Framing the Treaty: Paul Murphy and the Irish Times

In Wednesdays Irish Times editorial the paper unsurprisingly took a strong line in supporting the fiscal treaty. What was interesting from the point of view of critical media review was how the paper then accused the treaty opposition of attempting to re-define the issue:

Opposition deputies from Sinn Féin to the ULA were already lining up to redefine the issue as “austerity”, the “iniquitous bailout”, raising again the ghosts of Nice I and Lisbon I, rallying the inveterate naysayers. The “Peoples opportunity to reject austerity at the ballot box”, was how Socialist MEP Paul Murphy described the battle ahead.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0229/1224312524779.html

Interesting in that decades of research have shown that what the mainstream media does is constantly ‘re-define’ issues in a subjective and constructed manner. Re-defining or what communication scholars call framing is how the media looks at an issue from a single  often skewed point of view usually narrowing the frame of discussion and debate.  Remember how the Irish media sidetracked  or ‘re-defined’ a private banking collapse into a debate over the ‘private and public sector’ wages and pensions and how the only solution to the property and banking crisis was the need for pay cuts to ‘restore competitiveness’. Reporting on the cause of the banking collapse was re-defined as ‘we are where we are’, policy was re-framed as ‘sharing the pain’. To say nothing of the famous ‘soft landing’ of 2007.  Recently of course the ‘we all partied’ or ‘went mad’ borrowing or even the slightly more critical frame of ‘bad bankers’ and ‘bad developers’ distracts from the actual failures of a lassiez faire planning system and private housing market.  And as shown in previous critical media review articles the entire framing of housing as a speculative commodity had a huge role in the ensuing collapse and the economic morass Ireland is now in.

It will be interesting to see how the Irish Times and rest of the Irish media frame any opposition to the treaty. Will it be on the actual issues of the fiscal treaty or will it be (as it was with Lisbon) that the voters on the no side are ‘confused‘, ‘don’t understand’ or maybe they are ‘anti-european’, ‘nationalist‘ or out right ‘xenophobic‘. Already seemingly there is a frame that people are voting no for any reason bar the fact they may actually disagree with the treaty itself.

Right of Reply?

Also in a further development it turns out Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy wrote a letter tothe Irish Times in reply to the accusation of ‘re-defining’ the debate. By the journalistic notion of  ‘right to reply’ the Irish Times should have at least printed the letter if not offered space for an article. Instead it has thus far been ignored. It seems that in times of economic crisis the ‘paper of record’ is dropping all pretence of objectivity and even denying MEPs the right of reply.  We reprint Paul Murphy’s letter below:

As your editorial of 29 February suggested, there is already an attempt to encourage people to vote on issues other than the content of the Fiscal Treaty before us. This attempt comes not from the Left opposition to the Treaty, but from the government and the establishment media. Exhibit A: that very editorial, which welcomes the Taoiseach’s description of it as an ‘essential building block in Ireland’s recovery’. Exhibit B: the Tanaiste’s suggestion that it is a vote for ‘economic stability and economic recovery and an ‘opportunity to go beyond casino capitalism’. Exhibit C: the Taoiseach’s statement that it is an ‘opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to responsible budgeting’.

Let us engage in a debate on the text. Article 3 provides for a structural deficit of a maximum of 0.5%. Ireland’s projected structural deficit in 2015 according to the Department of Finance will be 3.7%. To meet the target in one year (if the Commission was to demand it), would mean additional cuts and austerity of €5.7 billion. To meet the target over a number of years, would mean an extension of the grinding austerity that is already destroying lives and economies across Europe. It is not a Treaty for economic stability, it is a Treaty for synchronised institutionalised austerity across Europe.

Article 4 provides that Ireland will have to reduce its debt to GDP ratio at a rate of about 3% of GDP per year (presuming that Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is around 120% in 2015). If there is no economic growth, which is practically precluded by the savage cuts insisted on by Article 3, that means paying back €4.5 billion a year in principal payments to the bondholders on top of the interest of around €8 billion a year. It is a Treaty for the casino capitalists, not an opportunity to go beyond their system.

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