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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] ‘The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour’ (Lenin 1901).

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

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

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On January 25th 2014 coming, ex Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton, and the newly formed Reform Alliance are to hold a launch meeting in the RDS. The meeting is expected to draw 300 to 400 people and has been dubbed a ‘monster meeting’ (Sunday Independent 5 January 2014) and an ‘Ard Fheis’ style rally (RTE.ie 6th January 2014). The meeting has received quite a lot of media attention, including a long one-to-one interview with Lucinda Creighton on RTE’s flagship television current affairs programme Prime Time  to discuss the new formation (RTE 7th January 2014), a full three weeks ahead of the rally (see Broadsheet.ie for a transcript here). The alliance is made up of seven ex Fine Gael TDs and Senators who split with the Party in opposition to last years abortion reform. The Alliance can be described as socially conservative and economically liberal; some have dubbed it a Progressive Democrats mark II, (for example Rory Hearne here). A type of party that certain sections of the media, especially the Sunday Independent,  have been calling for for some time.

The Reform Alliance, however, seems to have neither the intellectual grounding nor the popular appeal of the Progressive Democrats and its long term viability is not certain. Moreover, the PDs were first and foremost a neo-liberal party which allowed for social liberalism on issues such as divorce and contraception. The Reform Alliance seems to more be more akin to the US right, which combine social and religious conservatism with economic liberalism and it is yet to be seen how much popular appeal exists for such an ideology here, or if the alliance has legs. Already some prominent economists and independent politicians, most notably David McWilliams and Stephen Donnelly have declared that they will not support the Alliance as it is too socially conservative. (See Cedar Lounge Revolution here for more declines).

Two Alliances and Two Launch meetings

While watching some of the media coverage, it occurred to me that another alliance launched in 2010 didn’t seem to get anything like the coverage of the Reform Alliance: The United Left Alliance was launched on the 29th of November 2010 with a meeting of three to four hundred in the Gresham Hotel, but was not described anywhere as a ‘monster’ or ‘Ard Fheis’ style meeting. In fact, as memory serves, there wasn’t much coverage of it at all.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 - not a 'monster' rally.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 – not a ‘monster’ rally.

The ULA was an alliance between the already existing left groups: the Socialist Party; the Socialist Workers Party; the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group; and the People Before Profit Alliance. The ULA had  a similar political weight to Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance with one MEP, and numerous councillors , this was evident by the election of 5 TDs in the following election. The United Left Alliance didn’t last very long and split within two years, some details on this can be found here.   In 2010, however, the split was not a foregone conclusion and indeed there was serious potential  for the alliance to develop into a new party to the left of Labour.

This post is concerned with the print media treatment of the two political groups The Alliances are broadly similar in terms of  political representation and support, though the ULA probably had more activists and some  parts of the ULA have sunk roots into their communities. The launches too are similar in size and style as political rallies rather than voting conferences.

ULA potentialTo compare the two alliances we will look 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 launches were/will be held on 29th of November 2010 and on 25th of January for the ULA and RA respectively), we look primarily at the number size and position of the articles and secondly consider some of the treatment. To gather the data the Lexis Nexis newspaper database is being used with similar search criteria (see below). What we are interested in is whether the two Alliances get equal treatment or generally equal treatment both in terms of quantity and quality, and if either Alliance receives any support or opposition.

Politics and the Mainstream Media

This is of interest as the mainstream media, while not being the only source of political knowledge for the general population, is still a key. The print media remains an important part of the media sphere most especially in terms of agenda setting and the development of political themes and frames over time. In normative terms the media should offer equal access to various sides of the political and economic debate, however, as long pointed out by critical scholars, due to issues of ownership, institutional work practices, the class makeup of journalists, and sometimes target audiences, alongside wider ideological processes, there is less than equal access in the mainstream media between what can be termed conservative or mainstream voices and left or alternative  voices.

 In political terms the media may play an important role in developing support for or opposition to political parties or groupings by either publicising, supporting, opposing or ignoring their existence. This is not to be overly deterministic around the mainstream media as political movements can built through ‘boots on the ground’ and how they relate to various events and issues and ‘objective conditions’.  Also materially wealthy groups can bypass media by use of advertising, or develop a media presence by the use of public relations.  It is, however, important to recognise the role of the media in constructing political discourse, agenda and debate which is of particular importance in the media’s role in disseminating information about a new formation on a national level. In short the media remains both a key battleground and source of soft power in the political sphere and its treatment of various political groupings is important.

The ULA and the Reform Alliance, almost identical in terms of political support,  offer an opportunity to test the Irish media on this point.This first post will consider the treatment of the ULA, while a second later post will look at the treatment of the Reform Alliance.

