Media (ir)resposibility pt2

22 Feb

Since the beginning of the ‘banking crisis’ here in the Republic I have become increasingly concerned with the positions taken and skewed reportage of the mainstream Irish media. (There are some regular ‘offenders’ and other more ‘occasional’ culprits).

In effect what occurs ifs a form of populism where in response to an initiative or proposed policy shift (be it cuts to welfare, pensions, teaching staff numbers, increases in taxation  or imposition of new charges) the media either finds or encourages dissent.

Some of the dissent is from concerned citizens whose life, or that of a relative or acquaintance, will be negatively impacted, but often the dissent is opportunism and a form of bandwagon jumping.

At no time are the issues contextualized other than by a cursory allusion to ‘the state of the country and it’s finances’. instead what follows is an overt attempt to pressurize the ‘powers that be’ into a u-turn over the policy in question. The latest example being the decision to lessen the cuts in support teachers to the most disadvantaged schools.

(I actually DO NOT believe these services should ever be cut. However as there was no detailed context provided for either the original decision vis-a-vis the alternatives it is impossible to come to an informed decision either way.)

Instead what happened was a group of concerned parents and their supporters were given (very limited) media coverage and the spectre of  electoral unrest was raised. Then after some weeks we have the Minister concerned facing the cameras to explain(?) the reasons for the change of heart, yet there were no follow up items  or questions to the Minister about where the savings (i.e. cuts) would now be made.

This is only the latest example of this practice. It possibly has it’s roots both in the transferable vote multi-seat electoral system which leaves both parties and politicians vulnerable to ‘special interest’ issues in a general election and a media which pursues covert political agendas and circulation wars without reference to the ‘wider picture’ and the long-term ‘good’ of the country/state/society.

Thus historically the Irish electorate has learned to agitate hard for their local issues and to ignore the larger context, whilst their representatives have learned to at least give the impression of being responsive to local concerns, (not to mention the ‘Galway Tent’ and local fundraiser culture of political access for the ‘chosen’ circles) and the media has come to see its role as both a conductor of protest and tool of political protest management.

None of which would be particularly damaging if the media themselves sought to be balanced and to contextualise and periodically account for their coverage of certain issues (and indeed the rationale behind the editorial decisions as to which protests to cover and the ‘slant’ of the coverage) e.g. student, environmental or anti-war protests ALWAYS focus on disorder and are heavily policed whilst protests by farmers or pensioners are handled differently with no shots of Gardai presence.

However, given the media coverage and its biases, what seems to be occurring is the growth of an ‘orchestrate unrest’ attitude to every proposed change, irrespective of its relative merits e.g the ‘septic tank’ issue (Was there much mention of environmental concerns, flouting of planning regulations, improper installation i.e. contractual issues with the installers? Of course not just a campaign to whip up resistance and fears around POSSIBLE added costs on householders) which will have rural TDs facing a backlash over an issue which ought to have been tackled years ago (thanks Fianna Fail) and which actually has the potential to cause serious costs to the public purse over health, tourism and environmental fines from the EU. However none of these issues are mentioned, even in passing in most of the everyday media.

Likely consequences as I see them? We end up with a form of political and social paralysis where every decision to raise taxes (ALWAYS termed ‘HIKES’), cut costs or impose new charges e.g. property charge, water rates, airport taxes, etc are the subject of a negative and destabilising media campaign i.e.are framed in terms of their consequences on those least able to pay or as a form of victimisation which has the effect of making the political class more and more risk averse. Which in turn leads to poorer leadership and the increasing likelihood of stagnation and disillusionment with the whole democratic process (witness the US style of democracy).

The only alternative is to have media which actually covers the issues in some depth (you can hear them scream ‘people don’t care’ or ‘won’t buy’ already) and gives us enough basic information to at least grasp the likely consequences and alternative possibilities. As the ‘fourth pillar’ of our democracy they have this responsibility -surely it’s the flipside of the privilege, freedom and power which they have been granted in our society?(and after all they make vast sums as a result).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: