Monthly Archives: March 2010

Turns out Harney is the victim in the Tallaght Hospital debacle

Mary Harney has returned from New Zealand where she evidently gave some thought to coming up with another of her straw-man arguments for facing down criticism of her management of the health service.  She claims she is the victim of a blame game and that in no other country would she be subject to this treatment.  Poor Mary.  Only it’s not a blame game, it’s known simply as being called to account for how you do your job.  You know, the one we pay you to do?

In relation to the enormous backlog of X-rays requiring diagnosis at Tallaght Hospital, the Minister says that she cannot be responsible for clinical decision-making and is only responsible for policy-making. The problem with this defence is that nobody ever said otherwise. It has never been remotely suggested that the Health Minister can be answerable for a wrong call by a GP, or a fatal mistake by a surgeon.
 
The criticism that was actually made was that the parade of medical disasters and delays caused by underfunding of front line services and general management paralysis are all a direct consequence of the very policies she is rolling out with such ideological vehemence. It has been clear for some time that this ideology is neither practically efficient nor economic. Many (most?) of us believe that those things have never been the Minister’s concern. Rather, it seems the health service is regarded as a portal through which the commercial health industry and the cabal of vested interests currently feeding from it have access to subsidies, tax breaks and every conceivable form of monetary support in pursuance of the creation of a two-tier health service – the tragic health realities of which are becoming ever more apparent. This is the sole explanation for why spending on ‘health’ goes up while the quality of service continues to go down.
 
Many people were bitterly disappointed that Mary Harney was not moved out of health as a matter of urgency in the recent cabinet reshuffle. The explanation for why she was not is frightening. Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan are clearly in a thrall to the same manifestly failed ideology as Mary Harney and are in fact running the entire economy along the exact same principles: an endless supply of public money (NAMA, the banks, ‘R&D’) and obscene pay for a small corporate and civic praetorian guard at the expense of all other commercial activity, the national infrastructure and of the civilian population itself. The rest of us can go to hell, in other words.

An abusers’ charter – the Oath of Secrecy.

“I will never directly or indirectly, by gesture, word, writing or in any other way, and under any pretext, even that of a greater good or of a highly urgent and serious reason, do anything against this fidelity to secrecy, unless special permission is expressly granted to me by the  Supreme Pontiff. ” (My emphasis)

This oath is as evil as it is criminal – a clear incitement to break the law.  How many people worldwide have been subjected to it and for what reasons? How many, if any, have been granted ‘permission’ by any Pope to break the oath?  Why are we not talking about prosecutions rather than voluntary resignations?  How can a shred of credibility attach to an organisation that would gag children – or anyone – from telling the truth like this? 

A few months ago, the country was convulsed with outrage when supporters of a man convicted of rape paraded past his victim in a courtroom to shake him by the hand.   Contrast and compare.  The Irish Times reports today how Cardinal Brady was received warmly by the congregation in Armagh yesterday.  He is pictured having his hand shaken by smiling churchgoers who had broken out in applause for him during the service.   One of them insists that ‘he did nothing wrong’.  What can the victims of Brendan Smyth possibly be feeling on seeing this demonstration of support for a man who concealed appalling crimes against children and helped make it possible for him to comit those crimes repeatedly on other innocents? 

Our collective psychology is clearly seriously damaged – like a nation of battered housewives we are unable to leave our abusers or to call their crimes by their real names, let alone bring them to justice.   We feel embarrassed by their guilt and the more powerful the person involved the more we abandon any sense of perspective about what is actually at issue: men and women who are comitting atrocious crimes.  Again, like battered housewives we endlessly forgive them and go back for more.

