Privileged Access: An Insight into Source Bias in the Irish Press

On  July 14th 2013 the Irish Independent published a fascinating article by Tom Lyons entitled The Gloomsday Book: who was there on the night of the guarantee; the article is not  interesting so much for the narrative of who met whom and when but more so for the journalist’s normative judgement of who should be listened to in times of key economic crisis.  The article while expressing the usual journalistic class biases about ‘bearded trade unionists’  offers an illuminating insight into journalistic sourcing; that is who and what organisations the press speak to in terms of policy decisions and crisis and who they consider relevant. The article discusses the diary of the Minister of Finance on the day of the decision of the banking guarantee with a normative discourse on who was worthy of the state’s attention on that most infamous of days.

As an aside the article declines to remind us of the newspaper’s own support of the guarantee at the time nor its role in publishing at least one article lobbying for the guarantee in advance of its proposal and another in advance of its implementation; but as with the press and the housing bubble we are well used to institutional short memories. What is interesting in this article is that it expresses to us some illuminating thinking about who they believe  it was relevant to talk to on the day of the blanket bank guarantee, a blanket bank guarantee that has had negative aspects throughout all of society.

Guests signing in to see Mr Lenihan himself, however, had nothing to do with the banking crisis which that day saw Anglo Irish Bank on the brink of collapse and other toxic banks such as AIB and Irish Nationwide not that far behind…

…At 4pm, six representatives of different charities including Protestant Aid, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Cori and St Vincent de Paul all sign in to see the minister. These charities are more relevant to Ireland in the years following the bank guarantee than in the hours beforehand.

Then at 4.50pm David Begg, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who sat on the board of the Central Bank during the boom turned up for some reason or other. He was accompanied by Paul Sweeney, the trade union economist. A few minutes later, another three ICTU officials showed up, though it is not clear who they were planning to visit. At 5pm, Jack O’Connor, the president of ICTU, showed up – another bearded trade unionist with zero banking expertise is there to see the minister.

It seems beyond the newspaper’s conception to what trade unionists, or a trade unionist economist might have to do with lobbying the minister for finance at a time when working class wages and conditions are under constant attack and what a blanket guarantee paid for all of society might have to do with those other than business interests.  As he puts it:

The fact that neither Mr Lenihan nor his civil servants thought it wise to clear his schedule so he could focus on the banks again underlines how out of their depth they all were.

So if the state shouldn’t be dealing with pesky bearded trade unionists who should they be speaking to?

Just after Mr O’Connor bustled in, Padraig O Riordain, the managing director of Arthur Cox, showed up in the department – finally, someone who knows about banking had signed in.

So there you have it, an expert, not that such an expert could possibly have any special or vested interests or hold any conflicting brief – this question is not considered at all. The fact that this law firm while advising the state also represents elite groups in Irish society, especially banking and finance is not alluded to.  We can only conclude in the Independent’s view that when this societal crisis was in process, actors from society outside of the world of finance and banking had no role to play. As I said at the beginning of this piece this is an illuminating insight into the thinking of journalists that explains somewhat their own practice.

In his Master’s Voice?

In a sourcing analysis* of the week before and after the bank guarantee itself in 2008 this attitude was replicated in both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent. The research found that in stories covering the bank guarantee  business and finance made up 23% of total sources while non business elements of civil society only made up 2%; trade unions made up none. In terms of politics, while state and party political sources made up about half of the total, Fianna Fail alone made up half of that. Non mainstream political parties got a total of two lines in one article, (a mention of an email from Socialist Party rep. Joe Higgins),  the ratio to pro-anti guarantee political parties was around 8 to 1. In terms of frequency or how often people were sourced the trend is repeated. In fact in the news section of the Irish Times about a third of articles only sourced government or state representative.

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Figure One: Percentage of complete sources by type in the Irish Times and Irish Independent on the issue of the 2008 blanket bank guarantee 21/09/2008 – 5/10/2008. NB this chart is of complete sources but not frequency of sources, that is numerous sources may appear in a single article. For example although media makes up 8% of sources it does not appear in 8% of articles, it is made up by few articles with numerous sources in each.

 

image002

Figure Two: Frequency of sourcing by article by type Irish Times and Irish Independent on the issue of the bank guarantee 21/09/2008 – 5/10/2008. NB while many articles contain numerous sources a source type is only counted once. The chart can be read as such ‘In 57.98% of articles at least one political source appeared’

A Single Narrative?

The fact that the newspapers came out in such support of the guarantee is hardly surprising considering the narrow nature of its sources, the research found that while the 81 articles published about the guarantee could be described as supportive only 16 and 22 could be described as negative and neutral respectively. Apart from some honorable acceptions most articles seemed to accept mainstream political and business sources without serious critique.  Why does this matter? Because politics, political policy and ideology in general is often a battle of conflicting narratives, and here the evidence clearly shows, as does Tom Lyons’  illuminating piece, one narrative dominates the Irish press, and that put simply is a class and market based narrative which serves elite sections in society, and while the press continue to have a somewhat influential role in the media and wider society this is deep concern.

*This research is part of an ongoing PhD thesis on the Irish press and the financial crisis.

