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)

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What is Media Framing?

framing

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

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

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

fox news

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you deconstruct frames?

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

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

Framing and Class

children of

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

Example No. 1: How Housing is Framed

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

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

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

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

 

Example: Sourcing Analysis on Banking Guarantee

bG1

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

BG3

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

bank G 2

Example No.2  How Privatisation is Framed

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

 

News Frames Blog:

Citizens Handbook on Framing:

Video: A lesson on Framing Theory

Video: Robert Entman and Framing

 

Base, Superstructure and the Irish Property Crash: Henry Silke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full paper is available here

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.

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.

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

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

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

Julien Mercille’s testimony  can be found here:

Harry Browne’s testimony can be found here:

Comment to follow

The Silence of the Liberals

On Monday morning the Gardai began a highly political series of dawn raids which have so far seen 17 people, including two minors, arrested in force. The raids began on Monday with the arrest of three politicians, two local and one national, Paul Murphy TD. The arrests are concerned with a protest last November at which the Minister of Social Protection Joan Burton was delayed for up to two hours. No arrests were made on the day of the protest itself.  So what has the Irish Times had to say about this affront on democracy and the right of protest, not much it seems, the print edition between Monday and Wednesday has produced a total of four articles (including a letter) with just over 1,000 words and no editorials. at the time of writing the arrests continue, it will be interesting to see if D’Olier St. has anything to say on the issue over the next number of days and if so what it is, watch this space.

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An Attack on Democracy

sindoThis Morning, at approximately  seven am, six Gardai arrested Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy, at the same time Gardai arrested two other Socialist Party/AAA Councillors from the Tallaght area, a member of Eirigi was also arrested.  This follows months of frankly hysterical media coverage around a minor protest in Jobstown, a working class suburb of Dublin, where a picket held up the Minister of Social Protection for two hours. This has included the demonisation of  Murphy himself and a campaign of vilification that has attempted to smear the campaign against water charges itself, though it seems with little effect. Critical Media Review has been following the media coverage over the last number of months with a discussion on the delegimisation of the movement  here, the coverage of the Jobstown protest  here, and the recent attacks on Paul Murphy TD from the Irish Examiner here. There has of course been much much more across all mediums. Overall we can point to evidence of utterly biased and hysterical reporting on what has been in the whole an entirely peaceful if disobedient movement. We can also suggest that the  recasting of entirely peaceful protestsas violent, dangerous and undemocratic leads to a certain atmosphere. This kind of atmosphere legitimises what can only be termed highly political policing where the arrest of no less than three democratically elected politicians from a single party on extremely spurious grounds can be permitted This alongside the comments by the Gardai top brass on the ‘tone’ of protests can only be taken as an attack on the democratic norms of free assembly and against effective forms of protesting such as picketing and boycotting.

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Paul Murphy TD arrested this morning

The Construction of News and the Framing of Dissent

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

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

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

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

framing

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

examiner

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

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

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

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

Ragbags and Reactionaries: A comparative analysis of the treatment of the ULA and Reform Alliance in five newspapers

On the second of January  Lucinda Creighton held a press conference to announce that she would launch a political party in two months, as of the launch the party had neither name nor policies but rather a hashtag  #rebootireland – which quickly and predictably backfired as the hashtag was mercilessly trolled. Nonetheless the mainstream media  jumped all over the announcement, some critically, and the story  has topped the news agenda for the last two days. It does have to be acknowledged that it is a slow news week which  is probably no accident considering the timing of Creighton’s ‘monster rally’ last year. Nonetheless if we compare this to the coverage on Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy’s recent call for a new  political alliance there was nothing like the wall to wall coverage.  Although there is some speculation on the possibility of a left slate in 2016 on social media, mostly uninformed it should be said, there has been little discussion in the mainstream media. In fact the possibility of a further left slate doesn’t seem to be on the media radar at all, bar the honorable exception of TV3’s Tonight With Vincent Browne.

