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

https://m.facebook.com/events/1050038358370802/?active_tab=highlights

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

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

Fear and Loathing in Talbot St

Media bias and exaggeration has gone into overdrive; but is anyone listening?

In our last post we discussed how mainstream media tend to be relatively objective and even-handed once a story remains within certain parameters, that is once media actors such as politicians, business or civil society sources play their part and don’t stray too far from what is deemed acceptable. However, if politics or if political actors stray from those relatively narrow parameters, all attempts at objectivity and even-handedness tend to fly quickly out the newsroom window. This was demonstrated clearly in the last week when a relatively minor protest in Jobstown, a working class district in south west Dublin, sent the Irish media into a stratosphere of fear, loathing, exaggeration and overt bias. This of course is not hugely surprising, as decades of international research into mainstream media has shown again and again that the media do indeed act as an ideological apparatus that can be counted on (by ruling classes) in times of crisis. The literature speaks of many reasons for this, not least ownership and the ever more concentrated nature of ownership of the mass media, (something not lost on the Irish public), however it’s important not to become overly deterministic about ownership as other issues such as institutional practices, changes in media markets, changes in media worker labour markets, the class basis of many journalists and the overarching ideological structures of a given society can play just as important a role. It is also important not to be overly deterministic as there are many cracks in the ideological sphere of the mass media, not least the reception of media content by audiences. As discussed by Stuart Hall, among others, there are many ways audiences interpret media content including outright hostility to the intended message of the journalist or media company. (In fact, after a front page headline in the Irish Daily Mail denouncing the Socialist Party, one enterprising comrade bought up as many copies as he could with the intention of framing and selling them to raise party funds, no doubt seeing the denunciation as a badge of honour.) The access of ordinary people to cheap recording equipment, found in most phones, and easily available distribution networks via social network sites means the gate keeping role of the mainstream media is seriously damaged if not completely defunct. For example a Dail (parliament) speech by United Left TD Claire Daly reached an audience of 250,000 (out of a population of 4.5 million) in less than a week via YouTube, likewise various aspects of protests and state violence have reached tens of thousands of viewers.

Again one doesn’t want to be overly deterministic about the role of technology, and talk of ‘facebook or twitter revolutions’ tends to be exaggerated; as always there are far deeper material issues underlying such events, however the easy access to recording, publishing and distribution networks have had a profound effect on political movements. Moreover, social media organisational tools such as direct messaging and social media pages and groups (usually Facebook) very much resemble the organisational ‘scaffolding’ as envisioned by Lenin’s description of the ideal party press.

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. With the aid of the newspaper, and through it, a permanent organisation will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow   political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events.

I did a quick search of local facebook groups with the term ‘water charges’ in them and gave up after one hundred, most had hundreds if not thousands of ‘likes’.and seemed to be regularly updated. Interestingly facebook has overtaken the role of Indymedia.ie which was to the fore in the movement against the commodification and privatisation of waste services ten years ago. While there are obvious dangers in the monopolisation of  facebook, a private corporation, as an organisational tool no other social network has the reach or ease of use.

mob rule

To go back to Jobstown and the events which took place there, (for those living outside Ireland, Jobstown is a suburb on the outskirts of Dublin with an extremely high unemployment rate and all the associated social problems). The Minister for Social Protection and Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) was to visit a Community Centre to confer awards in an educational project. To give some context, Burton has been involved in the introduction of workfare to Ireland alongside much demonising of the so called ‘undeserving poor’, usually expressed by attacks on alleged social welfare fraud and the need for ‘work activation schemes’ which is code for cutting the welfare of people who refuse to work for free. Moreover, she has been part of an austerity government responsible for cuts in every aspect of life and as always such cuts tend to disproportionately affect poorer suburbs, such as Jobstown. Finally, Burton is also leader of the Irish Labour Party who ran in the last election with the promise that they would not introduce water charges: Therefore, it was utterly unsuprising that she might be met in Jobstown by some protesting residents, especially as we are in the middle of a period that have seen mass mobilisations on every corner of the country. The protest included a sit down protest that blockaded the Tanaiste’s car and left her trapped inside in for two hours, at one point someone threw a water balloon at her and some hours after the Tanaiste and protesters left a young man threw a single brick at a police car. A local Socialist Party representative, recently elected TD (MP) for the area Paul Murphy also took part in the protest. No arrests were made and there has been no evidence of violence, although both protesters and presumably the police were filming the event.

