A Failure Of Objective Journalism

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From top: RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan; Mary Lou McDonald and Arlene Foster in Derry for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee; Anthony Sheridan

Falling revenue coupled with a serious challenge from social media has in recent times prompted the establishment media to emphasise how important professional, objective and well researched journalism is to society [See here and here for examples].

Unfortunately, these claims of high quality journalism are more fake news than fact particularly when the establishment media is reporting on those who pose a threat to the interests of the ruling political centre made up of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour.

Sinn Féin represents the greatest threat to this exclusive political club and for that reason is frequently targetted by establishment media.

RTÉ in particular has effectively abandoned all pretence of objectivity when it comes to interviewing Sinn Fein representatives.

A comparison between an RTE interview with DUP leader Arlene Foster and what can only be described as the interrogation of Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald on the day of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee clearly exposes the blatant bias of the national broadcaster.

Foster was interviewed on Morning Ireland in a carefully choreographed piece that portrayed her and her party, the DUP, in a largely positive light.

First we heard a short 37 second clip of Foster speaking earlier on BBC Radio Ulster in which she expressed her feelings during the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.

RTÉ reporter Tommie Gorman was then invited to respond and proceeded to give a glowing account of how the DUP was ready to engage in talks but [unfortunately] Sinn Fein was adopting a strategy of caution.

Arlene Foster was then respectfully and professionally interviewed by RTÉs Gavin Jennings without interruption or bullying but also without any serious challenge of her views.

She was allowed to promote the view that she and her party were very willing to sit down with Sinn Féin [if only they would cooperate] and sort out any issues they had.

Tommie Gorman was again invited to give his assessment of Foster’s views. He proceeded to give another glowing account of how the DUP was eager to get politics back on track in Northern Ireland and, again, concluded his analysis with a negative description of Sinn Fein’s election strategies North and South of the border.

Later on in the morning, and in stark contrast, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was interrogated, bullied and insulted in a disgraceful display of bias by Miriam O’Callaghan/RTE on Today with Seán O’Rourke.

The interrogation was preceded by yet another clip of Arlene Foster speaking as if her only wish in life was to bring peace and harmony to the whole world.

In the fifteen minute interrogation that followed McDonald was agressively interrupted no less that 31 times. She got to answer just one question without a bullying intervention.

It was clear to any objective listener that O’Callaghan/RTE was not in the least bit interested in McDonald’s views but rather in trapping her into expressing a negative opinon on the question of resolving the political stalemate at Stormont.

It was also clear that O’Callaghan/RTE were not interested in informing listeners that the DUP were responsible for the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That it was the DUP who initially accepted but then walked away from a compromise agreement with Sinn Fein in 2018.

In her efforts to trap McDonald, O’Callaghan didn’t bother too much with facts. For example, she claimed that in his sermon Fr. Magill was asking people to compromise when in fact he did no such thing.

McDonald, rightly, upbraied O’Callaghan for putting words into Fr. Magill’s mouth.

The moment of ‘victory’ for O’Callaghan/RTE came when McDonald said that Sinn Fein would not be capitulating to those [DUP] who wish to hold back progress in every form.

Triumphantly, O’Callaghan crowed:

“So am I hearing – ‘Sinn Fein says NO’?”

This was the whole point of the interrogation, to extract a negative soundbite from McDonald that would portray Sinn Fein as the party that was refusing to compromise on talks to restore the Assembly.

But there’s a bigger, more important reason for the constant attacks on Sinn Féin by the establishment media and that is the threat that Sinn Féin, as an outsider, poses to the power of the ruling centre of Irish politics.

For years now, in election after election, this ruling political elite, that has done so much damage to Ireland, has been losing the trust and consequently the votes of Irish citizens.

The weaker the political centre becomes the more strident and more blatant the attacks on all outsiders who pose a threat to its political power.

Over recent years RTÉ has drifted from a position of relative objective journalism to a point where many see the station as nothing more than an obedient mouthpiece for the ruling political class.

I would recommend listening to the O’Callaghan interrogation of McDonald to obtain a true sense of just how biased RTE has become.

Alternatively, take a quick scroll down the reproduced interrogation below which signposts every interruption by O’Callaghan.

Today with Sean O’Rourke show on RTE Radio One, April 25

Miriam O’Callaghan: Has anything changed in terms of policy, from any party including Sinn Fein?

