“Relentless Cheerleaders For Austerity”


julienAd7374348St1Sz225Sq102046727V0Id3[Julien Mercille, top and a Irish Times banner ad from 2011]


The general stance in favour of fiscal consolidation presented by news organisations is illustrated by an editorial statement in the Irish Times that called for a campaign to ‘educate’ the public about the need for reducing the deficit. ‘Members of the general public still do not appreciate the possible extent of the economic downturn’, given that two-thirds of respondents in a national poll ‘took the view that the Budget was too tough, with 10 per cent believing it was not tough enough’.

The editors thus concluded that ‘the Government will have a major job to do in educating public opinion about unpalatable economic realities and the need for civic discipline’


And how.

You may recall UCD Professor Julien Mercille and his damning academic study on the Irish media’s role in inflating the boom (and the hand to hand combat with economist Marc Coleman over same).

Dr Mercille has now turned his attention to whether newspaper coverage of austerity policies in Ireland has been fair and balanced.

He writes:

Anybody who reads the Irish press knows that it varies from centre-right to right. There’s almost nothing left of centre.

Ireland is actually quite special in this respect in Europe. There’s no equivalent of the British Guardian here for example. No Monde Diplomatique either.

I wanted to see how this played out in the coverage of austerity since 2008.

I looked at all editorials and opinion articles on austerity published since 2008 in the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday Business Post and Sunday Times.

This returned 929 articles.

The main conclusion: the media have been relentless cheerleaders for austerity.

The key points of the study revealed:

(1) Support for fiscal consolidation is overwhelming: only 10% of articles on the topic are against it, 58% support it, and 32% don’t voice a clear opinion.

(2) Keynesian stimulus is out of the picture: only 2% of articles stated a preference for increasing government spending. This is astonishing. It is the main progressive alternative to austerity, but yet, we never hear about it.

(3) Those who say that trade unions monopolize the debate are dead wrong: excluding regular journalists, 29% of the authors of the articles are mainstream economists, 28% are working in the financial or corporate sector, and 20% are political officials in the three main political parties, which have all supported austerity. In short, the overwhelming majority of writers (77%) come from elite political or economic elite institutions. The remainder is composed of 9% of academics (excluding mainstream economists), 7% of members of progressive organisations (like Social Justice Ireland), and only 3% are trade union officials. It is thus a very conservative cast of writers who are allowed to take part in the debate in the national media.

The media have announced their role in convincing the public that austerity is good for them very clearly.

At the outset of the crisis, in November 2008, an Irish Times editorial called for a campaign to ‘educate’ the population about the need for austerity and ‘civic discipline’.

The problem was that Irish people did ‘not appreciate the possible extent of the economic downturn’ because only 10% of them thought the budget should be tougher while two-thirds thought it should be less tough, according to a national poll. The editors thus concluded that ‘the Government will have a major job to do in educating public opinion about unpalatable economic realities and the need for civic discipline’.

The media’s pro-fiscal consolidation views can be assessed by looking at the following sample of article titles published since 2008: ‘Commitment and Stamina are Required for Fiscal Consolidation’ (Irish Times), ‘New Budget will Prove Tough but Necessary’ (Sunday Independent), ‘Austerity Vital to Maintain our Economic Sovereignty’ (Irish Times), ‘We Need to Stop Living in Denial and Cut Costs Even Further’ (Sunday Independent), ‘We Must Suffer the Pain Now—Or Else we will Blight Future Generations’ (Sunday Independent), ‘Bill is Tough but Necessary’ (Irish Times), ‘Tough Budget Would Restore Confidence’ (Irish Times), ‘Supplementary Budget can Begin Urgent Task of Restoring Depleted Tax Revenues’ (Irish Times), ‘Budget May Cut Wages and Raise Taxes to Restore Competitiveness’ (Irish Times), ‘[Austerity] Budget Will Restore Confidence and Hasten Economic Recovery’ (Irish Times) and ‘Tough Budget Needed to Stave Off Grimmer Future’ (Irish Times).

The case is so overwhelming that it may even surprise its proponents.

Full report [with data, etc] is available here.

Julien Mercille is the author of the forthcoming book The Role of the Media in the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (Routledge, June 2014).

