Press Ombudsman: Ian O’Doherty was “factually inaccurate” on Palestinian Solidarity Movement

A vindication for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), and particularly the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) as the Press Ombudsman rules that a hatchet job piece by the Irish Independent‘s Ian O’Doherty was “factually inaccurate” in relation to two slurs on the movement.

The complaint was made to the Ombudsman’s office by journalism lecturer Harry Browne, who is also a founder member of Academics for Palestine, a group of scholars that advocates an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

In a column on 24th June, Mr. O’Doherty  described the BDS movement as being “loud and shrill in their calls for a complete boycott of individual Israelis, regardless of their own political affiliation” and advocating “blanket boycotts of anything involving Jews.” There were falsehoods, and the Ombudsman stated that “the article was factually inaccurate in relation to the two statements”.

In fact, as the Press Ombudsman correctly points out in his ruling:

BDS campaigns for a widespread boycott of Israeli institutions and organisations. It does not campaign for a boycott of all Israeli citizens. Neither does BDS campaign for a boycott of “anything involving Jews”. Its campaign, though widespread in its targets, is limited to a boycott of Israeli State institutions as well as economic, cultural, sporting and academic organisations. It does not extend, as the author claimed, to “anything involving Jews”.

These were not the only inaccuracies, half-truths and outright falsehoods in the piece by Mr. O’Doherty – which you can subject yourself to here should you have a masochistic streak. For the full context to article, please also read these two pieces:

* IPSC Statement on the cancellation of the Israeli Feis: A victory for Palestinian rights marred by disgusting and defamatory comments

* Lies, Damned Lies and the Mainstream Media: The curious case of the cancellation of the Israeli Feis

Nor is this the only time this particular pundit has used his position of privilege in a national newspaper to undermine the struggle for Palestinian rights and freedoms, and applaud the actions of apartheid Israel.

In previous articles, Mr. O’Doherty has referred to the nine participants on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla killed by Israeli commandos as being “murderous fanatics,” and has incorrectly claimed that “hatred that characterises every single aspect of Palestinian life, from school books to television shows, which glory in the murder of Jews.”

He has also denied that collective punishment – which of course is illegal under international law – is Israeli policy when it comes to Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, gone so far as to praise Israel for “acting with a ridiculous degree of restraint” during Operation Cast Lead. During this assault on Gaza, Israeli occupation forces killed over 1,400 Palestinians, around 900 of them civilians including  over 300 children in 23 days, and left vast carnage – including the destruction of over 4,000 homes, civilian infrastructure and other damage, in total amounting to around $2 billion’s worth of damage – behind them.

This article was originally posted by the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign

What is Media Framing?

framing

Media framing can simply be described as the angle or perspective from which a news story is told. While news is often thought to be objective and value free this is rarely if ever the case.  In fact most news stories are value laden in both their production and content. News is not an exact representation of reality but rather a reconstruction from various angles of a small section of reality. This is not to say journalists necessarily lie or consciously distort the truth,  but that journalists by covering particular stories, using particular sources from a particular news angle are constructing reality through a selective process.  Moreover they are constrained both by the work practices, constraints of resources and their relationship to shareholders and/or managers.

While agenda setting or gatekeeping decides what a newspaper or broadcaster covers or  does not cover, the frame is the overarching angle of how the various stories are treated once they are covered. Framing, like agenda setting, is an inherently ideological act (whether consciously or not).  The frame of a story (or group of stories) will have influence on how that story is investigated and reported, who the journalist chooses to speak to, what questions he or she asks and how information is interpreted and reported.

Various issues can influence how frames are created; not least overarching ideologies in societies or what is often considered ‘common sense’.  Likewise issues such as the race, class and gender of journalists, editors, owners and audiences can influence framing. Finally the production of news or how news is constructed is of importance. News makers often depend on institutional sources such as police, courts and politicians to supply stories which can both influence agenda and how a story is defined.

fox news

Audience matters. Fox News Latino vs Fox News (Media Matters – 8 Aug 2014) https://twitter.com/mmfa/status/497856477802278912

One example of Framing is the drugs issue; there are numerous ways this issue can be framed.

1: The law and order frame – here the key issue is that drug addicts or junkies are criminals putting our communities and children at risk. Drug pushers must be stopped and petty crime or even crime waves are caused by junkies feeding their habit. Moreover addicts shooting up on streets is unsightly, immoral and bad for tourism. Local Politicians or the Minister of Justice may be questioned on why something isn’t done; victims of crime may be interviewed or businesses who are in areas frequented by addicts. Likewise police may be questioned on what they are doing to curb the criminal activities.

2: Drug misuse as a health issue: Here the key framing is the health of the drug user and issues of health in wider society. Here a Health Minister might be interviewed to discuss funding for treatment centres, various health professionals or experts may be interviewed on issues such as treatment or controversies about types of treatment.

