The Construction of News and the Framing of Dissent

The common perception of news production is that news reports events as or after they happen; a newsworthy event takes place and teams of journalists go out and report the case. This is of course true in some cases such as accidents and other unexpected events. However if a news team had to simply ‘wait’ for news to happen they might find that reality may not fit deadlines in a neat manner. Rather the reality is that news is often as not constructed by the news production team and then published or broadcast. A common version of this can be heard every morning on ‘Morning Ireland’ and most other radio stations. Minister X is interviewed at 8.45 on issue Y and the Nine O’Clock news follows with ‘Mister X stated Y’, this will then be followed up throughout the day with reactions to what Minister X said by opposition politician Z and so on. Minister X may have gone on the radio specifically to state Y, therefore being very much part of the news construction process. Teams of PR agencies and state communication departments spend their days constructing pre-prepared news items for the mainstream media (which are never marked as such); which leads to the direct subsidisation of news by powerful interests. This leads to the very obvious advantages of elites over the rest of society with an ability to shape news agendas and interpretations to suit their own interests.

The 1970s saw an upsurge in institutional studies of media companies often drawing from the sociology of work. These studies have shown how the ‘reality’ constructed by journalists may be what is more easily available or accessible to journalists (or important to journalists) rather than a reflection or mirror of reality (for example see Tuchman 1974, 1978). The construction of news is not a neutral event, work practices, access to sources and overarching ideologies influence how this news is constructed. The ‘news values’ or what is deemed newsworthy is intrinsically ideological as is the interpretation and framing of those events. As Roger Fowler (1991 p.2) succinctly puts it

What events are reported is not a reflection of the intrinsic importance of those events, but reveals the operation of a complex and artificial set of criteria for selection. Then the news that is thus selected is subject to processes of transformation as it is encoded for publication; the technical properties of the medium – television or newsprint, for example and the ways in which they are used, are strongly effective in transformation. Both ‘selection’ and ‘transformation’ are guided by reference, generally unconscious to ideas and beliefs.

The ideological nature of news construction has been clearly on show over the course of the water protests, the literally hundreds of water protests happening on a daily basis seem not to be deemed newsworthy; this clearly fits the mainstream frame of politics being something that happens in the corridors of power rather than on the streets.  Moreover when protests are covered there are common attempts to play them down or describe them as violent as witnessed by the so called ‘sinister fringe’ framing of the water protests. Violence by Irish Water staff, their security firms or police is not being reported in the Irish press. The protests and assorted violence is of course being watched via social media and has now been picked up by the UK based Vice.


The examiner on Wednesday the 28th of January gave us a clear example of both news construction and framing. A protest the previous Friday (a full five days before) against President Michael D. Higgins had been held in a working class part of Dublin; during the protest some frankly childish insults had been thrown at the President and there had been evidence of pushing and shoving by the Police. The protest in itself however was not the story covered by the Examiner rather the newspaper interviewed Paul Murphy TD and asked him to denounce the protests. Murphy in a nuanced enough fashion said that he thought it was legitimate to protest the President as he had signed the Water Charges Bill and defended the right to protest but that he did not think it was tactically wise to do so, moreover he did not support personalised remarks against the President. The headline however was ‘TD defends Higgins Abusers’ which was misleading as it seems to imply Murphy had come out to defend all aspects of the protest rather than answer a question asked by the newspaper. Murphy was most likely targeted by the newspaper because of his role in a previous peaceful protest, which he had also refused to denounce.


The Examiner continued its construction of the story on Thursday the 28th with the front page headline; ‘Murphy Protest Remarks Spark Outrage’, this headline was even more insidious as one reading of it could imply that Murphy had a closer connection to the protest. The newspaper rather than Writing ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy Spark Outrage’ place the words Murphy and Protest together which means ‘Murphy’ could be read as an adjective or possessive implying a far closer connection, while this may be put down to simply poor style on the part of subeditors linguistically ‘Murphy Protest Remarks’ is a far stronger and more ideological statement than the ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy’ placing Murphy far closer to the protest than having simply answered a question that was put to him by the newspaper. Murphy himself has stated that he intends to officially complain to the Press Ombudsman about his treatment but the event in itself is extremely useful in reminding us about the role of the media as news factories rather than simply being objective reporters of daily life.


Fowler, R. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London and New York: Routledge.

Tuchman, G. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.

Tuchman, G. 1974. The TV Establishment: Programming for Power and Profit. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.


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.

Normal Service Has Resumed

On Today’s Irish Times news-wire Ireland’s best known Homer Simpson impersonator and ex politico John Bruton has returned to that old pre-crisis trope of ‘over-regulation’.  Needless to say the Times doesn’t offer any contrasting opinion, such as the possibility of let’s say under regulation; rather the piece focuses on Bruton’s call on Ireland to become a ‘centre of excellence’ on tax dodging, or what our more creative accountant friends like to call ‘tax compliance’. Veteran Irish Life and Permanent Banker and Irish Times chairman David Went was not quoted on whether he thought that Irish banking should be rid of pesky regulations, but he was probably busy.