 Previously: For Those Who Shouted Stop He Salutes You

The Why

Calling It

The Irish Media – Cheeleaders For Austerity (Julien Mercille, Social Europe Journal)

71 thoughts on ““Relentless Cheerleaders For Austerity”

  1. Tommy

    Keynesian stimulus is not an option when we don’t have our own currency and have to go to the IMF for cash.

    1. Sgt. Bilko

      I haven’t read his full report, maybe he outlines somewhere in it how Keynesian stimulus might have been funded?

      1. mike

        That isn’t his role, that would be the role of the missing alternative opinion pieces.

        The Pearse Doherty School of Economics and magic money might have been able to issue a funding proposal.

        1. Domestos

          And if it was funded we’d have our fingers crossed hoping for about 15% growth pa. Real growth as well, not the Google growth we’re being treated to this year.

          1. Milk Teeth

            As a starter for ten I’d suggest at borrowing a little more at what are still record breakingly low international interest rates.

          2. C

            …didn’t read the article, but Professor Julien Mercille is a total babe, winning. Maybe if we all just looked at beautiful people online all day long those pesky numbers in the article would all go to 100% OR 0%, whichever is good in this scenario.

    2. Neilo

      The comments in this section are ironic (even hilarious) given the content of the article. The majority show a high level of skepticism toward the potential for alternatives to austerity and do not comment on the actual message of the piece. What he saying is that there is an overt bias in the media coverage of financial crisis. On that point i feel he is right.

    3. SOMK

      To a point within the Euro it would have to come from the top down, but not really it’s perfectly within government power to use one or more of the following as stimulus

      1. Raise taxes
      2. Issue bonds (for example a jobs bond as suggested by this group http://smarttaxes.org/2011/11/08/2012-jobs-programme-smart-taxes-budget-submission/ )
      3. Implement a voucher system, for example the innovation vouchers which are offered by universities at the moment.
      4. Incentivise private sector investment with tax and combination of tax hikes and breaks, reduce the profitability of financialisation and increase it on bricks and motar investments (as opposed to investing in internet things which destroy jobs)
      5. Raise the minimum wage.

      FYI: A Keyesian stimulus is based on a the far out and extremist principle of saving on a warm day so you can afford a fire for when it’s cold. To be miserly in good times or reckless in bad in and of themselves wouldn’t make any sense, but neither does the strawman Keynes those neo-liberalist scamps have been immodestly patting themselves on the back for outwitting.the past forty years.

  2. mike

    The one-sidedness of the debate is astounding, and hardly healthy.

    The “civic education” worked. We accepted the proposed solution of our political masters/elite and didn’t go marching on the streets to any extent.

    Sadly, the same political masters also engineered the guarantee without any significant counter-debate, and created the bulk of the “moider” on future generations.

      1. SOMK

        “We have a free press…”

        Free from what, the undue influence of powerful figures with agenda they with to publicise that might be more in their own interest then the general populous? Ho! Ho! Ho!

        “You will find many other alternative views in publications…”

        Yeah but I’d bet you won’t find any you’re forced to fund via the licence fee, odds are you won’t find any in your local newsagent, sure you will find some online, but you can find a lot of stuff online, the leftist stuff is pretty much entirely done on a volunteer basis this then adversely affects time, resources and quality of the end product, which must compete with, not just the media that is generated by the ideological right, but the entirety of the internet for the attention of its readers. Which is besides the point of a media which refutes it own bias to the point you get certain conservative commentators will rant at length about hidden liberal bias as imaginary as the God they believe in, which would be fine if any of the other journalists in studio would challenge them on this, but instead they all nod and grunt in approval!

        It’s like as if you were a diner at the only restaurant in town, you’ve ordered some chicken, it’s in the menu as 100% unbiased and the best in the country, you’re look forward to it, yet what your brought is a biased, parochially obsessed, quite weak chicken, that may or may not be still breathing, you complain to the waitress and she advises you to google a picture of some cooked chicken instead.

  3. Fred

    Lots of nice straw men ‘Those who say that trade unions monopolize the debate” – never heard anyone say that.

    Increasing spending when you are already spending way more than you earn is not a ‘progressive’ alternative.

    Newspapers tend to be a mirror of the people; oddly enough, so do elections. The large majority of the electorate support fiscal consolidation.

    1. Medium Sized C

      I have heard that.

