An Interview with Fintan O’ Toole, Assistant Editor at the Irish Times
In the first part of our interview with Fintan O’Toole, he traced his career in journalism and the major influences on it, while locating those factors within the wider context of developments that have propelled our news media into its current form and function. Below, in the second part of the interview, O’Toole gives an in-depth assessment of the editorial ethos of mainstream news reporting – with reference to The Irish Times in particular.
MB – Going back to what you were saying about the corporate nature of the media and the need to provide for advertisers, and in the context of a statement from the Editor which says that the Irish Times should lead and shape public opinion, is it just through gaps in the circle of political and media discourse that journalists are to lead and shape this opinion. How does this concept work in reality?
FT – Well as I remember it, that quote from Geraldine Kennedy is part of a broader thing about what the Irish Times does. The context of it is in terms of talking about fairness and objectivity and indolence. I think it would be wrong to read it as we have an agenda etc. I also think in terms of the context it is quite an important thing to say, as it spells out quite upfront that the media do lead and shape public opinion. Why is anyone interested in this type of discourse if you don’t think you’re helping in some way to shape public opinion? One would hope public opinion isn’t shaped in any sort of crude or direct way. There is a broad debate going on around Irish society. I think it absolutely valid for a newspaper to state this is what we do in the context of the Irish Times. It is saying we have the capacity to be a campaigning newspaper as well as just simply engaging in some kind of narrow reportage. I think that is very important, and it is a progressive statement about what a media outlet can do. The idea of a newspaper having values seems to me very important to hold on to.
What I believe Geraldine was trying to communicate in that was that there is a distinction between reporting and opinion. In the way you report you try to be as accurate and balanced and as fair as you possibly can. You try to give both sides of the story; you try to give the reader a useful and accurate summary of what has actually happened. We are all aware that the news agenda needs to be questioned, the selection of stories, the selection of values etc. But you can’t throw out the baby with the bath water – since it’s all so obviously compromised, it’s a method of maintaining the decent values of journalism. I do think the Irish Times tries to do that.
If you look at the Irish Times coverage of the Corrib gas dispute compared with most of the other newspapers, on your site Mark Garavan noted, the reporting Lorna Siggins does on that story is not in favour of the protestors but it is certainly not in favour of Shell. It is very good decent balanced reporting. The Irish Times should be doing that, and every media outlet should be doing that, regardless of it’s editorial line. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a newspaper that says ‘we think these people are holding up progress and Shell should be allowed to do what they want’ or ‘the way Shell is being allowed to get away with this is outrageous’. That’s an editorial line and should be reflected in analysis and in opinion. But the actual reporting of what’s going on should nevertheless be capable of being fair. I do think in general the Irish Times has done this.
To take another example, one of the most divisive issues was abortion, in particular the first abortion referendum, which was called the second partitioning of Ireland – a really ferocious dispute. There was no question where the Irish Times editorial line lay on that, it was against the amendment. The Irish Times has taken a liberal stance on that issue and on related issues for a long time. Nevertheless most of the right wing Catholic organisations would agree that the fairest reporting they got of their position was in the Irish Times, because the Irish Times attempts to give fair coverage to both sides of the story. I think that was recorded in the main book that was written about that.
That’s one side of what a newspaper does and should do. On the other side it is perfectly valid for a newspaper to say ‘we collectively feel that the Irish prison system is an appalling one and we are going to run a whole series of pieces on why that is so’. There is a value judgement being made here. It is possible for individual journalists to have a big influence on that. If any good journalist comes up to a news conference and says ‘look I am really passionate about the issue of social deprivation, I have thought of really good new way of doing this, which is going to reveal something about the nature of society’ – I have never come across a situation where an editor says ‘we’re not going to do that issue because it is not part of our agenda’. It is often up to the energy and capacity of individual journalists.
What I’m trying to say here is that even taking into account all the media’s fundamental problems it doesn’t validate a defeatist attitude – that there’s nothing we can do, it’s all propaganda anyway. The fact is you can make a difference – and people do – good journalism still has a big effect on the political discourse. And it can sometimes succeed in holding those in power to account and sometimes succeeds in highlighting very significant social injustices. It’s a process, and a conflict that is going on all the time.
MB – Your interpretation of Geraldine Kennedy’s real meaning when she says the role of the Irish Times is to lead and shape public opinion could be thought of as generous. We have seen Irish Times editorials which categorically state that the paper sees itself as having a duty to promote the ideology and objectives of government, for example on World Free Press Day, 2006:
“Where information is power, the power to decide who rules is best exercised by a well informed electorate. For the system to work with credibility, the mechanisms for informing the public cannot, by definition, be independent. Thus in successful democracies the function discharged by the media, while not enshrined in the structure of the State like parliament or the criminal justice system, comes close to them in importance.” 
It’s difficult to understand how anyone who believes that independent journalism is essential to democracy cannot see the alarming implications for freedom of expression and for democracy itself in these statements. Geraldine Kennedy clearly does not see the paper’s function as merely putting information in the public domain for others to decide their opinions for themselves. She is expressly talking about deciding what information she will allow us to see in order for the paper to shape our opinions. Does that not make you uneasy in any way? [This question and the following answer was one of a few supplementary questions we asked after the initial interview during correspondence via email] 
FT – Your claim that “We have seen Irish Times editorials which categorically state that the paper sees itself as having a duty to promote the ideology and objectives of government” is absurd. The very editorial you cite is an attack on the attempts by governments to control the media. It concludes with the lines “From China, to the United States, to the European Union, efforts are alive to control the free flow of information under various guises from national stability to the “war on terror”. Such moves should be resisted. One doesn’t have to accept totally the great American journalist IF Stone’s maxim “Every government is run by liars. Nothing they say should be believed” but it is a good starting point.” I’m not sure in what language this translates into a categorical statement of the paper’s duty to promote the ideology and objectives of government, but it isn’t English. I think you may be confusing two things — an understanding of a free press as an essential aspect of democracy (which is what the editorial argues for) and an understanding of the press as an arm of government (which is what you seem to want the Irish Times to be claiming). There’s an ocean of difference between the two and I don’t think a critical understanding of media is helped by deliberately confusing one and the other.
MB – Going back again to what you were saying about the difference between comment and reporting, in terms of the Shell issue, it is easy to differentiate it’s reporting from that say of RTE, who were happy to pass the protestors off as Luddites, it is a case that for the reader the reporting is all well and good, but people often turn to the commentary for an understanding of what’s going on. For instance if you were to report there was protest and perhaps a scuffle between Gardai and protestors etc, there is no background to these events, no discussion of what are the rights and responsibilities of these two groups. Who is the responsible actor in a protest? Is it the people who are there out of their own free will, as concerned citizens, or is it the law enforcement or commercial actors. These complex issues don’t usually come across in simple ‘good’ reporting.
FT – Certainly the analytic context is a very important one. Good reporting in and of itself is a form of power for a citizen. To write an accurate 4/500-word piece about a very complicated event, it’s never going to be entirely accurate – a full-weighted description of every single thing that happened. But given the human limits of what you are trying to do, I think good reporting is possible. It is a very important tool in itself as it allows citizens to at least begin to have the material to form their own judgements. You don’t want, it seems to me, in the context of reporting, to have someone telling you what to think, because that obviates the purpose of reporting – that citizens get to think about how they themselves should respond to these events. What you do want is both genuine analysis that tries to, in a relatively objective way, explain or pick out the important background context in which these events can then be understood, which is not easy.
Often, analysis is half way between reporting and opinion, because the structure of your analytic argument is shaped by values and what you think is important. The reporter requires again a capacity to be able to put these events in context in a situation which they may not have a huge amount of expertise, relying on broad information. If you are talking about complex issues, such as gas pipelines, which I myself know very little about, therefore if I want to write a piece I have to read as much as I can about them and then come to a judgement on it. But this is going to be a judgement that is itself influenced by the social players.
You will see time and time again that material that is used in the media is coming from people that have an agenda. Very often the weight of that is going to lie with the multi-national company, because they have the professionalism, the capacity, to present that kind of material. And it may be more often than not to do with something, not sinister, but more to do with the means of production. If someone has say 45mins to write a piece about a complex event, they are naturally going to lean on the easiest, clearest and most accessible source of information. That’s why one of the key issues around objectivity in the media is actually to do with man power, whether we can have media organisations that have sufficient numbers of people within them so that some kind of independent expertise can be built up.
If you take issues of development around Dublin; it does matter whether these are written by someone like Frank MacDonald who has been writing about it since the late 1970s and is probably the main expert in the field including architects and developers, or whether it is being written by someone who is 22 and has just been told about a development project – it really does matter. The degree to which expertise is available within the media is very important, and that’s not to say experts are always people you will agree with, but at least those people have the capacity to make independent judgements and to know when they are being bullshitted. If you have someone who can take a press release from Shell and say ‘that is not true’, it makes a huge difference.
