Tag Archives: Harry Browne

Harry Browne, lecturer at the School of Media at Dublin Institute of Technology 

In Village magazine…

DIT lecturer Harry Browne writes:

media (like healthcare) have a capitalism problem, and that everything from fake news to clickbait to inadequate investigative resources to Denis O’Brien flows from that basic source. But you don’t have to agree with me and name the underlying problem as capitalism to understand that there are structural causes for crises such as the one that erupted recently over Government ‘advertorial’.

“I believe the Government is attempting to exploit the difficulties many local and regional titles are facing to promote their party interests”, said no less a media critic than Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, the party’s spokesman on communications. (How sweetly old-fashioned that word ‘communications’ can sound as it grapples with the changing world.)

Media literacy, if it is to be of any use, has to do more than implore us to look for the little ‘special feature’ tag on the top of a piece of paid corporate or government puffery, then to regard the ‘journalism’ below with due scepticism.

It must mean understanding ‘the difficulties’ for all journalism that operates in the current market, especially one in which technological change has accelerated existing trends toward blurred lines, and in which advertisers have alternatives to local and regional newspapers when it comes to reaching eyeballs.

If the most poignant aspect of that brief, quickly snowed-under ‘Ireland 2040’ crisis was the image of the Taoiseach issuing guidelines for labelling advertorial content – guidelines of which the most callow intern in a local newsroom should surely already be aware – we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that media have been operating at the edges of such guidelines for decades, for the benefit of advertisers looking to buy a little ersatz editorial credibility. How can this fail to be a lesson about how fragile, at best, any such credibility has become ?

As the media may or may not have told you, global research shows trust in media is in tatters – media are less trusted than governments, NGOs, businesses – and Irish people are at the mistrustful end of the distribution. In this context, media literacy can hardly consist of legacy media saying ‘trust us, not them’.

What can be done ? (Yes, short of getting rid of capitalism.) Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows what a frightening prospect it would be to try to earn the public’s trust with transparency and accountability about our editorial practices.

On a daily basis, contingent and incomplete information is transformed into definitive statements of ringing certitude. That’s one sausage factory we don’t want you to see inside, especially since the work often consists of sticking our label on someone else’s meat.

The irony is that the technology often over-simplistically blamed for creating the journalism crisis has long offered tools for remarkable transparency, tools that most journalists have chosen to use only in limited ways…


Read in full: Capitalisteracy (Harry Browne, Village)

Earlier: The Great Irish Fake-Off



From top: A still from mobile phone footage obtained by The Times of a Syrian man carrying his son, who was shot in both legs, by Turkish border police; Bono with Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu 

You may recall reports in The Times yesterday detailing how eight Syrians were shot at the Syrian-Turkey border by Turkish border police, as they attempted to reach Turkey on Sunday.

The newspaper reported:

Abdmunem Kashkash, a lawyer from Aleppo who was with the group but managed to cross into Turkey unharmed, said that they had been waiting in the border area for several days while trying to cross and had come under fire from the Turks every day.

“They are killing unarmed people,” Mr Kashkash said. “There was one little girl who was shot and we could not do more for her for four hours, until nightfall. An old man and woman are missing — they have probably been killed too.”

The wounded have been taken to a hospital in Azaz, a rebel-held Syrian town next to the Turkish border that is sheltering 100,000 displaced people who have fled the regime and Isis advances since February. Isis is closing in on the town from the east, but despite calls from aid agencies the Turkish government is refusing to open the border gate.

Readers may also recall how earlier this month – before the deportations from Greece to Turkey began on April 4 – Bono and a delegation of US senators and congressmen visited a Syrian refugee camp in Gaziantep province, in southeast Turkey.

After the visit, Bono paid to tribute to Turkey for hosting 2.7million Syrian refugees, telling Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu:

“I am very humbled by the generosity of the Turkish people. It is extraordinary. It is a lesson in grace.”

Bono’s comments came just a week after Amnesty International reported that, hours after the EU-Turkey deal on Friday, March 18, Turkey forcibly returned around 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan – without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum.

