Commemorations, 1916 and the Press: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Top picture the Irish Independent complaining of disruptions to the 1916 commemorations by striking Tram drivers. Below the Irish Independent calls for the further execution of  1916 leaders and against clemency  (May 10 1916); Below the Irish Times calling for same. Finally  the Herald denouncing Tram workers in 1913.

As pointed out by Dave Gibney of Mandate

1916 would not have happened without a tram strike in 1913. The Irish Citizens Army (ICA) were founded on the back of that strike. The Irish Volunteers were not going to fight against the British Empire until they heard James Connolly and the ICA (a trade union army) were going to do so without them. To now complain about not being able to attend the 1916 State Commemorations because of a tram strike exposes a serious lack of understanding about 1916…

 

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Irish Independent May 10 1916 calling for further executions of the 1916 leaders.

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Irish Times supporting executions on May 10 1916

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The Herald opposing the 1913 tram stike in very similar language to today

 

 

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Journalism in Times of Crisis – University of Limerick April 7 2016

Journalism Times Crisis - Option 1

 

As the world continues to face the upheavals of war, migration and economic crises, it is pertinent to discuss the role of journalism and the media as a whole in the structures of contemporary society. Such a discussion is given added urgency at a time when the media continues to concentrate into privately owned monopolies with worsening conditions for media workers, more stringent editorial controls and a retreat from so-called ‘fourth estate’ ideologies into market driven strategies.

Likewise journalism as a profession is threatened by falling circulation figures, cuts in funding and the advent of click-bait pseudo journalism, churnalism and an ever greater reliance on public relations subsidies. Distribution too has been disrupted by the algorithms of Facebook and news-aggregators, that some argue is narrowing rather than widening readers perspectives.

Journalism’s independence from social and political forces has again come into question as seen with the cosy relationship between journalism and the financial and property sectors; while recently both newspapers and broadcasters are increasingly coming under accusations of bias in their reportage of social and political events.

This conference will bring together journalists, media workers and media theorists to discuss the role of journalism in the 21st century, conditions for journalists in the contemporary newsroom and prospects for the future of the media industry.

twitter: #crisisjournalism

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1050038358370802/

Programme

09:45 Opening Address plus main keynote:

Location: Millstream Common room

Gemma O’Doherty, Investigative Journalist: ‘Media Concentration and Power’

Features Writer Gemma O'Doherty. Pic Frank Mc Grath

10:45AM coffee break

11:00 Panel Discussion
Location: Millstream Common room

Media Concentration and Power Chair: Bryan Dobson. Speakers Seamus Dooley (NUJ), Henry Silke (UL), more speakers to be added.

12:30 pm Lunch

1:30 Pm – 3-00 pm Parallel Sessions 1&2

3:00 – 3:15 Coffee

3:15 – 4:45 Parallel Sessions 3,4&5

5:00 – 6:00 Panel Discussion/ Debate
Location: Millstream Common Room

Talking about Water: Is the Media Biased? Chair: Mary Dundon. Speakers: Eoin Devereux, Paul Murphy TD, more speakers to be added

8:00 pm social event
Location: Millstream Common Room

Parallel Sessions

1: Journalism and the Economic Crisis
Julien Mercille (UCD)
Henry Silke UL (UL)
Fergal Quinn UL (UL)
Ciara Graham (IT Tallaght)
Aileen Marron (UL)

2: Journalism and Politics
Mary Dundon (UL)
Harry Browne (DIT)
Tom Clonan, (DIT)
Mark Cullinan (UCC)

3: Representation in times of Crisis
Gavan Titley (NUIM)
Angela Nagle (DCU)
Martin Power, Amanda Haynes (UL)
Kate Butler (Sunday Times)

4: Disruptions in Journalism
Eugenia Siapera (DCU)
Kathryn Hayes (UL)
John O Sullivan DCU
Tom Felle (UL)
Helena Sheehan (DCU)

5: New Journalism and the Radical Press (Panel Discussion)
Chair: Seamus Farrell (DCU)
James Redmond (Rabble)
Ronan Burtenshaw – (Village Magazine)
Dara McHugh (Look Left)
Dave Lordan – (Bogman’s Cannoon)
Lois Kapila (Dublin Inquirer)
Dara Quigley – (degreeofuncertainty)

What is Media Framing?

