Fake news is a big challenge but there in no viable way of legislating to prevent it, Denis Naughten has said.
The communications minister said that investment in quality journalism was the only way to counter specious online news reports.
“With technology now, you need reliable sources of news and information. Anyone can put up a malicious story online so how do people get content they can rely on? This is a big challenge in the current cybersociety we live in and we need to develop reliable sources of content,” the independent TD said.
Last week The Liberal.ie claimed that political correctness was preventing the reporting of “a massive riot of 250 mostly African Irish youths in Dublin on St Stephen’s Day”.
While there was a disturbance on Henry Street on December 26, gardai said that just four people were arrested, that there were no complaints of anyone being injured and that there was no evidence of any weapons being used.
The article claimed that the incident was “reminiscent of a scene from Baghdad” and that two gangs “kicked lumps out of each other”.
Leo Sherlock, the founder of TheLiberal.ie, said that his website had been “subjected to a vicious agenda-driven hate campaign” following the report and that he stood by the accuracy of the article.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s administration is considering fining Facebook up to €500,000 for fake news articles. Asked if similar proposals could be implemented in Ireland, Mr Naughten said that it would be impossible to enforce.
“You can’t ban anything in isolation on the internet. It would just be relocated to another jurisdiction. It’s not as simple as that. You could try to ban fake news or try to get Europe to do it but websites would just base themselves elsewhere. We have to look at how we support good quality journalism,” he said.
“I am anxious that we have reliable sources of content so that people know if they go to a site it can be guaranteed they are accessing reliable content.”
He has asked the Oireachtas communications committee to bring forward proposals on how journalism could be funded in the future.
“It may be through supporting journalists individually with bursaries, it may be that you would support some kind of public service remit across journalism, whether it was print or broadcast. I have no fixed view on it but I have asked the committee to look at the area and come forward with their suggestions,” Mr Naughten said.
Michael McDowell, an independent senator and former justice minister, yesterday said that he did not believe it was justifiable to impose massive financial penalties on fake news operators or the hosts of such material.
“I don’t know how you could deal with fake news — would you criminalise it or censor people? I don’t think the answer lies in making fake news a criminal offence,” Mr McDowell said.
“Quality journalism should stop looking over its shoulder at social media, it should not concentrate on stories that have been generated online. The more attention that is paid to social media sites the more influence they have and let’s not forget these things can be manipulated.”