      Half the country think the media is run by Bleeding heart pinkos in D4. It’s a definite thing.

      Also, I think you are missing his point. He is an academic.
      He is pointing out bias in the media, not criticising the governments approach.

    2. Rob_G

      + 1

      It annoys when ‘Austerity’ is trotted out as some sort of nefarious bogeyman; it just means not spending way more money than you’re taking in.

  4. Mr Meh.

    It’s hard for me as a socialist to ever say that there is not alot of fat that needs to be cut off the government spending especially in terms of public sector pay. I’m actually in favour of more cuts but unfortunately this is in areas the government will never touch (public sector pay for people earning over €35000, massive pensions for people who havent either contributed enough or even reached their 60s).
    Its not as simple as austerity=bad for growth. We are spending way too much money as it is and loosening our finances so that civil servants will pay themselves more isnt going to lead to economic growth.

  5. droid

    And if you want a perfect illustration of the effect his kind of reporting has on populations look no further than the broadsheet comment boxes on any/every article about labour issues/economics/protests or austerity.

    1. jungleman

      Well I’m not so sure about the effect it has on genuine commenters on Broadsheet. It’s pretty obvious a lot of the people commenting above are members of young FG and Labour youth and get some sort of benefit from lobbying in the government’s favour.

        1. jungleman

          As Johnthebaptist says below, its not a conspiracy theory in the slightest. I am certain there are people commenting on Broadsheet articles that are at the very least encouraged to do so by FG/Labour. One major indication of this is that I only ever see certain names pop up when there is an article with a negative portrayal of government policy.

          Another indicator is that they ALWAYS argue in favour of government policy, regardless of the issue.

          Don’t worry Phil, I don’t think you are one of them.

          1. deco

            the only way to stop this from happening is to follow the chinese system of online registration. no more anonymous comments allowed.
            it sounds far fetched but some day i think online citizenship will become standard.

      1. Kieran NYC

        So only the people permanently opposed to government policy are ‘real people’?

        Things sure are paranoid in that jungle of yours.

        1. johnthebaptist

          No, Junglist is right. Theres been an extremely quick turn in the comment field on Broadsheet from being mostly decent, progressive, witty and left leaning – toward being clogged with cynical dimwit, right wing claptrap and a more than usual rate of comments aimed at Broadsheet itself.

          Also, its not a conspiracy theory that political parties more than encourage their members to clog social media pages that are critical of their stances – its a pretty common strategy to stifle debate.

        2. jungleman

          I sometimes agree with government policy myself. My point is that there are certain people that are always in favour of gov policy and I suspect some of them are employed to lobby for the parties online. It makes sense. If I was running public relations for FG I would most definitely have people on these treads. So such comments can be taken with a pinch of salt as many of them are likely not genuine opinions.

  6. PK

    a true right-wing government would cut out useless, academic areas . Such as this economic illiterate.

    What part of there’s “no more fupping money” don’t you understand?

    1. scottser

      the part that goes ‘well there is loads of money, yours in fact. but you can’t have any cos we need to pay back unsecured bondholders’.

      but sure, when your water supply gets sold to denis o’brien for a song i’m sure you’ll be chuffed with yourself for getting it right.

    2. ahjayzis

      What part of “The Role of the Media in the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland ” don’t you understand?

      He’s analysing articles with regard to their stance on the economic situation, not advocating any economic agenda himself.

    3. nellyb

      Austerity AS IS in Ireland – is a b&llsh#t for the soft in the head. Or these with no sense of personal self-worth. Nothing to do with left or right. It’s unfortunate Mercille uses these labels. but then again, RoI isn’t a country – it’s a company and most of it is for sale (including public officials, ref. – recent tribunals). One should be a moron, slave or greedy b@st@rd to think it’s the right way to go.

        1. Derval

          My point is: Those in charge can create more money out of nothing whenever they want to and whenever it serves their needs.
          Obviously, the Europeans are in charge now, not the Irish.

  7. Jenny Lemon

    ‘Austerity’ and ‘fiscal consolidation’ are interchanged in this article as if equivalent yet economists use the two terms differently. Krugman for example, the flag-bearer of anti-austerity, accepts that fiscal consolidation is unavaoidable.