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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.

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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

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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

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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).

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

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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

 

Lois Kapila of the Dublin InQuirer: A Return to ‘old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting’

The Dublin InQuirer has raised some eyebrows since going live a few months ago. It has quite an interesting perspective including articles on the role of finance capital in the city and good critical coverage on the goings on in the city council. Coverage of the work of housing activists has been included and the site broke  the shocking story of homeless families being forced to use the side entrance of hotels. The web based publication comes out every Wednesday and as well as the what we would expect from a  local news site such a city desk, arts and cuisine articles and a what’s on section what really caught our eye is the  ‘unreal estate‘ planning and property section which as the name implies has a far  more critical outlook compared to the ubiquitous estate agent  driven property porn found  in  mainstream journalism. The site also includes interesting ‘long reads’, such as  one on the life and work of cat catchers in the city.  Columnists include Frank McDonald previously of the Irish Times, the aforementioned Andy Story who covers economics and Roe McDermott an advice columnist. The site practices what founder Lois Kapila describes as a more traditional approach to journalism and writing compared to the PR driven churnalism that has increasingly become the norm. We sent Lois some questions to find out a little more about Dublin’s latest media product who discusses issues such as funding models, journalistic style and practice and mainstream media plagiarism.

Lois Kapila

Lois Kapila

Congratulations on the new news site, the first question is why did you decide to set about establishing it?

Thanks! I set it up because I thought there was a gap in the market for in-depth city coverage, and that there were many stories that weren’t being told. Also, I was working as a struggling freelance journalist in Dublin before this, and I couldn’t find many places that would run the kind of stories that I wanted to write – in-depth local journalism.

I grew up in the UK and there, at least, local journalism seems to be looked upon as second-class journalism. It isn’t really respected as much as the nationals. In 2009, I interned really briefly over a summer for an alt weekly publication in the US called Washington City Paper, and what they were doing there really blew me away. That changed my idea of what local journalism could be.

As well as all that, I wanted to create opportunities for young reporters to go out and about and do what some might consider more old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, rather than maybe rewriting press releases or sitting at their desks reporting on tweets. I hope that we’re going to be a good training ground for journalists who can then go on to grander places that can pay them more.

 logoHow long have you been up and running? Are you finding your feet?

We’ve been up and running since June this year and I think we are finding our feet. It’s taking us a bit of time to get to know our beats, and to become known on them — simple things such as being recognised as press at city council meetings.

The mindset that a reporter needs for a weekly publication, rather than a daily, or hourly, is different. You need to think a bit more about where the debate is headed, find stories that aren’t going to have been published elsewhere by the time you go to press, and justify having that bit more time to report. So that’s a learning curve too.

I feel like we’ve got the basics in place now, and there are different longer-term projects that we need to start working on, particularly using data, to make the most of being an online publication. We’re not exactly where we want to be yet, but I think we’ll get there.

Question three is of particular interest to media activists is how did you go about establishing it? And as much as you feel comfortable telling us do you have a particular funding model? We notice for example you offer editorial services and a shop, is this intention to leave you a little less dependent on advertising?

At the moment, it’s funded with some start-up funding that I have been extremely privileged – and am slightly nervous –  to have got from family. I did apply for, and continue to apply for, different grants but haven’t managed to bag one yet.

I obviously did a lot of talking to people and reading about different models for local media before we got set up, and I thought that we would find it really tough to survive if we were completely dependent on advertising. So we are trying to work on numerous revenue streams in addition to advertising, as you noticed: editorial services, an online shop, our membership scheme.