Photo from Anglo not our debt

 

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1913 Lockout Podcast – Episode 4 – Media

Basic CMYK

Episode four of the Unfinished Business 1913 podcast series is on the media, looking at different aspects of both mainstream and alternative media from 1913 to contemporary times. Henry Silke of Critical Media review took part in the podcast. For the rest of this excellent series see here

1913 Unfinished Business wants to reinvigorate class politics using the centenary of the Dublin lock-out as an inspiration and focal point.

 

We will engage in popular education about the events of 1913 and their contemporary relevance, producing imagery to provoke and research to inform.

2013 will see elite commemorations by government, political parties and a union leadership that has sold out the working-class. We intend to critique and oppose these attempts to sanitise this important moment in Ireland’s history of class conflict. We will endeavour to ensure, as we enter a decade of commemorations, that the workers’ story is told.

We want to work with rank-and-file union members to advance the cause of a modern, fighting union movement inspired by the one Larkin led one hundred years ago. It is time to restate the political nature of a union and reclaim the idea of it in people’s minds as a working-class, anti-capitalist institution.

We will challenge the right of today’s William Martin Murphys – oligarchs and organised business interests – to control our politics, economy and society.

The 1913 lock-out raised the fundamental question: who owns the city? Capital has shaped the urban landscape to meets its ends, we aim to assert the people’s right to shape the place where they work and live.

The Future of Irish Alternative Media: Towards an Alt-Media Network?

3.15 Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, Dublin – as part of the Left Forum

Register for the meeting here

alt mediaIn recent years there has been a flowering of Irish alternative media. Quality material is now being produced regularly in all mediums including print, blogging, radio and television. As part of the Left Forum on the 18th of May the media section invites those working in Irish alternative and community media (and those who wish to work in community and alternative media) to come together to discuss how the various publications and channels may work together in the future. The idea of a network will be discussed; such a network could be a basis for pitching articles, blogs or broadcasts to publishers and for publishers to commission articles, blogs or broadcasts. The network may also act as a basis for sharing resources, training and education and discussing funding strategies. The meeting also invites those not yet working in alternative media (but who wish to) to attend.

This meeting will be the beginning of a process which will continue with the Ourmedia international alternative media conference to be held in the city centre and DCU on the 24th and 25th of June.

Participants from the following media groups and media research schools will be in attendance, we hope more will follow:

  • Look left (Magazine)
  • Liberty (Newspaper)
  • Irish Left Review (Blog)
  • Irish Anarchist Review (Magazine)
  • Rabble (Newspaper)
  • Dublin Community Television (TV Station)
  • The Live Register (TV show)Dole
  • Spirit of Contradiction (Blog)
  • Critical Media Review (Blog)
  • Cunning Hired Knaves (Blog)
  • Anarkismo (website)
  • Workers Solidarity (Newspaper)
  • Radioactive (Radio)
  • Irish Student Left Online (Blog)
  • Soundmigration (Blog)
  • Dole TV (TV show)
  • School of Communications – Dublin City University
  • Media Centre – National University of Ireland Maynooth
  • School of Media – Dublin Institute of Technology
  • Univerity College Cork

lookleftLayout 1rabbleWSM

Market ‘Realities’: Decoding Economic Ideology in the Press – Paschal Preston & Henry Silke DCU

[T]he superstructure depends on its economic foundations.  But it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the superstructure operates retroactively on its base.  The retroactive superstructual influence in no less important than the influence of the base itself.  The historical process can only be explained by observing the interaction of the two.  They do not affect each other mechanically or as externally independent factors; they are inseparable moments of a unity.

(Franz Jakubowski 1976 p. 57)

Introduction

In the current economic and political crises the mass media continue to play an important role in both political and economic discourse. Therefore how the news media treats the economic crises and its political aftermath is of some importance. The authors maintain that current neo-liberal ideological assumptions have an influential effect on contemporary news and financial journalism and that the latter, in turn, serve to shape the course of economic and financial processes. They maintain this is important as neo-liberal ideologies are not separate from the material world but can have real effects in terms of state policies and business strategies. Moreover, neo-liberal assumptions may have blinded journalism to potential crises related to market contradictions and bubbles.

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Challenging Orthodoxy – The Political Economy of the Left Press: Content, Distribution and Audience

Round Table Discussion – Anarchist Bookfair 2012

The 2012 anarchist bookfair hosted an interesting discussion on the Irish alternative media, entitled ‘Old Media in the Age of the Internet‘ the talk focused on the continued relevance of left wing print media in the internet age.  The discussion looked at issues of production, including content and aesthetics, the role of radical publications, the relationship between the publication and its audience, and distribution. The session also included some discussion on Irish mainstream journalism and the lack of space therein for left wing ideas or working class representation.  This is a brief report of some of the major issues of the  discussion, focusing on content, audience and distribution, the entire discussion can be watched below.

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Kicking off the 2011 Revolts in the age of the Networked Individual: Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement)

In an long review of  Paul Mason’s new book  Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere Andrew Flood of the WSM discusses some important aspects of the changes in communications structure  in the last number of years, and his reflections of how those changes have affected politics and activism. This review is extremely interesting not only for the insights into the book itself but also for the examples of the activist use of communications tools as experienced by the author himself.

Here critical media review will highlight some of the more communication specific aspects of the review, including Andrew’s own experiences and the theoretical section on the ‘networked individual’. The original review is of course much less media centric than these short extracts and as such should be read to be fully appreciated.

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