists. The murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017, the rape and murder of Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria in 2018, and the murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in Slovakia in 2018 dramatically raised public awareness in the European Union of the twin crises of journalist safety and impunity for the murders of journalists.

All of us here can remember the murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996. Her killing reverberated around the country, led to convictions and the creation of the Criminal Assets Bureau. Ireland needs to be a global leader in protecting media freedoms. We need to stand up for media freedom and the rights of journalists at this crucial time for independent reporting. We can start with this Bill and ensuring that broadcasting organisations cannot discriminate against journalists simply because of their professional affiliation. We cannot sit back and allow the current situation to continue, where journalists from certain newspapers and media companies are banned from appearing on the radio stations of one of the biggest media organisations in the country simply because their multimillionaire owner is angry and upset at the coverage he receives from these newspaper and media companies. This is positive and proactive legislation to address discrimination and I call on all Deputies to support it when it comes before the Dáil.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.