Politicians of the left are not being put under any pressure from journalists about whether there will be a slate, they are not being questioned about whether talks are ongoing between groups or what their policies might be – something that presumably is of interest in the lead up to the general election and certainly of interest to those outside the political mainstream.  In polls, the left continues to be lumped in with the ‘Independents and Others’ group which itself is hardly scientific and not particularly informative. This is especially odd considering the recent development of one of the largest grass roots political movements in decades – the anti-water charge campaign, sections of which have been engaged in illegal acts of direct civil disobedience. From a party political point of view the Socialist Party has won seats in the two most recent by-elections. One could only imagine the coverage Lucinda Creighton would have if she and here group were involved in a mass movement and had won a number of by-elections.

The Irish political scene is changing with cracks appearing in the old edifice, the duopoly of power of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail  is being challenged by  Sinn Fein which, at least south of the border, is campaigning on a  left-Keynesian manifesto. The Labour Party is facing the abyss and there has been a  breakthrough of socialist groups and independents in the recent local elections and by-elections. On the streets the anti-water charges movement has brought literally hundreds of thousands out to demonstrate, yet the mainstream  media still remains focused on the possibility of yet another right wing party, and one based on a very shaky foundation.

To test this seemingly overt political bias we conducted some research comparing the treatment of two mass meetings, firstly the launch of the United Left Alliance which was held in the Gresham Hotel on the 29th of November in 2010, and secondly the  launch meeting of Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance on the 25th of January in 2014. To compare the two alliances we looked at the press coverage of both groups and launches in five newspapers: The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Independent and The Sunday Business Post. The period chosen is the month in the lead up to the two launches and two weeks thereafter. The two groups and meetings were chosen as they both had a generally similar social and political weight .It may be argued Creighton as an ex Minister and leading a split of seven government members added more political weight in terms of parliamentary politics, however it could be also be argued that the ULA with hundreds of political activists and two political groups with national branch networks had more social weight. As discussed in an earlier post that can be read here, the ULA received minimal attention with only ten articles (none of which covered the launch meeting) in the six week period. The articles made up a total of 1173 words in the entire period*.

ULAvsRAtotalartwc_final

On the other hand the Reform Alliance was covered in a total of 119 articles with a total wordcount of 55,213 words. The Reform Alliance received detailed and sometimes critical coverage, in fact as time went on it could be seen that the newspapers seemed to lose faith with the prospects of the alliance developing into a party at all. Generally though the Reform Alliance was treated in a neutral tone in the majority of articles (with a significant proportion treated negatively and a smaller number treated positively).

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So why is this important? After all hasn’t the mainstream media post-crisis lost much of its credibility? Hasn’t the water charge movement grown in spite of the mainstream media both playing it down and framing it negatively? And haven’t we bypassed the traditional  media with our own social media pages leaving less reliance on the traditional media to popularise issues and events? While some of that is partly true, it is also the case that the mainstream media still dwarfs, both in readership and resources, the alternatives. And the  issue of mainstream media influence remains important.  While the mainstream media may not be able to tell you what to think, it can still tell you what to think about. In other words it still plays a crucial agenda-setting role. In political terms media attention (even critical) can put a political group on the agenda and build up political profiles, or on the contrary it can treat a political group negatively or even worse ignore them completely.  The media can even help establish the very concept of what is political or not, for example the local meetings, marches and local events are not deemed to be political compared to the breathless mutterings of pol-cors on the latest minor parliamentary manouvers. Indeed street meetings, protests and anything involving the demos are oft as not framed as semi-criminal events to be feared. The entire framing of the parameters what is politically permissible or even possible is one of the clearest ideological roles of the mass media today. And again this research underlines the need, as difficult as it is, to fund and develop an alternative media sphere that can see beyond those parameters.

The fact that the media ignored the ULA in 2010 is hardly surprising, Irish political journalism doesn’t rate extra-parliamentary politics as politics at all and they were most likely unaware that the the left existed at all in 2010. Likewise, it is of no great surprise that sections of the media are fascinated by Lucinda Creighton; the semiotics of a young, blonde, articulate, middle-class ex-minister – the veritable Fine Gael poster-girl – are obvious and one wonders if Billy Timmons or Fidelma Healy-Eames were leading the group, would it get half the attention; but overall there seems to be an ultra-reactionary element around Independent News and Media pining for a populist strongman (or woman)  to sort out this country once and for all.

 *Articles are only counted when they are  about the ULA or RA, articles only mentioning the alliances are not counted.

Henry Silke 3/1/2015