Monthly Archives: July 2008

On the Message Board

Including a letter in the Irish Examiner discussing the media reaction to the Lisbon Treaty referendum result, an email to the Irish Times’ Assistant Editor Fintan O’Toole on the same subject, a question for Irish Times correspondent Daniel McLaughlin on the IT’s coverage of the US-Israel/Iran stand-off and another to Gerard Baker who claims in his recent Irish Independent article that Iran poses a ‘nuclear threat’ to Israel.

Will the media get the message?
Irish Examiner, 23 June 2008

IT’S not just the politicians that people did not believe. There ought to be a lesson in the referendum result for the mainstream media.

Despite overwhelmingly biased coverage in favour of a yes vote, including editorials, columnists and strikingly partisan ‘balanced’ reporting, we did not believe you either.

The hard work of the people who campaigned for a no vote was relentlessly misdescribed as the work of lunatic fringe groups. In fact it was a broad alliance of people concerned with the real human costs of this treaty (not Libertas) who managed to get their message across despite the media’s failure to give them equal treatment. Some politicians admonished us for the result — an insult to the thinking voters who expressed their considered opinion. It would be equally insulting if we are to be treated to editorials telling us we didn’t understand what we were doing or that we are ‘ungrateful’ to Europe.

Garrett FitzGerald described the result as evidence of a ‘disconnect’ between government and people. The same applies to the media.

Miriam Cotton
Email to the Irish Times’ Assistant Editor on the Lisbon Treaty:

Dear Fintan O’Toole,

Hope you are well. We are preparing an analysis of media coverage of the Lisbon treaty and are writing to you as part of that exercise to invite your response to the points raised below.

With regard to the predominantly hostile mainstream media reaction to the Lisbon treaty referendum result, is it the case that the media are less concerned with the public’s perceived lack of trust in the political establishment and more concerned with its lack of trust in the unelected business establishment – the mainstream media itself of course being central to that establishment?

The notion that our ‘leaders’ are to be trusted largely unquestioningly on matters of constitutional reform seems to underlie if not dominate the vast majority of coverage of this issue (very little of which could honestly be said to constitute true discussion) – despite the fact the Taoiseach, to give just one example, admitted his own ignorance of the treaty but nevertheless demanded absolute trust from the electorate about its significance and meaning. Meanwhile his predecessor continues to openly mock government institutions.

The hypocrisy of this situation has been evident in UK coverage of our referendum but it is seldom reflected in reporting here. However, where it has been commented on – by yourself for instance – the comments reveal the true nature of what the establishment is trying to persuade us is a ‘crisis’.

Essentially, it seems that that the publics ‘compromise of trust’ has not only been with the political establishment, as in the elected government, but with the unelected establishment, and with it, the mainstream media – who in spite of it’s susceptibility to the PR tactics and finances of the anti-treaty organisation Libertas, managed collectively to promote a resoundingly one sided debate in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote. Is it possible that the public’s response to the establishments conformity on the issue, which might be described as a singular failure to ‘lead and shape public opinion’, is partly a result of a loss of trust in the media itself?

The aggressive media reaction sharply contrasts with the discussion of last year’s Venezuelan vote on constitutional amendments. The media was in jubilant mood when Venezuelans voted, by a small margin, against proposed constitutional changes. In that instance, moreover, journalists, editorials and columnists alike were positively celebrating the fact that Venezuelans were alleged to have voted against their leader and not necessarily against the proposed amendments themselves (though there too, as in our own recent referendum, was distortion of the implications of some of those changes, and significant abstention due to the equally complex and large number of proposed amendments). The Irish media was positively fervent in their respect for what was described at the time as the Venezuelans’ democratic right, to say ‘No’ – whether it was in their interests or not. The Venezuelan result was hailed as a success despite the fact the proposed changes were specifically designed to advance the interests of ordinary people and the Bolivarian revolution which has proved hugely beneficial for them – and, as with Irish views towards Europe, remains popular. Nevertheless, the Irish media congratulated Venezuelans on the very inclination they are now admonishing Irish voters for.

The one point of convergence in coverage which explains the apparent contradiction in reactions is of course an issue that goes to the heart of what drives and motivates the media: ‘what is good for business is good for us and the elite groups we speak for’.

Would you agree that there is something inherently anti-democratic about the entire political establishment (more or less) and the entire ‘free’ press being at odds with the views respectively of a) its electorate and b) as an essentially commercial product, its consumers? Isn’t this so-called political crisis in reality more of an ego crisis for an establishment caught unprepared for a demonstration of democracy which has exposed their patrician attitude to the electorate for what it really is?

Best wishes,

David Manning & Miriam Cotton
Email to the Irish Times’ Daniel McLaughlin Re: US ‘defence shield’

Dear Daniel McLaughlin,

You write in Wednesday’s Irish Times: “critics say would counter a non-existent danger – that of long-range missile attack by Iran” in discussion of US proposals to build part of a £2.2 billion missile ‘defence shield’ near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Which appears to suggest that critics of the US missile system are opposed on the grounds that the system is essentially a waste of money – that it is unnecessary. However, this implies that critics accept, as you appear to, the stated purpose of the scheme as one ‘defense’. On the contrary, critics are opposed on the grounds that the system is first and foremost a first strike capability. The fact it “counters a non-existent threat” is entirely beside the point.

It is incomprehensible that the Irish Times would take the same uncritical stance in the face of Iranian plans for a missile ‘defense’ system in Cuba, despite the fact it could very reasonably be considered a response to the very real and immediate threat of US aggression.

This context of Iranian duplicity and US benevolence runs seamlessly through the pages of Wednesday’s Irish Times (though today is no exception), a similar report on Iran states: “Iran has test fired nine long- and medium-range missiles, including one which it has previously said could reach Israel and US bases in the region…The tests occurred at a time of increased tension between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at making bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is only for power generation.”

Here to, the fact that Iran is the subject of aggression and thus simply responding in kind is completely obscured. How is it that the Irish Times is willing to yet again allow Washington to set the context for escalations towards another war in the Middle East?

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

1. Czechs agree to host part of US missile defence shield

2. Iran test fires long range missiles

3. National missile defense

4. The installation of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is, virtually, a declaration of war.

5. Options on the table

Email to the Irish Independent’s Gerard Baker Re: Missile photo fake is latest shot in phoney war on Iran

Dear Gerard Baker,

With regard to your article in the Times, and reproduced in the Irish Independent, could you explain what you mean by ‘nuclear threat’ when you write: “Israel is sufficiently agitated now by the Iranian nuclear threat that it is planning a military strike”?

As far as I am aware (and according to the IAEA and NIE) Iran has no nuclear weapons and indeed, no nuclear weapons program, therefore it seems to me at any rate that they would have severe difficulty in posing a ‘nuclear threat’.

You also write: “Israel cannot carry out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own. An Israeli strike would require the active co-operation of the US. Israeli F15 and F16 warplanes would not only have to fly and be refuelled in Iraqi airspace — controlled by the Americans — but the whole operation would require logistical support from US bases on the ground in Iraq.”

According to Pakistan Daily, “The US has allowed Israeli jets to use US airbases and fly over Iraqi air space for a likely attack against Iran, Iraqi media say.”

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

1. Missile photo fake is latest shot in phoney war on Iran


2. Israeli jets using Iraq’s airspace