This has nothing to do with ‘revenge’ as one misguided member of a prayer group in County Meath alleges.  It’s about doing what needs to be done in order make things safe for children.    Part of that process is to begin to accept the full enormity of it all and to stop being blinded by the pomp and circumstances of church authority.  Even now amid all the hue and cry, instead of issuing warrants of arrest we are waiting deferentially for a letter from the Pope to reassure us that all is well.  Politicians mutter useless, ineffectual platitudes.  The gardai are doing nothing.  Unless that letter contains news of the immediate shutting down of all Catholic church operations until a world wide, independent criminal investigation has been conducted then the letter will be of no more consequence than a pat on the head.   Eager to be condscended to, people will flock to mass on Sunday to hear what the pope has to say like children looking for sweeties of comfort.  If the letter is inadequate, there will be complaints about it from a few commentators in the media for a few days and then it will drift away again.  Is there any possibility at all that this issue might be a catalyst for bringing about a greater sense of assertiveness and willingness to demand (not plead for) accountability of authority?

One thing we can all agree on

It’s encouraging to note that in all the responses we have in relation to our recent interview with John Gibbons no one has challenged any of the very damning things he had to say about the way the media works and the inherent constraints imposed on it by it’s profit-oriented structure (in fact one critic called it ‘brave, brilliant and essential‘).

That is after-all what we as a media monitoring organisation are predominantly interested in. For instance:

“Their ontological security, their notion of the way the world is, the way it’s always been, feels deeply threatened by someone coming along and saying “everything you know is wrong”. And they recoil violently against it.”

“I remember [Miriam O'Callaghan] interrupting a scientist trying to explain a technical point on Prime Time saying: “we’re losing our audience.””

“I was in the unusual position in that I am financially independent. Many journalists don’t have that luxury. So I was only prepared to write it one way, I wasn’t amenable to write it some other way. I wasn’t that interested in how it would go down because the purpose of the column wasn’t to perpetuate itself.”

“So there’s the difference between what we can see with our eyes, which the media are good at reporting and slow moving threats, which they are extremely bad at.”

“Most broadcasters and newspapers are businesses, they are profit driven, advertiser centric. In my own case, while it was never explicitly put to me this way, clearly I was scaring the horses. Because I’m suggesting, for example that consumption and increased levels of consumption are counter productive and dangerous, that’s a red hot poker to your advertisers.”

“I recently wrote an article about the Tobin Tax. What spurred it on was that they had an entire supplement in the newspaper devoted to spread-betting. They wouldn’t have a supplement in the newspaper about how to let your house out to drug dealers but as a moral equivalent it is there and thereabouts.”

“It’s much more subtle. I don’t see that type of lobbying playing a major part, most of the censorship is internal, it’s rarely externalised like that. In a lot of cases you are pushing against open doors anyway.”

With regards to the comments about climate change, I think we’d prefer not to be dragged into the ‘debate’, there is no overarching response we can give to sceptics, deniers or fence-sitters that will satisfy. The data is out there, it’s peer reviewed and it’s open to challenge. Either your argument is that the data is unreliable or misinterpreted, or that the science has been manipulated by powerful forces contriving to produce a global consensus.

The first of these arguments is one for scientific debate, but it’s not one that should happen in some sort of public show trial. There appears to be some sort of belief among sceptics that if a perceived inconsistency arises or if a paper is published that contradicts some specific assumption, then it should be headline news, that it immediately calls into question decades of corroborative research. But science can’t and shouldn’t happen in the media, for the obvious reasons Gibbons outlines.

The media is fundamentally profit-oriented. It has thrived for the last decade (and more) on advertising driven by industries that are strongly bound to consumption of fossil fuels – with motoring, property, holiday etc supplements filling the gap in our national papers. The media is therefore not principally concerned with the common good, unless that is, there is a profit in it.

Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.”

Well 97% of earth scientists are agreed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures, so I think it’s at least fair to say the opposite opinion can’t be held to be certain, by non-experts anyway?

Fionnan Sheahan, Frank Connolly and Niamh Brennan’s much anticipated DDDA report

In yesterday’s Independent Fionnan Sheahan wrote in praise of Niamh Brennan’s credentials in compiling the long awaited and controversial report, giving out every expectation that it would be as thorough and reliable as it could be.  

