Bias? What Bias?

The Press, Market Ideologies and the Irish Housing Crisis

Henry Silke, of this parish, wrote a short paper for the newly founded Political Economy Research Centre at Goldsmiths University, London. The paper looks at the links between the media and the property industries and looks at the coverage of housing and property in the run up to the 2007 general election:

The time period was chosen for two reasons. Firstly the drop in house prices first began in the second quarter of 2007 and secondly because this coincided with the general election that year which was held on the 24th of May. This election was probably the last major opportunity for debate in the ‘public sphere’ on the property bubble before the crash, and certainly it was the last opportunity for people to vote before the crash.

The report looks at where the Irish Independent and the Irish Times sourced their information on housing; sourcing is an important issue in media as journalists depend on sources for information which is then further mediated to the public, often as fact. The results are stark: 

 In the coverage of property in the Irish Times and Irish Independent a key finding was the dominance of elite sources connected with the property and finance industries as compared to ordinary sources such as home buyers and renters. In fact, out of 800 articles, only one reflected critically the views of tenants. This is especially the case in the property and business sections. The greatest total single overall source on the issue of housing is comprised of estate agents, accounting for some 28% of total sources and 29% of sources by frequency. This high skewing of estate agent sources is due to the large number of advertorial articles in the property sections but nonetheless the lack of critique within the property sections even from a consumer perspective (never mind a public interest, business or societal perspective), still leaves much to be desired.

In the news sections official sources, especially politicians are most prevalent with 69% of total sources. This can be broken down to 29% government parties’ representatives and manifestos; 34% opposition parties representatives and manifestos and 6% local government and government agency sources. 17% of articles also included sources from the finance and property industries…

 

…the parties with pro-market polices make up the vast majority of sources in the papers although it may be argued this reflected party political support at the time. When compared, the Irish Independent and Irish Times have a roughly similar ratio of party political representation. Economically right wing political sources make up the majority with approximately 65% of representatives being openly free market parties (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats). If we include Labour who had a 2007 policy of subsidising the market by offering large grants to be used to buy private housing (the number would go up to approximately 77%). Representatives of parties that call for non-market solutions to housing make up just under 9% of sources (Sinn Fein, The Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance), while the Green Party, which called for stricter market regulation, come in at 10.5%.

The most striking figure is that of what we term use value sources, that is sources such as renters and home buyers who are interested in the property solely for its use, i.e. to live or work in it. Use value sources make up only 2% of total sources and appearing in only 2% of all articles. This compares to ‘exchange value’ sources (from the property and finance industries) making up 43% of total sources and appearing in 44% of all articles.

A key observation from this research is that statements from sources in private industry are generally reported as fact with little or no critique. There is an absence of critical engagement with the claims advanced by such manifestly partisan sources and the consequent lack of any independent or investigative journalism orientated to a wider public interest. This overly skewed sourcing could be described as a manifest ‘capturing’ of the press by property and finance sources and may help to explain the downplaying of the oncoming crisis, and the lack of critique of the massive inflation of the cost of housing as will be discussed below.

The report goes on to discuss some of the treatment and framing of the housing by the Irish Times and Irish Independent:

The key trends included an overall market-orientated frame: that is that housing was primarily looked at from the point of view of the market rather than society. Elements of this included the privileging of exchange value over use value, non-critical reporting of markets and market sources, and a ‘fragmented imagination’ – that is the artificial division of events. For example, while corruption on housing issues such as rezoning was heavily covered in the news sections on the political side, the industrial side of the corruption was completely ignored and corruption itself was not covered in business or property sections of the papers. The role of the state, following clear neo-liberal norms, is seen positively, as existing to serve the market, to return it to stability; or negatively as a malign force causing instability in the markets.

