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

 

 

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)

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?

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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

 

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

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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And we’re back!

The one on the left is 26 pages today. The one on the right is 28. #weareback! Hat Tip: eagle eyed Kitty Holland

A big day for the Irish Times as the property section has overtaken the news section for the first time since… well for the first time since that nasty business. As it stands rents are rising, evictions are increasing and journalism is thriving. Expect to see lots of articles on why landlords need tax incentives, why developers need to be forgiven and above all why rent control is impossible.

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.

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

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

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

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