A Word About Their Sponsors


90157355JulienMercille_313ver2RTE Television Centre (top) and Julien Mercille (above)

It’s Monday.

It’s 9.10am.

It’s Mercille on Monday.

Julien Mercille writes:

A fortnight ago a scandal involved Europe’s largest bank, London-based HSBC and its Swiss banking arm, in a large tax evasion scheme.

The charges are that the bank helped its clients hide accounts while providing services to corrupt businessmen and criminals.

Some have called it the biggest banking leak in history. Newspapers immediately gave much attention to the story, but the UK’s Daily Telegraph gave it minimal coverage. Why?

It’s partly because the Telegraph feared that HSBC would stop funding the paper through advertising. Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief Political Commentator, actually resigned in protest because his paper’s editor let commercial advertisers influence the news content and reporting.

HSBC also used to sponsor RTÉ’s Drivetime radio show, which suggests obvious conclusions, but more on that below.

Advertising revenues are crucial to the news industry. They allow newspapers to be sold for a cheaper price, making them more competitive.

This affects news content because corporate advertisers tend not to subsidise television programmes or news stories that seriously question or attack their own business or the political economic system of which they are part, which would be contrary to their interests.

The same goes for corporate or state ownership of the media: owners don’t favour stories that directly challenge government or the corporate sector simply because that’s directly against their interests.

Former Telegraph executives and journalists have confirmed the allegations, saying they were ‘spot on’, and additional claims have been made that:

– HSBC pays about £3.5 million per year to the Telegraph in advertising fees.

– The paper’s commercial department is ‘stronger’ than the editorial one and this has been a ‘dirty little secret for some time’. The Telegraph ‘can’t afford to offend’ some ‘key advertisers’. This means ‘stories being softened, stories being downgraded in terms of placement, headlines softened or stories not run at all’.

– HSBC withdrew advertising from the Telegraph three years ago after negative reporting on the bank.

– Often, ‘If there was a story related to a big Telegraph advertiser and something that was deemed critical was going to appear, subsequently you’d get a call of irritation from someone very senior saying: “We’ve heard that you might be running a story about Tesco… Did you know that they spend X amount with us advertising each year?’

The Irish media faces the same situation. For example, RTÉ gets about €150 million in advertising revenue every year, and in 2008 before the economic crisis that reached €240 million. It’s almost half of its total annual revenues (the other half is made up by the TV licence fees it collects).

Some of its main sponsors are banks, insurance firms and car companies:

-Ulster Bank
-Bank of Ireland
-RaboDirect Bank
-Aviva insurance
-Chill insurance
-Mitsubishi Motors
-Land Rover
-Burger King

The full list can be seen here.

A quick look at RTÉ’s website shows how desperate it is for corporate advertising, telling potential advertisers that RTÉ is ready ‘to help you plan the process of getting your message across the largest audience in TV, Radio, Print and Online in the Irish market’ and that advertising on RTÉ ‘is the ideal platform to enhance your tactical plans or long term brand objectives’.

There are telling examples: Bank of Ireland sponsors RTÉ Radio’s The Business show by paying a fee of €160,000 for 12 months.

Ulster Bank sponsors RTÉ’s Drivetime radio programme by giving the show €260,000 for the year. Before that the sponsor was Danske Bank, and before that, HSBC bank. Who really thinks those shows will give us a critical and objective picture of financial issues?

A clear example of the significance of advertising to the Irish media is the large amount of funding from property advertising received during the housing boom years.

The Irish media went even further than benefiting from property advertising money: they became owners of property websites, acquiring a direct stake in the growing housing bubble.

For example, in 2006, Independent News & Media bought PropertyNews.com (along with the PropertyNews monthly newspaper), the largest internet property site in Ireland.

In 2006, the Irish Times bought the property website MyHome.ie for €50 million, along with the website newaddress.ie, which aims to make it easier for home owners to move residences.

