Fair And Balanced

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From top: Panel on last night’s Tonight with Mick Clifford, and graphs from early findings of a study by the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University

Last night, on TV3’s Tonight With Mick Clifford, the show’s panel discussed the media’s impact on the general election.

The panel included director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University, Jane Suiter; our own Julien Mercille; Sinead Carroll of the Journal; and John Devitt, from Transparency International Ireland.

At the beginning of their discussion, Ms Suiter presented the preliminary findings of an unfinished study by FUJO which is looking at the coverage of the election by the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Journal.

She explained that the study’s findings to date are solely based on coverage up to a week before the election and that the final week has yet to be investigated. She also said FUJO will be looking at the coverage of RTÉ and TV3.

Several graphics from the study were shown (see above), prompting Ms Suiter to explain:

“The [Irish] Independent was taking the Government line of ‘Stability v Chaos’ so ‘stick with [Enda] Kenny and it’s stability, go with [Gerry] Adams and it’s chaos’, whereas the Irish Times weren’t taking that line because they were saying, ‘well no it’s Kenny versus [Micheal] Martin’ so it was kind of the old choice that we’re used to. And then the Journal just took a very, sort of straightforward one between the three of them.”

Further to the study’s findings presented by Ms Suiter, the panel discussed the coverage as a whole.

From the discussion…

Julien Mercille: “I think there is maybe some differences between the various outlets but, by and large, the mass media gave a very favourable view for the Government. I mean you didn’t have much of a challenge to the Government parties. You did have that, maybe in a tactical way but not in a fundamental way. Take, for example, the best issue to illustrate this is healthcare. We know it’s the number one issue for voters. Exit polls show, and polls before, this is probably the most poorly reported issue in the whole country, healthcare. There isn’t a single article that calls for an Irish NHS for example which is the thing we need. It’s cheaper…”

Mick Clifford: “I saw a few…”

Mercille: “…and it’s also better for health.”

Clifford: “Absolutely but I saw a few of them, I have to say, I saw…”

Mercille: “Oh really?”

Clifford: “I did.”

Mercille: “Calling for an Irish NHS? Maybe once every now and then, but that’s not very…”

Clifford: “Well, universal health care, they didn’t necessarily say…”

Mercille: “It’s very different, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing at all. It could be but it doesn’t have to be.”

Clifford: “Right and there’s one other thing there that I would suggest and that is that, despite that being shown, in previous elections and admittedly this turned out to be different, in previous elections, people concentrated on the economy, they concentrated on tax cuts and spending increases..”

Jane Suiter: “But actually they didn’t because we…”

Clifford: “Not in this, no, but in previous..”

Suiter: “Yeah, well in the previous election, it was all about the bailout and the Troika programme, that was the whole focus of it but actually in this one, in many, actually the focus was on party politics. So which party is up and down in the polls? Which party is going to go into coalition?”

Clifford: “Rather than the issues?”

Suiter: “Rather than the issues. So there was actually very little focus even on macro economic issues or on on micro, on tax and spending…”

Talk over each other

Mercille: “There were articles about Enda Kenny and his wife, as if this was any way important…”

Clifford: “Aaah Julien…”

Mercille: “Nothing, it is true. Nothing about..”

Clifford: “Enda Kenny and his wife.”

Mercille: “Nothing about the main policies, such as healthcare, poverty, the fact that Ireland is a tax haven. You didn’t have much of that. It was all about the person and the looks and all that.”

Later

Sinéad O’Carroll: “Because we didn’t know, we knew that there wasn’t going to be anyone that would run away and be able to get an easy majority, we knew there was no-one able to get that magic number, so it did become, then, a game of looking at who was going to go in with who and, because no-one was giving definitive answers, that became the narrative.”

Clifford: “Was that to the detriment of, was that to the detriment of examining policies?”

O’Carroll: “I think so, absolutely, and I think, but I think also, there was, the Irish Times had a really beautiful feature on their, online, and they had absolutely every issue covered and you went into it and you could see the party policy on every single issue. Not many people talked about that feature that they had.”

