By Patrick Brogan
What’s the state of journalism in Ireland today? Much has been made of this issue over the years. Indeed, some the best journalism that can be read in this country today is when publications criticise each others’ practices. There is an underlining trend amongst the ordinary people of this country that the media, particularly that which is considered mainstream, cannot and should not be trusted.
The media is crucial. In its purest forms, it exposes corruption, informs the public on issues that impact society and also, and this is sometimes overlooked, gives us the basic information that people can interpret as they see fit. Does this always happen? No, but that doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy to keep certain stories out of the limelight.
How does Ireland fair internationally? Pretty favourably, actually. According to the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) index on press freedom, Ireland is the ninth best country in the world for media freedom. It ranks behind the Scandinavian countries, as it always does, and nations like New Zealand and Costa Rica.
On Ireland’s profile, they had this to say; “The highly concentrated media ownership is a major problem. Independent News and Media (INM) controls 40% of the daily and Sunday newspaper market. The 1937 constitution guarantees media freedom but defamation lawsuits are common. Finally, interviewing police sources has been virtually impossible since the Garda Siochana Act of 2005, which bans police officers from talking to journalists without prior authorization. Officers contravening the ban risk dismissal, a fine or up to seven years in prison.”
Some food for thought there. So media concentration is a big issue, that’s you Denis O’Brien and the prevention of the Gardai being unable to talk to reporters is another. Which is why we have heard so little from the Garda whistleblowers themselves.
Indeed, media concentration is an issue in the country that finished top the list, Finland. Other countries, like Norway in third, have enshrined in their constitution laws that forbid this from happening. The research focused on Pluralism, Media Independence, Environment and Self-censorship, Legislative Framework, Transparency, Infrastructure and Abuses. Overall, Ireland did well on most of these.
There are other concerns that have to be mentioned. For example, the anti-Irish Water protests became a huge movement long before the massive protests on Dublin’s streets. Then, when it was covered, the information was very misleading. The state broadcaster claimed there were 40,000, initially it was less than 30,000, protesters at a march in the capital on 1st November 2014, the BBC said this number could have been as high as 300,000. Why did RTE say it was so low?
The big story at the moment is Apollo House. In a previous article, we talked about this and how the media was slow to cover such an important event. When they did, it was with a negative tint. RTE‘s Drivetime asked was this a celebrity vanity project. This is another example of the media hijacking language to besmirch what is, and I think most rational people would agree, an excellent way of highlighting what is a terrible injustice in this country.
Despite all the negatives, there are still a great number of journalists and concerned citizens trying to expose corruption. Mick Clifford of The Irish Examiner is widely acclaimed for his coverage of the Gardai whistleblower scandal. Gemma O’Doherty was unfairly dismissed for covering the same issue and since then she has been making excellent films on a variety of topics including the still missing Mary Boyle and the death of Fr. Niall Molloy. Pick up a copy of The Phoenix from time to time.
There are also politicians willing to highlight controversial issues. Catherine Murphy, Luke Flanagan, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, to name just a few, have repeatedly brought up topics the public deserve to know. Of course, Denis O’Brien has used the courts for censorship.
Most of these politicians are on social media. Also, there are numerous “netizens” taking action and informing the public through social media. The likes of David Hall and Jonathan Sugarman are always interesting and can be a great source of untainted erudition. This is before we get on to blogs like iasonmahony.ie, The Cedar Lounge Revolution and sluggerotoole.com, to name just a few. There has never been such a wealth of information out there. The Irish media, such as it is in rude health. There is no reason not be informed.