McDonald:  Service for Lyra McKee was incredibly moving…those who murdered Lyra do not represent the people of Creggan…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  Ok, let me come back in there Mary Lou McDonald.Fr. Magill directed very strong comments against  all politicians in the North who have responsibility for the vacuum that has arisen since the Assembly has not sat.  You as president of Sinn Fein are one of those seriously responsible he was pointing a finger at.  Do you accept that the vacuum that has been created has led to that kind of violence in Creggen?

McDonald: Well Fr. Magill hit the nail on the head yesterday. He articulated in the clearest and most uncompromising way the fact that politicians myself included need to roll up our sleeves and get cracking…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan: So what are you going to do?

McDonald: People want the institutions back, people want power-sharing and there’s no gainsaying the fact either and this isn’t an Orange or Green issue. People want equality and people…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But Mary Lou McDonald, with respect, we all know that but for people listening this morning that is just frustrating.  Let’s be specific, are you still holding out for a stand alone Irish languge act?  Is that what’s holding up everything?

McDonald:  Can I just say Miriam…

INTERRUPTED

Callaghan:  Well I’d like you to answer that question if that’s ok.

McDonald:  I will of course answer and can I also suggest to you that the issues at play here aren’t triviliaties. I’m sure you didn’t miss the fact that those saying their goodbyes to Lyra were carrying the rainbow flag, I’m sure you haven’t missed the fact that Lyra herself was a very passionate and very effective advocate  for…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  Of course not but Mary lou McDonald, a stand alone Irish language act is trivial compared to the death of Lyra McKee.

McDonald:  Miriam, there is nothing trivial in a society that has been fractured by conflict, in a society where we need sustainable power- sharing. There is nothing trivial at all on insisting on equality and rights for every citizen…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  So you haven’t changed an iota of your position is what I’m now gathering?

McDonald:  We stand by the Good Friday Agreement and we’re not going to resile from that position and here’s the reason why.  The worst possible scenario, worse than where we are now…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  What can be worse than the murder of a 29 year old woman Mary Lou McDonald?

McDonald:  I’m not and please don’t insinuate on any level that I have in any way suggested anything other than the loss of Lyra to be absolutely outrageous, to be condemned…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  I hear that.

McDonald:  Well then if you wouldn’t mind Miriam.  You’ve invited me on to state my position…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But you’re not answering any of my questions with respect,  I’m asking you specifically Mary Lou McDonald.  That priest yesterday Fr. Magill directed his comments at Arlene Foster, at Sinn Fein.  He wants there to be movement in the political process so murders like Lyra McKee don’t happen so I’m just asking you politely. Have you changed your position at all for instance in relation to a stand alone Irish language act?

McDonald:  And you’ve asked me policy and I assume you will allow me to politely answer.

O’Callaghan:  Yes, if you answer that question.

McDonald:  Yes, we need an Irish language act.  That comes as no surprise, that has been the case since the St. Andrew’s agreement.  Fr. Magill laid down a very, very serious challenge for us, a challenge not just to talk, not to tick boxes but a challenge to get power-sharing up and running again in a way that serves the whole community…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But that involved compromise, doesn’t it, on everyone’s part?

McDonald: Yes, of course it does and if you listen to him Miriam you would have heard him say…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  I did.

McDonald:   …You would have heard him say that politicians need to get to work, we need sustainable government and that we need to fix the dysfunction that has marked goverance in the past, now the…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But what are you going to do…[McDonald tries to finish her point…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  I hear you, but what are you going to change, in what way will you compromise and I’ll ask the same questions of the DUP.

McDonald:  The only way that you’re going to get to sustainable government is to hardwire equality.  So therefore let me tell you what needs to happens next…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  No, tell me what you’re going to do?

McDonald:  Well let me tell you what I have done and more importantly what needs to happen next…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan: No, what are you going to do in Sinn Fein?

McDonald:  Miriam, we are going to stand by the Good Friday Agreement.  I’m sure you’re listeners don’t want a rehash of the past two years…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  No, but I want to know if there’s going to be any compromise?

McDonald:  But Miriam, sorry. I obviously have to remind you that February twelve months ago there was a compromise and there was an accomodation on the table and we had landed on what I believe was a fair and balanced accomodation and unfortunately the DUP walked away from that.  So your suggestion that Sinn Fein haven’t engaged and that we haven’t been constructive is just inaccurate.  You’re…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But just let me come back for a moment Mary Lou because it’s an interview.

So, in other words, as you said February last year those talks fell apart.  Many know at the end of the day it was because the grassroots of the DUP have a red line about a stand alone Irish language act.  Can you not in some way shift on that?  They were going to try and incorporate it perhaps in an overall arching act, is that not acceptable?

McDonald:  [Puzzled] Sure that’s what we agreed last February.

O’Callaghan:  Yeah, but as Arlene Foster said, her DUP supporters do not accept that so can you shift a little on that.

McDonald:  So Miriam, perhaps you might observe that anything that moved the dial towards equality and inclusion and by the way none of these issues, marriage rights, language right, they’re not the sole preserve of Sinn Fein or of Nationalism.  These are equality issues and people in Northern society now understand that sustainable government is based on equality…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  So is the DUP position on marriage equality a red line issue for you in Sinn Fein as well Mary Lou McDonald, I’m just trying to clarify.

McDonald:  I’ve heard some of the commentary around this and I challenged it before and I’m going to challenge it again.  This isn’t a football match where we chalk up one nil, two nil, five nil.  These are issues that citizens in the North really, really care about because the…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  Yeah but let me come back.  Mary Lou McDonald, to be honest, you saw the reaction yesterday, there was a standing ovation for Fr. Magill.

McDonald:  Yes…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  No, let me speak.  He wanted the politicians to get up and get the Assemply going, that requires compromise.  So all I’m trying to do this morning is try and work out your red lines.  The stand alone Irish language act obviously remains a red line.  I’m just asking you.  The DUP position on marriage equality, is that now also a red line for Sinn Fein?

McDonald:  I’m not even describing them as red lines, these are issues that need to be resolved.  I don’t think you need to dramatise it Miriam…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  Well we need a resolution, I’m trying to work out where a compromise can come.

McDonald:  Well I was about to share my idea with you if you will allow me.  The fact that marriage equality, equal language rights, the Stormont House apparatus, that those matters need to be resolved is not new to anybody.  My god we’ve talked about these issues for months and months and months and we did land on a compromise.  We landed on a compromise and unfortunately the DUP couldn’t bring it over the line.  Those issues still need to be resolved before Lyra was murdered, before Fr. Magill spoke it was my view in any event that the DUP aren’t prepared to lift these issues and resolve these issues with us.  The governments now need to step in, they need to meet urgently.  I believe in the…INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan: No, no, let me come back. Fr. Magill spoke…

McDonald tries to continue with her point but is…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  Ok, let me come back on that.  He wasn’t speaking to the Governments, he was speaking to the politicians.  We all know that the DUP grassroots could not accept that compromise in February 2018.  What I’m trying to work out is that if you do go back even into parallel talks with the DUP will you accept that an Irish languange stand alone act even incorporated within other acts is not going to be acceptable and can you shift on that?

McDonald:  Well if you’re asking me are we going to capitulate on behalf of citizens in the North to people who wish to hold back progress in every form, to people who do not wish to make room for others in an open democratic society then the answer to that is no Miriam.  We will not capitulate on that and I would suggest to you this business of parallel processes doesn’t actually meet the challenge as articulated by Fr. Magill because the challenge is, was and remains to talk certainly…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  So am I hearing ‘Sinn Fein’ says NO?

McDonald:  No, you’re not hearing that, we’re not the nay sayers.  We’re the people that landed on the accommodation…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But that didn’t work at the end of the day.

McDonald:  Perhaps I’m not making myself adequately clear. Our review is not NO, our review is absolutely YES.  We need the institutions up but I am a realist…our aim is not just to tick boxes…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  OK, so just let me back in there Mary Lou McDonald.

McDonald manages to continue but is again…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  I hear that, let me come back in.  This is why I’m asking this question.  You just said you have a deeper responsibility for resolving these issues. Post that very moving ceremony yesterday, post the murder of Lyra McKee, Fr. Magill was almost pleading that all sides shifts position.  I am hearing from you if I’m correct Mary Lou McDonald that you have not shifted your position one iota.

McDonald:  No, what you heard yesterday was a call that has been made consistently right across the North in particular which is to get power-sharing back…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  That’s not what I asked you [McDonald managed to keep going]

McDonald: …and what we have said consistently…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But you haven’t shifted at all.

McDonald:  Miriam, you’re not asking us to shift, you’re asking us…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  But Fr. Magill was asking people to compromise.

McDonald:  Sorry, I don’t think you should put words into Fr. Magill’s mouth.  That’s not what he said.  He said that we need progress…he said we need to rid ourselves of the dysfunctional pieces that haven’t worked…

INTERRUPTED

O’Callaghan:  He said, Mary Lou McDonald, why did it take the murder of a 29 year old woman for the Northern Irish politicians to meet and talk to each other.

