And we’re back!

The one on the left is 26 pages today. The one on the right is 28. #weareback! Hat Tip: eagle eyed Kitty Holland

A big day for the Irish Times as the property section has overtaken the news section for the first time since… well for the first time since that nasty business. As it stands rents are rising, evictions are increasing and journalism is thriving. Expect to see lots of articles on why landlords need tax incentives, why developers need to be forgiven and above all why rent control is impossible.

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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.

Tom Murphy (CEO), and Tim Vaughan (Editor) of the Irish Examiner on the Role of Media during the Property Boom

Tom Murphy and Tim Vaughan, CEO and Editor of the Irish Examiner at the time of the housing bubble, spoke to the Dail Committee investigating the banking crisis on the role of their paper in the housing bubble.

In his evidence Tim Vaughan states:

If we were guilty of anything – and I believe we were – it is that we believed and accepted that institutions such as the financial regulatory authorities were doing their jobs and doing them competently, with due diligence, appropriate compliance policies and proper political and departmental oversight, all of which we believed were designed to ensure the stability of our economy. From what we know as a result of the Honohan, Regling-Watson and Nyberg reports and the contributions of others to this inquiry, it appears to be obvious that our trust in these various arms and agents of the State was, to say the least, misplaced.

I acknowledge that there was insufficient critique of the frequent claims that there would be no crash and our so-called economic miracle would continue to be an example to the world. We should have more rigorously challenged the predictions of analysts and economists, including those who contributed to our newspaper and those who had direct or indirect associations with financial institutions. While this is an accusation that could be levelled at many editors and publishers throughout the world, much better resourced than my own organisation,

Video and transcript of the session can be found here 

 

 

 

Journalism, Ideology and the Markets: The Irish Media and the Property Crash

The role of the Irish media in the property crash and following economic crisis is again hitting the headlines with a Sindo special edition promised this Sunday (10/11/2013); the Irish Left Review has also recently published an interesting piece on the role of the media by Bryan Wall on the fifth anniversary of the banking guarantee, while research from UCD’s Julien Mercille into the media’s role in the property crash continues to attract interest here. In light of this renewed interest CMR will post an article previously unavailable online on the role of journalism, ideology in market crises published in Look Left. This article considers the role of communications and media in crises of capital focusing on the Irish crash. Other articles on the property crisis by the author are available here.

First Published in Look Left magazine, September 2012

Click on the images to enlarge

look left cover housing article cover

Silke 2012 Journalism, ideology and the Markets  pg 1

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg2

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg 3

John Bellamy Foster: Use Value, Exchange Value and the Communication Revolution – IAMCR Dublin 2013

John Bellamy Foster speaking at the IAMCR conference in Dublin. Foster discusses the issues of finacialisation and the ‘communication revolution’. Of particular interest to this blog is his discussion of the privileging of exchange value over use value; something this blog maintains is intrinsic to the Irish housing bubble and ideology surrounding it and is a central plank  to research being carried out by the author into the media and the financial crisis in Ireland.

Inception or Deception – Japlandic

Republished courtesy of japlandic.

Notes on the data: the number of houses sold isn’t factored, just the total sales price for 6 months. The volume of sales are so low at the moment that any houses at the far end of the bell curve will skew the picture. The thing that made japlandic doubt the Daft figures is the numbers for volume and value of mortgage approvals have been constantly falling – so rising prices are not being facilitated by bank lending. It would seem cash sales is the only other financing that can drive prices higher – and these are only captured in the Property Price Register, all other property stats available don’t capture cash sales. More expensive properties could skew the data – but the most significant factor at the moment is cash sales – and these aren’t being properly tabulated anywhere. Thanks to japlandic for that.

The newspaper treatment is at best an overly positive framing of the property market with  inconclusive data. At worst and probably most likely it is business as usual for the Irish press, in the week of back slapping over the anglo tapes it is worth remembering the structural role the print media has played and continues to play in the Irish economic crisis CMR.

Strategic Ideology – Preparing the ground for Repossessions?

Pat Kenny (on evictions) –  ‘Will we see more people on the side of the road literally, soon?’

IBEC economist  –  ‘Look, I think all the options will have to be looked at’

Prime Time (RTE  Current Affairs) 4th April 2013

Introduction

Ideology in its popular sense is seen as something akin to identity and something we are very much aware of, one has an ideological political position, usually some ‘ism’ or other. While true to a small extent the real secret of Ideology is the insidious nature of what becomes ‘common sense’, and how this ‘common sense’ may go on the frame narratives, agenda and discussion. This ‘common sense’ may or may not have any basis in material reality and it may or may not reflect an overt political movement. But scratch the surface and there is inevitably some class interests at stake. If one thinks of the inevitability of cuts as opposed to the impossibility higher corporation or wealth  taxes as expressed by the mass media we can see that point.