Also, most newspapers published weekly supplements for commercial and residential property, ‘glamourising the whole sector’, while ‘glowing editorial pieces about a new housing estate were often miraculously accompanied by a large advertisement plugging the same estate’, in the words of Shane Ross, former Sunday Independent business editor:

‘Unfavorable coverage of developers and auctioneers in other parts of the newspapers was regularly met by implied threats from property interests that advertising could go elsewhere’. Moreover, a reporter working for an Irish news organisation stated that journalists ‘were leaned on by their organisations not to talk down the banks [and the] property market because those organisations have a heavy reliance on property advertising’.

Some people will deny that advertisers and owners influence news content. That’s contrary to all evidence, but think about it this way. We don’t have any problem understanding that a trade union newspaper reflects the trade union’s viewpoint.

Or that a student paper reflects the students’ viewpoint. Or that a television show that would be sponsored by Greenpeace or Amnesty International would promote environmental and human rights issues. Or that a radio station sponsored by the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign would highlight views favourable to Palestine.

So why is it so hard to understand that a show sponsored by Ulster Bank or Bank of Ireland will likely present favourable views of bankers? Or that a programme sponsored by private health insurance companies won’t tell you that a private, profit-driven health care system is inefficient, wastes money, and bad for people’s health? Or that a show sponsored by a car company won’t exactly be keen on promoting real alternatives to our car culture?

@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland. He will provide evidence to the Banking Inquiry on the role of the media during the housing bubble years.

Related: Ireland’s Biggest Problem Is RTÉ Says Max Keiser

(Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)


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32 thoughts on “A Word About Their Sponsors

  1. Soundings

    That’s a fascinating insight, well done Julien Mercille.

    Does anyone know what the Volkswagen sponsorship of the Ray D’Arcy show is? The RTE chairwoman recently claimed that Ray’s RTE salary – speculated to be around €500,000 a year – is justified by the sponsorship.

    Also, anyone know what the Hyundai sponsorship of Morning Ireland is worth?

    Or the Liberty Insurance sponsorship of the Late Late Show?

  2. Custo

    Jesus christ, I never thought of ANY of that! Thank God this guy is here with his PHD in stating the bleeding obvious to help us all grasp how this stuff works.

  3. mauriac

    good post..maybe if rte stopped paying ridiculous wages to their,”stars” ( who then funnel it through Ltd.production companies despite only working for rte ) they could forego some of this brainwashing moola…

  4. Bluebeard

    Duh.. So totes obvs I dunno what the fuss is about.. maybe cos he’s French BS like to elevate him. Anyway not as interesting as to why RTE only hire liberal, left wing, Ireland loathing presenters. Who is sponsoring that?

    1. Spock's Last Breath

      That’s the about the exact opposite of their presenters. Most are centre-right conservative middle class types who live within a 20 minute drive of ‘Montrose’.

      RTE has always had an agenda of conservative politics and preserves the interests of a small clique.

    2. FK

      Are we watching the same channels? Left-wing? How right wing are you that you think RTE has any left-wing element to it?

      1. Bluebeard

        They area pro public service, anti profit, pro welfare, socially liberal self perpetuating bunch of Labourite shills. Soft left, champagne left. The left you can be when the state pays your salary. There is no right wing media in the country to speak of. A right winger is treated like an odd ball in any mainstream Irish media.

        1. SOMK

          Uh-huh, so what we really need anti-public service, pro-profit, anti-welfare, social conservative, unself perpetuating (suicidal, depressive?) corporate shills, hard right and tea total, assuming that we don’t get that in bucket loads anyway (have you ever an Irish newspaper?), basically we need to either clone De Valera, or find a way to make John Waters emperor of Ireland.

          You’re right though about “The left you can be when the state pays your salary.”, that’s the Irish Labour party in a nutshell.