As a local publication, focused on the kind of journalism that we are, we’re never going to get as much traffic as a national with rolling breaking news and celebrity tidbits might. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think it’s safe to work on that assumption.

So we’re working to build up a smaller core of loyal readers who spend more time on the website, and like what we do, and give what they can when they can. It’s healthy to have that focus on readers, I think, and in the future, I want to build up our membership scheme, so that those who donate to us do get more than a tote bag; I’d love to be able to give them discounts at different places in the city, and to run more events for them.

The danger of having all these streams, of course, is spreading ourselves too thin. We are a small team and so finding time to manage them all, and keep them moving, is tricky.

In the future, I’d love Dublin Inquirer to become a newspaper part-owned by its readers. I envisage some kind of equity crowd-funding model, where in exchange for a contribution, the readers become part-owners.

DublinInQ The site seems to have a particular interest in planning and housing, and it has to be said has a far more critical attitude towards it compared to what we are accustomed to, for example your ‘unreal estate’ section, is this area of particular interest to you, and why?

I think it’s of interest to us, because it’s something that our readers want to know about and we all struggle with issues like rising rents and substandard accommodation. If you live in the city, you can’t help but take an interest in the built environment.

As for taking a more critical attitude, to me that just seems the default approach that we should have to it. It’s also more interesting, I think, than property porn.

I genuinely don’t understand how you can have such blatant property porn, thinly disguised adverts, on the front page of the Irish Times website, for example. Sometimes, right up there at the top of the page. How can a national newspaper of record think that the potential sale of one multi-million-euro home somewhere in the country is deserving of that kind of exposure?

When I first moved to Ireland, the second apartment I lived in with my husband had mould all over and broken windows. The ceiling fell down and the landlord had complete control over the heat and left it off for the winter. And it’s really difficult to function and stay healthy when you’re living in those conditions. But if nowhere else will take you because there’s a shortage and you don’t have references and you’re broke, what are you going to do?

So, I do feel passionate about housing. Also, we are a city paper, and we aim to focus on local government. And housing and planning are some of the areas where the council does actually have influence. So that, too, means it’s a natural reporting area for us.

We have also noticed what seems to be wider range of opinion on your site compared to the mainstream, especially around property, is this a policy?

I’m glad you think that we have a wide range of opinion on the site! I guess it’s a policy to be open to submissions and have a wide range of informed voices. I don’t understand why any publication or editor would make themselves difficult to reach.

I would like us to have more diversity, though, in terms of ethnic minority contributors, for example. I think the media in Ireland does not reflect the diversity out on the streets. I know that immigration is newer here than in the UK, for example, and for some immigrants, language will be a problem, but I think we have to try harder to open up opportunities for people from new communities to get a break in journalism.

For those who worry that somebody from somewhere else can’t possibly understand what’s going on here, I would point out that our planning and transport reporter is from the US and his stories are smart and spot on.

Are you going to be engaging in investigative journalism on the site?

I would love to be able to do more investigative journalism on the site.

To me, investigative journalism is just great reporting that takes more time. At the moment, we’re a small team and so that’s a struggle. But I think we’ll get better at juggling longer projects with weekly pieces and that’s definitely something that we’ll be working on.

In any case, I think we should approach all stories with the mindset that you might associate with investigative journalism, and ask, “What do I want to know?” rather than, “What will people tell me right now?”

How would you describe yourself editorially?

I think that our mission, for want of a better word, is simple: to tell people stories that help them to understand what’s going on in the city, and present them in a way that’s enjoyable to read. And some of those will be the more medicinal, we-think-you-should-know-this stories, and some will be the softer, we-think-you’d-smile-at-this stories.

I don’t really give any thought to where we might fall in terms of “on the left” or “on the right”. To me, that’s irrelevant. We’re independent. When we’re reporting stories, our focus is simply to figure out what’s going on and tell our readers.