The other layer, the kind of thing I do a lot of, is opinion, and which is put forward as argument. And what matters here is diversity. I don’t think anyone is demanding that all opinion should come out of a left-wing or progressive point of view. I think the concern is that the weight of opinion is so over balanced in terms of the very concentrated nature of media ownership. One of the things that owners are much more concerned with than news reporting is opinion, editorial lines, the general stance, that’s where a lot of the impact is. Again though it does come down to the integrity of the individual, it is no defence to say I did it because the boss wanted me to. There is a personal responsibility.
MB – Nobody has a monopoly on the truth. But in terms of the balance of opinion, a large multi-national might be better at producing booklets etc for journalists to brush up on, instead of doing their own research. How do you balance this situation? For example, again the Shell issue, while the Irish Times was slightly different in this regard, RTE almost portrayed the multi-national and the small town in Mayo as equal and opposite forces. In broader terms, looking at climate change, on one side you have the weight of the scientific consensus and on the other you have people, perhaps with vested interests, who defy the consensus. Yet two opinion articles on each does not represent balance.
FT – There are two important questions there. Firstly the imbalance of the ability to influence through the media is a real factor, and it’s a factor that is inherent in the power structures of society. A classic example is issues in relation to travellers. There is a fundamental problem here, where a community that has historically been discriminated against, which has been kept weak and kept out of the education system, and the difficulty for travellers in terms of making their voices heard in the mainstream media doesn’t even get to the point of an editorial value judgement. You are often dealing with communities that are so isolated, so historically marginalized, that it’s almost impossible for them to operate within even the same language that the media operate in. So they are at such a disadvantage that there isn’t even a game on, they are steamrollered, in a way. There is a really important question there in terms of civic society, in terms of capacity building, in terms of the way in which campaigning organisations themselves get the capacity to play this game, because they really need to.
It’s one of the interesting issues around, for instance ‘active citizenship’ – which is great and very important though it will not address this issue, it will not address the issue of advocacy. Many voluntary groups are very rapidly coming to understand that collecting money etc is only one part of your work, the other part is advocacy, which is about influencing media, influencing politicians and you need the capacity to do that. There is a real question of what we do as a society in order to support that capacity for independent actors. I would go so far as to suggest that we need educational institutions whose job it is to provide that capacity. It is a particular question in relation to the media because at least to some extent we are beginning to develop the kind of lobbying circle you have in the United States, where you have people moving between political parties, media organisations and big business. They are getting more and more sophisticated, sharing more information etc. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy; you will have people going from one week as a senior journalist to the next week representing a major company back to other journalists. There are built in advantages in the way that operates. It’s parallel to the reason why big business hires tax inspectors.
MB – That tends to lift control away from the general public.
FT – It does what society does in general, which pretends that this is an open game, yet it hobbles certain people in advance, and strengthens others. So it seems to me that in a democratic society there has to be a very self-conscious mechanism for encouraging and building capacity on the part of communities and citizen groups on a whole range of issues form social policy to environmental policy. They need to be able to access the capacity to shape public opinion themselves and in a sense that’s not an internal media problem – it’s about the way the power to influence is spread throughout society. There are a lot of examples around Ireland where campaigning groups are building that capacity fairly rapidly; some of the philanthropic support is going in good directions. If you look at the children’s rights groups, they are putting a lot of effort into advocacy, and effort into being on the ball, so when media issues arise they are able to intervene with exactly the kind of speed and authority that say a multi-national company can. That is just one of the ways you can try and address the imbalance, an imbalance that will always be there because it is to do with money and power, but at least the contest can be fought in a way that is a lot more open.
MB – To address a different topic, though there is a slight similarity, the way in which the official line comes into the media is quite similar to the way the corporate line does, taking for example the recent Iranian capture situation. The majority of reporting consumers saw was official propaganda from both sides, British and Iranian. How can the reader differentiate between truth and fiction? Inverted commas are prevalent as some sort of nod to public opinion, but that is not really sufficient.
FT – There is a responsibility on the media to report the propaganda, propaganda is itself part of the story. This is the world we live in, where the propaganda is nearly more important than real war. I would think it is completely valid for a reporter to say ‘this is what the British are saying and this is what the Iranians are saying’ so long as it’s done in a relatively balanced and objective way. And doesn’t afford the status of truth to either of them.