BRUTON regulate

John of course didn’t event the trope of ‘over regulation’, here’s an interview with everyone’s favorite entrepreneur and all round genius Sean FitzPatrick of Anglo Irish Bank from back in the good ‘ol days of 2007:

Q We need regulation?

I don’t think corruption is endemic in Irish business. We may have had a few bad apples but … we aren’t attracting the brightest like we did in the seventies and eighties because the banks just don’t have the respect…because of the banks themselves…and we have to work hard. It will take some time to regain the respect and trust that is very important for any society to have and not just with banks because banks are very fundamental to the infrastructure of any society…


Q You have given out a lot about regulation and over-regulation, do you have a sense that the entrepreneurship that created the Celtic Tiger, with all our Tribunals and new standards that we are somehow choking business? Do you think Irish business is corrupt or endemically corrupt?


Its not. We don’t have the Enron’s or anything like that. We never had the scandals that have taken place elsewhere. Of course you need regulation. But you don’t need over regulation. What we need is appropriate regulation. The danger is, ever since we have had scandals, do you know what you non-executives on boards?  You get middle aged accountants…on boards because they will be good for the audit committee. That can’t be good for business. What we need are a board who represent the stakeholders and are real people with real experience and that relate to the customers that you are actually dealing with and maybe relate to the shareholders. But if we are all going to run for the umbrella of safety with regulation, then what we have achieved over the last ten or fifteen years will be easily brushed away. I’m not looking for a free-for-all. We don’t have a free-for-all here. What I’m looking for is some sense and balance in regulation … [Bad practices] are not endemic and if we are going to change the whole regulation for all of that, then I think that you are mad.

Interview from TV interview with Aine Lawlor ‘One to One’ RTE December 2007, read the entire transcript here

Still Playing that Property Game – The Irish Media, Economic Ideology and House Prices

Property is back on the headlines this week due to a report from the Irish Central Bank entitled why are house prices still falling.  The report is a pretty standard and non critical look at the Irish housing market pointing out that:

the severe downturn in the Irish residential property market has already become one of the OECDs largest and most protracted  Meanwhile estimates of asking prices, from sources such as and were also indicating substantial falls from peak, of 51.8 per cent and 43.1 per cent respectively at the end of 2011. Despite the evidence from these indices, many wonder whether they are a true reflection of where house prices are currently at, pointing to the results of recent property auctions which suggests house prices may be as much as 70 per cent down from peak levels.

The report goes on to consider what the true value of housing should be. It does so by looking at four models which

 …are a form of inverted demand function where house prices are expressed as a function of key market fundamentals

Market fundamentals? Where have we heard that before?  Back in 2007 one of the key arguments of neo-liberal economists who played a deeply ideological role pre-crash was was ‘the fundamentals are sound‘.  The Report Concludes:

The persistent decline in Irish house prices and,
in particular, the acceleration, relative to that in
2010, of the fall in 2011, poses a significant financial stability concern. This note has, using standard models of house prices, examined where actual prices are, at present, compared to fundamental levels. Most of the models suggest that Irish prices have now overcorrected by up to 12 to 26
per cent.

And interestingly the report puts some blame on low prices on the lack of mortgage availability:

A growing array of evidence suggests that
the difficulty in providing mortgage finance in the
Irish market is having a contractionary impact on
market activity and price levels.

Now it goes without saying that the report at no point considered any approach to housing outside the market, but to be fair if the brief was to investigate why house prices continued to decline in the market that might be understandable.  The report however does not seem to take into account the political economy of the wider crisis, (national or international), the political side to the crisis including government policy and certainly there is no consideration of any extra-market possibilities. The report also seems to be predicated on a recovery that is forever just around the next corner.

Now how does the media deal with the report? With critically minded reporting treatment the wider issues, problems with the report and indeed the source itself?  Or how about:

In a front page piece of entitled ‘Houses 50,000 below their true value – bank’ the report is  treated by the Irish Independent without any critique and indeed as uncritical as the report itself is of orthodox economics the Independent’s treatment seems to pick an even more optimistic tone. While leaving out much of the report dealing with the crash itself the Indo tells us that:

 But the new research suggests that house prices could begin rising again if the banks begin lending, or new lenders come into the market.

Inherent in this is the assumption that house price rises are a good thing which of course no suprise as the Irish media see housing through a market orientated framethat is that the primary role of housing is as a commodity to be bought, sold and speculated on  rather than actually house people. Beyond this of course is the solution that ‘all we need is a few banks to lend and or some new entrants into the lending market.’ Now is it just me or are we not in the grips of the bursting of a massive international credit bubble, and such simple market orientated solutions may not exist.  The article continues to tell us that:

…the report warns that the “logical” price of a house will only be realised again when buyers regain their confidence, and banks have the money to be able to lend again.