Our voice is more informal and, at times, some might say less measured than some publications. But I think there’s a danger with some publications that they confuse having a neutral voice with “unbiased” journalism and sometimes hide behind that style. It’s the reporting process, and being transparent about where information came from, that determines whether a piece is accurate and honest or not.

Are there any sites, papers or models from outside Ireland you admire or would like to emulate.

There are so many sites and papers that I read and admire and would love to be even a shade as good as, particularly in the US. I love the alt weeklies such as Washington City Paper  with their long-form narrative style and grit. I love regional publications like This Land Press which seems to be succeeding at building a sense of community around the publication, has a quality print quarterly, and is great-looking. And I love Tampa Bay Times, where even the simplest story is done with such care, such as this one about sports fans  or this one about an astronomer.  I also love Texas Monthly.  In India, Caravan  has incredible political profiles.

Do you intend to stay Dublin focused in the future, or do you have plans to publish national focused stories?

We’re definitely staying Dublin-focused. It’s a better use of our resources to keep our coverage tight and get to know the city as well as we can, rather than spreading ourselves too thin. I think this is where the gap is too. I’m not saying that there aren’t other Dublin-focused news publications, but I don’t think any of them are doing quite what we are.

I hope that some of our stories will get picked up by nationals. Actually, a few already have, such as our story about the rules that homeless families in emergency accommodation have to abide by. RTE and The Mirror picked up on the issue, as did The Journal.

While RTE credited us, and The Mirror re-reported the story themselves, it was a bit frustrating to see The Journal pick up the story and use our reporter’s photos of the list of rules as source material and illustrations, and not give us even an “H/T”.

But it’s still great to see issues that we follow and think are important spread to a wider audience. And I think that even though we’re small, we can hopefully play a bit of a role at times in setting the agenda.

So What’s Wrong with One Man Owning all the Media Anyway?

Today’s Irish Examiner, Irish Daily Mail and Irish Times front pages all ran with the ongoing story of Denis O’Brien’s unprecedented attempts to gag the media from reporting Dail speeches; normally covered under Dail Privilege. While the press has been gagged from reporting the words of Catherine Murphy TD, the story has exploded both nationally and internationally and acted to expose, in the clearest fashion, the dangers of media concentration and oligarchical ownership. Whilst various journalists, editors and broadcasters working in the O’Brien empire have claimed that O’Brien does not interfere in editorial matters, it is now beyond credulity that the man who has successfully gagged RTE, The Irish Times and has threatened Broadsheet.ie with legal action does not interfere in the papers and radio stations that he owns and controls.

Today’s O’Brien owned Irish Independent is a clear example of this; whether O’Brien directly interferes or his editors are well enough house trained for him not to need to has little relevance, today’s Indo speaks for itself.

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The front page, unlike the Times, Examiner and Mail is not concerned with the constitutional crisis involving Dail privilege and press freedom. Rather, the Indo returns to its old favourite of attacking public sector workers for the possibility of getting a 2% pay ‘increase’. The front page article  does not use the expression ‘pay restoration’  framing this as a pay increase rather than a extremely modest restoration from cuts of at minimum 14%. The paper doesn’t seem to hold the same concern towards the monies the state lost on the Siteserve deal, the very story O’Brien lawyers are busy gagging. To get to the story of the week we have to wait until we get to page 22 where we are met with a short news report and no editorial comment. The Saturday weekly political supplement contains nothing on what is probably the most important media story since Section 31. It is also worth remembering that O’Brien’s company Siteserve (at the centre of this scandal) has received contracts from Irish Water, It is also worth remembering that O’Brien’s media empire has led the way in support for the charges as well as demonisation of the movement opposing the; a conflict of interest worthy of an editorial or two one might think?

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Drowning in its own Bias? Thoughts on Waning Media Power and Social Media as Organising Tool

In previous posts we have discussed the fact that the Irish Water protests and movement has continued to grow despite being written off numerous times by mainstream media. Moreover  the movement has sustained itself  against overwhelming media bias, sensationalism and negative framing, in what has seemed an almost overt  attempted to de-legitimise the movement.