Frank Connolly is the only journlaist in Ireland who has gone into this issue  in real depth and has written extensively about it.  I’ll be posting links to those articles asap for people who want to read them – compulsory for anyone who wants to know what has been going on.   We asked Frank for a comment on Sheean’s article and this is what he had to say:

It is clear that there has been a fundamental conflict of interest at the heart of the DDDA for several years. It centres on the dual role of former DDDA board member Sean Fitzpatrick and former DDA chairman, Lar Bradshaw, who were also on the board of Anglo Irish Bank the main lender to many of the dockside developments.
Minutes of DDDA board meetings show clearly that Fitzpatrick and later Bradshaw were involved in crucial decisions which affected the profitability of projects Anglo was funding in the docklands over several years. The issue was raised in the Dáil as far back as 1995 by the late Tony Gregory but the then Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, defended the two executives. The beneficiaries of Anglo loans and fast track planning decisions from the DDDA include the developers who were significant donors to Fianna Fáil over the past decade and more. Whether the two reports prepared by Niamh Brennan get to the root of the issue and expose the culture of cronyism and the deep conflicts of interest remains to be seen.

Interview with John Gibbons

We recently met up with John Gibbons following his departure from the Irish Times to discuss climate change and media bias. To read the interview please follow this link…

“The Pat Kennys of the world will behave like they are organising a cock fight.  His job is simply to facilitate a scrap, which is considered good radio. Broadcast journalism is essentially looking for good air and good air means a lively debate. Now there’s a world of difference between a lively debate and an informed discussion.”

The image above is from the Irish Times sponsored competition ‘The Ultimate Job in Ireland (and probably the world)‘, “To celebrate the launch of Ireland’s most exciting destination wedding and honeymoon website.”

Aengus Fawning ‘interviews’ Brian Lenihan

Fawning:

“The iron has ent-ered [sic] Brian Lenihan’s soul. On the surface, he is the charming, engaging, gracious Lenihan we know, but there is a new steel in his make-up, a distinct impatience to get things done.  One senses that he has a shorter fuse these days with banks, bureaucracy, public sector work-to-rule, and with rich men, bailed out by Nama, who are continuing to live like lords.  Lenihan in this mode has all the hallmarks of a man with a fight on his hands — but one who is relishing the fray. I’ll let his words speak for themselves. “

So begins an hilarious piece of journalistic theatre in The Sunday Independent – Fawning and Lenihan complimenting each other in turn as they work through a staged set piece during which Lenihan makes clear he had prior knowledge of what the questions would be.  John Bird and John Fortune, move over please: these guys leave you in the ha’penny place when it comes to political parody. 

Fanning gives Lenihan ample opportunity to rehash his holed-like-Swiss-cheese economic policies and in the process the latter again reveals himself to be utterly in a thrall to the banks.  On the same day that he accuses low paid public sector workers of being bullies for defending themselves against his plans to impoverish them all,  he has nothing  but understanding deference to and reverence for the biggest chancers and bullies of them all: the Irish banks.  Yes, it’s important to get the banks lending again and any day now that might be happening.  Yes, it would be desirable if Irish banks would stick to the ECB lending rate but the poor dears have got themselves into a terrible pickle and are finding it hard to secure affordable credit from people who are prepared to trust them.  Nothing for it but to let them screw Irish mortgage holders even further into the ground by breaking with the ECB and increasing rates here in Ireland.   Unlike public sector workers whose pay he is threatening to dock if they don’t lie down and meekly accept the economic kicking he is planning for them, it would be undesirable for there to be ‘political interference’ with the banks whose excutives and political facilitators can only be paid a king’s ransom to do their jobs or else they will flounce off in a big huff.  Besides, he’s got two cardboard cut-out directors on the boards of each bank now so the national interest is secure.   The brazeness with which politicians and the media are prepared to insult our intelligence never ceases to surprise and amaze.  Link to interview comes with a health warning for those of delicate mental or physical disposition.