But you’re right it’s not sufficient, this again highlights the importance of expertise in journalism. Most foreign reporting comes back to the elementary problem that most of us have never actually been there. And most of us have access to nothing but mediated images in relation to any of these issues. Where it matters is when journalists have been in a place particularly over a long period of time. A historical perspective is hugely important, I don’t mean back to the 15th century, but if someone doesn’t understand the Iranian revolution, the Shah, the evolution of the relationship between America and Iran, the nature of the British presence in that region…in fact the whole story of the soldiers capture was in essence a historical story. The best pieces written about that said ‘look at it from the Iranian point of view, this is the history of their relationship with the British, this is the way they see it’. They weren’t endorsing Iranian propaganda; they were very intelligently informing the reader about what kind of forces might be at play, not just the forces of this particular incident, but what forces might have motivated this to occur.
Why do you have a distorted, narrow minded, bigoted regime in Iran – well it’s not unrelated to the West’s support of the Shah, while he was also a murderous dictator. The process that led to the Iranian revolution, a reaction against the West and modernity in a sense, came in part from historical circumstances. What’s really important is that you have journalists that understand those circumstances and can communicate them. That also relates to an awful lot of issues, one of the inherent weaknesses of media is that of their nature they are forward driven. They are about what’s happening next. So each individual incident becomes an isolated flash and has to be dealt with in isolation, but if it is presented in isolation its meaning becomes lost. It is almost impossible to present the meaning of these events accurately without a perspective and a sense of the unfolding of things over time. I think there is a real need for media to constantly keep putting that dimension back in and using it to shape and frame the context of events.
MB – There is a sense that if people go to these places they will also empathise. Whereas empathy can be completely absent, for instance if you are to talk about Iran as simply a regime, as opposed to millions of people. What you said about forward thinking, beginning stories from an instant, one thing that people could rightly criticise is what the media generally takes as its starting point. For instance, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the media – almost across the board – took the start of that as the capture of two Israeli soldiers. [The taking of the Israeli soldiers was itself a reaction to the prior kidnapping by Israel of Lebanese and Palestinian citizens.] Whereas that was never what really ‘started’ it, it is continual and if anything it could have started two weeks before.
FT – That’s absolutely right. It’s a very simple thing about story telling, the story depends on where you begin and where you end. No process has a beginning or a middle or an end, everything we are dealing with is the unfolding of historical circumstance. So practically speaking you have to artificially pick beginning and end points, but how you pick them and what they are, is going to fundamentally shape the interpretation of the story. There is a very simple thing, as I said on RTE News this morning talking about the invasion of Lebanon; it was referred to in passing as the ‘unprovoked’ attack by Hezbollah on Israel. The use of the word ‘unprovoked’ raises questions of causation, was it or was it not provoked and what constitutes provocation? You can’t decide that unless you try follow a chain of events and try to have a sense of how things unfolded.
And it’s not that you want to get into a circumstance where you end up knowing everything and therefore excusing everything. There are values, there are human rights, and there is universality to them. I don’t think the media should be completely neutral in relation to fundamental questions of human rights, but I do think the relatively basic and simple question of the capacity of the journalist themselves – how much do they know, how much experience do they have, have they themselves learned things, do they know people – as you were saying human empathy is immensely important, the very fact of having been in a place. You will find say on Sky News that the contrast between the regular correspondents who have been in Palestine for 5 years and the superstar who has been flown in for two days following a horrific event is really stark. And it is not necessarily because they have different politics; they are working for the same media organisation, working within the same context, they probably have the same background, they may have been to the same kinds of universities, the same broad formation – the difference is that one has experienced something and has formed some kind of human connection with people, the other hasn’t.
I remember watching the Lebanon events, I was in China at the time so my only source of breaking news was CNN, and it was really interesting watching it. It was stark, they flew in a couple of people and they had a few of their long term correspondents there; it was like you were in two different worlds. It wasn’t to do with bias, it was to do with a limited set of perceptions people were bringing to bear on the situation, and the men and women who had just been flown in were simply parroting what they had been told. They had come from head office with a story to tell, they were simply there for the background. Alternatively the journalists who had been there for a significant amount of time were both sophisticated in their analysis and could also carry a sense of outrage about the fact real people were being killed. They were training their cameras on buildings that had been bombed, they were talking to families who’d had to flee their homes. They were doing the basic things journalists ought to do.