          The problem with the right as an intellectual force, is that is has no real rivals, with no one to test yourself against, you get intellectually lazy, it’s an effect of the centralist fudge the right gets carte blanche on the economy, the left of a kind of cosmetic social justice, the right has essentially lobotomised itself by pinning itself on declining social orders like the church, against (mostly symbolic) social progressiveness and long debunked notions of the efficient market hypothesis, supply-side economics, expansionary fiscal contraction etc, whilst also couched in a fierce (and somewhat justified) distrust of the new.

          Your sense of there being no right wing media to speak of is, way off the mark (see how many complaints the BAI gives credence to from those who complain about gay voices on the radio discussing marriage), it just manifests less directly, because when you know you have a weak argument the last thing you want is to have it tested, you fail to see that many of these social concessions are relatively meaningless politically (which isn’t to say they’re not important) as they don’t involve anyone giving up economic power. Right-wing ideology and common sense (in the Gramsci sense) only exist because it maintains the established order, it’s a political alignment between the entitled powerful the the deluded poor afraid the lefties will take away the crumbs the master in his infinite kindness lets fall from his plate ie. it keeps the rich, rich, (and the right always represents the established hierarchical order, be it religious, corporate, imperial, aristocratic, or highly paid civil servants).

          Today you can control people much more effectively with PR than you ever could do with priests, so who needs religion anymore?

  5. Ding

    While you’re on about RTE-did anybody see Noel Gallagher on BO’C!? Jaysus it was painful.

      1. Ding

        Missed the performance. The interview was like an awkward chat you’d have on the bus in the morning.

  6. Manolo

    Fox News admits that they are biased and have an agenda. Therefore, Fox News is more believable and trustworthy than RTE. This conclusion scares me.

    1. lefty doherty

      to be fair, fox does *not* admit that they are biased or that they have an agenda. they explicitly say the opposite. however, it’s so obvious and ongoing that most people are well aware.

      1. sten

        Fox New’s favourite slogan was ( ? stopped watching) “Fair and Balanced”.
        Talk about shӣ$%te!

  7. Skeppers

    More s***e from this ideologue. Has UCD done co-production/research deals with any commercial bodies at all? By Mercielle’s logic his papers then reflect their views.

  8. Gmale

    So if something is wholly licence fee funded then we can expect Mercielle will by conclusion find that that something reflects the views of licence fee payers then?

    1. ahjayzis

      Um, no. As a license payer you can’t threaten to give it to TV3 instead if Claire Byrne starts sitting behind the desk.

  9. Truth in the News

    RTE has become a bloated and biased outfit parading a hype
    that its a public service broadscaster, it is anything but, a point
    has being reached that controls need to put in place to limit
    advertising take and introduce levels that can not be exceeded
    What’s Ex RTE man, Minister Alex White going to do, protect them
    more, in fact RTE needs decenralising out of Montrose and breaking
    up….then there is the legacy of the mind set fostered by the infiltration
    and influence of the Workers Party….the remmants still extant in the
    present Labour Party.
    Thanks to Julien Mercille he has identified the elephant in the room in
    the irish media,. its has become the voice corporate advertising and
    government spin……silent coup…..we need rid of them..

  10. Rob

    “A quick look at RTÉ’s website shows how desperate it is for corporate advertising, telling potential advertisers that RTÉ is ready ‘to help you plan the process of getting your message across the largest audience in TV, Radio, Print and Online in the Irish market’ and that advertising on RTÉ ‘is the ideal platform to enhance your tactical plans or long term brand objectives’”

    Just where is the desperation?
    Storm in a tea cup!

    1. Clampers Outside!

      I read that too and thought the same, it’s a pretty standard sales pitch. Nothing desperate in it at all.

      I like Mr Mercille, but that’s total bullcrap in that paragraph.

      1. dan

        It would be if RTE were a purely commercial venture, it allegedly isn’t, so it shouldn’t have a standard sales pitch, if it should have a sales pitch at all.

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