3: Drug misuse as a social problem: Here drug misuse may be framed as a social issue connected with class, race and dysfunctional society. Here the question of which areas are worst affected by drug use and associated crimes might be discussed alongside issues such as unemployment and social deprivation.

4: Recreational Drugs should be legal: In this less common frame recreational drugs are seen as a normal part of society and issues such as addiction and social problems are downplayed or compared with already legal drugs such as alcohol or cigarettes. The cost of ‘the war and drugs’ and the issue of the criminalisation of dealers are often an issue here and policies of ‘harm reduction’ may be emphasised.

How do you deconstruct frames?

Deconstructing frames is important as it can help to challenge ideological and power structures in society. Deconstructing Frames is an inherently qualitative process that can be difficult to perform, but with structure and with other elements such as sourcing and content analysis it can be done in a systematic and useful fashion. Some questions to consider are:

  1. What assumptions are in the articles? Frames  often have an overarching assumption or assumptions: For example in the current economic crisis there is often  an overarching assumption of what is termed ‘Neo Liberal Economics’ one aspect of this frame assumes cuts are necessary in times of recession. This is at odds with other economic theories such as Keynesianism which favour counter cyclical government intervention. In the neo liberal frame the issue is not whether or not there should be cuts (that there should be cuts is a given), but rather where will the cuts fall, what is ‘fair’ etc. Organisations such as trade unions can often get caught up in the ‘fairness’ of cuts frame while missing the wider picture.
  2. Who are the sources? Who are the main source or ‘primary definers’ that sets the tone and agenda of the report? For example in most cases of violence in protest marches or political actions the police act as primary definer and it is assumed they were attacked even when this was clearly not the case. In most coverage of the housing crisis the sources have been heavily biased towards the property industry (see below for sourcing analysis on the 2008 Irish Bank Guarantee).
  3. What kind of language is used, adjectives such as ‘left’ or ‘hard left’ being used to describe Jeremy Cobryn is a good example. Likewise nouns such as ‘terrorist’ to describe one side of an armed conflict. For example in a recent RTE report on Israel/Palestine it was stated that Israelis were ‘brutally murdered’ while Palestinians were ‘killed’. Likewise Palestinian attacks on military targets are usually termed ‘terrorist attacks’ while Israeli attacks on civilian targets are not.
  4. Can any patterns or themes be found, for example in the coverage of Israel/Palestine? There is a pattern of language used to describe the sides.
  5. Is there a narrative that is being followed: For example in the case of Irish Water once Minister Leo Varadkar introduced the term ‘sinister fringe’ to describe elements of the movement the narrative was taken on by much of the press to describe what has arguably been one of the most peaceful movements in Irish political history. Metaphors can often be used in narratives.
  6. How are people or groups represented. A common device is the ‘othering’ of social groups, often minorities such as travellers, other ethnic minorities, refugees or migrants.Or even national or religious groups. The othering of such social groups can often be expressed as a problem, ie the ‘traveller problem’. Any social group can be scapegoated to suit a political situation such as single mothers in the nineties or public sector workers at the beginning of the economic crisis.
  7. Gender representation is important, for example the clothing of female politicians is more likely to be commented on in reports as compared to male.
  8. Class representation is also key here, for example in the current advertisement for EBS the working class are represented as both lazy and stupid while the middle class housewife is portrayed as put upon by ‘the help’. Working class people are often portrayed as both criminal and stupid in Irish advertising, probably reflecting the middle class nature of the profession.
  9. Frames can also be semiotic in nature that is based upon symbols in words or pictures.

Framing and Class

children of

Semiotics and race: The Children of 9/11 vs the Children of Bin Laden (source exposing the media)

Example No. 1: How Housing is Framed

In the case of the current housing crisis the overarching frame remains that property is first and foremost a commodity that can only be supplied and funded by market forces. Therefore the only way to supply housing is by clearing the way for developers by cutting down on ‘red tape’ (regulation) . Likewise private developers should be incentivised to build (by lowering taxes). Moreover only private developers can build housing and only private banks can supply mortgages

Likewise only private landlords can ‘supply’ rental housing. Landlords don’t increase the rent, the market does, and therefore landlords don’t evict people, they are unfortunately ‘priced out’ of the market. Again landlords should be incentivised via tax cuts and the loosening of regulations to give people the ‘choice’ to live in substandard accommodation.  Rent control will distort the market and therefore cannot be introduced; moreover it is an attack on the rights of landlords.

The property market crashed in 2007/2008 because people wanted to have expensive houses and mortgages that they couldn’t afford, nobody forced anyone to  buy a house. People partied and became uncompetitive because salaries were too high. The banks were led by bad apples and the regulator was asleep. The system is not under question, because there is only one system and there was only ever one system. The system is reality.

