What’s wrong with the Irish media?

Thanks to the Broom for an excellent fisk of Vincent Browne’s thoughts on a new Press Council for the Republic. Perhaps too much Irish media criticism amounts to little other than political angst about the ‘means of production’ belonging to the ‘wrong’ people, Browne does not disappoint. He does not to want anyone from Fianna Fail, or the Independent Newspaper group on board. Instead he wants civil society to be the ultimate arbiters of what is good and bad in newspapers. And he wants them to have power:

Furthermore, it should have the power to exert real control, including the power to impose massive fines and, where appropriate, suspension of publication (or of transmissions, in the case of broadcasting media organisations).

It is questionable whether this kind of body should be exercising any political decisions at all. Indeed it can be argued that throwing all the blame at either politicians or media conglomerates is entirely besides the point. Too often there is a cynical collusion between press and media in the worst confrontational practices, that block out any sense of the public’s interest in politics.

That cannot be subvented by cohersion. Indeed, it is the journalist as celebrity – whose mandate somehow outperforms the more legitimate democratic mandate of an elected politician – that is possibly the most corrosive influence on the media’s capacity to serve a genuine public good.

As John Lloyd concludes in his essay on the media and politics:

Can we imagine a journalism which is civic? One which acts as an adjunct to activity and reflection; which presents to its audience first drafts of history which are absorbing and subtle, strong on narrative but attentive to complexity and context of every story; which is not struggling with political power, but struggling together with that power’s best instincts, to make the contemporary world at once comprehensible to its citizens.

Browne as always is combative and entertaining. And his struggle with power is not entirely misplaced. But journalism is notoriously shy at examining its own generic failures. If it can’t or won’t, there is a growing Irish blogosphere that may be only to willing to fill the void with narrative, complexity (in numbers and choice at least), and plenty of context.

  • Oilbhear Chromaill

    After the debacle of the Indo, Tribune and Observer coverage of the circumstances of the death of Liam Lawlor, another example of slipping standards in the Dublin media came last weekend.

    The Tribune, still smarting no doubt from having to apologise for its disgraceful misreporting of Liam Lawlor’s accidental death in Moscow but having learned nothing it seems, reported last weekend that DUP man Paul Berry had engaged the firm Madden and Finucane to defend him in a forthcoming disciplinary procedure. According to the Tribune, Madden and Finucane have a reputation for defending ‘IRA’ clients, thus the ‘newsworthiness’ of Paul Berry’s decision to engage this particular firm.
    Given that Madden and Finucane act on behalf of anyone – loyalists and republicans included – the Tribune article was a gross misrepresentation and indicative of a lack of professionalism at the newspaper given that the article indicated no attempt to contact Madden and Finucane. There were extensive quotes from Willie Frazer who thinks that it’s alright if Mr Berry is gay – it’s his own business ( I agree with Willie on that score) – but if he’s being defended by Madden and Finucane, he shouldn’t bother showing his face around Willie’s neck of the woods.
    The really nasty and snide element in this story is it’s parallel with the infamous Douglas Hogg statement in Westminster back in 1989, a statement which claimed some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the IRA and, subsequently and perhaps consequently, loyalists, in collusion with the security forces, murdered Pat Finucane, a founding partner of the firm.
    I have rarely come across a more gratuitiously dangerous piece of journalism than that particular article in last Sunday’s Tribune. Standards are falling – yet no heads are rolling.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Sunday Independent sales: 300,000
    Daily Ireland sales: 8,000 (alleged)

  • Just what Shore Road Resident’s post has to do with the issue is anybody’s guess. I hold no brief for either Daily Ireland or, for that matter, for the Sunday Independent. The story I pointed to was in the Sunday TRIBUNE. Perhaps SRR should learn the rudiments of reading before he sets about writing in future.

    As far as I know, the Daily Ireland sales, as accredited by ABC is in excess of 10,000. I don’t know what the SI’s alleged sales are.

  • It’s not a matter of who, but what. What is journalism’s best function in a democracy? What are the highest standards, and how do journalists aspire to them?

    In the absence of a press council of any discription the only arbiter is the libel law, which only filters out what is unacceptable to those who can afford to take that route.

    A press council would certainly enable lesser breaches of public confidence to addressed. My concern (as per Browne’s proposal above) is that it could be used as a political weapon with which to tie those outlets that the council’s controlling interest might wish to gag.

    Browne names Independent Newspapers as his personal bete noir, but for others again it might the Irish Times or the Andersonstown News Group.

  • The Independent Group is the one which has dragged Irish journalism to the gutter – while other newspaper groups may have incurred the wrath of aggrieved readers etc from time to time, no one has what appears to be a systemic and constant disregard for the truth and ‘spin’ as the bottom line on the scale of Independent Group and particularly the Sunday Indo but also the Tribune, as I have pointed above.
    Anyone care to comment as to their opinion about the Tribune coverage of the story above.

  • Pete Baker

    Browne’s proposed Press Council, as the Broom, points out, would be subject to just the same vested interests as he currently complains about.. except he thinks they’re the good guys.

    What he’s suggesting is nothing more than a quango.. appointed by?..

    Review the libel laws if a tighter control of the press is desired.. the question to be asked is – Is that control desired.. and, if so, by whom, and why?

    And that’s before we get into the issue of whether that control is intended to reach to the internet.

  • OC,

    To an extent, spin is part of every paper’s brief. It’s what you read columnists for. But it’s a very poor show when it turns up in the supposed hard news output. And I’ve seen some very thin journalism in every paper I’ve ever read.

  • Shore Road Resident

    The point of my post is that all this media-clique naval gazing is irrelevant. The public’s preference is clear and anyone hopeing to interfere with it is guilty of attempted censorship, regardless of their high-falutin’ self-serving arguments to the contrary.

  • fmk

    mick – did you catch last night’s vb show? he was out in ucd doing the manufacturing consent thing. still available here, i think http://www.rte.ie/radio1/tonightwithvincentbrowne/

  • stu


    ‘The really nasty and snide element in this story…’

    Is the way they’re reporting it.

    The Daily Mail gets away with far worse, day in, day out. I’m in agreement that they shouldn’t make such a big deal out of Paul Berry or his representatives; after all, everyone is entitled to a fair trial, that’s a part of our democratic system. But a SRR points out, the proof is in the sales. If people don’t like a viewpoint, they won’t buy the paper. Creating a council smacks of censorship. Do you think ‘Charity’, 19, 34D, from Page 3 of The Sun, really thinks that Blair’s Commons defeat is a sign of the Left reclaiming New Labour? Or do you, quite sensibly, dismiss it as tat?

    I understand the problem with libellious claims, and how difficult these can be to get to court. But a council with ‘power to impose massive fines and, where appropriate, suspension of publication (or of transmissions, in the case of broadcasting media organisations).’ is a bit overboard, would you not agree?

  • Mick Fealty

    Fergal, I finally got to listen to it. Very homogeneous group, which makes for a very dull discussion. The consensus wasn’t difficult to ‘manufacture’.

    Who is the guy who reckons the Sunday Independent may have held up the peace process for several years?

    There’s a frequent complaint that the media is not interested in the ‘equality agenda’, without ever saying what that is. The answer: it doesn’t match the media’s own ‘corporate agenda’, again without ever saying what that is.

    Vincent rightly asks whether “the problem is what people are interested in, not what corporate powers are interested in”. This is a fundamental question that all politicians have to ask themselves day in week out.

    I gave up after 26 minutes in.