Jobstown is not somewhere that normally concerns the media, in a newspaper search of Irish titles on the Lexis Nexis database (using the search word Jobstown) in the week following the protest I found 79 articles: That compares to the 24 articles that included the word Jobstown in the entire year preceding the protest (12 of which were crime reports). Most articles seem to accept that ‘violence’ occurred, and denounce it to varying degrees.

Certainly the events in Jobstown were newsworthy; a minister was discommoded and even hit by a water balloon, there was a bit of a protest and  it was around the ‘hot’ issue of the water charges. However the reaction by the mainstream media has been incredible by any standards. The coverage has been dripping with overt  layers of class bias, fear and hatred. The accusations against the protesters have grown by the day, the protesters have developed from being  ‘a mob’ to being ‘rioters’ to being  ‘kidnappers’ and ‘terrorists’, finally a particularly gormless TD announced we in Ireland were ‘heading to an ISIS situation‘. In one particularly odd and distasteful piece in the Irish Daily Mail the protest was compared to the notorious incident in the Northern Irish troubles where two British soldiers were taken from their car and shot dead after driving directly into a Republican funeral. (A Republican funeral had been attacked by a Loyalist gunman the previous week, and in fact this funeral was that of one of the people killed in the attack, so tensions were extremely high).

Back to Jobstown: The single brick thrown was seized upon by the press as evidence of a violent ‘sinister fringe’ infiltrating the anti-water charges movement, ignoring the fact that literally hundreds of marches, involving hundreds of thousands of people, have taken place without the slightest bit of violence. In fact ‘the brick’ itself has become a minor social media celebrity in its own right. One Facebook group entitled ‘I bet this brick can get more likes than the Labour Party‘ has been set up and is well on its way to achieving its goal. And, social media has been flooded with memes underlying both the ridiculousness of the mainstream media charges and acting as an ironic defense to what are effectively ideological attacks on the movement – attacks that have the obvious intention to both divide the movement and scare people away from attending future protests.

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‘The Brick’ as pictured by Donal Fallon

tallaght compared to ni killing

Part of this framing denies the fact that working class people can have any agency and that protesters and ‘decent ordinary people’ are being ‘led astray’ by outside elements such as dissident republicans, anarchists and socialist revolutionaries. While the aforementioned would, doubtless, be entirely happy to create and lead such a movement, the left in Ireland does not have anything like the resources (human and otherwise) to create such a mass campaign and only an organic and self-organising movement could have sustained itself to this level for this long. Falling into this ‘outsider’ frame was Paul Murphy’s presence at the Jobstown protest; for the media this Socialist ‘ outsider’, was responsible for the trouble. The media also jumped on the fact that Murphy had a middle class upbringing. This suited the classist nature of the press as it explained that it was one of their own, a well-educated middle class man (rather than the great unwashed) that was responsible for protests, protests that were having such a detrimental effect on the status quo.

middle class paul

Murphy refused  to denounce the protest, denied that the protest was violent and refused to apologise for the discommoding of the Tanaiste’s photo-op. Murphy thus refused to play to the heretofore ‘agreed’ rules of the media game and stepped outside the ‘acceptable parameters’ of media debate. The fact that Murphy’s two SP colleagues in the Dail refused to distance themselves from the protest (and Murphy) shocked and enraged opinion writers further, leading to a sprinkling of ‘red scare’ articles in the press. ‘Responsible’ political leaders, we were told aren’t supposed to defend assumed violence in that fashion; contrite denunciations were both demanded and expected. The incarnation of overt class politics in Irish life is both misunderstood and unwelcome by the fourth estate.

