Friday, February 22, 2019

Paddy Agnew in Irish Times’ gig economy for 31 years

Sunday Times - Ireland

The Irish Times newspaper is involved in an international labour dispute with Paddy Agnew, an Irishman, who worked as Rome Correspondent for the Irish Times for 28 years on a monthly salary plus expenses, without interruption.

In 2016 the newspaper presented Agnew with a proposed 50% pay cut and a one-off lump sum of €50,000. He rejected the démarche.

This month the Irish Times won an unfair dismissal claim by the journalist on a technicality, at an Italian labour relations hearing — even though Paddy Agnew’s contract was with an Irish company, the judge of the labour court ruled that Agnew should have been a member of the Italian journalists’ guild to be considered a legitimate correspondent.

It's as if Ireland should force foreign correspondents based in Dublin to join the National Union of Journalists!

The Irish Times has not reported on the Italian ruling against Agnew but apparently, Liam Kavanagh, the chief executive of the publisher, sent a memo to staff advising of the Italian ruling and disclosing that the journalist has to pay costs of €7,250.

The Irish Times is reported by other media to have claimed to the Italian labour court that Agnew had worked "only freelance" and had never been the Rome Correspondent of the newspaper.

Paddy Agnew began writing for the newspaper in 1986 and his involvement with the newspaper was over 31 years.

Also in 1986, Conor Brady was appointed editor of the newspaper, and on his retirement in 2002, he got a stunning 12-year non-compete deal worth about €1m together with a generous pension that was activated early. It was a strange deal in a small country with just 3 broadsheet daily newspapers (today the publisher of The Irish Times owns two of them).

The gig economy

The Irish Times has published several articles on the gig/ freelancer economy in recent times.

Should it matter that permanent journalists with occupational pensions, not available to 71% of the Irish private sector economy, would ignore its own employer's gig economy?

This is a a sampling of articles:

Consumer safety is gig economy’s biggest problem;

Lawmakers must Deliveroo a ‘third way’ to protect gig economy workers - Some people are clearly something in between being employees and self-employed;

Buying into sharing economy not a sure bet;

Gig economy is the mass exploitation of millennials;

Gig economy suits employers more than workers;

Chris Horn: Time for unions to become players in gig economy.

Rome Correspondent?

A number of examples where Paddy Agnew was cited as an Irish Times correspondent:

Patsy McGarry, IT Religious Affairs correspondent, wrote in March 2015: “One of the great privileges of my day job is that I get to Rome reasonably regularly. Were it not for our Rome correspondent, Paddy Agnew, I would be there even more often. I remind him of this frequently, to little effect.”

"Italy earthquake: Death toll rises to 247 as town of Amatrice devastated- Our Rome Correspondent Paddy Agnew reports from the scene of Amatrice."

'The Irish Times: 150 Years of Influence' by Terence Brown, was published in 2015:

Brown named Agnew among the "strong team of international correspondents" at the newspaper.

Hypocrisy and transparency

Transparency and the concept of conflict of interest are often ignored in Ireland.

In 1766 Sweden became the first country in the world to permit freedom of the press and it has had a tradition of ombudsmen since 1809.

The word ombudsman comes from Swedish, as a person who acts as a representative and it was decided that an institution independent of the king was needed to ensure that laws and statutes were obeyed. The first Parliamentary Ombudsman was appointed in 1810.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, developer of the World Wide Web (WWW) has an organisation, the World Wide Web Foundation, which compiles a ranking on how transparent governments are with digital data.

The UK was in first place again in 2016. Ireland was behind Russia with a ranking of 26th.

Paul O'Neill, the current Irish Times editor, has set the bar high on the newspaper's position in Irish society:

"The Irish Times is the most important national forum for thinkers and doers in Irish society. We offer a platform for critical, constructive and divergent comment in the different spheres including business, politics and public affairs, culture, the environment, health and education. We have moved in recent years from being a newspaper of record to a newspaper of reference.

The Irish Times occupies a special position as a pacemaker for change in the society which it serves."

Why then would the newspaper not report on a story involving its former Rome Correspondent when it would have done so if it was in respect of an in-house dispute in for example Independent News & Media plc (INM)?

Think of the culture within the Catholic Church in Ireland when embarrassing news was suppressed.

If Paddy Agnew was a freelancer but an international correspondent, was it fair that a Washington Correspondent in a city of about 7,000 journalists, would remain in the newspaper's Irish pension scheme, cost a multiple of what was paid to the Rome Correspondent, and have a job back in Dublin when the assignment finished?

There is no justification for an expat Irish Washington Correspondent when access to American news in the digital age is much easier than news on the Eurozone's third biggest economy.

The Irish Times may agree on a settlement with Paddy Agnew in future — given the Irish culture of limited or no transparency, details of such a settlement would likley remain secret — but that shouldn't silence Irish Times journalists who so far have been silent lambs on this controversy.

Apparently Liam Kavanagh, the Irish Times chief executive, told staff that media coverage of the issue has been "inaccurate" — this is a weird claim from a newspaper publisher, that has forbidden the newspaper's journalists from covering the case.

How can journalists such as Fintan O'Toole, Kathy Sheridan, Kitty Holland and Una Mullally, credibly lament the mistreatment of workers and hold politicians to account, when they remain silent on this issue?

It's easy to see the humps on the political camels but do not forget your own!

The Swedish Freedom of the Press Act 1766 is regarded as the world's first Freedom of Information Act.

However, following a period of instability including a coup d'état by King Gustav III in 1771 and his assassination in 1792, a new constitution was approved by the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, in 1809.

The constitution contained the main principles of the 1766 law including the right of access to public information. The censorship of academic and theological publications was abolished. In 1812 principles of editorial responsibility and specific rules for the legal process were enshrined in the law. In 1949 the law was updated, but the main principles of 1766 were retained.

On the 250th anniversary in 2016 of the Freedom of the Press Act 1766, the Riksdag published a compendium of essays on the evolution of freedom of the press and public access to Swedish official documents, with some limitations such as national security.

In the UK and Ireland, most documents on ministerial interactions, are subject to what is called the 30-year rule. Irish media organisations also lack transparency.

Details of members of the Irish Times Trust and Board of Directors are available on this page.

The Guardian, Feb 22, 2019: If news is dying, who will safeguard democracy? | Hossein Derakhshan | When the news industry began 200 years ago, it grounded the world in fact. Now faith, localism and entertainment rule. "The invention of the electric telegraph in the 1830s allowed the fast and international transmission of bursts of information in short, staccato messages, which were, ironically, not unlike tweets..."

In uncertain times, news organisations must maintain high standards and avoid credibility gaps that undermine public trust.