Where Are The Journalists?


squareprotest.jpgciaranCiaran Tierney (above) and protests in Eyre Square, Galway last Saturday


Why are we not getting the full picture about the Irish Water protests?

Galway-born journalist Ciaran Tierney was a reporter with the Connacht Tribune for 22 years.

He writes:

Maybe it’s the circles I move in or some of the events I happen to attend, but I keep hearing people denounce the current state of Irish journalism in the midst of an undercurrent of anger and frustration over recent weeks and months.

You might argue that it’s very unlikely you would hear anything good about the mainstream media or the Government at a protest march against Irish Water on a Saturday afternoon or a meeting about the same issue in a hotel room two nights later.

What surprised me in Eyre Square last Saturday week, though, was how few journalists attended a march which attracted hundreds of protesters on a bitterly cold afternoon. Despite all the demonisation, hundreds marched through the city centre to show their opposition to the Irish Water ‘quango’.

Journalists have lives, and need their free time, but when newsrooms cut up to a third of their staff it’s inevitable they will have fewer reporters on the ground.

Working for one of the country’s largest provincial papers, I always took some pride in how much coverage the Connacht Tribune would give to protest campaigns and groups.

If I attended a demonstration in solidarity with the people of Gaza, a march for women’s rights, for turf-cutters, or against austerity, it was heartening to know that the news editor would be happy to take a few hundred words for the following week’s paper.

If a paper lets a third of its editorial staff go, however, it becomes inevitable that there will be fewer bodies available to give publicity to those whose voices may not otherwise be heard. Throughout the country, many newspapers have let staff go in recent months and years.

During November, as I recovered from surgery, a friend gave me a box set of The Wire, one of the best TV series ever made. The final season of the programme focuses on the city’s newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, and so many issues facing the US journalists a few years ago have since gripped the newspaper industry on this side of the big pond.

How can you cover two courts if one of the two staff court reporters has taken a ‘buyout’ (the US equivalent of a voluntary redundancy)? How can fewer people produce more, which became a mantra for senior management at the Baltimore Sun?

And how can morale remain upbeat if you watch a third of your work-mates leave by the exit door, leaving empty desks and unfilled specialities in their wake?

was lucky enough to be paid to write for a newspaper for over 22 years and I hope to do so again, but in the age of the Internet, social media, and so many cutbacks across the industry it seems that many readers have lost trust in the mainstream media.

This week’s arrest of anti-water charges protesters is a case in point. If people found it objectionable that so many Garda resources were put into arresting a few politicians in dawn raids, then how come their voices were not heard on the national airwaves?

If people see Gardai being heavy-handed with protesters on social media, only for the protesters to be labelled by members of the Government as the “sinister fringe”, then why would people not trust their Facebook feed more than the information they are fed from the national media?

Rightly or wrongly, RTE are seen to ‘massage’ the figures of those attending protests against Irish Water across the country. They highlight abuse by a vocal minority of protesters, but video footage of Gardai being heavy-handed with the same protesters in housing estates (widely circulated on YouTube and Facebook) rarely makes it onto the TV screens.

If the role of a journalist is to keep a check on those who wield power, then no wonder so many people have lost trust in the media. Much of what passes for journalism is little more than pro-Government propaganda.

People know that 2,200 people were needlessly murdered in Gaza last Summer – and yet they only saw anger being expressed at protests and through social media, rather than on our national TV station or in the national papers. Hundreds upon hundreds marching for the people of Palestine was not deemed an important news story.

Over 100,000 marched against water charges last October, but all some Government Ministers and national journalists wanted was a chance to demonise them.

The vocal protests against President Higgins provided perfect ammunition for their ‘spin’ and took all the focus off the ridiculous salaries and bonuses being paid to senior executives at Irish Water.

Readers find it hard to trust journalists if they feel their bosses have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, or a financial interest in installing the water meters in estates throughout the country.

Those who wield power have an interest in stifling protest movements, as Paul Murphy TD (Socialist Party) discovered when he was hauled from his bed at 6.55am on a Monday morning.

Did it really take six Gardai to arrest the diminutive Mr Murphy for a protest which took place three months earlier? It’s not as though he had been in hiding since November, so the Gardai were well aware of where he lived and worked. He can usually be found in the Dail on a weekday.

And how many journalists questioned this use of State resources at a time when our hospitals are overcrowded and there is a homelessness crisis in our major towns and cities?

I spent four hours in a crowded A&E on Wednesday and could not help thinking about how many resources were wasted on arresting and detaining four protesters the previous morning. No wonder people are cynical when we never see six Gardai calling to the house of a disgraced banker, politician, or developer.

Of course there are honourable exceptions in the media. Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times and Gene Kerrigan in the Sunday Independent are never afraid of questioning or challenging the powerful in Irish society.

But many people have told me in recent weeks that too many journalists view Irish society through the same prism as the Government Ministers they write about each day.

They drink with them in the Dail Bar and meet at functions where they rail about the “sinister fringe” who dare to wield placards outside. When Sinn Fein bring a Dail motion in solidarity with the people of Gaza, they are labelled as cynical opportunists.

Meanwhile, frighteningly, if papers like my former employers continue to let staff go there will be fewer journalists around to witness what’s really happening at protests, marches, and campaigns in cities and towns throughout the country.

If the Gardai or RTE underestimate the numbers at protests, who is going to challenge them if there are no ‘neutral’ people available to report the facts on the ground?

When a news editor decides that a five day old video of an idiot hurling abuse at the President should be the main item on the national evening news, where are the voices who can object to such a blatant abuse of power?

And where are the journalists who challenge why anti-austerity protesters are being arrested while corrupt bankers and politicians (who bankrupt Ireland almost five years ago) are still allowed to operate with impunity?

Of course Irish journalism is not dead yet. But this perception that double standards abound (allied to the clear difference between what people see on social and mainstream media) has added to the anger and cynicism across the land.

The Death Of Journalism? (Ciaran Tierney)

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46 thoughts on “Where Are The Journalists?

  1. Paolo

    Why should they attend? There are people dying on trollies in hospitals, children dying of treatable diseases due to underfunding and you are protesting about having to pay for the water that you use??

    Get a grip!

    1. ZeligIsJaded

      Yeah, the utter fupp up of our health service, and the utter fupp up of the water charges situation are in no way related and should be viewed as such.

      One is about people in hospitals and the other is about H2O.


    2. Mé Féin

      Imagine if people ended up in hospital because their water was unfit to drink!
      I think my head is going to explode.

  2. Randy Ewing

    Over half the households in the country have registered for water charges, so technically its a minority protesting against it.

    The ‘mainstream’ media doesnt cover my point of view on water charges either, they cant cover crackpots point of view, they are mainstream. You wont see any coverage of union buisness in the mainsteam media either, just the pro government anti public sector guff enda likes to try and drive a wedge between the public and private sector, keeps them b1tching at one another and the wont notice their services being cut back.

    1. Praetorian.

      And you know this for a fact that over half the households have signed up…
      Are you basing this on IW figures,RTE figures…or you just know this.

        1. mikey

          Randy your ability to buy the lies they are selling you does not make you smart or even help you formulate a reasonable argument. We already pay for water. if the money we spent funding irish water was put into hospitals and education, then perhaps you would have been raised with a better means to defend your argument and a place to go get healed of your illness. Your illness being blind faith in RTE and the government that has been screwing the nation for decades. The fact of the matter is that Irish water are counting all the envelopes sent back to them by protestors as letters of consent, despite the fact that we clearly said we do not consent. that is over 50% of the letters sent in to them said this. Meaning that only 25% of the country has actually agreed, and that you belong that minority. But by all means let the government screw you once again, let them fill their coffers while people die in irish hospitals with no dignity.

    2. Frilly Keane

      Half of Irishholds as an assertion of anything meaningful is a very flimsey statement. Certinaly in a financial sense anyway.

      Just apply the industry standard bad debt provision. Say 20% of Income.