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Protest at the headquarters of Independent News and Media

So what of the effect of this media barrage on the left and the anti water charges movement? Protests are continuing unabated with large protests in Sligo, Cork and Waterford in the last week, alongside local protests far too numerous to mention. The Socialist Party seems to be gaining popularity from its new found media infamy and certainly has won respect for standing beside the protesters under considerable pressure. The latest party political poll to be published today (Sunday, 23rd of November) shows that Independents and small parties are polling at a historical high of 30%, while Sinn Fein is polling at a historical high of 22%. What we are probably witnessing, amongst other things, is a crisis of legitimacy for the mainstream media. By attacking what is a genuinely organic and mass movement with exaggerations, overt bias and outright lies, the media sphere is losing credibility, and credibility once lost will be hard won back, if at all.

Balance in the Bin: The Irish Times’ Framing of the Greyhound Lockout

The Irish business media have not been known for their critical thought nor for their hard questioning of economic actors; on the contrary theirs is a history of sycophantry, poor reporting and little or no fact checking. ‘Entrepreneurial’ and ‘innovative’ businesses and business ‘leaders’ such as Anglo Irish Bank and various property speculators were unquestioned and lauded as paragons of a new dynamic Ireland. Since the crisis one might have reasonably expected a more thoughtful form of business reporting, more reflective, less obsequious  and maybe even slightly critical. Alas, the journalistic model of forelock tugging, arse licking is still with us.

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Friday’s Irish Times included a long interview with Michael Buckley, Executive Director of Greyhound Waste. Greyhound is in the news as they are currently locking out their workforce, demanding that they take a 35% pay cut. Elements of the media, true to form, are uncritically reporting statements from the company with little evidence of fact-checking and displaying all the usual fawning reserved for business leaders. Friday’s 2,500 word interview includes no counter statements from SIPTU (the union involved) and takes Buckley’s word on every aspect.

 Buckley himself is described as ‘conveying enthusiasm’ for what he does and his statement that the private sector is doing a ‘good job with domestic waste collection’ is unchallenged; something that would raise the eyebrows of any of Greyhound’s long suffering customers. The term lockout is not used, rather it is stated that workers refused a ‘proposal’ that has led them to being ‘replaced, for the time being anyhow’ by agency and contract workers. None of the locked out workers are given space for comment.  Buckley, again uncritically, is given space to show his ‘sympathy’ to the workers, but goes on to say a pay cut is better than nothing, and again the workers’ point of view is not given.  The article then goes into some sycophantic reminiscence of how Buckley’s parents used to run a waste operation, which he describes as a ‘hump and dump’ business which was collecting waste and ‘dumping in unlicensed landfills’. The Irish Times seems to have no issue with this and for this matter they do not mention the numerous environmental indictments that the current Greyhound operation has been involved in; neither does the article think to mention the fact that Greyhound is based in the Isle of Man for tax avoidance purposes. For the Irish Times, the Isle of Man ‘model’ is simply an innocent act of accounting.

 The key section of the interview is where Buckley describes the ‘regime’ Greyhound took over, after its privatisation, being in a terrible state, as:

The collection of rubbish had been seen for decades as a service and not an income stream for business. The workers were well paid and had attractive working conditions.

Indeed, for 150 years Dublin City Council ran what seemed to be a relatively well run waste service that was free to citizens at the point of use. The privatisation of the service is a good example of what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession, a feature of late capitalism that sees a rentier class taking over already existing services and charging for them, often supplying a far less quality service, costing more and paying their staff less. In the case of Greyhound, tax avoidance can also be added to the list. This process began over a decade ago by the commodification of the waste service which would pave the way for later privatisation; in an ironic and Orwellian twist the Labour Party has taken to blaming the opposition movement to the commodification and privatisation of waste and other services for the current mess.

 Throughout the article the process of the labour dispute is described solely from Buckley’s point of view without a single quote from a trade union source. Buckley is allowed to make an accusation of racism against workers, whom he claimed opposed a scab operator because that man was a foreign national. This allegation is not challenged, nor are workers or trade union representatives allowed to answer the accusation.

