And if you thought the deference of the media was a strictly northern problem, check out Kevin Myers’ robust defence of TV3’s breaking of the news that Brian Lenihan is suffering from cancer. They’ve actually been reported to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for their sins… Myers points to Sarah Carey’s calm head in Ireland’s Christmas news storm:
If the Ministers health was the subject of gossip among the political and media elite and since it has been beaten into us all year that we mustnt go frightening the international markets with bad behaviour, then the situation called for more management than keeping ones fingers crossed.
Lack of privacy is a high price to pay for high office but there is no shortage of precedents. In a direct parallel, the Japanese finance minister was admitted to hospital on Sunday suffering from high blood pressure and exhaustion. He was in hospital at 10am and a full statement on his condition and expected treatment issued that evening. I know its against all our protective instincts towards a family in crisis, but this is how things are done.
We will support the Minister whether he wants to keep working throughout his treatment and give him all the time and privacy he needs to make that decision.
She goes on to point out that this kind of clarity is important for reasons other than protecting the dignity of the Minister in question:
…while hes doing that, its our obligation to keep our eye on the ball. Im reminded of Naomi Kleins theory of Shock Doctrine. She argues that when a nation is in shock over a reaction to a disaster, policies to which wed object in calmer days are slipped through.
In Christmas week a major policy reversal was introduced and the genuine shock of Lenihans news mustnt be used to allow it to pass. On December 23rd, when perhaps some hoped no one would notice, a press release was issued from the Department of Finance revealing that just one of the cutbacks made in the Budget would be reversed. There were many hard cases from which to choose: the disabled, the carers, community projects and the low-paid. Which one created such tears and lamentations that the Cabinet was moved to right the wrong?
Why, the pay cuts for senior civil servants, of course. The 15 per cent pay cut for those earning over 200,000 was cut. The 12 per cent pay cut for those earning between 165,000 and 200,000 was also cut. To what figure was the cut, ahem, cut? To between 3 and 5 per cent. A miserable 3 per cent from a couple of hundred grand? Why?
Apparently the 15 per cent cut wasnt fair. Fair? When did fair suddenly enter into the equation? None of this is fair. Its not fair that my children will be paying for the bank recapitalisation. Its not fair to learn that in the prime of your life youve got cancer.
The department mumbled about the loss of performance-related bonuses and anomalies where senior staff might end up being paid less than someone underneath them. I know where Id shove their anomalies. [emphasis added]
The steep hill that Brian Lenihan has had to climb can not be over estimated. It’s not simply the scale of the disaster facing the country, but his own singular lack of preparation for the role so rudely thrust upon him so early in his career as Minister of Finance. And it is not just the children of the Irish taxpayer who will be paying for the bail out of banks and other financial institutions for generations to come.
Citizens have a right to know what’s going on with their politicians, if and only if, it is liable to interfere with their capacity to do the job… Allowing, facilitating even, the media to keep a steady eye on the ball is a pre-requisite of a vigourous democracy…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty