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Varadkar must clarify gratuitous comments on Irish media

4 July 2018

The National Union of Journalists has called on An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to clarify criticism made by him of the Irish media in New York during his official visit to the city.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, has expressed concern at his expression of “sympathy” with Donald Trump’s view of the media, describing it as a “spectacular own goal” in the context of Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

According to reports in The Irish Times and Times, Leo Varadkar told a lunch attended by members of the Irish diaspora that he sympathised with President Trump’s views on the media and criticised political coverage in Ireland. He is reported to have been critical of named RTÉ programmes and was quoted as saying that journalists “were never held to account when they make mistakes”.

The lunch, held in the official residence of Ireland’s most senior diplomat in New York, formed part of the official visit to the city to mark the launch of Ireland’s bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Séamus Dooley, said:

“Mr Varadkar needs to clarify his comments as a matter of urgency. If the object of the visit to New York was to project Ireland as a modern democracy then expressing sympathy with Donald Trump’s views on the media was a spectacular own goal by An Taoiseach.  
"Freedom of expression is a core principle of the United Nations. Donald Trump has shown nothing but contempt for the media and it is disturbing that Leo Varadkar should in any way align himself with the views of the American president on this issue.
"He is clearly unaware of the impact on Irish journalism of Ireland’s libel laws. He also seems unaware of the work of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Press Council of Ireland, in terms of media accountability.
"An Taoiseach’s criticism of RTÉ is especially concerning since it suggests a hostility towards an organisation which, by definition, requires the goodwill and support of government.  His reported comments on Prime Time, if true are gratuitous and insulting.
"He is entitled to his personal views on the media but his comments were made at an official function hosted by the Irish government for Irish citizens. This was not a casual conversation between mates but an overview by An Taoiseach and is therefore deserving of scrutiny.
“If the object of his meeting was to give an overview on the media landscape in Ireland it would have be more appropriate to discuss the issue of media ownership and control, an issue An Taoiseach has failed to address.
"Irish journalists and media organisations are well able to give and take criticism. What is disturbing about this incident is the nature of the event, the decision of An Taoiseach to target named programmes and groups, and the cowardly decision to do so off the record. Having done so it is hardly credible that he or his officials should complain that he has been quoted out of context.”

Tags: , ireland, leo varadkar, donald trump, rte, The Irish Times, Prime Time