The report goes on the discuss the lack of critical engagement in the newspapers with issues such as house prices and the property markets:

The residential property supplement in both newspapers displayed an uncritical, aspirational and advertorial discourse when reporting individual properties. At times, advertorial type articles also find their way into the business and news sections. Not one article questioned whether an individual property may be overpriced, the minimum expected of even a consumerist publication. Overall in the newspapers, including the news sections, the key issue is of the market and ‘market stability’ rather than either consumer or social good. In the news sections there is an acknowledgement of a need for a second tier housing supply for those who cannot afford to purchase on the open market. But the third tier of private rental accommodation (beyond one article) remains invisible. In the property and commercial sections the rental property market is framed from the perspective of landlords and investors. Even second tier housing is framed on a market basis from the point of view of private companies or developers involved in the supply of public housing. In Op-Ed articles, market stability is the major issue again trumping the crisis of affordability or the social need for housing. The only questioning of rental prices is from the point of view of business focusing on the danger of wage demand inflation arising from higher rents.

On the role of the state:

The discussion around state policy played into the neoliberal trope of state ‘interference’ distorting a functioning market. Material issues such as overproduction and price inflation are ignored and assumptions of market self-regulation (without state interference) appear implied. This is an important finding as it reflects the neo-classical viewpoint that markets work and are self-regulating and that crisis came not from markets themselves but from behavioural, psychological and political interferences that cause irrational exuberance, crashes and crises. Again, given the non-critical sourcing of both papers from orthodox neoclassical economists and the lack of any evidence of independent fact checking or investigation, this is probably not surprising.

The report concludes:

There is ample evidence from the research to state that the role of newspapers when covering the property industry was not one of objective reporters or ‘watchdogs’ reporting on the issue of housing from the point of public interest. Rather, the newspapers’ key role was as advertisers for the industry, facilitating exchanges of uncritical information between industry players, and as an ideological apparatus. This apparatus acted to normalise the hyperinflation of housing, celebrate high property prices, downplay alternatives and, crucially, acted to play down the contradictions in the Irish system that were heading towards a crash.

And:

The newspapers did not act in accordance with the overall public interest in mind but rather narrow sectional and economistic interests. There were some exceptions to this, in particular in some opinion pieces. However, the main trends and frames point to a ‘captured press’; that is a press in the service of a narrow class-based interest. This does not represent an accusation of a ‘conspiracy’, as stated by Geraldine Kennedy (2015) in her evidence to the banking inquiry. Rather, this is evidence of key structural, institutional and ideological biases that were apparent in the analysis of the content. A key element to this process was the framing of housing not as a social need but as a commodity whose chief role was to create wealth rather than supply housing. This allowed for the celebration of the hyperinflation of housing and rental costs. The market-orientated framing also included the neo-classical and idealistic belief in market self-regulation, either denying or playing down the possibility of a crash. The lack of critique may well have helped to both build and prolong the bubble itself. That is not to say the media caused the crisis. There were long term material and political structural issues at its core. However, the newspapers did play the role of facilitator, supplying ideological and political cover to an economic elite who profiteered greatly from the hyperinflation of housing and the sale of financial products. This assisted in laying the grounds for the housing crash, the economic crisis and the subsequent financial bailout, alongside the severe austerity policies that then followed.

And finally:

There is little evidence that this framing of housing as a commodity rather than a social need has changed as most discourse continues to be around ‘fixing the market’ rather than thinking outside of it

The full paper can be found here.

Ireland’s invisible, but omnipresent, right-wing

critical media review:

An insightful interview with Gene Kerrigan from Mediabite:

Originally posted on MEDIABITE:

An Interview with Gene Kerrigan

The Irish news industry “strive[s] to establish the important facts in the rapidly changing environment“, it “provide[s] vigilance and challenge to assist understanding.” It is “primarily concerned with serious issues for the benefit of the community throughout the whole of Ireland free from any form of…control“. It has “endeavoured to ensure reporting was accurate and reflected the facts…reflect[ing] all shades of opinion“. And it aspires to “reflect the ever-changing panorama which is human life“.