This entire framing is entirely biased and based upon power structures in Irish society. Property and finance sources are most likely to be quoted as they  have funding to employ public relations staff or companies. The connection between newspapers and advertisers (especially with the property sections) is also important. And journalist has long standing connections with sources in industry. Moreover the entire framing fits in with current orthodox neo-liberal economic thinking which maintains only self-regulating private markets can offer sustainable solutions

 

Example: Sourcing Analysis on Banking Guarantee

bG1

The above is the sourcing on news stories on the bank guarantee from from the 21st of September 2008 to the 5th of October 2008 (the week leading up to and following the bank guarantee) in the Irish Times and Irish Independent. As can be seen the sourcing is heavily biased towards politics and finance (NB there are multiple sources per news story).

BG3

Moreover the party political  sourcing is biased again towards government and pro-guarantee parties

bank G 2

Example No.2  How Privatisation is Framed

Having examined the media treatment of the Bord Gais Eireann (BGE) – Ireland’s State-owned gas provider – to UK-based Centrica Holdings, one of the key, over-arching frames was the idea that privatisation would bring benefits to customers. Many articles were based around the idea that privatisation would bring market deregulation which in turn would bring competition which would ultimately drive down the prices that consumers pay for gas. This tallied with the general frame evident in the analysis of the public characterised as consumers first and foremost- a key neo-liberal frame.

Another key frame within the media was that privatisation is a generally desirable policy. This frame holds, notwithstanding the recognition that certain aspects of its implementation were insufficient in this particular instance; specifically the poor timing of the sale and the undervaluation of some of the State’s assets. These facts did not detract from the presentation of the privatisation in the media as a progressive policy generally. This tallied with the ubiquitous anti-State frame that State involvement in economic issues is unwarranted and unhelpful – the so-called ‘dead-hand’ moniker, whose absence would make way for deregulation and competition.

An interesting frame which emerged from the analysis revealed the bias towards employees of BGE. While many had paid into an Employee Share Option Programme ESOP, and as such had built up shareholdings of their own, the coverage of this scheme in the sale, using pejorative terms like ‘trousering windfalls‘ demonstrates negative journalistic attitudes towards the ESOP as seemingly tenuous and less-deserving.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the media coverage was in its absence. There was ‘significant silence‘ surrounding the media’s coverage of the sale to the extent that one analyst commented that most of the company’s customers would not have been aware that it had been sold as it ‘just quietly happened’; recognising the dearth of coverage of an issue that warranted genuine public interest, one that was overlooked in favour of predominantly consumer-based frames.

Further Reading:

 

News Frames Blog:

Citizens Handbook on Framing:

Video: A lesson on Framing Theory

Video: Robert Entman and Framing

 

Base, Superstructure and the Irish Property Crash: Henry Silke

The “Great Western Crisis” starting in 2008 has reinvigorated much debate on capitalist crises and causation, Marxist scholars have long debated crisis theory falling into a number of major theoretical positions, at a crude level they can be divided into three (sometimes overlapping) major positions: that is the theories of financialisation, overproduction/underconsumption, and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. This paper discusses the role of communications and the media in capitalist crises drawing from the literature of both crisis theory and communications theory to investigate the relationship. The paper discusses the role of communications and the media on two levels, firstly on a functionalist level, that is how communication tools and channels play a role in the dissemination of information and secondly on an ideological level of how media can play a role in normalising market and class relations including support for elite political policies. The paper returns to the concept of base and superstructure noting a strong dialectical relationship between economic base and media and communications superstructure that can be found in trends of media concentration, media crisis and media work practices. The paper also discusses the dialectical relationship between media, markets and the wider economy….

…As discussed in Marxist literature, the broader economic base including the relations of production have a dialectical relationship with the various superstructures of society (including the state and the media). The tripartite relationships between the state, the media sphere and powerful economic interests may act to reinforce class relations and economic trends including periods of economic crisis. This is at least partially because the media—through ownership, institutional practice, alongside content, agenda setting, and overarching ideologies—tends to act to defend or at least defer critique of the economic and political system it is based on…

…The paper looks at the Irish economic crisis to explore these issues by briefly investigating the Irish Times and Irish Independent (two key political and economic papers in the Irish Republic) treatment of three key points in the downturn: The Irish property market on the run up to the 2007 general election (on the cusp of the crash); the blanket bank guarantee of 2008, where the state effectively guaranteed the debts of the entire Irish banking system in its totality, and finally the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency, a state sponsored bad bank aimed at cleaning up the (then) private banking industry…

…While media effects is a contentious issue amongst academic researchers, the empirical findings informing this paper point to the conclusion that that overall blanket positive coverage of the property market, the downplaying of the oncoming crisis and more fundamental deep seated ideology of housing being first and foremost a commodity has had some effect. In May 2007, the lack of critical analysis of either the residential or commercial property markets even on the cusp of a major crash meant that the newspapers at best failed in their normative watchdog role and left society and state ill prepared to deal with the outcomes. At worst, the papers could be considered to have been the ideological mouthpiece of the property industries, that is as uncritical “in-house” journals that privileged and pushed policies beneficial to the narrow economic interests of property developers, financiers, speculators, landlords and estate agents. The papers even if they were unaware of their obvious bias towards industry actors seem to have been so blinded by neo-liberal ideological assumptions that the concept of market “self-regulation” was above question.

