Investigative Journalist Gemma O’Doherty on ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ in the Age of Media Concentration

Award winning investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty will give the keynote address at the ‘Journalism in Times of Crisis’ conference in the University of Limerick on Thursday 7th of April.

Gemma is one of Ireland’s best known investigative journalists and has broken numerous stories exposing powerful forces in Irish society such as the cover up of the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy, which led to the reopening of the case and subsequent state review. She is now investigating the disappearance of Mary Boyle in Donegal in 1977.

GemmaODoherty_largeO’Doherty has not been afraid to scrutinize powerful forces in Irish society and this courageous stance led to her dismissal from the Irish Independent while investigating corruption in the Gardai. O’Doherty attempted to interview Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan about the quashing of his penalty points; this was part of a widespread scandal involving preferential treatment by Gardai for elite sections of society.  O’Doherty was then labeled a ‘rogue reporter’ by her employers at the Irish Independent and dismissed. She had worked for the Irish Independent for over 16 years and had won numerous awards including campaigning journalist of the year. She has since been vindicated by Callinan’s resignation and the revelation that her own boss Stephen Rae also had penalty points quashed. Rae was also a former editor of Garda Review. While her case was well reported in the international press, most noticeably in the Guardian, her colleagues in the Irish press did not extensively cover it apart from the satirical journal The Phoenix. Gemma subsequently won an unfair dismissal case against INM and the newspaper was forced to apologise for remarks against her.

FRmolloyIn her keynote address Gemma will discuss how media concentration is impacting on the working lives of journalists, especially those trying to expose corruption and the various crises in policing, housing and the health service. She will discuss her own experience and discuss how many journalists working in this environment have been tamed and that this has been so detrimental to the public interest. Gemma will also speak about what she believes to be a cosy cartel between the mainstream press, power and police in Ireland and how the truth about stories of huge public importance is often hidden because of these connections.

She however remains optimistic that good journalists will prevail in finding new ways to communicate with the public bypassing the mainstream media if necessary

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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

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

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

Lois Kapila

Lois Kapila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe yourself editorially?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

THE ERT WE WANT – General Assembly of ERT Workers

(This article is taken from the Workers’ Solidarity Movement website which can be found here)

The capitalist crisis saw the closure of Greek Radio-Television (ERT) but workers not only resisted they took ERT into collective self management and continued broadcasting. 21 months after its closure the striking workers still ran 17 radio stations (15 regional, two national) and a single TV channel (ET3).

The translation of the texts below has been sent to us by Thanasis, a worker at the ERT and outline how the workers restructured ERT and what they want Syriza to respect if funding is returned. Thanasis writes:

Actually, and in simple words, they fired us but we never left the building and of course we never took an  advance to earn money (publicity etc) respecting the fact that all these buldings and technical stuff belong to the Greek people.  The new government after having recognized our struggle decided to re-open the Public Radio-television. Lets hope they will also incorporate our ideas, those we fought for over the last 2 years. What you will read is not a dream. Is what we already do everyday and we simply propose it for the future.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

TEXT–PROPOSAL issued by the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the WORKERS of FREE SELF-MANAGED ERT3

On the occasion of the first anniversary since the government shut down the country’s public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) in a coup-like move on the night of June 11, 2013, we the workers of the Self-managed ERT3 who have persevered with our independent struggle to keep ERT3 open for over a year now in order to serve the people by providing regular and independent programming, we the workers who are convinced of our rights and the oncoming vindication, are preparing for the “day after” and are hereby presenting our text/proposal for “The ERT We Want”.

The following text has emanated through direct-democracy procedures, namely through the numerous general assemblies organized by the struggling workers of ERT3 in Thessaloniki. Written word by word by a nine-member working group which was voluntarily selected through our assembly, the proposal was returned to the general assembly for approval before it took its final form.

The proposed text outlines the key principles and aims, the means of financing, the sector of labor relations, the public’s participation and the model of «administration» during ERT’s new period of operation.

It is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of people who stood by us in solidarity during all these troubled months, as well as to all the Greeks and other peoples who have been profoundly affected by the brutal pro-memorandum government policy of recent years. Yet, it is particularly dedicated to those who refuse to bow their head and choose to carry on with dignity and unceasing efforts until the final victory for freedom and real democracy, instead of yielding in the face of a black regime.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 are publicizing this document today, calling on all of our struggling colleagues throughout the country, on our brothers and sisters in Athens, in other large cities and in the proud regional stations to embrace our effort so that we may all together press ahead with dignity.