Suiter: “The other interesting thing was how little focus was on any of the smaller parties or the Independents.”

Clifford: “John [Devitt], did you find it balanced, imbalanced? Or how?”

Devitt: “Well, it’s difficult to say but I think the broadcasters appeared not to have planned much of their coverage of the election, they were led by the news cycle. So, in the first week, we had wall-to-wall coverage of the Kinahan-Hutch feud and the shooting in the Regency Hotel, in the second week there was a lot of talk about fiscal space and Kenny and Adams grasp, or lack thereof of financial, their own financial data and then, in the last week or so, there were two days coverage of the Taoiseach’s comments around whingers in Castlebar. So it appeared there was little focus on, as you say, on the issues themselves.”

Later

Devitt: “In Cork there was coverage around, or there was a lack of coverage in the national media, about and interview I think, on Cork local radio [Red FM] of Enda Kenny and there were allegations by the, was it Neil Prendeville, he had alleged that Kenny’s advisors, or his media handlers were putting him under pressure to wrap up a rather intense interview with the Taoiseach. We didn’t see that kind of questioning of Martin or Kenny elsewhere in the mainstream media.”

O’Carroll: “There’s a certain politeness, I think, that goes along with Cabinet ministries, positions and with the Taoiseach and I think, obviously, I think sometimes a lot of people, say the Vincent Browne style questioning, if you’re not answering a question, you don’t get away with that. I think, in other studios, people do get away with not answering a question because the impoliteness isn’t there and I think that is to the detriment of getting answers to questions.”

Mercille: “I agree. It’s also to do with the ideology. I mean Gerry Adams will be questioned a lot, whatever he is…”

Clifford: “Should he be questioned more than the other leaders?”

Mercille: “Not at all, I mean he’s not in power, he didn’t make the policies, he didn’t create the mess we have. He could be questioned, he should be questioned on other things, if you like, but I mean the imbalance is just blatant. I mean people were even saying, my god, if the Indo keeps going like that, they’ll backfire on their own terms..”

Clifford: “Just to make a few distinctions here. I think, and I think it is fair to say, and I think an awful lot of people feel that the Independent group in particular covered Sinn Fein in a manner that perhaps a lot of people felt was imbalanced. That doesn’t mean that the whole of the media did that. That’s the first issue…”

Mercille: “Well the media is very…”

Clifford: “Julien.”

Mercille: “The Indo was more explicit and I’m actually more comfortable with that because, actually, there is a view there and you can disagree with the Indo’s view. Sinn Fein is never covered positively in any media, any mass media, except for exceptions all right. You see the problem with Sinn Fein and the coverage is that let’s say when Gerry Adams was on Sean O’Rourke, people were making fun of his math and all that. Fine, you want to talk about the issue of economic policy, fine, but then you have to criticise Enda Kenny and Fine Gael for their austerity.”

Talk over each other

Clifford: “Hang on there’s a difference between, hold on, there’s a difference between criticising somebody for their grasp of the issues, and criticising somebody for the nature of their policies. Absolutely you…”

Mercille: “Well Fine Gael doesn’t understand economics because if you understand economics, no, if you understand economics, if you understand economics, the first thing you do is not austerity in times of recession.”

Clifford: “I know, that’s one side of it. That’s a different issue, that’s one side of an argument.”

Mercille: “It’s a more important point than not knowing about the math of this budget or something.

Later

Mercille: “The reason Sinn Fein is attacked so much is because it’s the only force in this country that can challenge the establishment. Whether you love Sinn Fein or you hate them.”

Clifford: “Oh, so Sinn Fein are not the establishment?”

Mercille: “They’re much less establishment than Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.”

Clifford: [Inaudible]

Mercille: “Oh you think? Oh really. When’s the last time they were in Government?”

Clifford: “They’re in the Government in the North, they’re the biggest party in the…”

Talk over each other

Clifford: “They’re the biggest party in the local elections…”

Mercille: “I’m not saying they’re a bit part of the establishment. But they can challenge Fine Gael and Fianna Fail much more than let’s say…”

Clifford: “You’re suggesting that questioning Sinn Fein has absolutely nothing to do with other elements, apart from their socioeconomic position?”