In fact the entire notion of austerity itself is an ideological and class based construct, and yes, thus far, it is working very well for elite power. The ideology of austerity has become a default and assumed reality across much of the political spectrum. The only remaining questions being sectional and localised.

Within the mass media there is a tendency for dominant political and social ideas to become ‘common sense’, in other words assumed to be true while anything contrary to this ‘common sense’ is deemed political, ideological and not rational. This type of thinking allows someone like Karl Deeter, a constant and deeply ideological champion of the Irish Property market system, to proclaim:

‘…that Flac and New Beginnings “have an ideological view of the world. I don’t’. “Maybe that makes me soulless but I believe my research is good. They can dismiss my research and rubbish it but what have they done? What research have they put together. They have done nothing. I am certainly not going to back down just because people disagree with me.”

In other words those who are in any way critical of the premises of the market system are ideological while those who support this system are, in their minds, entirely rational. In the upside down world of newspaper and media, treatment of property heterodoxy is ideological while orthodoxy – even after the collapse of the property market – remains the only truth. The depth of ideological thinking within the Irish media can be seen in that even now, five years after the event, there seems to be no conception of the possibility of supplying housing outside of an unregulated market system.

Preparing the Ground – Identify the Enemy

Anyone who was in Ireland as the economy collapsed could not have missed the public-sector/private sector ‘debate’; which in reality was a class offensive which prepared the ground for huge cuts in pay and conditions in both sectors. The public sector were framed as lazy and overpaid as well as ‘holding the country to ransom’; their unions as old fashioned and corrupt. The private sector worker for their part were lionised for their perceived self sacrifice. Of course few in the media actually spoke to private sector workers or even their representatives and tended to speak to either private sector owners, managers or human resource ‘experts’, (which often meant highly paid private consultants). When private sector workers became unemployed they could be either used as a weapon to attack other workers pay and conditions or denounced as dole scroungers. This also played into the equally ideological ‘common sense’ viewpoint that anything organised in the private sector was efficient and well run, while anything not privately run was inefficient with the logical conclusion that privatisation would be a preferred option. This was particularly ironic at the time because the bulk of the collapsed private banking system (and more importantly its debts) were on the road towards nationalisation.

While not proposing there was a media conspiracy around this period, certainly there were structural and deeply ideological issues in effect, which again were affected by material conditions, identities, the class nature of journalism and journalists, working practices and ownership and the power of advertising (especially property).

The New Enemy Within?

So the question is have we reached another such point? Are we witnessing the softening up of the population for repossessions, evictions and a new class offensive. Well first we have to meet our new national villain – step forward the ‘strategic defaulter’.

Step forward the new villain 'the strategic defaulter'

Step forward the new villain ‘the strategic defaulter’

When developing a new ideological offensive what better candidate than Colm McCarthy to step up to the plate: in a number of recent articles he discusses the idea of the ‘strategic defaulter’.

…it appears that some people who have gone into arrears have been choosing to do so, in the sense that they do not lack the financial capacity to make repayments on schedule. Some arrears can be termed ‘distressed arrears’, in the sense that the borrowers simply cannot pay, but others, so-called ‘strategic’ arrears, arise through borrowers choosing not to pay, presumably in the hope that some debt forgiveness scheme will ultimately emerge, or that they can cod the bank into believing that they are suffering genuine financial distress.

McCarthy (and much of the media) have been citing Gregory O’Connor from the National University of Ireland Maynooth:

Mr O’Connor reckons that these strategic defaulters constitute at least 35 per cent of the total, based on statistical studies of strategic default in the United States, where re-possession is easier for the lender. Despite the greater severity of the housing downturn in Ireland, there have been far fewer dwellings re-possessed, relative to the volume of arrears, than in the USA or the United Kingdom.

So there you have it no less than 35% of defaulters and arrears are from strategic defaulters who are choosing not to pay. McCarthy is citing a blog post by Gregory Connor of the National University of Maynooth on The Irish Economy.  There are however some serious issues with this blog post which becomes evident even after a brief reading. In effect the blog post boils down to saying that in the US there is X amount of strategic defaulters, Ireland has had a worse crash, therefore there must be Y amount of strategic defaulters here. It is also an entirely market based approach concerned with market values and negative equity.  By using a market based approach it focuses mainly on those who purchased property as an investment, while ignoring those who bought property as a home. Moreover, it doesn’t deal with the issue of what happens to debt after a default is ignored. Under Irish law even if the property is re-possessed and sold, the remainder is still owed by the borrower, (however unrealistic the opportunity of return). In an Irish Times article Gregory O’Connor discusses his thesis further with some remarkable and what could only be describe as ideological oversights:

The classic source of distressed arrears is loss of employment. A Central Bank sample study showed that 32 per cent of residential mortgage holders in serious arrears were unemployed, or had a mortgage co-payer who was unemployed. Unemployment does not explain the remaining 68 per cent of arrears cases.

