On his ‘Tonight’ programme on TV3, Vincent Browne has taken the parties of the Left to task for their failure to tap into the mood for change among the electorate and asked various representative of those parties – ‘Why?’. None of them has given the glaringly obvious answer.
In a multi-party democracy those who control media coverage control the propaganda war. These ‘controllers’ include senior editors and producers, and senior journalists and ‘elite’ commentators. But more than that, control is influenced by the ethos of the media outlet, whether a TV or radio station, or a newspaper or magazine.
In the Republic of Ireland there is no organ of the mainstream national media – TV, radio or printed press – that meets the test for diversity or pluralism as those terms apply to balanced coverage of various political ideologies. Not only do we not have any significant organ of the media that could be described as left of centre, counterbalancing the conservative ethos of the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner, and RTE, TV3 and other national and local broadcasters, but within those organs there is evidence of a strong bias towards maintaining the ‘status quo’ and treating parties and individuals who are outside the mainstream dismissively, and even contemptuously.
Press ownership by wealthy individuals and companies, and by the State in the case of RTE, is one reason for this attitude on the part of the employees of media producers. They are, naturally, mindful of who they work for and to and of the need to hold onto their positions. But the real problem is an attitudinal one, a failure on the part of very many producers/editors and journalists to apply the central principles of fairness and accuracy to their coverage of politics and public policy options.
Understanding who producers/editors and journalists are with regard to social class, training, cultural influences and social peer and workplace pressure is a valid way of understanding why there is a uniformity across the media in the treatment of any political movement which diverges from the status quo. It is reasonable to say that the vast bulk of political coverage in the media is far more reflective of the views of those living in the leafy suburbs of South Dublin, than of the mass of people who live in housing estates, in rural towns and villages, or in remote communities.
Two examples will back that up – the narrow selection of ‘expert’ political commentators, and the skewed selection of discussion panels on popular current affairs programmes on radio and TV, invariably drawn from the ‘political class’ – politicians, professionals, business men and women, academics. The research is simple to do, and using a sociological approach the outcome inevitably demonstrates that the influential voices are almost invariably establishment voices with minor and usually inconsequential variations.
Since it is mainly through the media that we get information and ideas – but also ways of thinking and seeing the world we inhabit – it is vital for the citizens and for democracy itself that a full range of information is accessible, that different political ideas are respectfully debated and analysed, and that the cosy bourgeois consensus in the media is ended.
In the absence of journalists moderating themselves by ensuring that the principles of fairness and accuracy are observed, and indeed pressurising their employers to allow themselves as professionals to do so, then it falls to society, if its members really do believe in deomocracy, to apply that pressure from outside.
Those Left-wing parties who failed to identify this to Vincent Browne and the TV audience as the major problem they face in seeking to end the hegemony of the Right in Irish politics, need to urgently begin to address the matter in a unified way in public, to apply the sort of pressure that they are capable of doing both inside parliament and on the streets, and even to consider the viability of alternatives to the corrupted media in Ireland. A failure by the Left to challenge media hegemony now means repetitious failure of the Left in the future. This organised challenge must be the first item on the Left’s agenda, post-election.