Mercille: “Do you have other aspects you could question? You could talk about the North, if you like, you could talk about anything, you could talk about nationalism, you could talk about Gerry Adam’s past. That’s all fine. But you have to do it, not in a double standards way. If you want to talk about the economy, fine. But then talk about austerity. If you want to talk about…”

Clifford: “Has it not been talked about?”

Mercille: “Not in the right way. It hasn’t been challenged, the media endorsed austerity all the way, across the board and they’ve said it explicitly themselves.”

Clifford: “Jane, just to, in fairness, because it is an issue, I’m not singling out one party but it is an issue as to whether or not Sinn Fein got a fair shake. What do you think?”

Suiter: “Yeah, absolutely, in the other ones, because the coding we used is coding that’s been used in Greece and in Spain and in Portugal and in Germany, so it’s developed in a pan-European group. And when we looked at it, and looked at the tone of coverage, there was a negative tone of coverage for Gerry Adams compared with the other leaders but it was driven by the Indo. And the tone of coverage for Gerry Adams, in the Journal and in the Irish Times, was neutral. It wasn’t positive, but it was neutral. And the tone of coverage for all of the leaders, in all of the newspapers was broadly neutral.”

Later

O’Carroll: “A lot of talk was about how they [Sinn Fein] wanted to abolish the Special Criminal Court and I think a lot of people might have thought that that was kind of at the forefront of their manifesto. It was in fact mentioned once on page 46 of their manifesto. It is, you have to put it to them when it’s, exactly…”

Clifford: “Because, a couple of weeks before it…”

O’Carroll: “Exactly…”

Clifford: “Slab Murphy was convicted… Gerry Adams introduces the Special Criminal Court..”

O’Carroll: “I’m not saying that that was something that was done in error. I’m just saying it’s a manner of the news cycle, that’s how it happens. So it wasn’t a vendetta about picking out something that may not have been on the top of their agenda and making it so in front pages, it was because it happened to come up.”

Devitt: “I think broadcast media, in particular, have a responsibility to manage the election coverage very carefully and not be so reactive to the news cycle. Print media also need to be very careful, or more careful I should say…”

Clifford: “The broadcast media though are restricted by the BAI and they have to literally measure balance…”

Devitt: “Oh absolutely but, by the same token,  they were still very much led by what was in the newspaper, in the news, that day…”

Clifford: “The actual topics, yeah.”

Devitt: “And when you look at the questions that were asked of the leaders during the three debates, on RTE and on TV3, they were still very much led by what was in, or influence by, what was in the newspaper that day.”

O’Carroll: “Well it’s not only what’s in the newspapers, it’s what’s people, in general, are talking about and what people have questions about.”

Devitt: “Well, I mean there were issues like climate change or corruption – which was a big issue just in December – that were barely mentioned during the leaders’ debates.”

Suiter: “Or Repeal the 8th wasn’t mentioned much in the leaders’ debates. I think a big thing is that fact that the smaller parties, and Independents,  weren’t covered much by the, you know, we saw in the poll afterwards…”

Clifford: “It’s a proportionate thing though..”

Suiter: “No, but they have a huge proportion of the vote now, as we’ve seen and they didn’t get it and, the same thing in the leaders’ debates. They had a huge proportion of the vote and they weren’t there.”

Watch back in full here

33 thoughts on “Fair And Balanced

  1. JIMMY JAMES

    TOOO LONG, DEFO NOT THE KIND OF POST ANGELA WANTS TO READ BACK AT HER DESK AFTER LUNCH…
    POOR TIMING

  2. Harry Molloy

    I saw it. This will be my last negative comment about Mr. Mercille’s views as I don’t want to be too negative. But he is very immature for a political commentator, there are his opinions which are 100% right and any others are 100% wrong and stupid. As per the extract below.

