Belfast Telegraph

Free Press essential for democracy, says Varadkar

By Cate McCurry

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he regrets if anyone believes he does not support a free Press following comments he reportedly made at an event in the US.

It was claimed that Mr Varadkar criticised the media, saying it is one of the few issues where he could sympathise with US President Donald Trump.

It was reported by The Times and Irish Times that when the Taoiseach was asked about Mr Trump's attacks on the media, he said the media was not interested in the truth but in the story.

Mr Varadkar added that he "strongly believes" a free Press is essential for democracy to work, but added that the media should not consider itself beyond reproach or above criticism.

He was responding to a question from Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, who accused him of attacking investigative journalism and asked for him to clarify his comments.

Speaking in the Dail, Mr Varadkar said the private event was with around 20 young Irish people who live in New York.

He said: "I strongly believe that the free Press is essential for democracy to function.

"In a democracy, the work of a free Press is as important as a parliamentary system.

"That is why I support the work of the news media and I always try to be as accessible and as open to the media as I can be and, yes, there are sometimes tensions between government and media, but that is as it should be.

"I profoundly regret if anyone in the country thinks that in any way I don't support the free press, or don't respect the work of journalists.

"The free and fair and balanced media is a cornerstone of democracy and our freedom and that's why it is so important.

"This was a private event, it was done at my request. I wanted to sit down with young Irish people living in New York to have an exchange of views with them to hear what their thoughts were on the situation in America and in Ireland.

"There is no record of it, there was no speech given. It was back-and-forth conversation involving about 15 to 20 people covering a whole range of topics.

"There was a conversation about social media and fake news, and it developed from there.

"I said a lot of positive things about the media. In particular, I acknowledged the role of investigative journalism in bringing about social change.

"There's a particular context and it wasn't printed in full."

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