The newspapers dependence on sourcing from the property industries coupled with a close economic relationship to the industry poses obvious questions around impartiality and independence, questions that neither newspaper group have sufficiently answered since the crash. Overall it is very likely that the coverage of housing in 2007 contributed to the housing bubble itself, the newspapers highly ideological defence of the market at a time of both heightened awareness and a critical juncture in the political cycle may have acted to reassure buyers and speculators, moreover the newspapers concentration of attention on stamp duty reform rather than key structural issues underlined assumptions of “market self-regulation” and that all would return to “normal” post political “interference” on the market; again acting to reassure market actors that the “normality” of bubble economics would continue. Moreover the newspapers framing and promotion of stamp duty reform in 2007 helped push the policy to the top of the agenda and see its eventual realisation. Stamp duty of course proved to be a red herring as the policy of abolition was enacted and did not prevent the crash. The view that the print media elongated the property bubble is supported by Julien Mercille’s (2013) research which also found a hugely favourable view of the property market before 2008 that he maintained sustained the rise in house prices…

…It could be argued that now with the onset of a severe housing crisis alongside the “tsunami of homelessness” (RTE News 2014) we are reaping the fruits of a non-critical media sphere. The coverage of housing throughout the crisis seems to have remained wedded to the market with the assumption that only private developers and private markets can supply housing leading therefore to discussion of how to best remove “market barriers” for the benefit of the aforementioned actors (much like 2007); the basic questions around how satisfactory housing policies may be achieved have rarely been discussed outside these parameters. Likewise, the newspapers treatment and framing of other political policies such as the blanket guarantee and NAMA most likely had some affect. There were some exceptions to this, in particular in some opinion pieces. However, the key trends and frames point to a “captured press”, that is, a press in service of a narrow class based interest. The Irish crisis with the fundamentally important role of the print media therefore acts as an exemplary case study of the base-superstructure relationship between the mass media and the market economy. The Irish experience concurs with much critical theory on the role of mass media in capitalist society in terms of economics, power and politics and seems to verify the long suspected role of the media as a structurally important part of the modern capitalist state rather than an objective “watchdog” holding truth to power…

…The links between super-structure and base are of long standing interest in Marxism; that is the dialectical and reflexive relationships between the economic base, economic actors, class relations and the superstructure of the state and various aspects of civil society. Two key elements of the superstructure are institutional political processes and institutional media processes. There are many other elements of the superstructure such as education, religion and various state and cultural organisations, however media and politics are two important elements of the superstructure coming from both state and civil society (Gramsci 1971/2003), and it would seem two of the more overtly political elements in the structures of power, and most importantly they represent two elements where cracks of agency may just exist.

Likewise in the wider base both media and communications play an indispensable role in the commodity circuit. This paper proposes a move towards a Marxist crisis theory of communications that would attempt to link the various aspects of the base-superstructure relationship in a holistic fashion. It is important to state that the relationship between ideological, institutional and material factors should not be considered as artificially separate spheres but rather as overlapping parts of a totality, which act to influence each other, moreover, all of which are “born into” particular historical and social structures. We make our own history but not in the circumstances of our own choosing. Likewise, while we have agency over our ideas they cannot be separated from pre-existing ideological structures. The base-superstructure concept is a tool, therefore, that allows us to attempt to deconstruct various elements of society at work and investigate their influences over other elements. The base or material factor generally is key as it is upon the material structures of society and economy that the political and ideological structures rest; however as discussed above there are periods when the superstructural elements can be more influential and this subjective element liberates us from an overly deterministic outlook and allows at least some political agency.

The full paper is available here

Bias? What Bias?

Continue reading

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.

‘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.

 

Political Policing, Political Reporting

Today Ruth Coppinger TD in her Dail speech quoted Shakesphere:

This is how the mainstream media reacted:

Political Policing goes hand in hand with political reporting

The Construction of News and the Framing of Dissent

The common perception of news production is that news reports events as or after they happen; a newsworthy event takes place and teams of journalists go out and report the case. This is of course true in some cases such as accidents and other unexpected events. However if a news team had to simply ‘wait’ for news to happen they might find that reality may not fit deadlines in a neat manner. Rather the reality is that news is often as not constructed by the news production team and then published or broadcast. A common version of this can be heard every morning on ‘Morning Ireland’ and most other radio stations. Minister X is interviewed at 8.45 on issue Y and the Nine O’Clock news follows with ‘Mister X stated Y’, this will then be followed up throughout the day with reactions to what Minister X said by opposition politician Z and so on. Minister X may have gone on the radio specifically to state Y, therefore being very much part of the news construction process. Teams of PR agencies and state communication departments spend their days constructing pre-prepared news items for the mainstream media (which are never marked as such); which leads to the direct subsidisation of news by powerful interests. This leads to the very obvious advantages of elites over the rest of society with an ability to shape news agendas and interpretations to suit their own interests.