UL who? – The Coverage of the United Left Alliance and launch meeting in five newspapers

A search was performed on the Lexis Nexis print media database between the first of November and the 13 of December 2010 using the search terms ‘United Left Alliance’ or ‘Richard Boyd Barrett ‘or ‘Joe Higgins’ or ‘ULA’ or ‘Seamus Healy’ to appear anywhere in articles of the five newspapers. This uncovered 12 articles of relevance. A further search using the words ‘Higgins,’ ‘Daly’,’ Collins’ uncovered a further 11 articles (3). 13 articles were found to non applicable; that was articles that may have named politicians such as Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett but didn’t mention the ULA or the formation of an alliance. In fact three articles that discuss a ‘surge’ to the left  managed to do so without any mention of the ULA or left regroupment at all (1). There was a total of 5 articles about the ULA itself (2), a further 2 articles where the ULA made up a considerable part and finally 3 articles where the ULA was mentioned in passing. The 5 articles solely on the United Left Alliance appeared in the The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times (twice), The Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post. All of the articles were straight news stories and neutral in orientation. Each article was short and appeared deep inside the respective newspapers. (An exception is the Sunday Business Post where a page number was not found). The 5 articles on the ULA made up a total of only 1173 words. The launch meeting in the Gresham hotel on the 29th of November was not covered by any of the newspapers and no article appeared before the 26th of November, three days before the meeting. Of the five articles where the ULA made up a substantial part or were mentioned in passing 3 were neutral and 2 were negative, none of the articles expressed any support for the Alliance. The one article that seemed to take the ULA in any way seriously and offered any analysis was an article entitled ‘The Old Order Swept Away’ in the Sunday  Business Post on November 28th (1174 words) .This article was  primarily on the demise of Fianna Fail.  In the article acceptable  parameters  of political policy were quickly established, firmly placing the article in an orthodox frame:

The cacophony of voices which say that the individual measures of the plan are not necessary tend to be quieter in explaining where the money should otherwise come from – beyond infantile sloganeering.

The notion that most Irish people – who are, let us not forget, among the best-paid and most lightly-taxed in Europe – won’t have to pay anything if we can somehow get Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien to open their wallets is hardly worthy of serious debate.

The main issue of the article is that  political cultural change is underway:

The disregard for our established politics is spreading. Last week, the TEEU trade union promised a campaign of civil disobedience against the four-year plan. One senior and experienced politician reflected privately that ”there will be civil disorder”.

There has been a huge inflation in the incendiary language that is being used of late. In the Dáil last Thursday, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín O’Caoláin – actually following a speech by Eamon Ryan asking for some civility and calmness in the debate – accused the Greens of ”treason” and ”betrayal”, ”criminality” and ”treachery”

And on the ULA:

But Sinn Fein in are far from the only people using this language. A few minutes earlier, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins launched a new United Left Alliance across the road in Buswells Hotel.

Higgins is a sincere and committed politician and, unlike most of his colleagues in the last Dáil, chose to accept only the average industrial wage, devoting the rest of his salary to political activities.

That does not make him right or wrong about anything. But it is the language used at last week’s launch that was notable. He spoke of the government ”draining the lifeblood of the poor”; of the ”vultures in the markets”; he accused reporters present of accepting ”the dictatorship of the markets”. This is the language, not just of right or wrong policy choices, but of good and evil. And if you believe your political opponent is not just wrong, but evil, that adds a whole different dimension to politics

While the article was respectful of the Alliance and took it quite seriously its final sentence leaves no doubt to its view of the alliances political orientation:

The movement of economic forces is having a profound social and political effect. It always does – economic forces are the tectonic plates of the political landscape. Political change is certainly on the way. Not all of it may be welcome

And that we can say is it; a total of 10 articles with any mention of the Alliance in six weeks, and nothing before the 26th of November, one article of interest, and certainly no expressions of support in any article in any newspaper. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde:

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about

We can conclude with certainty that the print media did little to inform the public of the processes taking place around the formation of the United Left Alliance nor publish  anything in the build up to the launch meeting; meaning that most people outside of the organised left probably knew little of either the launch meeting or of the Alliance’s existence. How this compares to the coverage of the Reform Alliance will be investigated in part two of this blog.

Notes

(1) Sinn Fein’s by-election win heralds surge to left  Sunday Independent (Ireland), November 28, 2010, POLITICS, 469 words; SF and left-wing Independents set to burst out of blocs  The Irish Times, December 11, 2010 Saturday, OPINION; Opinion; Pg. 16, 879 words; SF swing can make Gilmore Taoiseach  Sunday Independent (Ireland), December 5, 2010, POLITICS, 973 words) (2) United Left Alliance to run in 14 constituencies  The Irish Times, December 7, 2010 Tuesday, IRELAND; Other Stories; Pg. 8, 392 words; Left-wing groups call for 24-hour strike to reverse budget cutbacks  Irish Examiner, December 11, 2010 Saturday, IRELAND, 339 words; Higgins hopeful of progress of left-wing group  Sunday Business Post, November 28, 2010, IRELAND, 482 words; Socialists aim for six seats in next Dail  Irish Independent, November 26, 2010 Friday, NATIONAL NEWS, 91 words; Higgins and Boyd Barrett to contest election under left-wing alliance  The Irish Times, November 26, 2010 Friday, IRELAND; Pg. 10, 469 words

(3) Summary Analysis

TOTAL ARTICLES NOT APPLICABLE ABOUT LAUNCH MEETING ABOUT ULA ULA MAJOR PART OF ARTICLE MENTIONS ULA TOTAL WC OF ARTICLES ABOUT ULA NUETRAL TOWARDS ULA POSITIVE TOWARDS ULA NEGATIVE TOWARDS ULA
23 13 0 5 2 3 1773 8 0 2