MB – In terms of empathy, Iraq and the Middle East, does the Irish Times have anyone in Iraq?
FT – In common with most if not every media organisation, there is nobody there full time. Rory Carroll for instance, who was reporting for the Guardian, though from the Irish Times stable, a lot of his stuff would have been done for the Irish Times too – the kidnapping highlighted that it is just really difficult. Lara Marlowe goes there on a fairly regular basis, I think what she does is terrific, she lives and reports from France, but she has spent a very long time in the Middle East and goes back and forth continually. So when she goes, she goes with a set of contacts and an experience and understanding of the place.
MB – Is the preference to go as an embedded reporter?
FT – We’ve never sent anybody embedded and our preference is obviously for independence. Which is not to say that one shouldn’t send journalists embedded, because that can often be very interesting. But again that depends on the quality of the journalist, if they become a stooge then it’s worse than useless, if they are going to go and watch – and much of the best journalism to come out of there was from embedded journalists who were able to do their job while realising they were seeing things from only one perspective – therefore what they were reporting on was not Iraq but the American army, so a lot of the footage of some of the horrific murders was from embedded reporters. There is no situation in which a good journalist should not be able to gather useful information, whether they can actually see what’s in front of them and make clear the conditions in which they are reporting.
MB – Well there are massive blind spots within that frame of reporting. As far as we are aware there is only one independent reporter visiting Iraq at present, Dahr Jamail, and not much of his reporting makes it into the mainstream. It is a wonder how the insight someone like him could offer is not more prevalent in the media.
FT – For an organisation like the Irish Times, in terms of foreign coverage, there are real problems in terms of resources. But it is the only paper in Ireland that at least tries to send people out and get some kind of first hand reporting. For example with much of the Islamaphobia going on, Mary Fitzgerald’s series where she actually travelled through Islamic countries, while very straight forward and un-dramatic pieces, they were highly illuminating about the diversity of Islam, the social and gender tensions. It was just very good reporting. Sometimes even one person, without huge commitment of resources, with a good eye and a genuine commitment to what they are doing, can achieve a fair amount. While it’s not going to be the same as someone who has lived in Turkey for 10 years, there are things that can be done, which can at least give an independent Irish perspective which is important as the vast amount of foreign coverage we consume is not generated by Irish media. Secondly because it is an Irish perspective it can have some degree of empathy, sometimes it’s easier for Irish people to understand people in foreign countries if it is mediated through an Irish person.
While there are many similarities in our perspective and Fintan O’Toole’s there are fundamental differences that give a different colour to our perceptions of mainstream media. In our view, these differences clearly distinguish the reality from the check and balance that the medium claims to be – even to the more limited extent that O’ Toole claims for it. The inherent conflicts of interest are no more evident than in the apparent ‘revolving door policy’ whereby a cross over between big business, the state and the media is normal. Where government is concerned, we have at least the notion of the separation of powers to ensure a system of balances and checks. Nevertheless, and despite his clear acknowledgement of the difficulties facing journalists within the corporate media, O’Toole has said above that ‘…you will have people going from one week as a senior journalist to the next week representing a major company back to other journalists. There are built in advantages in the way that operates. It’s parallel to the reason why big business hires tax inspectors.’
The idea that a person, though not just any person – a person that is already engendered in the elite world, differentiated at the top 5% of the system – can be one day in the pay of either a government body or a business and the next be expected to write impartially on the relevant issues is close to absurd to us. Journalists should not be exempt from a standard which they are, rightly, quick to jump on and expose where politicians and others are shown to have failed it. Self-evidently, Fintan O’Toole subscribes to this standard. But despite an acute awareness of the context in which he works, even journalists such as O’Toole are continually forced to make unconscious compromises such as the one we infer from the quote above and from other aspects of what he has said in this interview. It is just these sorts of typically unseen compromises, far more prevalent than may be obvious to or intended by journalists themselves, which undermine the relationship of trust between journalists and readers/viewers- especially when the latter are unaware of those compromises. They are pernicious where liberal or ‘left-wing’ journalists are concerned precisely because, in those cases, readers have usually come to believe a journalist may be relied upon within impunity even though he or she is in reality as susceptible – obliged even – to compromise as much as anyone. That the compromises are subtler only serves to make them all the more potent, in our view. Besides, we rely too much on too few independent voices – and even those voices are corrupted at times by the context in which they speak.
