Qui Custodiet…?

In a caustic stab at the Progressive Democrats in the Dáil last year, Pat Rabbitte ridiculed the party’s perception as a rottweiler in Government guarding against the excesses of Fianna Fáil, instead likening it to a senile old sheepdog lying on the porch unable to tell the difference between a burglar and the postman.

In today’s Irish Times (subs. req.), Vincent Browne argues that the South’s media has become such a senile old sheepdog – so reliant on scraps from the gardaí that cannot bite that hand that feeds it. This, argues Browne, is particularly true in the media’s treatment of the shooting dead of two armed robbers in Lusk last week.Journalism has changed here in the last 30 years. If in 1975 gardaí had killed two people, one of them unarmed, the media would have been in hot pursuit, writes Vincent Browne.

It would not have mattered that the two persons killed were engaged in a serious criminal act. Neither would it have mattered that one or both of these persons had been convicted previously of serious offences.

The taking of human life would have been regarded as serious and the circumstances would have been investigated. But now, who cares? Gardaí have eliminated two “scumbags” and society is all the better for having two fewer on the streets.

There is a market explanation for the media’s failure to investigate these matters. It is that the public mind is now so set in the belief that “scumbags” deserve what is coming to them that to take an opposite line is to invite marked rejection.

When The Irish Times carried the “heavy gang” stories by Peter Murtagh and Joe Joyce in 1976 the paper suffered a decline in sales. Some advertisements also may have been withdrawn. That’s the way it is in our free-market media world.

Another reality of the media world is that if a media outlet publishes material critical or questioning of the gardaí stories dry up from the gardaí.

This is the reality for “security correspondents” or “crime correspondents” – they can’t bite the hand that feeds them.