    To the public, austerity means hardship, so anybody supporting hardship is a bad man. This is an easy tune to play for a demagogue academic, a wannabe celebrity economist. Ireland does not have the freedom to print more money. Ireland has a small domestic component to its economy. So Ireland cannot easily stimulate demand.

    Ireland has discovered few natural resources, is dependent on other states for trade and credit and is not in a position to renege on external debts without more sever reprisals.

    So what is this chap proposing? That the Irish media should consist 50% of Joe Higgins’ communist insanity as a form of intellectual balance?

    1. droid

      So what youre saying is There Is No Alternative, so therefore the media are right to fully support government austerity policies?

      Just like in the boom, everything was going great, so why not ignore negative reports and rake in the cash with weekly property supplements?

      Nobody ever got rich going against the flow, especially journalists, so lets all just get on board and stop whinging.

      After all, what could go wrong?

      1. Jenny Lemon

        There’s plenty of debate to be had about where the axe should fall. There’s a debate about how deep the cuts should go.

        There is no need for a debate on whether or not we should borrow forever to support an everlasting deficit.

        The media is not obliged to supply publicity for every crackpot ideology. It no longer gives platform to racists or fascists. If anything, they give too much air to the Richard Boyd-Barrets and other anti-gravitarians.

        1. Jenny Lemon

          Also you will find that the same economist arseholes who cheerled the boom are the new anti-austerity default monkeys during the recession. Wrong on the way up and wrong on the way down, but still paid giant, untouchable, tenured academic salaries in gross disproportion to their value.

          1. droid

            No. They’re not. The same people who cheerleaded the boom are the same people calling for more austerity.

        2. droid

          Exactly. All of the debate is constrained by the assumption that austerity is the only option. This is how you control discussion – by creating a framework of ‘acceptable’ opinions.

          The function of the media in a democratic society is to question the actions of governments and politicians. Whatever half baked economic ideas you might have personally, it is clear they have failed miserably in this regard, and continue to fail today.

          1. Rob_G

            If you have any solutions whereby the country can continue to spend much more money than it takes in in perpetuity, I am sure that everyone is curious to hear about it.

          2. droid

            Well, we could look at the entire history of economics and see that cutting spending during a recession deepens that recession, inhibits growth and delays recovery. We could look at the fact that the academic underpinning of austerity has been destroyed due to the exposure of appallingly bad research, and we could look at the plurality of economic thinking, which basically says that the least painful way to escape a recession is to stimulate growth through public spending.

            How to achieve this is a difficult question of course, but the fact is that you will NEVER find an alternative if you dont look for one, and what the media has essentially done is to tell people that there is no point in looking – and the number of myopic responses here illustrates just how successful they have been.

          3. Blah

            “Well, we could look at the entire history of economics and see that cutting spending during a recession deepens that recession, inhibits growth and delays recovery.”
            Deepens recession is the same thing as inhibits growth, and is the same thing as delays recovery.

            You neglect to mention the other side of the coin i.e. taxation. Just as government spending tends to increase GDP, taxation tends to lower it.

            Increased spending will inevitably have to be paid for with taxes. And higher taxes will inhibit growth too.

            Neglecting to mention this counter-balancing feature leads you towards the absurdity that the government should spend an infinite amount of money.

          4. droid

            Right, so Ive neglected to mention the blindingly obvious, thanks for pointing that out.

            This is why the ‘tax the rich’ slogans actually make sense. This is what needs to happen in times of economic crisis. Pull back some of the 8 billion lost annually from tax avoidance, introduce a limited wealth tax. A ‘mixed’ approach is the way to go. Cut spending and tax those who can afford to be taxed, and whose drop in income will affect the overall economy less.

            On top of that there should have been intensive public lobbying in Europe for an EU wide stimulus package and we should have used what leverage we had at the height of the crisis to wipe out some of the bank debt.

            But, of course, none of this can be countenanced by a tory government and a compliant media made up of financial industry specialists, and hence the very concept of raising taxes is seen as anathema. Much better to bleed everyone through stealth taxes and cuts to vital services.

            After all, the sick disabled dont write many irish Times editorials.

          5. Blah

            “Pull back some of the 8 billion lost annually from tax avoidance”
            Tax avoidance is legal and unavoidable. It includes things people deciding to work less because of high taxes. It’s difficult to change the elasticity of labour supply.