We have quoted an Irish Times editorial above which argues that the paper’s role cannot be truly independent of government. The significance of that statement is inescapable. It means the IT sees itself as an extension of government. Fintan O’Toole says that, taken in the context of the whole editorial, this is an absurd interpretation. While it is true that the same editorial acknowledges efforts are alive worldwide to stem the free flow of information – and it daringly goes so far as to cite the ‘war on terror’ as a panacea for that phenomenon – it is very clear that it also believes that Ireland, or at least the Irish Times, is not vulnerable to those efforts. It is only, we are to infer, in certain other western news media, and in dictatorships and compromised democracies elsewhere that this is happening. No mention is made of its own subservience to the self-same corporate interests which determine the way we are governed, which are driving the ‘war on terror’ in the first place and which equally determine the fundamental ethos of newspaper reporting in capitalist democracies – not to mention the IT’s express and willing compliance with that all-encompassing scenario.
Nevertheless, the IT editorial implies that here in Ireland we need not worry because the IT, for one, is defending us against these assaults on press freedom. And yet, to take just one example, in its standard reportage of the escalating tensions between the US and Iran, we have consistently seen in the Irish Times a breathtakingly uncritical reliance on anti-Iranian propaganda from the US, which offers no credible evidence for its veracity. And so it was in the run up to the Iraq war, which has now resulted in the deaths of more than 650,000 people. Despite the now utterly discredited basis for that invasion, our foremost national newspaper looks fair set once again to fall dutifully in line behind the US hegemony with virtually no consideration for the death and destruction that is about to be visited on yet another, non-combatant country which has thus far broken no law while enduring much provocation from the US and the UK. Are we seriously going to repeat the same ‘mistake’ all over again? The evidence for the illegality for both wars was and is virtually lying around in heaps in the streets. If any Irish journalist is concerned to tell the truth about the increasingly likely assault on Iran in a truly balanced and neutral way, it is a simple matter for them to do so. More than likely, all we will have to depend on are people like Fintan O’Toole. But from past evidence, voices such as his will be as whimpers in a gale. The truth is already a casualty in the anticipated war.
John Dewey an American philosopher and psychologist could be interpreted to have exposed a problem facing a ‘check and balance’ such as a media that is governed by business when he said “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” The news consumer could be forgiven for being concerned as to whether business should be regulating itself unchecked. While the Irish Times sees itself as the “The Fourth Estate”, contrariwise, they repeat, with a little qualification, the American journalist I.F. Stone’s maxim “Every government is run by liars. Nothing they say should be believed”. One could ask oneself: if every government is run by liars and the views expressed in your daily newspaper do not diverge significantly from those of the government when reasonably they should, is it not reasonable to conclude “nothing the newspapers say should be believed”? 
Finally, and contrary to a pervasive myth, there exists an alternative that is not beholden to the ‘advertising buck’. A growing international movement of not-for-profit news media has already established an increasingly effective mechanism for informing the public as a truly independent check and balance. 
4. This quotation is from an answer to one of a few supplementary questions that we put to Fintan O’ Toole after the interview.
MB: You attribute the perception of a right-wing shift in journalism to the entry into the profession of more corporate minded young journalists – people who are sympathetic to the cause so-to-speak – or at least well inducted in the ethos of the mainstream media. That could be thought of as one consequence of the ferociously corporate turn that our national life has taken and which has seen commercial interests trump all others for priority. Aren’t journalists such as yourself, in one sense, inadvertently acting as apologists for the failure to hold these interests adequately to account as they apply to the sphere in which you work yourselves? In your analysis, the picture from our perspective is of a closed circle of elites pampering other elites. Where the Irish Times is concerned the trust arrangement that you mention might create a degree of editorial independence, but It doesn’t strike us as an adequate defence against the forces of corporatism that assail it on every side. Isn’t it the case that advertisers and their supporters in government have a critical influence on editorial policy? Does the corporate-dependent media ever really bite the hands that feed it? Columnists are one thing – but staff journalism, editorials and reporting are another.
FT: You seem largely to be repeating what I’ve said myself. I don’t think that the relationship of advertising to content is generally a simple one of cause and effect, but, as I said in the interview, the need to attract advertising and therefore to appeal to those who can afford to buy products has a very powerful limiting effect on what media do. The freedom of any media outlet that depends on ads is inevitably and inescapably circumscribed.
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