We call upon the general public to support the Public Broadcaster we dream of; this dream is society’s offspring, society gave birth to this dream.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 declare: VICTORY IS NEAR, NOT BECAUSE VICTORY AWAITS US, BUT BECAUSE WE ARE MOVING TOWARDS VICTORY.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

KEY PRINCIPLES AND AIMS
Independent information and quality-driven cultural/entertainment programming provided by a truly PUBLIC and DEMOCRATIC broadcasting organization constitutes a public good, not a commodity. Freedom of press, uncensored journalistic work, absence of “orders” from superiors, cultural creativity and promotion and the unimpeded conduct of investigative journalism for the good of the general public, especially for the weaker social groups and movements, all constitute a uniform and non-negotiable right and obligation.

The voice of ERT must be transmitted everywhere in Greece and anywhere Greeks reside in the world. The state has a duty to provide the appropriate and necessary infrastructure to fulfill this purpose.

Respect for human rights, both individual and social, is to be enforced by all workers without exception, for the citizens of the country and the world. ERT’s role is partly educational; it is to provide quality cultural material, offer an outlet of expression for the isolated social groups, as well as care for the advancement of the creative imagination of the younger age groups by encouraging interactive skills and critical thinking. ERT ensures in practice the protection of human dignity, while it highlights, denounces and rejects all expressions of racism, bigotry, sexism, nationalism, state authoritarianism or any form of discrimination against individuals or groups targeted for their political / social / trade union action.

ERT serves society and its needs while it also serves as an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-fragmentation-cannibalism”, whenever the given political power attempt to cultivate these traits within the society based on the logic of “divide and rule”. ERT checks the political power and does not identify with said power, as it is neither a government body nor an institution at the service of parties and individual or business

The ERT has been serving the community and its needs, while simultaneously an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-hash-cannibalism”, whenever the power of any attempts to cultivate the society based on the premise of “divide and rule”. ERT controls the power and not the same as it is neither a government body and its mechanisms, or institution of parties and organized individual or business «circles».

The general assemblies of workers and the active working folk remain vigilant in observing these principles and aims at all stages of ERT’s operation, in order to prevent any attempts at interference, may that be via censorship or other, regardless of which institution this attempt may stem from. FUNDING The licensing fee is ERT’s main source of funding; it is not to be utilized for any purpose unrelated to the public broadcaster’s needs and does not constitute in any way a funding opportunity for the given government (i.e. transferring a portion of the licensing fee to state investments in photovoltaics).

The compensation rate is determined in accordance to income / social criteria. Those living below the poverty line are exempted from paying the licensing fee.

ERT operates under a special economic state, i.e. a public utility that cannot be transferred or sold to private entities. ERT ceases to be a corporation. ERT, as a public broadcaster that actively exercises its role in providing quality information, producing programs that serve as public goods and not commodities, will not become involved in the advertisement genre. The additional financial needs that will arise, may they be for larger-scale productions or for the broadcast of breaking news shall be covered by the state.

Excluded from the no-advertisement clause will be the ERT channel assigned to broadcast an event that is accompanied by sponsorships.

LABOR RELATIONS

All of ERT employees will be hired under an open-ended work agreement, with full-time and exclusive employment and insurance rights, without exception. There will be no differentiation between regular and temporary staff.

All (de)regulatory rules (articles and clauses on contracts or staff regulations) that perpetuate the status of short-term contracted employees and instead conceal fixed and permanent needs in the operation of ERT will become null and void. “Outsourced program collaborators”, “special advisers” and “Special Staff Positions” have no place in the new operation of ERT. There will be no employees transferred from subcontracting companies.

Members of staff with specialized subject work (cleaning crews, security, cameramen, etc.) constitute an integral part of ERT’s human resources and they are individuals hired specifically for the said task, holding the same rights as all other workers. Any significant new need that may arise to cover “gaps” in programming shall be met either through the existing specialized staff and, if this is not feasible, then it shall be covered by staff that will be hired at ERT with exactly the same employment terms that apply to the other workers.

The actual emergencies for external ‘seasonal’ collaborator or employees with reduced working hours will be reviewed as special cases by the instituted bodies of program production, which will undertake to submit detailed proposals to the body of the General Assembly, which will make the final decisions after assessing all the facts of each case separately.

