World Press Freedom Day

Two days ago I sat in the beautiful surroundings of the Four Courts in Dublin to consider important issues that I’m usually too busy to think about.

It was an NUJ seminar to mark United Nations World Press Freedom Day, which is today.

The keynote address was given by the Chief Justice of Ireland Mrs Justice Susan Denham.

She pointed out the centrality of an independent judiciary and a free press to a functioning democracy.

Indeed the reporting on the deliberations of the justice system is a key role of the media.

Justice Denham is well placed to observe the world of the journalist as she is the daughter of the former editor of The Irish Times, the late Douglas Gageby.

She noted that across the planet journalists are under attack.

In the last year most of the journalists who were killed in the line of duty were not War Correspondents on the frontline in some foreign battlefield, but in their own country.

An attack on a journalist is an attack on journalism and attack on journalism is an attack on democracy.

The seminar was also addressed by the Professor John Horgan Press Ombudsman, by Michelle Stanistreet General Secretary of the NUJ, Kevin Bakhurst Managing Director of RTE News & Current Affairs at the national broadcaster here in Ireland.

All of them touched on the new challenges of the digital age.

Like all revolutions it is no respecter of tradition or reputation and it is, to summon up by favourite quote from anti-colonialist Franz Fanon “…a programme for complete disorder…”

Although much has been written, most of it online of course, about the death of the print sector no one has predicted the death of journalism.

The last two years on Planet Fitba has shown the need for a free press.

Indeed the Rangers saga, which has impacted upon all of the clubs and tribes in Scotland’s national game, has shown the dangers of a compromised media.

Freedom can be taken away by an oppressive state or it can be willingly given away in return for succulent lamb.

There was a time when this could not be counteracted.

In the lexicon of the economist it was “producer sovereignty”.

Now the consumer has other options.

In the digital age if people feel they are not being served by traditional media outlets then they can now go elsewhere.

In the journey unplanned I had no notion that so many would come here, but they have.

So let’s talk numbers.

No, I don’t mean the perfect storm that is currently drowning Sevco.

I mean you, and you and, oh yes, you.

Well there does appear to be rather a lot of you out there.

Back in the day when I saw my work in print I knew that paper was a mass produced item on sale in shops across the land.

Now this blogging thing is different.

I hit the ‘publish’ button and it is out there.

When I started this “there” usually meant computer screens, now it is more likely to be the display of a smart phone.

Last month some people looked 643,241 times.

Indeed April 2014 was only bettered by 657,517 page views  for the month of May in 2012.

That was, of course, during the high jinks laid on for us by Duff & Phelps.

The site had over five million page views in the twelve month period that saw Rangers die and Downfall published.

2013 wasn’t so bad either with 3,392,565 page views in the year that Sevco won their first title ever.

That’s an average 282,714 per month.

This year, so far, has been a bit better in terms of page views.

In the first four months of 2014 there have been 2,076,082.

That is a monthly average of 519,020 till the end of April.

I am told by techie friends that for a personal blog that doesn’t indulge in multi-media or any of that fancy Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) stuff that these figures are very good.

Well there was never any plan for me to arrive at this online juncture with this size of readership.

As with most things in life that turn out to be highly significant chance and timing has played a huge part.

It would appear that on Planet Fitba I have become a port of call of many of ye.

I find this surprising given the excellent sports journalist in Scotland who wish to keep you all so well informed about what is happening …

Anyway if you lot keep reading then I will probably have to keep writing.

However I do wish that the Fitba Fourth Estate would just step up as I would rather be doing other things with my time.

If the hacks did their job their job properly then I wouldn’t have to do it for them.

Society needs journalism and that includes Planet Fitba.

The Rangers story showed what happens when the press dine at the table of the powerful.

There is no such thing as free lamb.

Taking freebies is one way the freedom of the press can slowly ebb away just as surely as the knock on the door from the secret police.

Obeying the instructions of a corporate PR to go and tell the world that someone (their client)  is a billionaire when you have just heard of him is just as corrosive to functioning journalism as in your face state censorship.

The speakers at the seminar were standing in front of the NUJ banner which had the Union’s logo and the slogan:  ‘Media Matters’.

It does.

All of you are proof of that.

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