The 1970s saw an upsurge in institutional studies of media companies often drawing from the sociology of work. These studies have shown how the ‘reality’ constructed by journalists may be what is more easily available or accessible to journalists (or important to journalists) rather than a reflection or mirror of reality (for example see Tuchman 1974, 1978). The construction of news is not a neutral event, work practices, access to sources and overarching ideologies influence how this news is constructed. The ‘news values’ or what is deemed newsworthy is intrinsically ideological as is the interpretation and framing of those events. As Roger Fowler (1991 p.2) succinctly puts it

What events are reported is not a reflection of the intrinsic importance of those events, but reveals the operation of a complex and artificial set of criteria for selection. Then the news that is thus selected is subject to processes of transformation as it is encoded for publication; the technical properties of the medium – television or newsprint, for example and the ways in which they are used, are strongly effective in transformation. Both ‘selection’ and ‘transformation’ are guided by reference, generally unconscious to ideas and beliefs.

The ideological nature of news construction has been clearly on show over the course of the water protests, the literally hundreds of water protests happening on a daily basis seem not to be deemed newsworthy; this clearly fits the mainstream frame of politics being something that happens in the corridors of power rather than on the streets.  Moreover when protests are covered there are common attempts to play them down or describe them as violent as witnessed by the so called ‘sinister fringe’ framing of the water protests. Violence by Irish Water staff, their security firms or police is not being reported in the Irish press. The protests and assorted violence is of course being watched via social media and has now been picked up by the UK based Vice.

framing

The examiner on Wednesday the 28th of January gave us a clear example of both news construction and framing. A protest the previous Friday (a full five days before) against President Michael D. Higgins had been held in a working class part of Dublin; during the protest some frankly childish insults had been thrown at the President and there had been evidence of pushing and shoving by the Police. The protest in itself however was not the story covered by the Examiner rather the newspaper interviewed Paul Murphy TD and asked him to denounce the protests. Murphy in a nuanced enough fashion said that he thought it was legitimate to protest the President as he had signed the Water Charges Bill and defended the right to protest but that he did not think it was tactically wise to do so, moreover he did not support personalised remarks against the President. The headline however was ‘TD defends Higgins Abusers’ which was misleading as it seems to imply Murphy had come out to defend all aspects of the protest rather than answer a question asked by the newspaper. Murphy was most likely targeted by the newspaper because of his role in a previous peaceful protest, which he had also refused to denounce.

examiner

The Examiner continued its construction of the story on Thursday the 28th with the front page headline; ‘Murphy Protest Remarks Spark Outrage’, this headline was even more insidious as one reading of it could imply that Murphy had a closer connection to the protest. The newspaper rather than Writing ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy Spark Outrage’ place the words Murphy and Protest together which means ‘Murphy’ could be read as an adjective or possessive implying a far closer connection, while this may be put down to simply poor style on the part of subeditors linguistically ‘Murphy Protest Remarks’ is a far stronger and more ideological statement than the ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy’ placing Murphy far closer to the protest than having simply answered a question that was put to him by the newspaper. Murphy himself has stated that he intends to officially complain to the Press Ombudsman about his treatment but the event in itself is extremely useful in reminding us about the role of the media as news factories rather than simply being objective reporters of daily life.

01XX2015-01-29e2

Fowler, R. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London and New York: Routledge.

Tuchman, G. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.

Tuchman, G. 1974. The TV Establishment: Programming for Power and Profit. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Fear and Loathing in Talbot St

Media bias and exaggeration has gone into overdrive; but is anyone listening?

In our last post we discussed how mainstream media tend to be relatively objective and even-handed once a story remains within certain parameters, that is once media actors such as politicians, business or civil society sources play their part and don’t stray too far from what is deemed acceptable. However, if politics or if political actors stray from those relatively narrow parameters, all attempts at objectivity and even-handedness tend to fly quickly out the newsroom window. This was demonstrated clearly in the last week when a relatively minor protest in Jobstown, a working class district in south west Dublin, sent the Irish media into a stratosphere of fear, loathing, exaggeration and overt bias. This of course is not hugely surprising, as decades of international research into mainstream media has shown again and again that the media do indeed act as an ideological apparatus that can be counted on (by ruling classes) in times of crisis. The literature speaks of many reasons for this, not least ownership and the ever more concentrated nature of ownership of the mass media, (something not lost on the Irish public), however it’s important not to become overly deterministic about ownership as other issues such as institutional practices, changes in media markets, changes in media worker labour markets, the class basis of many journalists and the overarching ideological structures of a given society can play just as important a role. It is also important not to be overly deterministic as there are many cracks in the ideological sphere of the mass media, not least the reception of media content by audiences. As discussed by Stuart Hall, among others, there are many ways audiences interpret media content including outright hostility to the intended message of the journalist or media company. (In fact, after a front page headline in the Irish Daily Mail denouncing the Socialist Party, one enterprising comrade bought up as many copies as he could with the intention of framing and selling them to raise party funds, no doubt seeing the denunciation as a badge of honour.) The access of ordinary people to cheap recording equipment, found in most phones, and easily available distribution networks via social network sites means the gate keeping role of the mainstream media is seriously damaged if not completely defunct. For example a Dail (parliament) speech by United Left TD Claire Daly reached an audience of 250,000 (out of a population of 4.5 million) in less than a week via YouTube, likewise various aspects of protests and state violence have reached tens of thousands of viewers.