Further to this…

Harry Browne writes:

Bono’s concern for the plight of refugees, while undoubtedly genuine, would be more credible if he weren’t simultaneously offering cover to European leaders who deny asylum-seekers their basic legal rights.

Recently Turkey was rightly criticized for taking payments to accept refugees who should have been in the hands of the EU asylum system.

The same week, Bono was photographed with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and called the Turkish role “a lesson in grace,” even while Amnesty International was accusing Turkey of forcing other refugees back into Syria.

It’s getting to be a habit with Bono, who warmly embraced George W. Bush and Tony Blair while they waged an illegal, immoral war on Iraq.

Bono has quite a voice: what a shame he so often uses it to sing the praises of powerful, disingenuous leaders.

Harry Browne is a lecturer at the School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power)

Syrian children shot dead by Turkish border guards (The Times, April 20, 2016)

Related: Bono: Time to Think Bigger About the Refugee Crisis (New York Times)

Previously: Return To Sender


Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 13.18.02  


At the European Parliament office on Molesworth Street in Dublin this afternoon.

Follow #occupytroika on Twitter for more.



Thanks Julien Mercille, Ronan Burtenshaw and Niamh Puirseil


This morning

Card-carrying Journalist, acclaimed Bono biographer and DIT lecturer Harry Browne appeared at the banking inquiry  to discuss the media’s role in the the boom and bust.

In his opening address, Mr Browne, formerly with the Irish Times, argued that by putting advertisers above readers newspaper editors had managed to lose the respect of both. [full text at link below]

Print and broadcast media in Ireland played an immeasurable but almost-certainly significant role in the inflation of the property bubble and the legitimation of risky behaviour by the financial-services sector in the lead-up to the crisis of 2007-08, and did so partly by ignoring or marginalising scepticism about these phenomena.

I won’t romanticise the journalism of an earlier age, which had plenty of its own problems, many of them involving the limits and shortcomings of professionalism itself. However, over the last 30 years or so these principles are widely understood to be increasingly at risk all over the world, with particular features of the media landscape endangering them.

As the leading American scholar of journalism Daniel Hallin has written: ‘For the most part I don’t think journalistic professionalism is breaking down from the inside, by journalists becoming less committed to it; instead I think professionalism is being squeezed into increasingly smaller niches within the media field’

It is my contention that in Irish newspapers we can quite literally see that ‘squeeze’ occur over the period between about 1990 and 2007, as the physical construction of newspapers changed. There was a inscription of an unquestioning pro-business ideology and practice on to increasingly large, advertising-heavy proportions of the newspaper – with ever-growing business/finance, property and lifestyle sections, dedicated to the advertising of, respectively, recruitment, real-estate and consumer goods and services.

Even the most scrupulous of newspaper editors came to see those sections as a realm of, at best, what you might call ‘Professionalism Lite’, where soft treatment of the rich and powerful was expected.

Even if you worked in the niches where full-blown professionalism still held sway (the journalists who filled news pages and provided political coverage, for example) it was hard to miss the message embedded in that big, colourful product about your employer’s relationship to financial institutions, property interests and other corporate bodies.

Those supplements were, after all, paying the bills. When Irish Times Ltd infamously paid €40 million for myhome.ie in 2006, it appeared to confirm its dedication to what increasingly looked like its core business: advertising property sales.

This has obviously consequences, of course, for the newspaper’s capacity to deal impartially with subjects such as the desirability of property ownership over other forms of tenure, or the related question of the ‘soft landing’.

A group of Irish financial journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity to a team of academic researchers who published their findings in 2010, discussed this issue.

One of them said: ‘Much of the mainstream media seems to me to be very conflicted because of their reliance on real-estate and recruitment advertising. That doesn’t mean reporters consciously avoid writing bad news stories, but it’s hard to run against the tide when everyone is getting rich.’ Another 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’.

In 2006 I myself interviewed dozens of journalists about the direction of the Irish Times.

One of them, retired from the paper, said: ‘In the mid-1980s… we had a series investigating the truth behind buying and selling property. Can you imagine that now?’ Even in the 1980s, he recalled, ‘[t]he commercial side of the paper [i.e. those who sold advertising] were in complaining like nobody’s business’ about the series; but the then-editor, Douglas Gageby, ‘stood up to them’.