Greyhound’s unpopularity with its long suffering customers is put down to ‘communication problems’ or Greyhound not being versed in public relations, nothing to do with its extremely poor service or its opportunistic charging for the collection of Green waste which had been free up to privatisation as an obvious and sensible environmental incentive.

 The most incredible piece of writing is that the private waste companies represent an ‘entrepreneurial, innovative sector’ – how is this so? By taking over an already existing, well-run service and operating it in a haphazard and amateurish manner? By doing down the pay and conditions of its staff?  By its numerous notices of repeat non-compliance by the Environmental Protection Agency or by their not-so-innovative use of the Isle of Man to escape financial regulation? A simple internet trawl would uncover actual innovative waste management practices across Europe that go beyond shipping waste overseas for landfill and incineration in even less-regulated parts of the world.

 The Irish Times might argue that this was an interview and that the opinion of the workers and their representatives can be found elsewhere, but this is not entirely true. While the Irish Times does have a much shorter article (500 words) in which a union representative is given some space to counter Buckley’s accusations, where is the 2,500 word soft focus interview of a shop steward conducted in the middle of a strike? Where are the articles describing the shop steward’s childhood and his or her vision for the future? Where is the article with interesting quotes from a striking worker and his fascinating outside interests and hobbies? Where is the article that takes the position of a shop steward without question, challenge and that doesn’t put forward the company’s view for balance? For that matter where is the ‘union’ section of the newspaper, to balance the ‘business’ section, which let’s face it should be really named the ‘elite interests section’.

 Or here’s a crazy thought, why not include an economics section that includes journalists that can see beyond the interests of a single élite class and past recycled neo-liberal clichés; a section that may even question failed economic policies such as the botched privatisation policy that has left our waste services in such a shambolic state.

Inside Bias – class representation in the Irish Times

blind_spot2A piece on the Irish Times new podcast series ‘Inside Politics’ on renting and property gives some revealing insights on continued class biases in the newspaper. The section included three guests, a TD from the Labour Party, a speaker from the Residential Landlord’s association and a representative from Mortgage Brokers Ireland (who is also  a landlord). Who’s missing from the picture? You guessed it a tenant.  The framing of rent reforms as unnecessary, counterproductive and politically impossible quickly follows:

Media, Crisis and The Making Of Common Sense – The Live Register

The Live Register hosted a podcast discussion on the Media, Crisis and the making of common sense between Henry Silke of this parish and Julian Mercille of UCD.

From the Live Register:

Why is the vast majority of Irish media dominated with an undoubting and uncritical attitude towards a single theory of the ‘crisis’? What role does it play in legitimising, rather than challenging, the structural causes of growing inequality? And what does this mean for radical interpretations of democracy, public space and the remaking of common sense?

In this Live Register podcast, we’re joined by Julien Mercille and Henry Silke, two academics who have been carrying out separate research relating to the Irish media.

Julien Marcille lectures at the School of Geography in UCD and has recently published research on how the Irish mainstream media have covered the Irish “crisis” from a pro-austerity position over the last five years. Henry Silke is a postgraduate researcher at the School of Communications DCU, who has been examining the political role of the Irish press during the crisis.

We used their research to frame a wider discussion of the real role of mainstream media in Ireland today, exploring how market ideology is central to how mainstream media frames public discourse, very much at odds to the perception of mainstream media holding truth to power.

Class Hatred in the Sunday Independent: Emer O’Kelly’s Polemic Against Teachers

In an vitriolic anti-teacher polemic today in the Sunday Independent Emer O’Kelly lets loose on who see deems the ‘untouchables’; that is secondary school teachers, and specifically those belonging to the ASTI trade union, however it is quite clear that her thoughts spread across the entire teaching profession. The immediate crime of ASTI members is voting against the latest tranche of austerity measures. This  O’Kelly deems as ‘idiotic, selfish and disruptive’. She goes onto the usual trope of the long suffering ‘private sector worker’ as compared to their public sector counterparts. Of course such solidarity with private sector workers only goes as far as to demand the lessening of conditions and pay for their public sector counterparts, neither O’Kelly nor pretty much the entire media establishment have ever shown as much of an ounce of solidarity to private sector workers when on strike or facing unemployment.