Yesterday Rory Hearn of the Geography department of Maynooth University published a paper which sheds some light on this process by (in part) looking at attitudes towards media among water activists and the use of social media as an organising tool, something we previously discussed here. This gives some empirical evidence towards the suspicion of waning media power among at least a significant segment of the population. A survey was conducted with over 2,500 anti water charge activists on their reasons for becoming involved, their attitudes towards the current government, tactics and future political preferences. Here we will highlight the reports findings about the media. The full report can be found here.

The report highlighted the mistrust of the mainstream media by the activists, and their preference of social media as a source:

The issue of the media was repeated as a significant theme in the respondents’ answers throughout the survey. They referred to the media portrayal of protestors as ‘biased’ and that the media was acting as ‘government supporters’. They criticised the media for its ‘failure to be objective’. They expressed strong feelings of contempt and anger at the coverage of the protests by the mainstream media. 86% of respondents described the media portrayal of the anti-water movement as negative. This composed of 45% describing it as ‘undermining the campaign’ and 41% saying it was ‘unfair’. Significantly Q 14 shows that protestors’ principal source of information about the campaign is overwhelmingly coming from social media as opposed to the traditional media. 82.6% were most informed about the campaign from social media. Only 6.4% of respondents were most informed from traditional media outlets

This is hardly surprising given the sensationalist nature of the mainstream coverage that would have been very much at odds with the lived reality of activists.  Moreover the report states:

In particular it was noted that they have used social media very effectively as a way of providing information that the mainstream media has not covered. The movement has, according to respondents, overcome the ‘propaganda’ from the mainstream media, gained attention of foreign media, and ‘brought the issue to national attention’. It has done this through ‘the effective use of social media to discredit mainstream media’. Respondents are concerned that ‘lies in the media with the help of the Gardai about the real number of protesters is unjust and unfair and if others knew how many were really there they might get interested and get educated about it’.

The report highlights issues that have been debated over the last number of years as  traditional media (print, television, radio) has been challenged by newer forms of publishing, social network sites and blogs that allow alternative views to be broadcast at a fraction of the traditional cost.   Easy access to alternative or external (extra national) forms of media through the internet allows people to escape the dominant media of their country if they wish, and on rare occasions so called ‘citizen journalism’ on the internet may break through dominant frames or agenda. However some research suggests that most news sourced on the internet comes from the websites of mainstream media groups (Castells 2009 p. 196).  However looking at the number of hits on youtube from uploads on by Irish water activists (sometimes in the hundreds of thousands) this may not be the case, though further research is necessary to confirm this  one way or another.

This so called ‘communication revolution’  may represent a paradigm shift in communications  as new forms of broadcasting through the internet have allowed for new forms of mass media and new forms of audiences and alternative forms of communication (Castells 2000, 2009). The contemporary media sphere sees numerous ‘entry points’ which can be utilised by producers/writers/reporters or political activists and has the potential of a mass audience.[1] The technological revolution for McChesney offers historical possibilities in other words the possibility that the internet might finally herald the advent of an open and inclusive ‘public sphere’ (Schuler and Day 2004 p. 3). And this has been certainly been the most extensive and  effective use of social media in Ireland to date. However it is important to remember that dominant groups have successfully usurped (or more commonly co-opted) such potentials many times before, and to date the traditional mass media still holds a vastly dominant position.  The success of the Irish movement’s use of social was made  possible by the mass dissemination of facebook in the Irish population with reports that up to half of the entire population have facebook accounts. This of course has inherent dangers as it gives a single company with little democratic oversight considerable powers.