PARTICIPATION OF SOCIETY

ERT, as a broadscaster with a truly public service character, is behooved to pay close attention to the voice of the very society it addresses. To fulfill this objective, ERT will provide the conditions that enable a participatory formation of the overall philosophy of the transmitted program.

In order to avoid overriding the will of the people and the arbitrary representation of social groups of “factors” and vested interests of the political, social, economic, self-governing powers, the citizens’ society shall have first say in the subsidiary influencing of the overall program philosophy, through its the solidarity structures, social movements, collectives, or individuals who are experiencing racism and repression, neighborhood committees, direct democracy grassroots initiatives and the assemblies of the unions representing the struggling sectors of Greek society. R

epresentatives of these aforementioned living cells of society will undertake to convey the decisions of their general assemblies or the views that are shaped as a general sense of society and, in conjunction with the proposals that will be submitted to ERT (the program committees and ERT staff assemblies) by representatives of various scientific meetings / training / professional sectors, a largely unmediated hearing will have been achieved. This ensures ERT’s truly public nature, which is not merely addressing the public, but is mainly initiated by the people themselves.

ADMINISTRATION

Two of the main characteristics of the months-long struggle maintained by the workers ERT against the government-enforced “black screen”, the self-management of the produced programming and the self-administration of the struggle, are incorporated as non-negotiable conquests in the new operation of ERT. The overall philosophy of “administration” is based on direct democratic procedures, the rotation of the various departments supervisors and their direct recall, where the main decision-making body, that is the general assembly of workers, so decides.

The classic notion of directorship or the position of department “supervisor” acquires characteristics that have to do with the ability to exercise a coordinating role in order to improve internal operations and achieve a better result in the transmitted program. The so-called ‘managerial prerogative’ is abolished and is replaced by the principle of respect among equals. The department coordinators (supervisors) shall be elected by the employees of the department. They are accountable, reviewed and may be recalled by the General Assembly of the workers. The same stands for the individual administrations.

Similarly, the general coordinator (the classic position of general manager) is excluded from the above outline. The election of the general coordinator is made by the general assembly of the employees of ERT. In all, the position of the general coordinator / manager does not hold the power and imposition of a blanket authoritarian management / operation of ERT, but, instead aims to coordinate the departments in order to achieve the best quality results for the benefit of society and the potential for enlargement of the rights and the defense of the gains of the people, including the right to free and independent information and quality entertainment.

ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY

ERT, regardless where it broadcasts from, constitutes a unified, public broadcasting organization, while, concurrently, each and every channel, radio or digital media of ERT (among them ERT3) maintains its administrative autonomy. ERT has the necessary human resources and the appropriate broadcasting infrastructure in every county of Greece, in order to assure that any local or breaking news in the given regions is covered on the spot.

Solidarity, mutual understanding, respect for autonomy and coordination among the members of this public broadcaster constitute prerequisites not only for the implementation and consolidation of internal direct democracy procedures, but also for the prevention of a centrally-controlled administration. Nationwide meetings of coordinators and committees of all broadcasting units in the country will be held at regular intervals, conveying the decisions of the general meetings of workers and civil society in order to exchange views, to address weaknesses and to continuously improve the broadcast program.

Are Palestinians not worth speaking to? Again on the Irish Times, Charlie Flanagan and that visit to the Middle East:

Kevin Squires in the second of a three part series on the coverage of the Irish foreign affairs minister to Gaza. Kevin Squires is a Palestine solidarity and political activist based in Ireland. A frequent contributor to various Irish leftist publications, he blogs about music, comedy, comics and politics at Citizen Partridge.

Citizen Partridge

flanagan-liberman

Following on from yesterday’s withering look at Irish media coverage (or lack thereof) of Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan’s visit to Gaza as part of a wider tour of the Middle East, I am compelled to once again put finger to keyboard to take investigate at two aspects of this visit. Firstly, the ongoing coverage in the Irish Times and, secondly (in a later post), dissecting what the Minister has said during the trip.

In the first instance, it’s important to at least acknowledge that the Irish Times has deemed this visit to Gaza, Israel and the West Bank as being newsworthy enough to have run three pieces on it, all written by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic. Contrast this with, for example, the total absence of this news from the Irish Independent – which did find the webspace for a story about something that happened in Israel, and which for…

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Political Policing, Political Reporting

Today Ruth Coppinger TD in her Dail speech quoted Shakesphere:

This is how the mainstream media reacted:

Political Policing goes hand in hand with political reporting

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 arrest

Paul Murphy TD arrested this morning