But her main point of argument is to demand that secondary school teachers (and one would imagine the entire profession) should have any rights to permanent work revoked, as she puts it:

…we can cheer loudly at the suggestion by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, that ASTI members may face the possibility of compulsory redundancy

Notwithstanding the fact that O’Kelly’s assertion is in itself mistaken; most teachers spend years on temporary contract, sometimes up to a decade before the elusive permanent contract appears – permanent contracts are also steadily being eroded in third level education, being replaced by precarious short-term contracts, and indeed at primary level Jobbridge has appeared, bringing the teacher’s salary down to a mere €50 top-up to their social welfare entitlements.

kono1april

She gives a number of other reasons  for demanding a higher turnover of teaching staff, her  main argumentbeing the high level of adult illiteracy in Ireland.

…we can point it out when we recall the horrifying figure for adult illiteracy in this country, as certified by the OECD. Nearly one fifth of Irish adults are functionally illiterate, having gone through our self-satisfied, self-glorifying education system. Functional illiteracy means that they are unable to read the instructions on a packet of medication, or the destination on a bus. And the people responsible for this are protected from being made redundant

Now this is interesting as she puts all blame for issues of illiteracy on teaching staff; not a word on social exclusion nor unequal resource distribution favouring more affluent areas nor the numerous political, economic and social issues involved, and she certainly has nothing to say about the class issues involved. This view of blaming the teacher does not stand up as research has shown the major cause of poor literacy outcomes is from early exit from school,  and not as O’Kelly puts it from teacher performance; as the National Adult Literacy Agency puts it: .

..early school leavers, older adults, non-English speakers and unemployed people are most at risk of having literacy difficulties. In addition, the people with the lowest skills are least likely to take part in adult education.

and

 In Ireland nearly 30% of the workforce has only Junior Certificate or less, while 10% has only primary level or no formal qualifications at all.

The other major reasons cited by the agency are:

…physical or psychological reasons such as poor hearing, vision or problems with speech specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia that were not diagnosed. Being part of a large class and not having specific needs catered for. Poverty and lack of access to educational resources. No free secondary education until 1967

Again as with private sector workers, O’Kelly’s solidarity with the those with literacy problems doesn’t go as far as to question either educational resources or the class inequalities laying at the base of much of these issues. O’Kelly’s solution is to make teaching a more precarious profession, something unlikely to have any positive effect on literacy levels as the aforementioned research has shown, teacher contracts have little or nothing to do with illiteracy. Of course if Emer O’Kelly was concerned about illiteracy  two minutes of research, even a quick Google search, would have shown all of  this. This says one of two things about O’Kelly: either she  is a particularly poor journalist whose level of research skills wouldn’t get her past a leaving cert essay; or she is simply using this as a very poor attempt to attack unionised workers.

Likewise her concern for parents, people for whom she has had little sympathy for in the past, is not credible. She states that ASTI’s very limited action of not doing work for free outside working hours is a direct  attack on parents, here she states:

On Wednesday, the ASTI members will begin industrial action by refusing to hold parent-teacher meetings outside school hours. This will cause huge disruption for most parents, and for all working parents.

Is this the same Emer O’Kelly who is opposed to both maternity leave and stay at home mothers? Here’s O’Kelly in a polemic against ‘lazy’ young mothers back in 2008:

I read an interview recently with a woman about to return to work after maternity leave. She was complaining that 12 weeks was not nearly enough. Her problem was not with the wrench of leaving her little one for eight hours a day; her complaint was that she had had a Caesarean section when giving birth, and 12 weeks was not enough time to recover from such major surgery.

With an attitude like that, I hope the woman worked in the public service: because a couple of people like her would quickly put a private-sector employer in the bankruptcy court.

The truth is, we’re all going to have to give a bit more  Sunday Independent – 29th June 2008

As she puts it, women have to get back to work from maternity leave as quickly as possible because.