Again one doesn’t want to be overly deterministic about the role of technology, and talk of ‘facebook or twitter revolutions’ tends to be exaggerated; as always there are far deeper material issues underlying such events, however the easy access to recording, publishing and distribution networks have had a profound effect on political movements. Moreover, social media organisational tools such as direct messaging and social media pages and groups (usually Facebook) very much resemble the organisational ‘scaffolding’ as envisioned by Lenin’s description of the ideal party press.

The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour. With the aid of the newspaper, and through it, a permanent organisation will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow   political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events.

I did a quick search of local facebook groups with the term ‘water charges’ in them and gave up after one hundred, most had hundreds if not thousands of ‘likes’.and seemed to be regularly updated. Interestingly facebook has overtaken the role of Indymedia.ie which was to the fore in the movement against the commodification and privatisation of waste services ten years ago. While there are obvious dangers in the monopolisation of  facebook, a private corporation, as an organisational tool no other social network has the reach or ease of use.

mob rule

To go back to Jobstown and the events which took place there, (for those living outside Ireland, Jobstown is a suburb on the outskirts of Dublin with an extremely high unemployment rate and all the associated social problems). The Minister for Social Protection and Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) was to visit a Community Centre to confer awards in an educational project. To give some context, Burton has been involved in the introduction of workfare to Ireland alongside much demonising of the so called ‘undeserving poor’, usually expressed by attacks on alleged social welfare fraud and the need for ‘work activation schemes’ which is code for cutting the welfare of people who refuse to work for free. Moreover, she has been part of an austerity government responsible for cuts in every aspect of life and as always such cuts tend to disproportionately affect poorer suburbs, such as Jobstown. Finally, Burton is also leader of the Irish Labour Party who ran in the last election with the promise that they would not introduce water charges: Therefore, it was utterly unsuprising that she might be met in Jobstown by some protesting residents, especially as we are in the middle of a period that have seen mass mobilisations on every corner of the country. The protest included a sit down protest that blockaded the Tanaiste’s car and left her trapped inside in for two hours, at one point someone threw a water balloon at her and some hours after the Tanaiste and protesters left a young man threw a single brick at a police car. A local Socialist Party representative, recently elected TD (MP) for the area Paul Murphy also took part in the protest. No arrests were made and there has been no evidence of violence, although both protesters and presumably the police were filming the event.

Jobstown is not somewhere that normally concerns the media, in a newspaper search of Irish titles on the Lexis Nexis database (using the search word Jobstown) in the week following the protest I found 79 articles: That compares to the 24 articles that included the word Jobstown in the entire year preceding the protest (12 of which were crime reports). Most articles seem to accept that ‘violence’ occurred, and denounce it to varying degrees.

Certainly the events in Jobstown were newsworthy; a minister was discommoded and even hit by a water balloon, there was a bit of a protest and  it was around the ‘hot’ issue of the water charges. However the reaction by the mainstream media has been incredible by any standards. The coverage has been dripping with overt  layers of class bias, fear and hatred. The accusations against the protesters have grown by the day, the protesters have developed from being  ‘a mob’ to being ‘rioters’ to being  ‘kidnappers’ and ‘terrorists’, finally a particularly gormless TD announced we in Ireland were ‘heading to an ISIS situation‘. In one particularly odd and distasteful piece in the Irish Daily Mail the protest was compared to the notorious incident in the Northern Irish troubles where two British soldiers were taken from their car and shot dead after driving directly into a Republican funeral. (A Republican funeral had been attacked by a Loyalist gunman the previous week, and in fact this funeral was that of one of the people killed in the attack, so tensions were extremely high).

Back to Jobstown: The single brick thrown was seized upon by the press as evidence of a violent ‘sinister fringe’ infiltrating the anti-water charges movement, ignoring the fact that literally hundreds of marches, involving hundreds of thousands of people, have taken place without the slightest bit of violence. In fact ‘the brick’ itself has become a minor social media celebrity in its own right. One Facebook group entitled ‘I bet this brick can get more likes than the Labour Party‘ has been set up and is well on its way to achieving its goal. And, social media has been flooded with memes underlying both the ridiculousness of the mainstream media charges and acting as an ironic defense to what are effectively ideological attacks on the movement – attacks that have the obvious intention to both divide the movement and scare people away from attending future protests.

