Tag Archives: left-wing

Vote to kill the counter-revolution

If recent opinion polls are to be believed, Friday 23rd of May 2014 may turn out to be a red-letter day in the politics of the 26 counties, and by extension in the politics of the island as a whole.

For 92 years, since the narrow ratification of the Anglo Irish Treaty by Dáil Eireann under the British threat of terrible war if not voted through, the Free State has been continuously ruled by three counter-revolutionary parties – Cumann na nGaedheal-Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour – either as single-party governments or in various permutations as coalitions.

Far from creating a republic which this state is often erroneously described as, these three parties have worked assiduously to avoid creating any of the conditions that would allow the state to take the form of a republic. Instead, what these parties have created and presided over has been a theocratic state for much of the past 92 years, combined with a combination of plutocracy and oligarchy. That is entirely at odds with the aims of the 1916 Revolution as espoused in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, endorsed and expanded by the National Programme of the First Dáil in 1919.

The culmination of all of those years of misgovernment has been to produce a failed state. The price for that has been counted in untold misery for millions of women, children and men. The prize, for the few, has been to maintain a privileged class who divided the spoils between themselves, making sure to maintain those three parties as their permanent political arm.

Current opinion polls, taken in the run-up to the European and Local elections, and the two bye-elections, indicate that support for Sinn Féin, smaller socialist and republican parties, and independents of various hues stands at between approximately 43% and 50%, depending on the poll. If that tallies with the count results then it indicates that majority support for the three parties of permanent misgovernment has either disappeared or has been very considerably weakened. With a General Election to take place probably before the end of 2015 such a result, if built on by the alternative political forces in the intervening period, could lead to the potential for a fresh political dispensation in the form of an ideologically different government to what we have known since quasi-independence.

With an electorate that appears increasingly willing to try something different, it is important that that potential is exploited by parties and individuals who claim to be different, who seem to offer a different ideology, a different vision of the future in political, economic and social terms to that imposed by the counter-revolutionary parties.

Whether those parties and individuals ultimately measure up is not the immediate issue. What will be important about a result that would show a marked abandonment of support for the combination of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour, and a shift towards other possibilities, will be the psychological effect it can have on the way people think about possibilities for the future.

If there is a decisive shift, the sky won’t fall. Life will go on, god will not smite the unbelievers, the seas won’t rise to engulf the island, the economy won’t collapse. Instead, more people may become emboldened, more engaged, more optimistic. It is important to use Friday’s vote to help that process. The most certain way is to try to ensure as many defeats as possible for those three parties of permanent misgovernment by voting for potential winners among the alternative parties of the broad left including republican parties, and worthy and potentially successful independents.

Inflicting defeats on the counter-revolutionary parties will lead to them changing their strategies – but not their core beliefs although they will try to spin new messages to hold ground. But that will be finger-in-the-dyke stuff. Once the first crack appeared in the Berlin Wall there was no going back.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Vote! Vote strategically! Say goodbye to counter-revolution. Say hello to the Republic.

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Alternative to Irish media hegemony is vital

The Irish people, we are constantly reminded, are an innately conservative lot. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from that conservatism being present from birth, part of the DNA of the Irish, it is solely the consequence of cultural formation. At one time it could be argued that that conservatism was the result of  a peculiar form of Catholicism, Ultramontanism, inflicted on the unfortunate people in the early 19th century. There is truth in that, but it tells only part of the story. The decline in the power of the Catholic church in recent decades has not led to a significant shift from conservatism. The answer to this prolonged ideological stasis lies in the media landscape of Ireland.

Ireland is virtually unique among European countries, and many countries in the wider world, in having no significant left-wing press. The three national daily newspapers in the ‘Republic’ of Ireland are to all intents ideologically interchangeable. The ideas and values they present to the readers are essentially conservative on politics, liberal on social  matters, and neo-liberal on economics. The same is true about the Sunday newspapers, and about broadcast media whether privately owned commercial stations or the semi-state national broadcasting company, RTE.

In this media environment, any ideas, values or principles that come out of left-wing ideology are routinely rubbished and ridiculed, usually with an air of authority and often with a sneer. Socialised medicine was recently rubbished on RTE radio as ‘Utopia’ – used as a pejorative term of course – as if the health systems in much of Europe, far superior to ours, could be dismissed just like that, an unattainable daydream. A recent demand by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland that public funding of €100 million for private schools should be withdrawn and used instead for severely disadvantaged public schools met a similar barrage of criticism, much of it from privately educated broadcasters and journalists.

That the existing Irish media not only failed utterly to challenge the ‘Celtic Tiger’ neo-liberal ‘market driven’ economic policies but actually promoted the crazy construction ‘boom’ that those policies were designed to fuel, demonstrates not just the failure of the Irish media to perform its functions  of informing the public and of holding the powerful to account, but its complicity in the creation of a national economic catastrophe. Instead of raising all of the pertinent questions arising from insane economic policies, those voices – most often of the left – which were raised against disastrous public policies were either silenced or rubbished.