The idea that certain, then-small parts of Irish newspapers were professionally compromised territory, however, was already in the air as early as the 1980s.

A former business editor from Independent Newspapers recalled a lunch from that period where journalists and brokers gathered to mark the appointment of a new president of the Irish Stock Exchange:

The lunch went well and all the proprieties were observed, until, during the port, the topic of mutual dependence came up in the conversation. ‘What do you mean, mutual?’ a rubicund and slightly tipsy broker ventured. ‘The business pages are ours. We own them.’…

…By the time of the Celtic Tiger, this compromised turf of business and financial journalism had expanded many times over both in the volume of pages produced and in the number of journalists employed. In that important and revealing research cited earlier, the authors summarise the views of several of the Irish financial journalists they interviewed:

According to Journalist F, because of the need for regular contact with financial sources, ‘some journalists are reluctant to be critical of companies because they fear they will not get information or access in the future’.  Journalist E… believed that some journalists had become ‘far too close to their sources’: They viewed them as friends and allies and essentially became advocates for them.

Their approach was justified editorially because many developers and bankers limited access to such an extent that it became seen to be better to write soft stories about them than to lose access.

Extremely soft stories would be run to gain access too…. Journalist B criticised daily financial journalism for being ‘almost entirely press release and stock exchange disclosure based’…. Journalist F noted, it was ‘well known that some PR companies try to bully journalists by cutting off access or excluding journalists from briefings’.

Many of the Irish journalists interviewed for that research said the business media here had become more adversarial since the crash. However, in research among British journalists in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a study found there was ‘no consensus among financial and business journalists about their “watchdog” role in relation to markets and corporate behaviour’.

This sort of ambivalence, to put it kindly, about telling good, tough stories while maintaining source relationships is not unique to financial and property journalism. However, as the role and prominence of those sorts of journalism increased exponentially in the 1990s and early 2000s, their particular compromises of ‘professionalism’ played a proportionately much bigger role in newspaper coverage of these important areas of the economy and society.

Their growth was not inevitable, nor was it unique to Ireland. It was part of an international development in the newspaper industry that sought to diversify papers’ content and appearance to make them more attractive to advertisers and (to a lesser extent) readers.

Full text here

Earlier:  Mercille Live

harrybrowne[The cover of the  Italian edition of Harry Browne’s book on Bono]

Further to Bono’s controversial address at the EPP conference in Dublin last week.

Sympathy for the poor divil.

Even before Twitter and Facebook exploded in rage, the Irish journalists assembled at the Dublin conference centre were locked in an eye-rolling competition, captured and epitomised by Miriam Lord. With a few exceptions, a sardonic reaction to his speech was the best Bono could hope for in his home country.

…The muting may relate to how any call for any tax by Bono would be received in Dublin. But the fact is that a “Robin Hood” tax, quietly supported by his One campaign for years, would represent a rare victory for the public sector over the financial institutions that have cannibalised it for decades.

Yet in Ireland, appreciation for what he said was drowned out by those appalled he had the temerity to say it.

The vulgar abuse may stem from people’s belief that Bono spends entirely too much time schmoozing with politicians – but maybe he is their victim as much as he is their pal. The cover of the new Italian edition of my critical book about Bono pictures him with a barcode across his face, an image that invites the reader to view the book’s subject as both a product and as a prisoner.

Harry Browne, author of Frontman: Bono In The Name Of Power

Why did Bono Get So Much flak? (Harry browne, irish Times)



Mr Harry Browne replies:

The Irish Times reviewed The Frontman. I complained that the review contained inaccuracies, unfounded accusations and failure to distinguish fact from comment. The Irish Times contested that (apart from one minor inaccuracy) so it went to the Press Ombudsman. He decided that my complaint was “well documented” and required “a remedy”. But he said that, on balance, the paper had offered sufficient remedy when it said I could write a letter for publication. I wrote such a letter. The IT published it but added a snarky Editor’s reply saying the Ombudsman had rejected my complaint about the review. That wasn’t true. The paper wouldn’t publish my letter saying as much so I had to make a new complaint. Now upheld.