    Mercille: You see the problem with Sinn Fein and the coverage is that let’s say when Gerry Adams was on Sean O’Rourke, people were making fun of his math and all that. Fine, you want to talk about the issue of economic policy, fine, but then you have to criticise Enda Kenny and Fine Gael for their austerity.”

    Talk over each other

    Clifford: “Hang on there’s a difference between, hold on, there’s a difference between criticising somebody for their grasp of the issues, and criticising somebody for the nature of their policies. Absolutely you…”

    Mercille: “Well Fine Gael doesn’t understand economics because if you understand economics, no, if you understand economics, if you understand economics, the first thing you do is not austerity in times of recession.”

    Clifford: “I know, that’s one side of it. That’s a different issue, that’s one side of an argument.”

    1. Joe

      +1

      I have no gra for Fine Gael or their policies, but to suggest they ‘don’t understand economics’ because they implemented policies Julian doesn’t agree with is nonsense. That’s an issue of ideologies and priorities, not understanding. FG knew exactly what they were doing in government when they introduced policies that looked after the wealthy and middle classes over those who were struggling.

      Questioning the ideology is fair game.

      Gerry Adams, meanwhile, was trying to convince people to vote for his party and couldn’t out forward a coherent argument – that’s fair game for scrutiny of his leadership.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        In fairness, what the researchers see as ‘negative’ such as mentions of Slab Murphy, SF would see as a positive of the ‘Good Republican’ variety.

        So, I’m sure SF would see less negative on that graph. Or at least, they should.

        Yeah, in me hoop…

        1. Charley

          The only thing about Tom Murphy’s sentence is that Lowry will have to face a similar fate.
          The timing of the sentencing was questionable as was the bizarre attempt to link Seamus Daly to SF,

  3. VinLieger

    Thats a great idea, any chance we could get a post about how many articles broadsheet posted by socialists vs non-socialists?

  4. The People's Hero

    How is this a surprise…..?! For the vast majority of their contemporary history, Sinn Fein, their party leader and their ‘associates’ ran about the place shooting and mutilating people and blowing $hit up….. This added to the fact that many of all those ‘good republicans’ and their attempt to go clean were and still are involved in all sorts of dodgy business dealings and property scams….

    ‘Three Houses’ Adams can go swing….

    Their fingers fumble just as easily as the rest of the greasers in this country….

    1. DubLoony

      +1
      It seems that no-one can criticise SF, what with the Peace Process ‘an all.

      Fact is they do run NI in a coalition and its terrible, they do have many, many unanswered questions about their past, the cover up of child abuse, fuel smuggling, money laundering and muscle men on the edges, they do not have much regard for the Constitution, Courts or Dáil of this republic, they have more regard for a shadowy ard comhairle nor does Jerry have any firm grasp of maths needed to at least fake that he has a taxation policy.

      Why do people think we should reward SF for anything? It nice that they stopped using violence , but that doesn’t make them fit to run this state.

      1. Charley

        You couldn’t really call what is in place in the North as a coalition, SF are a necessary if blunt nationalist balance to the head bangers in the DUP, as normality takes hold the more moderate parties may once again have a place in Northern politics but as it stands an extreme religious division of power is the only show in town.

  5. ReproBertie

    Just on this excerpt:
    Sinéad O’Carroll: “Because we didn’t know, we knew that there wasn’t going to be anyone that would run away and be able to get an easy majority, we knew there was no-one able to get that magic number, so it did become, then, a game of looking at who was going to go in with who and, because no-one was giving definitive answers, that became the narrative.”
    Clifford: “Was that to the detriment of, was that to the detriment of examining policies?”
    O’Carroll: “I think so, absolutely, …”
    ———
    I have to disagree with Sinéad there. As soon as it became obvious that no party would be able to get an overall majority the policies became nothing more than the starting point for coalition negotiations so there was no real benefit in examining them. On a related note, the mantra about parties breaking promises once elected is meaningless when nobody gets an overall majority and everyone has to dilute their policies to try and implement anything.