The right-wing media hegemony must be broken if there is to be any basis for Ireland being able to claim to be a truly democratic State. The absence of fair presentation of ideas and values that offer an alternative to the political hegemony of permanent right-wing government by one or other of the civil war parties, the ideological twins Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, denies both the notion of a ‘free’ press and the repetitive claim that the Irish electorate is well-informed and well-served by its national media.

The defence of the Irish media that is routinely trotted out is that the media give the readers what the readers want. In the first  place there is no alternative offered, secondly an audience is through repetition over time cultured into believing that what is presented is the ‘norm’ and is the ‘common-sense’ position, particularly when the same small panel of ‘experts’, drawn from the ranks of the political class and elevated to celebrity status by the same media, is used over and over again in print and on radio and TV shows.

The belief is fostered that there is no market for a daily newspaper with the capacity to challenge the Irish Independent, Irish Times and Irish Examiner. A newspaper needs readers, not just to recoup costs through the cover price but more importantly to attract advertisers. To do this it is necessary to have a readership that it is worth marketing products to, and so middle-class and wealthier readers are important, but so too are lower income readers who also consume products and services and need public service information ads.

The approximate circulation figures for the national dailies are: Irish Independent 140,000; Irish times 102,000; Irish Examiner 46,000. Could a new left-wing daily newspaper match those figures, even the lowest? And from which part of the population might it do so?

In the recent General Election the two conservative political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, garnered just under 1.2 million votes. The combined vote for those other parties that are, or claim to be, of the left was approximately 760,000, not counting leftist independents. Another figure worth considering is the total trade union membership in this State of about 600,000. Out of either of those numbers it is difficult to see how a good quality alternative to the current trio of conservative newspapers would not be able to match at least the lowest circulation figure, that of the Irish Examiner.

But what of setup and running costs? A creative approach would be needed, but one ally that a new newspaper has is new communications and printing technology, combined with the capacity to print simultaneously in different regions or provinces to reduce distribution costs and speed delivery. By setting achievable circulation targets and initially using freelance journalists and interns alongside a core of seasoned professional staff under a good team of editors it is feasible to challenge the existing Irish national dailies for readers, and more importantly to set out to win readers away from the Irish versions of British newspapers. There is also, very likely, a large cohort of potential readers who opt for a quality British newspaper, or for none at all.

The plain fact is that until an alternative to the existing conservative national daily newspapers is put in place, then the media hegemony which sustains the political hegemony will continue its work of distortion and propagandising, maintaining a roadblock on the journey to the day when we can legitimately say that this State is a democratic one.


Election Mania: notes from the asylum 6

As the last counts continue in the General Election, it is a black mark against the mainstream media in Ireland that across the board it is assiduously pushing the Fine Gael-Labour coalition as the only option. This  illustrates a deeply entrenched, internalised, unethical and unprofessional approach on the part of ‘professional’ journalists.

The fact is that there are at least four options available. Fine Gael can form a coalition government with Labour, or with independents, or with Fianna Fail, or can form a minority government with the agreed support of Fianna Fail and like-minded independents. If stability is a key requirement, then the coalition of two parties which share the same broad ideology is available, against the potential instability of a coalition of a left-wing party, which Labour claims to be, and a right-wing party which Fine Gael is.

There is anecdotal evidence of Labour Party workers at a Dublin count centre supporting the idea that Labour would lead the opposition and work toward leading a government at the next opportunity. A strong statement from Jimmy Kelly, Regional Secretary of the Unite trade union, echoes this line, with sound reasoning.

Should Labour insist that it will lead the opposition, that would force Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to hold talks, and to find the basis of agreement on which a stable government could be formed. The fact is that about 55% of voters gave their first preference to right-wing parties and independents.That says something, but this fact does not register as being of any consequence with the media.

Should Fine Gael and Fianna Fail not reach agreement then another General Election would be required if Labour held firm and explained the dichotomy of Labour being required to provide stable government, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fail not being so required. In those circumstances, Fine Gael would not wish to take the chance of going to the country again, and so a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition of one sort or the other would have to be a runner.

Regarding international perception and confidence, neither the EU or the IMF, or the international bond market could lack confidence in such an arrangement – to adopt any other position would lack any logic.

It is difficult to imagine, given the ‘shapes’ that its spokespeople are throwing, that the Labour leadership will respect the mandate that the party and other left-wing parties and independents have been given to create real change in politics in the manner that Unite leader Jimmy Kelly describes.

Whichever way it goes with respect to forming a government, there is one  project that must be undertaken – it is vital that a proper examination of the deeply anti-democratic nature of media coverage across the printed press and broadcast media takes place, post-election, and that the findings are acted on. There is work here for academics, and we have no shortage of qualified people to do that work.

If a media hegemony was identified in any country outside Ireland, the Irish media would react indignantly. The parable of the Mote and the Beam comes to mind, a parable that has to do with hypocrisy and censoriousness. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.


Election Mania: notes from the asylum 4

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.


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