We know this because a conga line of editors, former editors, CEO’s and directors from Ireland’s most prominent news making institutions recently told us so in evidence presented to the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis. Any suggestion that this is not the case is a “conspiracy”, peddled by “conspiracy theorists” from “a[n unrecognisable]…

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Tom Murphy (CEO), and Tim Vaughan (Editor) of the Irish Examiner on the Role of Media during the Property Boom

Tom Murphy and Tim Vaughan, CEO and Editor of the Irish Examiner at the time of the housing bubble, spoke to the Dail Committee investigating the banking crisis on the role of their paper in the housing bubble.

In his evidence Tim Vaughan states:

If we were guilty of anything – and I believe we were – it is that we believed and accepted that institutions such as the financial regulatory authorities were doing their jobs and doing them competently, with due diligence, appropriate compliance policies and proper political and departmental oversight, all of which we believed were designed to ensure the stability of our economy. From what we know as a result of the Honohan, Regling-Watson and Nyberg reports and the contributions of others to this inquiry, it appears to be obvious that our trust in these various arms and agents of the State was, to say the least, misplaced.

I acknowledge that there was insufficient critique of the frequent claims that there would be no crash and our so-called economic miracle would continue to be an example to the world. We should have more rigorously challenged the predictions of analysts and economists, including those who contributed to our newspaper and those who had direct or indirect associations with financial institutions. While this is an accusation that could be levelled at many editors and publishers throughout the world, much better resourced than my own organisation,

Video and transcript of the session can be found here 

 

 

 

Harry Browne: Opening statement to Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss with the committee the role of the media, as part of the ‘context’ phase of its inquiry into the banking crisis. I understand from your invitation that you wish to discuss the following: the role in mainstream media for scepticism about the sustainability of the housing boom or the strength of the broader economy; potential conflicts of interest among media organisations; the promotion of property ownership over other forms of tenure; and the prevailing view that there would be a soft landing. In my opening statement I will address these in broad terms and and am happy to explore them more specifically thereafter.

Print and broadcast media in Ireland played an immeasurable but almost-certainly significant role in the inflation of the property bubble and the legitimation of risky behaviour by the financial-services sector in the lead-up to the crisis of 2007-08, and did so partly by ignoring or marginalising scepticism about these phenomena. I will focus in my statement on the newspaper industry, and I will argue that this socially destructive role should be understood not as a ‘failing’ of Irish newspapers but as a feature, one that flows predictably from commercial media’s structural relationship with the corporate forces that benefited from the bubble. While this relationship is of very long standing and continues, to some extent, to this day, I will further argue that there were certain aspects of the development of newspapers in the 1990s and early 2000s – particularly acute in Ireland but also experienced elsewhere in the world – that made them especially vulnerable to domination by those forces, and weakened the capacity of journalists to play the critical, adversarial, investigative role that most of them undoubtedly value.

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Joint Committee of Inquiry of the Banking Crisis – The Role of the Media

Dr Julien Mercille said that after the crash, the media also presented the Government's crisis resolution policies in a largely favourable manner

Today Julien Mercille and Harry Browne were called to give evidence at the banking inquiry on the role of the media in the housing bubble and crisis:

Julien Mercille’s testimony  can be found here:

Harry Browne’s testimony can be found here:

Comment to follow

‘Dail Eireann isn’t Exactly a Bling Ring’ says the Journal.ie

journalThe Journal.ie concludes that ‘Dáil Eireann isn’t exactly a bling ring’ having found three-quarters of TDs have another source of income/assets on top of their €87,000 salary and that 54% own shares and/or land, residential investment or commercial property. Also, both the Environment Minister, Alan Kelly, and the Junior Minister for Housing, Paudie Coffey, are landlords. In a previous article here, The Journal informs us Kelly is against rent control. And sure what harm is a little property speculation between friends.

