‘Propaganda Is Something You Pay For’


From top: Project 2040 advertorial in Saturday’s Irish Times and Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy

This morning.

On RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

Further to a Dail discussion about Government-sponsored advertorials – via the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Strategic Communications Unit – in relation to the National Development Plan being published in the Irish Independent and Irish Times

And today’s front page story in the Times Ireland edition by Ellen Coyne about similar advertorials made to look like independent news articles in regional newspapers and similar coverage of Creative Ireland last summer…

And an article in yesterday’s The Sunday Times – by Justine McCarthy – in which it was reported that financial advisor Karl Deeter and economist Constantin Gurdgiev were never told they were being interviewed for State-paid advertorials when they gave comments to The Herald for articles about the National Development Plan…

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy was asked by Mr O’Rourke about the Social Democrats’ decision to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority over paid coverage of the Government plan for Project 2040.

Mr O’Rourke also mentioned the front page story in today’s Times Ireland edition by Ellen Coyne (more below)

Ms Murphy said:

“Yes, because essentially there’s advertisements that are, there’s really propaganda. There’s a difference between journalism and propaganda and propaganda is something you pay for. The whole area of journalism is incredibly important and the fourth estate in relation to an aspect of our system that holds people to account.

“…If somebody is reading one of those papers, I mean there’s a great deal of trust in terms of regional newspapers, you know, in terms of they’re bought very often, and people feel they’re very reliable. You start interfering with you, start paying for advertisement – this is the Strategic Communications Unit…

There’s an ethical issue here and there’s an issue for the Advertising Standards Authority. If this is an advertisement, it should be marked as an advertisement. If this is genuine journalism, it shouldn’t, there shouldn’t be an issue.”


In today’s Times Ireland edition

Ellen Coyne reports:

Regional newspapers were instructed to make government advertorials look like independent stories and in some cases part of “the normal news cycle,” The Times can reveal.

Editors at several local titles raised concerns after they were instructed not to clearly mark as a commercial feature sponsored content about Ireland 2040, the national development plan.

A similar campaign for Creative Ireland, the government’s cultural programme, also banned newspapers from marking its adverts and said that newspapers would have covered the content anyway, The Times has learnt.

…The 15-person strategic communications unit (SCU) was set up by Mr Varadkar when he succeeded Enda Kenny as taoiseach. It is led by John Concannon, former head of Creative Ireland.

…One local editor told The Times: “This is fake news. Newspapers are struggling and the government know that, so they’ve got us by the balls.”

Make 2040 ads look like real news, papers told (Ellen Coyne, The Times Ireland edition)


Following on from Ms Murphy’s comments about the Strategic Communications Unit and the advertorials, Fine Gael TD Noel Rock (above) spoke to Sean O’Rourke about the same.

Noel Rock:They’re clearly identified, from the readers’ perspective. I mean, I’ve yet to see a single example of one that hasn’t been clearly identified. All I’ve seen so far are the ones in the [Irish] Independent, in The Herald, on the Journal, which said at the top and the tail ‘sponsored content’.”

Sean O’Rourke:Maybe if we had a copy of one of those 15 regional print and online news titles, you’d get a different impression.”

Rock: Perhaps but they have yet to be produced. All I’ve seen is a trumped-up charge and a press release.”

O’Rourke: “Oh, hold on now. Trumped-up charge. That’s a pretty loaded statement. I mean you’re suggesting that there’s fake news on the front of the Times Ireland edition today?

Rock: “What I’m saying is there’s a complaint been made to the ASA about legal, decent, honest and truthful standards in advertising. And I’ve yet to see any proof whatsoever in that regard. What I do see…”

O’Rrourke: “Proof is one thing, evidence is another. I suppose it’s for the [Advertising] Standards Authority to decide which is which. We’ll leave it there for now…”

Listen back in full here

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13 thoughts on “‘Propaganda Is Something You Pay For’

  1. phil

    Slightly off topic , but I see now the underground will also be built in the southside, Ill bet thats where it will start and when they get to the river , they will ‘run out of money’ again , or some external crisis will put a stop to it …

    I used to joke with mates, where the Metro North was still a possibility 10 years ago that , I used to think the Metro North was a great idea, but now that Ive moved to the soouthside, I think its a terrible idea …

  2. Sir Adolf Von Bratwurst

    I work for a local paper and was asked to write a piece to accompany more bumpf which was supplied by a pr/content agency with strong fg connections. it was set up by the son of a former fg minister. lets keep it in the family.

  3. Sir Adolf Von Bratwurst

    For the record its quite in local media that if somebody takes out an ad they will get a supporting news story which will NOT be marked as editorial…

    1. ivan

      I’m not in the trade and can only go by the local paper but what I’ve noticed is that certainly you can have a lack of news and nobody likes rocking the boat too much; slag off the local TD and you might find that he’s harder land an interview with some other time.

      If Jimmy’s furniture shop is 50 years in business, Jimmy might approach the paper about this and they’ll do one of those single/double pages festooned with adverts from other local outfits offering best wishes and they’ll surround an ‘article’ that gives you the history of how Jimmy started out making study desks or something and now he’s selling three piece suites to all and sundry; that’s certainly not Pulitzer winning stuff and you’d be hard pushed not to call it an advertisement. However, it’s *relatively* harmless.

      Similarly, my mate is the PRO for a musical society and when they put on a show, I can see his prose in the half page article ‘reviewing’ the show (other half made up of photos from the show), but it won’t say that this was written by Dessie from the Musical Society. The journalist might attend, the journalist might not but the paper is happy to be able to fill a page, and it’s a ‘good news’ story. Or rather it is if you’re into that sort of thing.

      So there’s no doubt that you could state without fear of contradiction that local papers carry adverts/promo material with only the most tenuous connection to hard edged news.

      This is different though; this is political agenda matter *deliberately* masquerading as something written by an employee of the paper when it’s obvious *now* that it’s not, and accordingly I’d put it in a different box. It’s not good enough. It’s shabby. For the papers, I appreciate they’ve pages to fill, and revenues to source, but it’s rather a cynical ploy by the government.

      1. steve white

        i’d put them all in the same box, local newspaper need to up their game if there are suggest they are vital for democracy

      2. scottser

        it’s long been the case that features sections of the papers rely on press releases and photo packs for their info which are put together by the subject or their agent. they don’t do any of the review stuff themselves, or very little of it.

        1. ivan

          Aye, and I’d give them a pass on that, to be honest. I know our local paper has two sections – the ‘news’ and the sport so the features I refer to in wouldn’t be in the sports section.

          As I say, promo stuff for local outfits who are non-profit making is fair enough, and I don’t exactly coming out in hives at the promo for our friend with the furniture shop, because the shape/layout of the page suggests it’s all bumph anyway

          Govt planting stuff in the paper and saying ‘make it fit in’ or ‘don’t make it look paid for…’ is a bit sinister (though maybe a word slightly weaker than that would do)

  4. John

    I think the sad thing here is that the Government paid for these pieces.
    Local newspapers would have printed the relevant PR releases related to their local area in the paper anyway. The Project 2040 was launched with great fanfare and people would ligitimately want to know what was in it for their areas. Local newspapers are always looking for free copy.

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