donal falon brick

‘The Brick’ as pictured by Donal Fallon

tallaght compared to ni killing

Part of this framing denies the fact that working class people can have any agency and that protesters and ‘decent ordinary people’ are being ‘led astray’ by outside elements such as dissident republicans, anarchists and socialist revolutionaries. While the aforementioned would, doubtless, be entirely happy to create and lead such a movement, the left in Ireland does not have anything like the resources (human and otherwise) to create such a mass campaign and only an organic and self-organising movement could have sustained itself to this level for this long. Falling into this ‘outsider’ frame was Paul Murphy’s presence at the Jobstown protest; for the media this Socialist ‘ outsider’, was responsible for the trouble. The media also jumped on the fact that Murphy had a middle class upbringing. This suited the classist nature of the press as it explained that it was one of their own, a well-educated middle class man (rather than the great unwashed) that was responsible for protests, protests that were having such a detrimental effect on the status quo.

middle class paul

Murphy refused  to denounce the protest, denied that the protest was violent and refused to apologise for the discommoding of the Tanaiste’s photo-op. Murphy thus refused to play to the heretofore ‘agreed’ rules of the media game and stepped outside the ‘acceptable parameters’ of media debate. The fact that Murphy’s two SP colleagues in the Dail refused to distance themselves from the protest (and Murphy) shocked and enraged opinion writers further, leading to a sprinkling of ‘red scare’ articles in the press. ‘Responsible’ political leaders, we were told aren’t supposed to defend assumed violence in that fashion; contrite denunciations were both demanded and expected. The incarnation of overt class politics in Irish life is both misunderstood and unwelcome by the fourth estate.

INM protest

Protest at the headquarters of Independent News and Media

So what of the effect of this media barrage on the left and the anti water charges movement? Protests are continuing unabated with large protests in Sligo, Cork and Waterford in the last week, alongside local protests far too numerous to mention. The Socialist Party seems to be gaining popularity from its new found media infamy and certainly has won respect for standing beside the protesters under considerable pressure. The latest party political poll to be published today (Sunday, 23rd of November) shows that Independents and small parties are polling at a historical high of 30%, while Sinn Fein is polling at a historical high of 22%. What we are probably witnessing, amongst other things, is a crisis of legitimacy for the mainstream media. By attacking what is a genuinely organic and mass movement with exaggerations, overt bias and outright lies, the media sphere is losing credibility, and credibility once lost will be hard won back, if at all.

Delegitimising a Movement: Irish Water and the ‘Sinister Fringe’

Henry Silke (7/11/2014)

Today on the  ‘The Right Hook’, a drive time radio talk show broadcast on the Denis O’Brien owned Newstalk FM, the first forty minutes  discussed  the continued controversy around water charges. The main issue for broadcaster George Hook and his guests was around violence allegedly being perpetuated by so called ‘fringe elements’ in the anti-water charges movement. What was interesting for me was the immediate assumptions that this violence had taken place, that this violence was prevalent and that it was orchestrated by some sort of dark fringe element. There is of course actually no evidence for any of this – as none of it has happened. Firstly the movements two main manifestations, a march in Dublin of around 100,000 followed weeks later by the simultaneous holding 90 local marches nationwide (estimated to have contained somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people) have been absolutely peaceful without any trouble of any kind. The resistance to the installing of water meters around the country has in fact been going on for weeks, most notably in North Dublin and Cork, and they too have also taken place without violence. There have been numerous arrests of protesters blockading the installations and some heavy handed police tactics but the protesters themselves have acted in a peaceful manner.

Resistance or Violence?

Resistance or Violence?

What we are witnessing is a deliberate re-framing of the water issue as an issue of law and order with the twin bogeymen of armed republicanism and communism being called to the fore. Today in what has to be one of the most overtly political act of journalism in recent years the Irish Independent claimed that water meter installation in parts of Dublin were being post-phoned, not due to the mass mobilisation of communities, but because of the ‘infiltration of dissident republicans’ (i.e. terrorists) who had been ‘attacking’ the police, no evidence whatsoever was given for any of these allegations bar Garda sources who themselves provided absolutely no evidence (1). In the print edition the independent chose to accompany the article with a large photograph of a riot – in Belgium. Newspaper accusations of infiltration of dissident republicans of course is nothing new having been used  constantly against the community of Rossport in Co. Mayo who spent many years resisting the imposition  of a Shell pipeline and refinery upon them (to say nothing of the appropriation of a natural resource). When police sources ominously speak of such infiltration they deliberately include the connotations of masked gunmen and bombers in an overt attempt to scare people away from and smear what are legitimate political manifestations and campaigns. Moreover as pointed out by the Tánaiste Joan Burton, in her infamous smart phone speech, all of these protests have been captured on video, and while heavy handed police tactics have been recorded there has yet to be any evidence of protester violence. This plays into the media assumption that when there is any clash between the forces of law and order and the public, the public is always at fault and usually expressed as the public ‘attacking’ the police whatever the actual facts of the case are.