 

THE ERT WE WANT – General Assembly of ERT Workers

(This article is taken from the Workers’ Solidarity Movement website which can be found here)

The capitalist crisis saw the closure of Greek Radio-Television (ERT) but workers not only resisted they took ERT into collective self management and continued broadcasting. 21 months after its closure the striking workers still ran 17 radio stations (15 regional, two national) and a single TV channel (ET3).

The translation of the texts below has been sent to us by Thanasis, a worker at the ERT and outline how the workers restructured ERT and what they want Syriza to respect if funding is returned. Thanasis writes:

Actually, and in simple words, they fired us but we never left the building and of course we never took an  advance to earn money (publicity etc) respecting the fact that all these buldings and technical stuff belong to the Greek people.  The new government after having recognized our struggle decided to re-open the Public Radio-television. Lets hope they will also incorporate our ideas, those we fought for over the last 2 years. What you will read is not a dream. Is what we already do everyday and we simply propose it for the future.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

TEXT–PROPOSAL issued by the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the WORKERS of FREE SELF-MANAGED ERT3

On the occasion of the first anniversary since the government shut down the country’s public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) in a coup-like move on the night of June 11, 2013, we the workers of the Self-managed ERT3 who have persevered with our independent struggle to keep ERT3 open for over a year now in order to serve the people by providing regular and independent programming, we the workers who are convinced of our rights and the oncoming vindication, are preparing for the “day after” and are hereby presenting our text/proposal for “The ERT We Want”.

The following text has emanated through direct-democracy procedures, namely through the numerous general assemblies organized by the struggling workers of ERT3 in Thessaloniki. Written word by word by a nine-member working group which was voluntarily selected through our assembly, the proposal was returned to the general assembly for approval before it took its final form.

The proposed text outlines the key principles and aims, the means of financing, the sector of labor relations, the public’s participation and the model of «administration» during ERT’s new period of operation.

It is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of people who stood by us in solidarity during all these troubled months, as well as to all the Greeks and other peoples who have been profoundly affected by the brutal pro-memorandum government policy of recent years. Yet, it is particularly dedicated to those who refuse to bow their head and choose to carry on with dignity and unceasing efforts until the final victory for freedom and real democracy, instead of yielding in the face of a black regime.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 are publicizing this document today, calling on all of our struggling colleagues throughout the country, on our brothers and sisters in Athens, in other large cities and in the proud regional stations to embrace our effort so that we may all together press ahead with dignity.

We call upon the general public to support the Public Broadcaster we dream of; this dream is society’s offspring, society gave birth to this dream.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 declare: VICTORY IS NEAR, NOT BECAUSE VICTORY AWAITS US, BUT BECAUSE WE ARE MOVING TOWARDS VICTORY.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

KEY PRINCIPLES AND AIMS
Independent information and quality-driven cultural/entertainment programming provided by a truly PUBLIC and DEMOCRATIC broadcasting organization constitutes a public good, not a commodity. Freedom of press, uncensored journalistic work, absence of “orders” from superiors, cultural creativity and promotion and the unimpeded conduct of investigative journalism for the good of the general public, especially for the weaker social groups and movements, all constitute a uniform and non-negotiable right and obligation.

The voice of ERT must be transmitted everywhere in Greece and anywhere Greeks reside in the world. The state has a duty to provide the appropriate and necessary infrastructure to fulfill this purpose.

Respect for human rights, both individual and social, is to be enforced by all workers without exception, for the citizens of the country and the world. ERT’s role is partly educational; it is to provide quality cultural material, offer an outlet of expression for the isolated social groups, as well as care for the advancement of the creative imagination of the younger age groups by encouraging interactive skills and critical thinking. ERT ensures in practice the protection of human dignity, while it highlights, denounces and rejects all expressions of racism, bigotry, sexism, nationalism, state authoritarianism or any form of discrimination against individuals or groups targeted for their political / social / trade union action.

