A strong and independent media sector is central to our parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and to the provision of quality and impartial information, particularly in the context of COVID-19. I recognise the essential role that the print media plays in this regard and the particular value of local and regional newspapers in bringing communities together and sharing reliable and relevant local news. The production and publication of newspapers, journals and periodicals and the distribution of those publications has been listed as an essential service.
The sector faces a fall in revenue arising from the pandemic, but also longer term challenges as a result of changing patterns of media consumption, technology and shifts in advertising revenue.
In recognition of these longer term challenges, the Programme for Government provided for the establishment of the Future of Media Commission to consider the future of print, broadcast, and online media in a platform agnostic fashion. The Commission, chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith, recently concluded a public consultation to which a number of stakeholders in the print sector have made submissions. The Commission is currently in the process of engaging with key stakeholders in a series of thematic dialogues. I look forward to receiving the Commission's Report on the completion of its work which will inform media policy, including print media, over the next 10 years.
The scheme referred to by the Deputy is a statutory scheme provided for under Part 10 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and largely funded by the television licence. It is limited by statute to audiovisual and sound media and is administered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. There is no equivalent statutory scheme for the print sector and the BAI has no function in funding the print sector. As the Deputy will appreciate it is of particular importance in relation to media organisations to avoid any perception of Government interference or influence and the funding of newspapers is therefore a complex issue. I am however cognisant of the importance of this sector, and the financial issues which it currently faces.
Since I assumed formal responsibility for the media sector in September 2020, I have engaged in meeting key stakeholders including Newsbrands, Local Ireland and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Work is continuing to explore the issues arising, with a follow up meeting between my officials and the NUJ taking place on 3rd February and a further meeting with Local Ireland has been scheduled for Wednesday 17th February. In addition, the Government has put in place a range of supports for all businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which are available to local newspapers.