June-July 2024 59
The meáning of An
Coimisiúns funding
By Gerard Cunningham
wo new journalism schemes could
point the way to a path for a revamp
of public-service journalism and
reporting in the coming months.
Coimisiún na Meán invited
submissions on the local-democracy
reporting fund and courts reporting funds in
the Spring, and is now assessing them.
The funds were to have been among the
first projects from An Coimisiún after it took
over from the Broadcasting Authority, but
were delayed over legal wrangles about
copyright and state supports, now resolved.
Meanwhile, most news headlines about
Coimisiún na Meán in recent months
concentrated on its new online safety code,
guidance issued for election candidates
facing online attacks, and a possible updated
guide to elections coverage reforming
everything from the broadcast moratorium to
increased oversight of political advertising.
However, the two funds, with the possibility
of others to follow “supporting public interest
journalism reporting on matters of public
interest which are less reported, or at risk of
under provision”, have the potential to
reinvigorate the Irish media landscape and
oer a unique opportunity to improve civil
society in Ireland.
As outlined in the report of the Commission
on the Future of Journalism, news media in
Ireland as elsewhere face extraordinary
pressures. Indeed, the situation has grown
even more complex since the Commission
delivered its report, which was published in
Misinformation and disinformation
continue to proliferate, in part because
individual journalists are overstretched due
to newsroom cutbacks, and increasingly
because of the propagation of false news,
‘pink slime’ and other disinformation tactics
by various bad-faith actors ranging from
single-interest groups to far-right extremists
and sometimes to sovereign states intent on
spreading propaganda.
Against this background, the need for
accurate and timely reporting is more acute
than even; hence the funds are particularly
They oer an opportunity not only to
support news media, but to encourage novel
reporting models. To achieve this, An
Coimisiún should be imaginative in the rage
of proposals it is willing to consider.
While it is tempting to look to well-
established media outlets as obvious
recipients of funding from the schemes, the
aim of the funds is to support reportage, not
media owners.
With that in mind, serious consideration
should be given to submissions from new
entrants, in particular those employing
freelance journalists with an established
record of reporting. Support should also be
provided to groups of journalists in setting up
new entities to avail of the funds: for example
using partnerships, co-operatives, or other
corporate structures.
An Coimisiún should look at ways to
simplify and streamline the application
procedures for the funds, in order to
encourage participation. This would include,
but is not limited to ensuring the use of ‘plain
English’ and pre-testing application forms to
identify and eliminate any ‘bugs’ which aect
ease of use.
However, all of this may be for naught if An
Coimisiún follows the usual practice of
accepting the lowest bids on its funds, an
approach which is penny-wise but pound-
foolish if it results in inferior and underfunded
services. To this end, serious consideration
must be given to the remuneration of reporters
under the scheme.
In March 2024, a National Union of
Journalists (NUJ) investigation found low pay
caused almost a third of journalists to flee a
flagship BBC scheme to fund local newspaper
coverage of councils and public interest news.
The Local Democracy Reporters (LDR)
scheme is funded by the BBC and the
journalists are employed by local newspapers.
It has similar objectives to the Schemes
proposed by Coimisiún na Meán.
According to the NUJ, while the publishers
are receiving funding from the BBC of £37,733
per filled LDR role (£39,953 in London), senior
reporters employed under the scheme are
receiving a BBC-set minimum of £24,055 (or
£26,242 in London).
The funding schemes from Coimisiún na
Meán must be more than financial aid to
publishers and broadcasters. Their purpose
must be to promote journalism, not to
subsidise media companies.
The experience in the UK shows that
journalists cannot survive unless they are
paid fairly for their time and experience. An
Coimisiún should engage with the NUJ and
other stakeholders to define satisfactory
rates to compensate the journalists employed
under the scheme.The public monies spent to
support public-service journalism should go
as much as possible to journalists, not to
media owners.
This article derives fron a personal
submission to Coimisiún na Meán on its
proposals for the local democracy reporting
and courts reporting funds in May 2024.
The funding from Coimisiún na Meán for court and
local-democracy reporting should not be financial
aid to publishers and broadcasters but rather the
promotion of journalism


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