ERT serves society and its needs while it also serves as an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-fragmentation-cannibalism”, whenever the given political power attempt to cultivate these traits within the society based on the logic of “divide and rule”. ERT checks the political power and does not identify with said power, as it is neither a government body nor an institution at the service of parties and individual or business

The ERT has been serving the community and its needs, while simultaneously an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-hash-cannibalism”, whenever the power of any attempts to cultivate the society based on the premise of “divide and rule”. ERT controls the power and not the same as it is neither a government body and its mechanisms, or institution of parties and organized individual or business «circles».

The general assemblies of workers and the active working folk remain vigilant in observing these principles and aims at all stages of ERT’s operation, in order to prevent any attempts at interference, may that be via censorship or other, regardless of which institution this attempt may stem from. FUNDING The licensing fee is ERT’s main source of funding; it is not to be utilized for any purpose unrelated to the public broadcaster’s needs and does not constitute in any way a funding opportunity for the given government (i.e. transferring a portion of the licensing fee to state investments in photovoltaics).

The compensation rate is determined in accordance to income / social criteria. Those living below the poverty line are exempted from paying the licensing fee.

ERT operates under a special economic state, i.e. a public utility that cannot be transferred or sold to private entities. ERT ceases to be a corporation. ERT, as a public broadcaster that actively exercises its role in providing quality information, producing programs that serve as public goods and not commodities, will not become involved in the advertisement genre. The additional financial needs that will arise, may they be for larger-scale productions or for the broadcast of breaking news shall be covered by the state.

Excluded from the no-advertisement clause will be the ERT channel assigned to broadcast an event that is accompanied by sponsorships.

LABOR RELATIONS

All of ERT employees will be hired under an open-ended work agreement, with full-time and exclusive employment and insurance rights, without exception. There will be no differentiation between regular and temporary staff.

All (de)regulatory rules (articles and clauses on contracts or staff regulations) that perpetuate the status of short-term contracted employees and instead conceal fixed and permanent needs in the operation of ERT will become null and void. “Outsourced program collaborators”, “special advisers” and “Special Staff Positions” have no place in the new operation of ERT. There will be no employees transferred from subcontracting companies.

Members of staff with specialized subject work (cleaning crews, security, cameramen, etc.) constitute an integral part of ERT’s human resources and they are individuals hired specifically for the said task, holding the same rights as all other workers. Any significant new need that may arise to cover “gaps” in programming shall be met either through the existing specialized staff and, if this is not feasible, then it shall be covered by staff that will be hired at ERT with exactly the same employment terms that apply to the other workers.

The actual emergencies for external ‘seasonal’ collaborator or employees with reduced working hours will be reviewed as special cases by the instituted bodies of program production, which will undertake to submit detailed proposals to the body of the General Assembly, which will make the final decisions after assessing all the facts of each case separately.

PARTICIPATION OF SOCIETY

ERT, as a broadscaster with a truly public service character, is behooved to pay close attention to the voice of the very society it addresses. To fulfill this objective, ERT will provide the conditions that enable a participatory formation of the overall philosophy of the transmitted program.

In order to avoid overriding the will of the people and the arbitrary representation of social groups of “factors” and vested interests of the political, social, economic, self-governing powers, the citizens’ society shall have first say in the subsidiary influencing of the overall program philosophy, through its the solidarity structures, social movements, collectives, or individuals who are experiencing racism and repression, neighborhood committees, direct democracy grassroots initiatives and the assemblies of the unions representing the struggling sectors of Greek society. R

epresentatives of these aforementioned living cells of society will undertake to convey the decisions of their general assemblies or the views that are shaped as a general sense of society and, in conjunction with the proposals that will be submitted to ERT (the program committees and ERT staff assemblies) by representatives of various scientific meetings / training / professional sectors, a largely unmediated hearing will have been achieved. This ensures ERT’s truly public nature, which is not merely addressing the public, but is mainly initiated by the people themselves.