      Then value the cost of servicing the delinquent / bad/ slow payers.
      Say another 20‰ of customers will cost IW more than the income they generate.

      So already it makes no financial sense to be boasting about the registration numbers.

    3. ollie

      No, less than 50% have registered, and this includes those who are not liable for the charge. take your propaganda and shove it.

  3. Bonzor

    You have to ask yourself, ‘What is news?’ Water and the various protests and incidents have already received months of blanket coverage, and I think it has been on the whole pretty balanced. I’d wager that if you asked any journalist which stories were getting the most clicks, you’d also see that ones relating to Irish Water were getting smaller by the day. Should small, localised protests be the unending lead on the news cycle forever?

    It’s a fact of life that someone throwing a brick or calling the President a midget is newsworthy, and a few people standing around in the cold is not.

    1. offMooof

      Protests happened on monday night in Tallaght, Cobh, Coolock, Raheny, Donabate and Carrick-on-suir, they’ve been continuing all week.
      How often do citizens, and it is citizens and community members, the AAA/PBP/Socialists don’t show or leave with the media, how often do communities protest outside their local stations in response to arrests in a working class area of Dublin?
      Surely that show of solidarity across geographic and class lines is newsworthy, probably so terrifying to the regime there ain’t a chance it’ll get covereage. Just let self-censorship do its thing.

      1. Lorcan Nagle

        This has been going on for years. In 2012 I was involved in a protest in Dublin against the ACTA trade agreement. That night on the news RTÉ reported on similar protests all across Europe, but didn’t even mention the one here.

        Similarly, the night of Claire Daly’s first abortion bill, the one in the aftermath of Savita Halapannavar’s death? RTÉ reported on it, but set up on Merrion square rather than Kildare street, and so only had a reporter in a deserted street on the screen.

  4. Rob_G

    If that’s a photo of the protest in question, I’m not surprised that particular outing garnered much coverage, in fairness.

  5. John

    Water was last weeks news no one cares about it anymore. move on there’s plenty more poo to worry about out there!!

    1. 15 cents

      thats the good ol irish spirit .. quickly forget .. keep doing that, its what the government want you to do. they know the country is full of shitehawks like you who will have forgotten all about the water tax come election time.

      1. John E. Bravo

        I don’t disagree with your latter point but the idea that the Irish spirit is to quickly forget makes me chuckle.

  6. Soundings

    No national media covered protests outside Garda stations across the country on Monday night (after Deputy Paul Murphy had been arrested).

    1. Rob_G

      There were loads of journalists outside when he was released, though.

      A politician being locked up is very big news, which would explain all the media coverage outside the Garda Station, but a protest in Cork or Galway about said event wouldn’t really count as national news.

  7. Luvin Lunch

    I heartily agree.. Great article. For weeks there were details of protests coming through my facebook feed that were completely ignored by the media. And the coverage of the president name calling incident was beyond tedious.

  8. Bluebeard

    Great piece Ciarán. Completely correct about the cosy consensus between media and the masters. A parasitic symbiosis, feeding both but harming neither.

  9. Dubloony

    Crowd estimates always bug me. If gardai would release a high res photo from their chopper, it would be much easier to apply crowd counting software.

  10. Joe the Lion

    Boring, tedious, long-winded nonsense which could have been delivered in one paragraph.

    Is it any wonder no-one wants to read such drivel any more and prefers more incisive sources of information?

  11. Buzz

    I’m in favour of the water protests but reports on them don’t exactly make for an interesting read. Seen one, seen ’em all kinda thing.

  12. RF

    one reason I don’t like reading journalism – or anyone’s opinions about anything, is because they tend to make statements like “the best tv series of all time” as if they have some weight of value just because… the person making them erm… owns a computer and can publish their views.

    journalism needs more money it for sure – to eradicate tossed off opinion pieces like the above, and pay for factual longform.

    but guess which gets more clicks.

  13. Hashtag Diversity

    Ans: They’re busy not covering the topic of the day: “RTE and Irish Times Journalists pixel face to hide membership of Labour Party”.

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