            Saying “stop people avoiding taxes” is just like saying “stop people from stealing”. Easier said than done.

            “introduce a limited wealth tax”
            Wealth taxes are extremely foolish in a small country with free movement of capital. We use the free movement of capital to our advantage with the low corp tax rate. Taxing wealth would see the opposite effect.

            (By the way, we did introduce a limited wealth tax. A wealth tax on the type of capital that can’t move, i.e. property.)

            “On top of that there should have been intensive public lobbying in Europe for an EU wide stimulus package”
            The Germans et al will happily have EU wide stimulus policy when we agree to an EU wide revenue policy. Given our corpo taxes, we’re slow to agree to that one. Can’t blame Europe for not agreeing to a stimulus then.

          6. droid

            Sigh. OK, whatever.. Its impossible to close ANY tax loopholes, personal or corporate, you cant possibly raise tax on earnings over 100,000 by even a single % point, you cant possibly tax a sector who have seen their relative income grow during a recession, and an EU wide stimulus package should not be countenanced due to our corporation tax rate.


            The fact is that these things should be discussed, and a media that only presents the view of those in power is basically useless.

          7. droid

            RIght, OK, sorry about that. It just sounded like you were parroting, word for word the govt/media consensus. My mistake.

          8. johnthebaptist

            I think Blah and Droid just gave a pretty good example as to how discourse in media is supposed to look.

  8. FFS

    I keep saying we don’t have a normally functioning media in Ireland.

    Almost all Irish journalists are hacks for sale. Fill them up with a steak and a bottle of C Neuf de P and they’ll write anything you want.

    They are weak, dishonest, lazy and deliberately misleading. They are also surprisingly poorly informed. They only research and read up when required for a job. They don’t read widely themselves in their own time.

    1. Derval

      It depends how you define “journalist”.
      Is a journalist only someone who works for one of the major news corporations?

  9. FFS

    The small business elite in Ireland control the press and the government. They also intimidate leftist politicians and their followers and shut them out of opportunity and use the police to harass them.

    So when you work off that hypothesis, everything that happens here makes total sense.

  10. Blah

    Keynesianism isn’t progressive. It isn’t conservative either.

    Does my head in when people say Keynesian stimulus is anything but macroeconomic policy. When you see “ECB cuts interest rates”, do you think “Oh, how politically progressive of them”? No. It should be same with Keynesianism.

    The problem is that lefties have completely robbed Keynes’ idea that government spending can be used in a recession and used it for some wishy-washy political idea that “Ooooh, I think redistribution is great and oh look I think Keynes agrees with me.”

    1. Planet of the Missing Biros

      But despite your economic viewpoint, it is simply wrong that so many people are living in poverty and don’t have equal opportunities.

      And the only people who defend aggressive capitalism are those who benefit from it.

      Nobody else thinks is good for human society.

      1. Blah

        “But despite your economic viewpoint, it is simply wrong that so many people are living in poverty and don’t have equal opportunities.”
        I mustn’t have been clear, sorry.

        I agree that the level of poverty is a moral wrong, and I think there should be much more redistribution. Both locally and especially globally.

        But that’s completely separate from Keynesian stimulus, which is fairly boring, macroeconomic policy. There are plenty of very reasonable people who are more left-wing than me economically who think Keynesian stimulus is stupid and wasteful. And there are more right-wing people than me who think there should be more Keynesian stimulus to manage demand. It’s not a “progressive” thing. See my point?

        1. johnthebaptist

          Sorry, but Keynesian economics have traditionally ( by tradition, I mean since Keynes was published) been utilised for the redistribution of wealth and the minimisation of unemployment by left wing governments all over Europe. And explicitly so. In fact, pretty much any policy aimed at reducing wealth inequality since the 1990s have been talked down by the likes of the EPP on the basis of their Keynesian nature – ignoring the nature of interest rate reductions like you outlined.

          If you’ve got a problem with people referring to even the most moderate anti-inequality strategy as Keynesian, you could just as much blame Thatcher or Merkel as much as Thomas Atlee or Olof Palme.

  11. paul kielty

    Oh no….we have by far, the most right wing media in Western Europe. The men and women of 1916 ‘ARE’ turning in their graves. An utter disgrace!!

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