April 6, 2016 / By Colum Kenny, The Irish Times
Some social and cultural groups have difficulty getting their voices heard
‘Paddy likes to know the full story,’ said Enda Kenny famously. But Paddy’s chances of getting the full story are reduced by factors identified in a new European report on the media.
And there are other dangers below the report’s radar. Career prospects, time, resources and a complacent or unduly commercial editorial ethic are just some of the factors that hinder the media.
Journalists depending on short contracts who are expected to turn in multiple stories are poorly placed to dig deeper.
The report is restrained, and does not purport to capture fully the issues hampering serious investigative journalism across the globe. The author of its Irish section, Dr Roddy Flynn of DCU, expresses concern about the adequacy of Ireland’s 2014 Competition Act when it comes to media choice.
Irish people depend heavily on three big media groups. One is RTÉ, another is controlled by Denis O’Brien (Communicorp radio stations and Independent newspapers), and the third is associated with Rupert Murdoch (Sky and the Irish editions of the Sun and Sunday Times).
Media personnel need time and resources and the backing of editors to tackle complex financial and other forces. Those forces influence a range of everyday matters for citizens, from high rents through low wages to precarious contracts and global warming.
The financial dealing disclosed in the The Irish Times this week on the basis of leaked Panamanian files has direct ramifications for states across the globe. But if there are not enough experienced journalists working on such stories for long enough, and if those who do so are inhibited by unduly restrictive laws or by violence or the threat of unemployment, then the public is left in the dark.
The question of media ownership is a central issue. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Much of the media internationally is owned by the kind of investors who, even if above reproach ethically and legally (by no means always the case), hold opinions that tend to favour big business and social conservatism. This report points out that Denis O’Brien “owns 29.9 per cent of Independent News and Media shares (the largest print media group in Ireland), and is chairman and principal shareholder of Communicorp, which accounts for 20 per cent of the radio market in Ireland”. Yet it states his position is “countered by the dominant position of RTÉ”. Not to mention Sky’s role as a service and platform provider.
The maps published with the European report may invite complacency, with Ireland in the main depicted as no worse than most of the 19 European countries surveyed.
But growing swathes of the media (including web services and other crucial online information platforms not always deemed “media”) are entirely outside the control of national regulators and governments, being owned by massive corporations whose principal objectives do not necessarily include telling the truth as objectively as possible.
The international media use sophisticated methods of marketing and manipulation, facilitated by algorithms and other techniques that displace more cogent discourse about the world we inhabit.
RTÉ has sustained a balancing act between its commercial activities and public service remit. The station’s recent appointment of a new director general from the world of global television seems calculated to prop up its commercial profile rather than to generate radical thinking on news and current affairs.
This new report has sounded an alarm bell about what it sees as considerable difficulties of access to the media by different social and cultural groups in Ireland. The problem is not simply that of RTÉ or other stations dipping into a pool of predictability when it comes to presenters and guests. More significantly, it reflects the gap between the wealthy and other classes, between the powerful and weak that is widening in society.
The ultimate test of media plurality is not who owns what, although that certainly matters. It is whether vital stories that could be told are being told.
For every journalist who can spill the beans about offshore accounts or inshore scams, there are many who have neither the time, training, nor resources to do so. Some are afraid that if they insist on filing such stories their precarious contracts of employment may not be renewed by media managers who question their idea of what makes a story relevant to readers or audiences.
To see the report go to http://iti.ms/1UTfRPn