It has also  been  argued that the online alternative media are at the core of (rather than simply reporting) the alternative social movements as they act as a force for organisation rather than simply reporting their actions and opinions (Coyer, Dowmunt and Fountain 2007).  This of course is nothing particularly new, as political newspapers were often seen firstly as organising tools and secondly as newspapers, or as Lenin (1901) expressed it the newspaper acted as the organisational ‘scaffolding’ for political movements or parties.[2]  The southern Mexican Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) movement were probably the first group to do so on an international scale in the mid-1990s. Since then many movements, most notably indymedia, have been able to use cheap production tools and cheap distribution on the internet to disseminate their views often breaking into the mainstream. However it is important not to confuse the dissemination of counter hegemonic views with counter hegemonic power, while sub-altern groups may be given a voice this does not guarantee political or economic power. For example the anarchist Worker’s Solidarity Movement (WSM), an organisation counted in the dozens, but with savvy programmers, is the second most popular political party on Facebook in Ireland with over 50,000 followers, this compares very well to Fine Gael (Ireland’s largest political party and major coalition partner) with only 10,000 followers. While the WSM is second only to a resurgent Sinn Fein (with 65,000 followers), nobody would argue that this popularity translates offline into political power.[3]

Others are  cautious around recent developments. For example theorists Chakravartty and Schiller (2010 p. 677) maintain that:

‘it would be at best naïve to assume that the authority of economic science that underpins digital capitalism and is reinforced across academic, policy and media fields can be simply undone through the transformative power of blogs, social networking and other user generated content’.

Moreover Blumler and Gurevitch (2001) also warn that the internet’s potential to facilitate more participatory political communication is dependent on considerable resources such as time and finance. David Simon in his testimony on the future of journalism discussed the need for a funded full time media workers:

But democratized and independent though they may be, you do not – in my city — run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall, or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars and union halls where police officers gather. You do not see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You do not see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.

Eugenia Siapera (2013) warns that some of the windows of opportunity for citizens and political activists opened by the new forms of media production and distribution are closing. This is due to the development of the new online media ecosystem that sees an increased concentration of distributive power on internet platforms such as Facebook or Google (Siapera 2013 p. 14). The new powerful internet distributors operate by the logic of what Siapera defines as infomediation.  This can be defined as a process of bringing together information producers and information users to exchange contents and secondly to record as much data on users as possible to sell onto third parties – the process of immanent commodification. This leads to not only an introduction of new categories of news and information content but also the likelihood that the hierarchies will be related to how the infomederies may ‘value’ and monetise their readers; as  different audiences will be of different value to various advertisers. This according to Siapera is likely to impact on the actual distribution of news contents customised to fit the appropriate type of audience (Siapera 2013 p. 16). While on the one hand social media allows the easy dissemination for alternative views and politics it may be also argued that political activists must be cautioned against establishing isolated echo-chambers rather than engaging with wider society.

References:

Blumler, J.G. and Gurevitch, M. 2001. The new media and our political communications discontents. Information, Communication and Society, 4(3), pp.435-457.

Castells, M. 2000. The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed.  Oxford: Blackwell.

Castells, M. 2009. Communication Power. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Chakravartty, P. and Schiller, D. 2010. Neoliberal newspeak and digital capitalism in crisis. International Journal of Communication, (4), pp.670-692.

Coyer, K., Dowmunt, T. and Fountain, A. 2007. The Alternative Media Handbook. London: Routledge.

Lenin, V., I. 1901. Where to begin. Iskra,   

Preston, P. 2009. Making the News: Journalism and News Cultures in Contemporary Europe. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schuler, D. and Day, P. 2004. Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace. Cambridge, Ma ; London: MIT Press.

Siapera, E. 2013. Platform infomediation and journalism. Culture Machine, 13pp.1-29.

[1] Castells (2009 p. 55) calls these new form of communication mass self-communication, as they are potentially broadcast to a global audience and because the production of the message is self-directed and often the reception of the media is self-selected. These new forms of media hold a potential for subaltern groups and ideologies previously excluded from the mass media

[2] ‘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’ (Lenin 1901).

[3] Number of Facebook followers correct as of 22/04/2015.

Bias? What Bias?

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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.

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

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