Mr Harry Browne and The Irish Times (Press Ombudsman)

Previously: Unputdownable

Critic Proof

White Man Unburdens

Pic: Yucatan


Harry Browne, writes:

The Press Ombudsman, Prof John Horgan, recently decided on my complaint against your newspaper’s June 15th review of my book The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power).

He wrote: “[T]he complainant’s assertions that this review contained breaches of Principles 1 and 2 and part of Principle 4 of the Code of Practice were sufficiently well documented to require a remedy.”

My well documented assertions were about breaches of three core journalistic principles: “truth and accuracy”, “distinguishing fact and comment” and “respect for rights”, particularly the right not to be subjected to unfounded accusations.

The ombudsman also decided that, “on balance”, a missive from me on your letters page would be sufficient remedy for a litany of breaches in a 1,300-word article, covering most of a page in your Weekend Review.

On that point I respectfully disagree with Prof Horgan. There is a vast imbalance in size, authority and web-searchability between that slot and this one. And it is your job, not mine, to correct errors in The Irish Times.

Nonetheless, now that his decision is made, your readers should learn, belatedly, of my well-documented complaint.

The Frontman is a deliberately critical but scrupulous polemic about Bono. A leading scholar of Africa and human rights, Alex de Waal, says the book “acknowledges Bono’s practical contributions to a more humane version of global capitalism, but demonstrates how good intentions can be no alibi for fronting for the status quo”.

Your newspaper’s review, however, paints The Frontman as a “mean-spirited” screed, in which a Politically Correct Catholic-nationalist sectarian (me!) throws around absurd and half-baked accusations willy-nilly in a breathless effort to show that “in every possible way Bono is WRONG” (sic capital letters).

The factual errors in your review range from the trivial (no, I don’t contradict myself about whether Bono is actually “cool”) to the sickeningly serious (no, I don’t say he deserved to be the victim of sectarian bullying as a teenager).

To be sure, my book is hard on Bono. But it doesn’t say, as your caption suggests, that he personally prolonged the Troubles!

It doesn’t credulously take the word of a single dubious source to state that Bono doesn’t give “all that much” to charity. Indeed it doesn’t criticise the level of Bono’s charitable giving.

It doesn’t attack Bono for “publicly disagreeing in Africa with someone who wasn’t white”. Unless, that is, you believe those words accurately summarise a passage in which I criticise Bono for shouting “Bollocks!” and “That’s bullshit!” at Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda.

I don’t say Bono is WRONG for “not being black”. Or that he is “a heartless Ayn Rand disciple”. (The Frontman locates Bono’s politics within the trajectory of “heartful” liberalism.) Or that he – no, enough, you already know all this, and others should be getting the picture.

The Irish Times chose to (slowly) dispute my well-documented corrections from the time I first submitted them on June 14th, the day after the article appeared online and before it had gone to print. You continue to publish it on your website, in effect repeating your errors.

You and your writers are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. One can only wonder why you invented a few with which to discredit me and defend Bono.

Harry Browne

The Irish Times responds:

The Editor writes: Press Ombudsman John Horgan ruled as follows in rejecting Mr Harry Browne’s complaint:

“The Press Ombudsman has decided that The Irish Times made an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint by Mr Harry Browne that the newspaper’s review of a book he wrote about Bono . . . contained erroneous statement (Principle 1)*, comment or conjecture reported as fact (Principle 2) and unfounded accusations (Principle 4) . . .” (*Principles from Press Council Code of Practice)

The full Press Council upheld the Ombudsman’s decision on Mr Browne’s appeal.


Review of Browne’s Bono book (Irish Times letters)

Previously: Critic Proof

the-frontman-bono-in-the-name-of-power-press council

The Press Council’s decision on whether to censure the Irish Times for its scathing, in fairness, review of Harry Browne’s book on Bono, a title glowingly acclaimed outside Ireland.

Harry Browne and The irish Times (Irish Press Council)

Got those ‘bee in my bonnet about Bono’ blues (Ed O Loughlin, irish Times)

Previously: Defending Bono