We need to grow up, the media is not always out to get us….
In Ireland we really love a good blame game. We are not great at taking responsibility or noting our failures, instead we like to pass the buck and blame the problem on someone else. We have seen this in many walks of life but the one that has struck me most of late is how people react to the media. Particularly people who are part of, or support, various organisations and whose opinion could be considered bias as a result, yet the tiresome and continual shouts of media bias are always sent up from such quarters.
Let’s start with political parties. I spent most of my young life within Fianna Fail, growing up as a kid I spent endless hours listening to the complaints about the media. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind but that there was a media campaign against Fianna Fail. Haughey supporters in the early ‘80s carried banners saying ‘We will not capitulate to the media’. In the early ‘90s this obsession that the media was at war with Fianna Fail caused Ray Burke to secure his appointment as Minister for Justice and Communications, one of the most shocking and ill thought out merging of government departments in history. But, it has a reason; Burke was utterly convinced that RTE had to be tackled and that he was the man to do it. With hindsight it’s almost laughable.
When Sean Duignan was appointed Government Press Secretary he commented on how everybody in Leinster house had an absolute obsession with the media. Politicians and supporters follow every line as if the general public are doing the same but they are not and are therefore far less influenced by the media than politicos think. Over the years people in FF could point out a whole host of columnists that disliked FF, they would continually cite instances where they felt other commentators were being unfair. The problem is that the job of many columnists is to state their view and to be, at times, biased, there are other columnists who can counter that view and provide balance but of course politicos only remember the stuff that offends them.
In later years when I came to work with people from other parties I found that the opinions were identical to those within FF. Sinn Fein supporters have no doubt whatsoever that anyone raising any kind of question about their party or leadership is biased. Talking to them is like talking to the FF supporters of the ‘80s such is their absolute conviction that there is a media conspiracy against them. Every time I say something negative about SF I will quickly be picked up on it, if I say something positive they don’t even notice because the attitude is that I am only saying it because I have to admit the truth and that’s the least I could do. Recently on twitter I had an SF supporter who had no doubt but that Ireland would be ‘so proud of the society’ that SF would create if we would just elect them. He said that ‘SF is the only organisation that has ever cared about the people of Ireland’ and given the opportunity this chap had no doubt that the saints who lead the party who bring us nothing short of a utopia. Now political supporters like this are needed within parties, to always hold the line and keep believing. However, it does nothing to convince the public. There has never been a political organisation anywhere in the world, all through history, that has gone into government after election or revolution and delivered without failure for the people. Not one can claim to have been perfect and not one can claim to get every decision right. What such supporters also fail to see is that there are people equally convinced of the same in all parties.
The problem is that the media have a job to ask questions and seek answers, but when they do they are biased. The proof of this, we are told, is the ‘easy run’ the same interviewer gives to their opponent. Amazingly, every single party thinks that their side is getting the tough interviewers and the other guy is getting it easy. Shortly before the 2011 election I talked to some supporters of Fine Gael and Labour, they were very upbeat and quoted various commentators and articles to show how FF was doing everything wrong. They looked forward to certain programmes and each new hit the government would take. Even so, they told me that the media was still trying to save FF (while over in FF they were tearing their hair out wailing of how the media was destroying them). I asked them at the time if they really thought that they could keep the same commentators and policy wonks onside once in government? I asked if they really believed that once in power the same questions should not be asked of them just because they were not FF. The answer was ‘yes’. There was no shadow of doubt in their mind that the only problem was not financial, political, societal, or even down to simple errors, no, it was all down to one thing: Their immediate opponent, FF and its corruption.
Two years into government and it’s quite a sight to see the same people now annoyed at these commentators, these interviewers and the media trying to damage government. The Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte believes the media is debasing politics in an exact replica of the obsession that took hold in FF. Of course the one thing they held firm to was that the media is a conspiracy to revive FF. Meanwhile SF agree with this but then think RTE is a state run mouthpiece for FG and that every other outlet has an equally political agenda that is of course set against them. FF gather in rooms and moan about the battle they have to try and recover in the face of a media that does nothing but criticise them and make unfair allegations without any attempt at fairness.
It’s not just politicos though. Recently some hard line Catholics are complaining about a media bias and the fact that they believe coverage is totally unfair. At the same time liberals are out in force too, moaning that their opinion is not heard, that there is too much news from the Vatican and that the media is giving too much time to these ‘crazy’ religious types. The public sector feel they are being victimised by the media and not getting a fair hearing, the private sector believe the media is in the pocket of the trade unions and the journalists are far too soft of the public sector. Manchester United and Liverpool fans complain about the time, space and opinions offered on each club.
It seems to me that once people support something they seek out reasons to be offended. When I write I always try to research the opposing point of view and to add some balance or understanding. Of course, once I do this I’m eternally accused of being a fence sitter, of not coming down hard enough on someone. This is because when a supporter reads or watches something, what they really want is someone that agrees utterly and totally with their opinion, anything short of that is treated with suspicion. We need to accept that our positions must be questioned and defended and that is a good thing, we need to stop wishing that all things on our side go unchallenged.
The media is far from perfect. It does of course contain bias, opinions we won’t like, and even at times it does things plainly wrong and must be sanctioned for it. All of that is human nature and it is no bad thing. Not all politicians are lining their own pockets, not all journalists are part of some secret conspiracy against your point of view. When someone is biased there are several ways it can be tackled, but know this, the general public is probably paying far less attention to it than you are and are very well aware of bias and opinion. We need to cease the obsession that all public opinion is driven solely by the media.
There is one thing that is for sure about the media world. It needs sales and revenue. If you live in a completely hard line catholic state, where every citizen only wants to read stories that agree with that, then media will follow the market and the sales. If you live in a liberal atheist state, or one where a political figure is enormously popular then you will see the media delivering what the people want, in the main. Questions must still be asked and in such circumstances there are times when we look back at a few heroic voices that raged even when it was not popular to do so. However, we must accept that we still drive content and that we all read or hear what we want to. Ireland is a modern society with a range of views across the spectrum, whatever your opinion, you will get upset at times and disagree at times, but we need to grow up and start answering questions, accepting failings in our ‘side’ and addressing it rather than seeking to always dismiss it as some kind of conspiracy against us.