Again this is the idealistic framing of confidence being the problem, rather than the materialist framing of half a million people being unemployed and those in work having suffered vicious pay cuts alongside the austerity measures taking billions out of the economy.  Though at least they seem to acknowledge that the banks may have a slight material problem of being stone cold broke. This is coherent with the market framing as again confidence is most important for housing speculation rather than those who buy or rent a house as somewhere to live. Banks we are told:

…are only giving out about 10pc of the mortgages compared with the height of the boom. They are struggling to find the balance between beginning to give out more mortgages and not being seen as lending recklessly again. They are also coming to terms with a massive lack of funds.

And when considering who might be the expert to call on to discuss this, let’s see we have an excellent group of Geographers in NUIM who have written numerous reports on the housing collapse, some of their work can be seen on the life after NAMA blog. Or on the other hand why don’t we ask a stock broker?

Analyst Brian Devine of NCB Stockbrokers said the report was right to emphasise that Ireland’s rising population and relatively young population would lead to a stabilisation in prices.

So there you have it, the fundamentals are sound.

What neither the original report or the Irish Independent’s treatment consider is  the tens of thousands of empty houses nor the tens of thousands of people on the housing lists.  Nor indeed that there may be a fundamental problem with leaving housing to an unregulated market, or indeed a market at all. This is because in the market framing of housing it is the market that is key rather than social need.  RTE in a similar frame states Irish property prices have overcorrected – Central Bank while the Irish Times in its uncritical treatment of the report declares house prices undervalued by 26% says bank. The media treatment of this report showing little change to media reportage or treatment five years into the property crash.

Henry Silke

Property, Property, Property!

“Nothing exciting – or dangerous – is in prospect for the (property) market    over the next two or three years”  –  Marc Coleman (Economics Editor); The Irish Times, March 1st 2007

The current economic crisis in Ireland, though deeply rooted in Ireland’s role as a dependent economy in the European periphery, is primarily a crisis caused by the property bubble and subsequent crash. The Irish mass media, most notably the press, played an important role in the lead up to the crisis both as cheerleaders and beneficiaries of the property bubble.  All major Irish newspapers include lucrative property supplements, and both the Irish Times and Independent News and Media made substantial investments in property listing websites. Unsuprisingly, the mass media and especially the press were uncritical of the hyperinflation of housing cost. In fact in the journalistic frame of housing as a speculative commodity (rather than social nessesity) price inflation was reported as a positive.  Irish Journalism, blinded by market ideology, against all historical evidence, seemed convinced that the market would slowly deflate into the much vanted ‘soft landing’.

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Squeeze my Middle – Richard McAleavey

Richard McAleavey on the Irish Times series ‘the squeezed middle’; the series concentrates on the effects of the crises on Ireland’s ‘middle’ class. Richard’s excellent critique concentrates on the ideological assumptions and politics underlying the articles.

CMR can’t help but wonder if this series is an example how for the Irish Times it is acceptable for the poor or working class to suffer in a recession; but that it is not acceptable that the the mythical ‘middle class’ should suffer. The middle class as articulated by the Irish Times  (by ‘normal’ Irish petite bourgeois standards) should be happily insulated from government cutbacks by private education and health systems and speculative property portfolios. The truth of the matter of course is very different (and quite shocking to the morals of the  Irish Times opinion pages) as more and more of the so called ‘middle’ class are finding out for themselves that the title  ‘middle class’ is little more than a cheap re-branding of their true class status.

In his critique Richard McAleavey notes:

“If one descended from outer space, one might expect a newspaper interested in a fuller and healthier democracy to address some of the threats to democracy of the day: such as the concentration of immense decisive power in the hands of financial elites, the confiscation of prosperity and imposition of misery by institutions such as the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, which are not accountable to any popular powe. These are questions of immense importance, which demand collective discussion and the development of collective solutions. In their stead, we get the cheery voluntarism of the unitary and isolated bourgeois subject, in which exploitation is of no importance and solidarity is unheard of…”

And he draws the conclusion the the squeezed middle series shows:

“The function of the Irish Times, along with that of other Irish newspapers, is to present a political programme, the imposition of mass unemployment and the destruction of the welfare state, which is being conducted in the interests of the wealthiest groups in Irish society, as a moral imperative, divinely ordained.


“For its successful execution, every traditional petty bourgeois prejudice must be mobilised, and questions of class conflict have to be extinguished – whether by denying they exist (‘we’re all middle class now’ – O’Brien); by displacing them – through mobilising resentment against grotesques like Sean Fitzpatrick or faceless mandarins in the civil service and presenting the public sector as a whole as a ruling class; and by fostering a common identity by creating common enemies: welfare recipients, migrants…”

For the entire article:

The ‘squeezed middle’ series can be found here: