From top: RTÉ Radio One presenter Sarah McInerney; Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald; Anthony Sheridan
Former RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke never made a secret of his contempt for Sinn Fein. At times his contempt bordered on outright hatred as he interrogated and insulted members of that party at every opportunity.
For O’Rourke, journalistic objectivity was never as important as keeping Sinn Féin away from the levers of power.
Sarah McInerney, O’Rourke’s replacement, seems intent on continuing in his biased footsteps.
We witnessed the latest example of this unprincipled journalism in what has become a regular RTÉ strategy when it comes to Sinn Féin – the propaganda ambush.
The ambush followed an interview of the Sinn Fein leader by the Sunday Independent. The Independent is a propaganda newspaper with a rabid hatred of Sinn Féin so it was no surprise that the interview was manipulated to demonise Mary Lou McDonald and her party.
Someone in RTE then apparently decided to follow up on the Independent’s rogue journalism by setting up their own propaganda ambush, Sarah McInerney seemed more than happy to cooperate.
I should make clear, this article is not about Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein or the IRA. Those interested in how McDonald handled the interview can listen back here on the RTÉ website.
This article is about how media organisations with a particular agenda, such as RTÉ, set out to damage the credibility or reputation of certain people and organisations who are considered a threat to the political status quo.
The form and delivery of questions asked are crucial if such ambushes are to be successful. In this case the strategy used by RTÉ/McInerney can be broken down into three parts.
One: Ask a question that’s impossible to answer.
Two: Repeatedly and forcibly put the question in pursuit of self-condemnation while ignoring all answers given in defence.
Three: Include a deeply emotional element to the question.
The impossible to answer question consisted of two parts:
Was the IRA justified in killing people, and, would you have taken up arms in the conflict?
While repeatedly putting the question RTE/McInerney introduced the emotional element of the ambush by exploiting the death of a 13 year child in the conflict.
Do you really think it was justified to kill a 13 year old child?
Over three thousand people died in the Northern Ireland conflict. Tens of thousands suffered serious physical and psychological injuries. British soldiers, police officers, Unionists militia, the IRA and the British Government all engaged in the killing.
In a propaganda ambush it is important to leave out this bigger picture because it provides objective context that could weaken the damaging impact of the strategy.
RTÉ/McInerney didn’t need or indeed expect McDonald to actually say the killing of children was justified in the conflict.
It was only necessary to repeatedly throw the deceitful question at her to create an impression in the minds of listeners that McDonald was being dishonestly evasive and therefore guilty in some way – damage done, mission accomplished.
We know this was a propaganda ambush because the Northern Ireland conflict ended 22 years ago with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
To demand explanations from one party to the agreement so long after the conflict has ended without context and without demanding the same explanations from all other parties is clearly an exercise in propaganda.
Practically the entire world, including the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and the vast majority of citizens in the Republic and the United Kingdom, accepted the agreement and by so doing recognised Sinn Fein as a legitimate political party that was genuinely intent on pursuing its policies by peaceful means only.
Only two groups rejected the agreement, the Democratic Unionist Party and the political establishment in the Republic. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael along with fellow travellers such as Michael McDowell have never accepted what the world has accepted, that Sinn Féin is a legitimate political party.
By so doing they are, effectively, rejecting the Good Friday Agreement.
Their motive is as cynical as it is self-serving – Sinn Féin, as an outsider, poses a major threat to the exclusive power the established parties have wielded since independence. A power they have consistently abused at great cost to the quality of Irish democracy and the interests of Irish citizens.
The Irish media, led by RTÉ, is overwhelmingly conservative and pro establishment. The historic and, for the establishment, shocking public endorsement of Sinn Fein in the recent election has panicked them into abandoning all semblance of objectivity and professionalism in defence of that establishment.
Anthony Sheridan is a freelance journalist and blogs at PublicEnquiry.