A second theme prevalent in the media is that this movement is an orchestrated ‘power grab’ by the hard left, a classic ‘red scare’ article appeared in the Irish Examiner (2) yesterday claiming that the entire movement was not about water but rather a Socialist Party and even Anarchist plot to gain power. An interesting side note to this is the notion that a radical working class party wanting to come to power is a problem, something that is evidently not the case for right wing parties of the elite. It is especially notable as the author of the piece Victoria White is a member of the Green Party; a party who did come to power and proceeded to stand over the greatest transfer of wealth from the working and middle classes to the elite in the history of the state (3).

This type of framing of politics of course is nothing new. In 1969 Ralph Miliband writing in his seminal book The State in Capitalist Society argued that the political and economic rule by dominant classes is underlined by a complex process of legitimation which allows for the consensus of the working classes.  This is expressed in politics by ‘political socialisation’ and the ‘engineering of consent’ which he terms as a type of indoctrination which exists across society.  The methods of such political socialisation takes place within the political sphere, the educational sphere, including the universities. But the major overt area where politics is discussed and debated is within the public sphere of the mass media.

Ralph Miliband

Ralph Miliband

Miliband argues that the pluralist notion of the freedom of expression and opportunity of expression in contemporary society are both superficial and misleading. While dissident thoughts may be held they may not be easily broadcast. And though there is a widespread pluralism within the press, that pluralism is very much set within the prevailing agenda. For example the media have at length discussed various problems of Irish Water, problems such as ‘communications’, bonuses and management, but the nub of the question that is the class nature of the act of the appropriation of a public good and the elimination of a heretofore and taken for granted human right is not up for discussion. Citizens become consumers and politics becomes public           relations techniques to ‘clarify’ the nature of the policy.

Party political impartiality for Miliband is easy to achieve in countries such as Ireland when there is a clear ideological consensus between the major parties, but more difficult in societies with mass radical political parties.  In this case impartiality is quickly forgotten.  In the case where there is a broad consensus impartiality is given within the political agenda.  But there will be a widespread bias for any thoughts coming from outside that agenda. For example Miliband maintains the press is a ‘deeply committed’ anti trade union force, which will almost always take an anti-union stance in economic conflict.  In other words (in the case of Ireland) while the press may represent pluralism between the major political parties, who effectively represent similar interests and policies, in a state of conflict the press will invariably come out for the establishment.  What we may be witnessing over the last number of weeks may well be the media’s reaction to the mainstreaming of class politics, the growth of small radical leftist parties and the continued development of Sinn Fein into a mass party with the potential to take power*. In other words as class politics becomes more prevalent the press may become more overtly ideological and party political.

Miliband maintains that the act of ideological legitimation and indoctrination is also formed within the overtly non-political entertainment section of media. Moreover for Miliband  the private ownership of ‘the means of mental production’ means a state of de-facto censorship exists, a ‘private’ censorship based more on a general framework than direct control and one that albeit offers much more room for dissent compared to totalitarian state censorship, but one that will still insist on the correct attitude to conflicts between capital and labour and political issues outside the consensus.  Miliband also maintains that the power of advertisers, generally capitalist, acts as another form of influence on ideology on the media. Miliband maintains that the majority of ‘cultural workers’ as he puts it will not ‘rock the boat’ as such or go against the ideological framework because their own ideological and political framework does not normally come up against these limitations. The leash on these workers for Miliband is sufficiently long enough as to allow enough freedom of movement and not to feel the strain.  Rather than overt censorship the issue of self-censorship for professional advancement reasons has more resonance. This process became quite clear in the process of ‘self-censorship’ during the Northern Irish conflict.  Moreover in the current regime of precarious work in the media industries the force of self-censorship is likely to be stronger. In Milibands own words:

‘There is nothing particularly surprising about the character and role of the mass media in advanced capitalist society.  Given the economic and political context in which they function, they cannot fail to be, predominantly, agencies for the dissemination of ideas and values which affirm rather than challenge existing patterns of power and privilege, and thus can be weapons in the arsenal of class domination. The notion that they can, for the most part be anything else is either a delusion or a mystification.  They can, and sometimes do, play a ‘dysfunctional’ role; and the fact that they are allowed to do so is not lightly to be dismissed.  But that quite emphatically, is not and indeed cannot, in the given context, be there main role.  They are intended to fulfil a conservative function; and do so’ (Miliband 1969 p. 211).

(1)  Water protests infiltrated by dissidents as meters on hold, Irish Independent (7/11/2014)

(2) Anti-water campaigners protest too much. Their real goal is power, Irish Examiner (5/11/2014)

(3) Andrew Flood of the Anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement wrote a reply ‘Water protests are an organic expression of the power of people’ which was published by the Examiner on the 7/11/2014

*Many on the left argue that Sinn Fein are in fact not a radical party in the Socialist sense, I will not develop this argument here however I would argue that within the mainstream press and among much of the bourgeois Sinn fein are perceived as a radical party and feared and an anti-Sinn Fein bias is certainly prevalent within mainstream media.