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/battle-lines-are-drawn-but-lenihan-not-afraid–of-the-fight-2091356.html

‘Balancing’ the Climate Consensus – Part 2

An interview with John Gibbons, formerly of the Irish Times

In Part 1 of this interview John Gibbons identified his personal ‘turning point’ on the subject of  climate change. He went on to describe the resistance he came up against in the Irish media when he attempted to bring that information to a wider audience, even 20 years after the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report.

In this second part of the interview we ask whether the mainstream media is in some way limited by certain structural factors, such as financial considerations, in turn compromising its ability to provide an accurate picture of the world, one that is not shaped in a large part by strong corporate and political interests.

Continue reading

‘Balancing’ the Climate Consensus – Part 1

An interview with John Gibbons, formerly of the Irish Times

Picture 17

John Gibbons has covered the issue of Climate Change for the Irish Times for the past two years. Several weeks ago his weekly column abruptly came to an end. In his final piece Gibbons took the mainstream media to task over their climate coverage:

“Ireland’s most senior climate expert, Prof John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth, acknowledged last week that climate-change deniers were “winning the propaganda war”. Chief among them, he added, were deniers from the ranks of journalism and lobbying.

“A media and telecommunications industry fuelled by advertising and profit maximisation is part of the problem,” Lewis and Boyce point out.

Continue reading

Tonight with Vincent Browne discusses Corrib Gas

At long last, some rational discussion of the situation in Rossport on the telly courtesy of Vincent Browne.  How apt though that Shell should duck out of any discussion taking place on a level playing field – as did Gerry Gregg, the producer of the TV3 ‘documentary’ that sought to discredit objectors to the Corrib Gas project.

 Astonishing however that there was not one mention by anyone on the panel (Fintan O’ Toole, John Monaghan, Fergus Finlay) of the terrifying circumstances of the sinking of Pat O’ Donnell’s boat at gun point or of his disgraceful incarceration in Castlereagh.  Nothing about the beating up of Willie Corduff.

 Also, why is it the case that left wing protestors who are as peaceful and well motivated as any of the other objectors are now coming to be caricatured as ‘extremists’.  Why do the mainstream media feel this inexplicable, distorting compulsion to reduce every situation to a matter of two equal ‘sides’.  Both Vincent Browne and Fintan O’ Toole seemed to be walking into that trap on the programme.   Maura Harrington for example may be feisty but that is about the full extent of her much-exaggerated ‘extremism’.   Yet Browne referred to Harrington in passing as if it were an established fact that her name is synonymous with an extreme element thus inadvertently buying into the defamatory and silly characterisations of her and others which the likes of Paul Williams and Peter Murtagh have been so anxious to portray.

 The plain facts of the matter, by any objective measure, are that the wrong-doing is by a huge margin the responsibility of Shell and their political supporters in Fianna Fail and the Green Party.  The minor infractions of law by a small number of protestors have been committed under severe duress and provocation such as any sane human being would find difficult to withstand with 100% equanimity 100% of the time.  Yet Browne weighted that human response apparently so as to concoct a (false) notion of ‘balance’ and didn’t even mention the beatings and other forms of intimidation that people have withstood year in and year out since Shell imposed themselves on the community.   Sure, FO’T mentioned the recommendations of the Garda Ombudsman in relation to a number of complaints against the Gardai but there was no mention of the shocking specifics.

 But thank God for the programme  – some very important facts were given an airing.  John Monaghan dispelled the myth that the community has not bent over backwards to look at alternative, less dangerous and polluting ways of bringing the gas ashore – a fact which virtually noone in the mainstream media has troubled to report with any degree of prominence.  Hope this programme is the beginning of a reassessment by the media of their largely atrocious coverage of this issue.