ADMINISTRATION

Two of the main characteristics of the months-long struggle maintained by the workers ERT against the government-enforced “black screen”, the self-management of the produced programming and the self-administration of the struggle, are incorporated as non-negotiable conquests in the new operation of ERT. The overall philosophy of “administration” is based on direct democratic procedures, the rotation of the various departments supervisors and their direct recall, where the main decision-making body, that is the general assembly of workers, so decides.

The classic notion of directorship or the position of department “supervisor” acquires characteristics that have to do with the ability to exercise a coordinating role in order to improve internal operations and achieve a better result in the transmitted program. The so-called ‘managerial prerogative’ is abolished and is replaced by the principle of respect among equals. The department coordinators (supervisors) shall be elected by the employees of the department. They are accountable, reviewed and may be recalled by the General Assembly of the workers. The same stands for the individual administrations.

Similarly, the general coordinator (the classic position of general manager) is excluded from the above outline. The election of the general coordinator is made by the general assembly of the employees of ERT. In all, the position of the general coordinator / manager does not hold the power and imposition of a blanket authoritarian management / operation of ERT, but, instead aims to coordinate the departments in order to achieve the best quality results for the benefit of society and the potential for enlargement of the rights and the defense of the gains of the people, including the right to free and independent information and quality entertainment.

ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY

ERT, regardless where it broadcasts from, constitutes a unified, public broadcasting organization, while, concurrently, each and every channel, radio or digital media of ERT (among them ERT3) maintains its administrative autonomy. ERT has the necessary human resources and the appropriate broadcasting infrastructure in every county of Greece, in order to assure that any local or breaking news in the given regions is covered on the spot.

Solidarity, mutual understanding, respect for autonomy and coordination among the members of this public broadcaster constitute prerequisites not only for the implementation and consolidation of internal direct democracy procedures, but also for the prevention of a centrally-controlled administration. Nationwide meetings of coordinators and committees of all broadcasting units in the country will be held at regular intervals, conveying the decisions of the general meetings of workers and civil society in order to exchange views, to address weaknesses and to continuously improve the broadcast program.

State and Media

 

 

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Today’s triumphalist Evening Herald celebrates the jailing of five anti-water protesters alongside an obvious accusation of corruption against two anti-water charge Councillors from the People Before Profit Alliance, the pair being accused of abusing council printing facilities. However according to Workers’ Party Councillor Eilis Ryan earlier correspondence between her and council officials stated that no such printing limits exist. As is widely known Denis O’Brien is a key shareholder in Independent News and Media (owners of the Evening Herald) while also being the owner of GMC Sierra the company who brought the injunction against the 5 protesters. Readers may draw their own conclusions.

elis ryan

Are Palestinians not worth speaking to? Again on the Irish Times, Charlie Flanagan and that visit to the Middle East:

critical media review:

Kevin Squires in the second of a three part series on the coverage of the Irish foreign affairs minister to Gaza. Kevin Squires is a Palestine solidarity and political activist based in Ireland. A frequent contributor to various Irish leftist publications, he blogs about music, comedy, comics and politics at Citizen Partridge.

Originally posted on Citizen Partridge:

flanagan-liberman

Following on from yesterday’s withering look at Irish media coverage (or lack thereof) of Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan’s visit to Gaza as part of a wider tour of the Middle East, I am compelled to once again put finger to keyboard to take investigate at two aspects of this visit. Firstly, the ongoing coverage in the Irish Times and, secondly (in a later post), dissecting what the Minister has said during the trip.

In the first instance, it’s important to at least acknowledge that the Irish Times has deemed this visit to Gaza, Israel and the West Bank as being newsworthy enough to have run three pieces on it, all written by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic. Contrast this with, for example, the total absence of this news from the Irish Independent – which did find the webspace for a story about something that happened in Israel, and which for…

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