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NUJ calls for NAMA to be covered by Freedom of Information

20 October 2010

The Irish Secretary of the NUJ has called for the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to be covered by the Freedom of Information law. Séamus Dooley was speaking at a seminar in Dublin

The NUJ has accused the Green Party of joining Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in undermining FOI legislation in Ireland.

Referring to the challenges facing journalists covering economic issues, Séamus Dooley said:

"The task of informed analysis is made extremely difficult by the culture of secrecy at the heart of our system of public administration.
"The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act stands as a monument to the arrogance of Charlie McCreevy and Tom Parlon and the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition, which dismantled with enthusiasm the work of Eithne Fitzgerald in the original Act.
"The Green Party has signed up to that culture with the exclusion from the remit of FOI legislation of National Asset Management Agency.
"The legislation makes provision for the withholding of sensitive information but there can be no excuse for the blanket exclusion of NAMA, a State agency whose activities impact upon the lives of every citizen and will help shape the future of generations yet unborn.
"We in the NUJ must recommit ourselves to the restoration of the original Act and must make Freedom of Information – and the enactment of legislation protecting whistleblowers – issues in the next General Election, whenever it occurs.
"In the current climate, there would be undoubted public support for the principle of greater transparency in public affairs.
"I detect a strong desire for information from readers and listeners. If media organisations are to keep faith with their audience they must be prepared to invest in editorial resources."

Séamus Dooley also criticised Irish media organisations for failing to provide in-service training for journalists. The absence of in-service training, coupled with dramatic reduction in editorial impact, he said, has had a negative impact on media coverage of business.

"One of the features of the Irish media is the absence of in-service training for staff. In the field of business journalism there are few if any opportunities for up-skilling.
"How many trained accountants are there among the ranks of business journalists in Ireland? How many editors have had the luxury of releasing staff to learn the expensive skills of analysing the increasingly complicated accounts that land on their desks?
"What opportunity has there been for the development of the forensic skills, which are so necessary if journalists are not to become dependent upon the word of consultants well practiced in the art of spinning?
"The reality is that, in the good times, some resources were redeployed not to newsrooms, but to lifestyle supplements and to initiatives designed to increase advertising revenue and market share.
"For the most part, profits were directed away from editorial operations and the years of plenty were squandered. And if we did not secure enhanced budgets then, what hope now?
"The development of the property supplement as a platform for generating media revenue is worthy of major investigation.
"Newspaper owners and commercial managers wished the property dream would go on forever. In that heady environment in which property porn was king, there was no place for informed analysis – and no place for a journalist or columnist who wished to challenge the prevailing consensus."

Tags: , NAMA, FOI, economics, training, government ireland, newspapers, investigative journalism, skills