There’s also the small fact of ethics: you owe it to an employer to put your back into your job rather than shmoozing your way through, spending as much time working out how to buck the system as you spend actually on the job.

The truth is, we’re all going to have to give a bit more  Sunday Independent – 29th June 2008

Now she does go on to tell us that although she has never had a C-section (or children), but she has had major surgery, after which she was back to work in two weeks. Of course if work for O’Kelly is writing un-researched and biased polemical pieces, major surgery or even children for that matter shouldn’t be too much trouble. However one might imagine that the young mother who complained may have had a real job with actual real work involved.

So we can safely conclude that O’Kelly has little care for private sector workers beyond using them as a stick to beat public sectors with, people facing problems with literacy and certainly she has little or no sympathy for parents, working or otherwise; this begs the question what is her problem with teachers? The answer to this may lie at the beginning of the polemic:

ONCE again teachers, the people to whom parents have no option but to entrust the ethical formation of their children for hours of the day, have disgraced themselves

The problem that seems to be at the root of O’Kelly’s polemic is the role of teachers in society and their position in what she deems the ethical formation of students.  As outlined above, ethics for O’Kelly means that the employer is always right, that workers owe their employers everything and should not whinge about minor issues like child care or recovering from c-sections; and workers especially should not refuse to tow the line on austerity cutbacks.  This is not the first time that O’Kelly pushed this line, back in 2010 she made similar complaints about the political motives of teachers:

 It’s hard to believe that the men and women entrusted with the educational formation of many of our citizens at second level, and all of our citizens at university level, can behave in such an unprincipled fashion. At least, it’s hard to believe of the IFUT; we’re used to the outrageously selfish impropriety of teachers at primary and secondary level. But how uneasy does it make you feel to envisage the intellectual elite of the country being taught ethics, philosophy, and particularly, politics, by people who refuse to abide by a democratic, if reluctant, vote?

‘Copper-fastened’ deal all comes down to the nuts and bolts: Sunday Independent 20 June 2010

Here is the nub of the problem: teachers and to O’Kelly’s surprise lectures are not acting in  their traditional conservative role but are in fact acting as the vanguard of resistance to state policy. This process itself maybe reflective of the proletarianisation of the teaching profession over the last number of decades. The teaching profession once a ‘respectable’ and conservative profession acting alongside the conservative curriculum has been one of the key hegemonic pillars of class rule. If teachers at all levels (even university) are becoming more proletarianised and unionised and as in the case of ASTI are acting in the vanguard of resistance; this for the well-connected O’Kelly needs to be stopped before the idea catches on.

 

There’s Blood in the Stone Yet!

blood stone

In a particularly strange and positive framing of the economic situation today, the Irish Times website reports:

1.18 Million adults have E50 left after bills paid

Note the omission of the word ‘only’ before the number of 50 euro a month. And just in case you weren’t sure of the positive framing, it adds the sub-heading:

Financial position improving for many, credit union study finds.

it online

In fact in the Print edition of the newspaper the subhead is the headline – leaving out the 1.18 million adults and their fistfulls of 50 euro notes. In the print edition we are greeted with the news that where there was 600,000 with nothing left at the end of the month, now there’s only half a million (where’s those emigration figures again?). While average disposable income has increased a whopping nine euros a month from 163 to 172 euro a month!

irish times

We are told that the number of people with nothing left to spend after bills are paid are falling drastically and now that we are in the happy position of having an extra tenner a week to spend. Overall the position on disposable income is ‘continuing to stabalise’, this is due we are informed due to citizen consumers cutting back on luxuries such as food. Other luxuries like a single visit to a GP, half a school uniform, smiling at a dentist or two thirds  of a school book will also have to be avoided. Finally we are reminded that of course this is all mainly an issue of confidence, indeed the Times is doing its bit on that front. On a brighter note it means that’s another 50 euro begging to go into that pit they call the private banking system via water charges, broadcast charges and sure maybe another pay cut or two, and this news should be the final nail in the coffin for all those strategic defaulters cheating their banks and bondholders out of pocket for frivolous luxuries like light and heat.