Mid Ulster District Council has condemned recent threats made against local journalists and called for the government to invest in public interest news through arms-length funding mechanisms.
The motion, brought forward by SDLP group leader, Councillor Malachy Quinn also sees Council agree to support the National Union of Journalist’s News Recovery Plan.
Introducing the motion, Councillor Quinn told the chamber the purpose of the motion was “to rally around our local press.”
“Over the past week we have seen death threats issued against two leading journalists – Patricia Devlin and Allison Morris.
“Those making these threats are doing so because these two journalists, outstanding in their field, are investigating the murky world of drugs and paramilitaries and coming close to exposing those worlds for all to see.
“A free press is fundamental to a free society. It is essential that politicians show solidarity with journalists, especially when those journalists are exposing the evils in our society.
“Those making the threats may be thinking because they are female, they will stop doing what they do best but knowing what I do about them, I am sure it will have the opposite effect.
“The death threats simply undermine how important their work is.”
Cllr Quinn went on to highlight how the pandemic has resulted in a collapse in advertising revenue for news media in both print and online and called on Council to support the NUJs News Recovery Plan.
The motion reads: “This Council condemns the recent threats made against local journalists and recognises the importance of trustworthy, relevant, impartial news as an important bulwark of democracy, particularly during a health crisis.
“This Council notes with alarm the unprecedented strain placed on the news industry following the lockdown period, with wide scale cuts and redundancies proposed across the sector.
“This Council supports the NUJ’s News Recovery Plan that aims to tackling the existing fault-lines in the sector with a series of measures intended to reconfigure the news industry and ensure it is firmly rooted in the public good.
“We support the proposal to increase government investment in public interest news; through arms-length funding mechanisms, with the condition that no public funding is given to any company making redundancies, paying out dividends or resisting trade union recognition.
“Other measures include: Tax breaks for news subscriptions; Support for new media start-ups and a wide scale media literacy campaign to tackle disinformation and fake news.
“We also extend our support to public service broadcasting in the UK and Ireland and the principle of independent oversight, free from government interference.”
The motion was seconded by Councillor Martin Kearney who said the media industry is “a vital means of communication that we all depend on day and daily” and reflected on the murder of Veronica Guerin, Martin O’Hagan and Lyra McKee.
Councillor John McNamee condemned the recent threats to Patricia Devlin and Allison Morris and spoke highly of Ms Devlin, who he got to know during her time at the Mid Ulster Mail.
“She is a very well respected journalist in this area and I would totally condemn the threats she and her young family have received in recent months,” he said.
Council’s Chair, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan added his support to the motion and also paid tributes to Patricia Devlin.
“It is a very difficult job and a lot of the situations that local journalists get themselves into can be quite challenging, it takes a lot of guts and a lot of determination to do that type of work.
“I spoke to her [Ms. Devlin] last week and offered her our support on behalf of Sinn Fein. I have no difficulty whatsoever in supporting the motion and appreciate you bringing it to the chamber.”
The motion was then supported unanimously by the chamber.
Bringing the discussion of the motion to a close, Councillor Quinn thanked members for their support.
“As much as sometimes the media can annoy us at times they are to hold us to account and allow the public to hold us to account as well,” said Councillor Quinn.
“Without them we would be lost.”