  6. rotide

    Jules claims that because there wasn’t any sign of an article propounding his pet theory of an Irish NHS, the media ignored healthcare (even though it didn’t)

    Merc claims that SF are most definitely not the establishment untill he concedes that of course they are a BIT the establishment.

    and of course FG know NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT ECONOMICS because he doesn’t agree with his policies.

    This guy is supposed to be a media watchdog? There is a village in Canada missing an idiot.

  7. classter

    Why an ‘Irish NHS’?

    It is being gutted at the moment for various reasons and aside from that, universalistic systems (or almost universalistic) have been implemented better elsewhere.

    Why not for the best from abroad? Or better still develope a new system based on the lessons learned here & abroad?

  8. Owen C

    I mean, this is car crash stuff from Julien. He repeatedly had to restate his wild assertions.

    ********
    Merceille: ” There isn’t a single article that calls for an Irish NHS for example which is the thing we need. It’s cheaper…”

    Mick Clifford: “I saw a few…”

    Mercille: “…and it’s also better for health.”

    Clifford: “Absolutely but I saw a few of them, I have to say, I saw…”

    Mercille: “Oh really?”

    Clifford: “I did.”

    Mercille: “Calling for an Irish NHS? Maybe once every now and then, but that’s not very…”

    *********
    Mercille: “The reason Sinn Fein is attacked so much is because it’s the only force in this country that can challenge the establishment. Whether you love Sinn Fein or you hate them.”

    Clifford: “Oh, so Sinn Fein are not the establishment?”

    Mercille: “They’re much less establishment than Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.”

    Clifford: [Inaudible]

    Mercille: “Oh you think? Oh really. When’s the last time they were in Government?”

    Clifford: “They’re in the Government in the North, they’re the biggest party in the…”

    Talk over each other

    Clifford: “They’re the biggest party in the local elections…”

    Mercille: “I’m not saying they’re a bit part of the establishment. But they can challenge Fine Gael and Fianna Fail much more than let’s say…”
    ****

    1. dav

      Any links to the articles calling for an Irish NHS?? Since it’s “Wild” for Julien to claim there were NO such articles??

  9. Owen C

    Also, more importantly, what the hell is up with Merceille’s Miami Vice style round neck and sports jacket routine? I mean, the guy really needs a style makeover.

  10. Mark My Little Words He'll Be Back in RTE in 12 Months

    Balance? All of these people are white.

  11. Joe835

    The distaste many of us have for Sinn Féin is frustrating to its supporters, many of whom think it’s narrow-minded and cliched to bring up their violent past. But to me as a voter, because they don’t believe the IRA was wrong in taking part in a protracted “war”, during which countless non-combatants were tortured and/or killed, means that their past is in many ways their present.

    The counter-argument is very often “there were plenty others doing the same thing” and “we were just defending ourselves”. I’ll address the first argument in a minute. With regard to the “defence” argument, SF and their supporters fail to understand is that a significant bloc of voters in the Republic don’t buy that. There were plenty that lived in communities under siege from nefarious forces in the form of both the British State and loyalist paramilitaries. They did not sink to their level; groups like NICRA, the SDLP, people like Mairead Corrigan and Bernadette McAliskey – they fought with words and deeds, not violence.

    It was possible to do so; Sinn Féin like to present the situation as impossible and violence was the only answer. Instead, it muddied the very clear injustice happening up until that point; Catholics were being discriminated against on a wholesale level – using violence allowed that discrimination to continue under a different name, so the same bigot who didn’t want to share power with a Catholic in the early 70’s could simply change their excuse to not wanting to be involved with “groups with paramilitary links” right up until the mid-00’s, a perfectly-acceptable excuse to an international audience. Imagine if there wasn’t an IRA and a gerrymandering Unionist government in Stormont had to justify not sharing power with Catholic-majority parties. It would be an impossible argument for them to win, and they would have been decimated in the anti-colonial atmosphere of the late 70’s. Rhodesia’s whites had a firmer grip of power than Northern Ireland’s unionists in 1970 and look what happened to them.