McDonald: Well, the reality is that for just about a year there hasn’t been a substantive engagement.

Listen back in full here

Anthony Sheridan is freelance journalists and blogs at PublicEnquiry.

Yesterday: ‘Sean, You’re Sounding Like A Member Of Fine Gael’s Frontbench’

25 thoughts on “A Failure Of Objective Journalism

  1. catsiglierie

    While there are some valid points made here, and a clear imbalance is evident in certain terms, I think you have omitted the importance of geo-political bias here. Mary Lou McDonald is interviewed by the national broadcaster, and should be interrogated thoroughly, as she sits in the national parliament and is the leader of a party (if only all such TDs were treated in this way). However, Arlene Foster and the DUP, all cross-border RTE responsibilities aside, are perceived as a foreign political entity and thus are treated more kindly than a national one. I’m not saying this is correct, just that I think there is more to the disparity than a simple fear of the threat of the political outsider to the current hegemony.

      1. Otis Blue

        The fact that she gets to anchor news and current affairs programmes speaks volumes.

        She’s dire.

    1. Kolmo

      O’Callaghan has never hidden her contempt for SF, in RTE the policy is to “catch them out” on a moot point, mostly irrelevant to the subject of the discussion, she carries the quiet fear of Ranelagh and Foxrock et al at the thought of the northern scruffs in SF getting hold of the reigns of power is not subtle, the focus-group trope of “voodoo economics” of SF is often heard on panel shows and interviews with competing politicians, I’ve yet to hear an example of what is meant by that, or the statement (true or not) being examined in any way. There is a hint of forelock tugging when certain DUP members are interviewed, it’s painful to watch, and feeds the mindset at the back of the DUP mind that the rest of us on this island are here to continually placate the ascendancy to a fault, the arrogance of the DUP is understandable, as is their biblical sense of puritanical superiority amongst not an inconsiderable of their number. I’ll say it – it’s the post-colonial cringe.

  2. Mezcal

    It isn’t just obedient. It’s rabid in its desire to support ALL government policy, ALL the time.

  3. GiggidyGoo

    This is par for the course. Have a listen to any interview on RTE with a SF representative. The News at One and Drivetime are notorious.
    But apart from SF it’s the same approach to anyone being interviewed that holds any opinion contrary to the establishment.
    Do RTE think it’s not noticeable?

  4. ellybabes

    Her name is LYRA MCKEE, not MYRA! The article refers to her twice as Myra McKee.

  5. eoin

    Miriam O’Callaghan was in pole position last year to be the Fianna Fail candidate for president.
    Miriam O’Callaghan’s brother is the Fianna Fail justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan.

    I don’t know Miriam’s politics but the optics strongly suggest to me she is Fianna Fail.

    Doesn’t RTE have some internal policy to ensure its political interviewers are not perceived to be partial to any particular party?

        1. Paulus

          I think he came back as an agricultural cor – so he’s ploughing his own furrow there:
          I’ll get my blue overalls.

          1. curmudgeon

            More like he went back to RTE cap in hand and took whatever position they let him have. He was blatantly used for votes by FG n the gen election, and he was a naive fool to think he’d get Min. Finance in a party he’d just won a few votes for.

            RTE were shamed recently for reporting on useless sports results far more than the environent, which is why we’re seeing so much more of that now.

          2. Spaghetti Hoop

            “…reporting on useless sports results far more than the environment…”. Hooray to that reversal. George covers environmental affairs as well as agriculture and does okay at it. I often wondered was it as you suggest, that FG used him and left him out in the cold post-election or he himself overestimated his skills within the political arena and realised politics wasn’t for him?

  6. Mickey Twopints

    Listened to Sarah McInerney on The Late Debate (RTE R1) tonight on the drive home. Well worth your time to listen to her, she holds their feet to the fire (moreso than any other RTE presenter) and comes across as a sharp cookie. Shame she’s allocated a programme slot which is so off-peak, we need more of this sort of thing.

    1. Mickey Twopints

      The podcast is now up: https://tinyurl.com/y5z3qw3q

      Broadband costs|School contributions

      “Sarah was joined by Fergus O’Dowd FG TD for Louth, Declan Breathnach FF TD for Louth, Labour Party Senator Aodhan O Riordan, Dr Michael Harty, Independent TD for Clare and Christina Finn Political Correspondent with The Journal.ie.”

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