Unemployment may not account for the other 68% of cases, but what about pay cuts, pension levies, universal social charges, household taxes, loss of hours for contract workers, full time work reduced to part time? Not to mention other issues such as the cost of fuel (for those in the commuter belts), the cost of childcare, medicine etc etc. In simple terms a couple who may have bought a house they could barely afford in 2006, can quite reasonably, after losing the 15-20% of their income, having children or becoming sick be unable to afford that mortgage today. And in structural terms what about the unsustainable inflation of housing cost from 4 times the average wage to twelve times in less than a decade?

O’Connor also cites recent legal decisions which may well have had an impact:

The legal block on repossessions arising from the 2009 Land Conveyancing Reform Act is another obvious potential driver of strategic arrears. Starting that same year, the financial regulator imposed the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears, limiting banks’ ability to scrutinise arrears cases. Combined with troubled banks’ natural tendency towards “extend and pretend” on delinquent loans, this created a tempting environment for mortgage holders inclined towards strategic default.

While there is quite possibly merit in this argument again it ignores everything else that happened in 2009.

In other words O’Connor’s work is simply speculation and pretty poor speculation at that. What is of interest is how a purely speculative blog post can then be then quickly reproduced in the mass media as peer-reviewed scientific fact:

Recent surveys suggest that at least 35pc of those who are in mortgage arrears may be unwilling, rather than unable, to pay. This figure is based on statistical studies of strategic default in the United States, where re-possession is easier for the lender.

For his part   McCarthy hammers home some anecdotal evidence:

There is anecdotal evidence from bankers that some people are meeting all sorts of payments (direct debits for utilities) and also clearing credit card balances monthly, while failing to meet mortgage repayments.

Where to begin with this? While one can go into arrears with a mortgage and hope to work one’sway back in the future, one cannot, for example, stop paying electricity and gas bills without facing immediate cut off and losing the ability to heat your home. Not to mention the fact people may raise the €200 or €300 for a bill, but not be able to raise the €1,500 for the mortgage payment. The fact that McCarthy’s banking friends see this as a great immorality says much about their mindset. Likewise not paying a credit card minimum rate sees massive interest payments follow.

I am not arguing that there are no so called ‘strategic defaulters’, there may well be, certainly the developer class has had no qualms about such issues. Within working people there may be some, and I do not see any particular moral issue with it. After all the property market was overpriced and working people through taxation and cutbacks have already paid for much of the default within the system.  In fact  ‘strategic defaulting’  if done at a collective level in the form of a mortgage strike would be a legitimate and probably very effective form of class struggle. The point of this article is to consider why is this  becoming a household term. Does it form part of the new mood music of banks ‘getting tough’? Is it recognition that the short term strategies of the banks and state are running out of steam? In short, is it a softening up for repossessions and evictions? This is not to be conspiratorial about the media; but at certain times media framing can become so commonplace that it seeps into the consciousness as ‘common sense’, and once a group is effectively demonised, actions considered abominable a short time before is suddenly not only acceptable but expected and even demanded.

Eviction in Ireland (Vandeleur Estate, County Clare. Circa 1880s or 1890s). National Library of Ireland

Henry Silke is a PhD candidate in the School of Communications, Dublin City University. For more blog articles on the media treatment of the property crash see hereherehere and see here for an article on the conceptual basis of the research.

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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The Role of Communications and the Mass Media in the Crisis of Overproduction- Information, Reflexivity and Ideology: The Case of the Irish Housing Crash – Henry Silke DCU

There is a growing symbiotic relationship between business, communication networks and the mass media. Business depends on communication networks and the mass media in numerous ways; in the actual conduct of business, in the need for market information, for advertising and market creation, and as ideological apparatii which act to naturalise market economies and defend class interests. In fact it is argued that the contemporary mass media rather than simply reporting on economic issues have become an integral part of economic processes (Chakravartty, Schiller 2010). Moreover mass media companies are increasingly multi-national businesses with vested interests within the various markets and societies they report on. This research explores the role of the mass media and communication networks in the crisis of overproduction and specifically the Irish economic crisis. The Irish crisis has deep roots in the country’s semi-peripheral dependent nature and its weak domestic economy, however, the current crisis is fundamentally a crisis of overproduction in property driven by speculation and encouraged by an approving media and pro cyclical government policy.

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