    The second argument, the “there were plenty others doing the same thing” argument, could be made in two ways. Number 1 is the fact that many of the Republic’s main parties have violent pasts; Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are essentially splinter groups from the original Sinn Féin and even the Labour Party contains/contained former Workers Party members – essentially the Official IRA gone legit. So it’s true to say SF aren’t the only party with a violent past.

    But Sinn Féin’s violent past is very recent. Your local TD could be Dessie Ellis, who smuggled explosives for the IRA. Or up until recently, Martin Ferris – a man who collected from prison the killers of a Detective Garda murdered after the first IRA ceasefire. Maybe Gerry Adams, who was a member of the IRA Army Council until its disbandment in the last decade. You can say a lot about Enda or even Brian Cowen before him but they weren’t members of the IRA or anything like it.

    The other way this argument is framed is that Sinn Féin are just one of a number of groups from Northern Ireland that are as bad as each other and to have a particular grievance against them is unfair. And that’s true; the British Army did some awful things in Northern Ireland. As did the UVF, the INLA, the UFF, the Real IRA, the LVF, the Continuity IRA, the Shankill Butchers and the Red Hand Commandos. I’d also have a big problem with the DUP, the TUV, Vanguard, the UDA and even individual members of the UUP. Northern Ireland was full of lots of nasty “politicians” in organisations with horrible acronyms with horrible policies and ideas unacceptable in any other context.

    And that’s the key; Sinn Féin are a product of that rough form of Northern politics, the “puke football” that Southerners find unpleasant. They turned up the rhetoric to 11 and attempt to “shake things up” because that’s what worked in the North, that’s what had to happen. And I support the peace process, I think that like the old adage that “only Nixon could go to China”, only Gerry could go to Ian and only Ian could go to Gerry – so it worked up there.

    But would I vote for them? No, but no more than I’d vote for the DUP, the UVF or the INLA. That’s their brand of politics and as someone from the Republic, I don’t want a thing to do with them. And I suspect that’s what a lot of voters who once again rejected the establishment but went for independent candidates rather than Sinn Féin were thinking.

    1. brownbull

      The thing that really bothers me about Sinn Fein is the faustian pact that everyone in the party must sign up to, to defend the crimes of the past and reinforce the lies of the present (e.g. Gerry was not in the IRA), toe the line or walk. How can Gerry ever be meaningfully challenged as leader of the party when every other candidate has lied on his behalf and prostrated themselves at his feet to get the nod to run in an election. The problem for me is not so much that he was in the IRA but that the entire movement reinforces his lie. It is profoundly unhealthy and anti-democratic. This pact at the heart of how Sinn Fein operates provides for a sinister discipline and cohesion not found in any democratic political party where dissent is a constant and leadership is regularly challenged

      1. Joe835

        Absolutely, that was the next thing I was going to say but I think I went on enough there!

        Sinn Féin’s lack of discourse, of internal inertia is unsettling in a democracy. But a lot of people involved in SF haven’t much experience with politics and don’t see anything odd about a leader in power for THIRTY YEARS who occupies an almost cult-like position within the republican movement.

        Or else they do see something plenty odd about it but are scared to speak out, which is just as bad really. Gerry will step down when Gerry wants to and not a moment sooner; I’m not a FG supporter but I do know that when the knives come out for Enda (and they will), he won’t stand a chance.

        And they won’t use actual knives, obv.

  12. Mr S

    What is the point of Mercille? He has done no obvious research on any of the points he talks about. He uses the same focus on anecdotes as the politicians he condemns.

    He must be available at very, very short notice to go on TV panel shows.

  13. Chris

    I agree with Mercille on a lot of points but basically he boils it down to “vote Sinn Fein in and it’ll be grand”. Worked for Syriza dinnea

  14. Truth in the News

    We are reaching a stage that the media paranoria with Sinn Fein will have
    the effect to increase its membership and support, the political establishment
    in the south are running scared of them, is because they have so many soft
    jobs and perks to lose….are the elite going to arrange coup d’etat to thwart
    the Shinners, AAA, PBP and anyone else that don’t subscribe to their hymm sheet.

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