It’s not often media commentators discuss the concentration of ownership, issues of political influence, convergence and plurality of opinion in the media, but having looked back at the twitter ‘storm’ that erupted after Kathleen Lynch’s comments on last nights ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ it’s no wonder.
A twitter ‘storm’ erupted on Tonight with Vincent Browne (14/2/11) when UCD Professor Kathleen Lynch thought to question the version of reality presented in the mainstream Irish media.
Her fundamental argument was that a concentration of media ownership in turn permeates a consensus of opinion, with little opportunity for truly dissenting voices.
Since news, even at its most basic level, is mediated by people (often professionals), with ideological, political, cultural and religious views and motivations in the world, it is therefore infused, to differing extents, with a particular perspective. Complete impartiality is virtually impossible to achieve. Raw facts do not themselves find their way on to paper, they are selected and arranged by people.
Whether bias happens consciously or subconsciously is not really the question. No one can deny that journalists are forced to continually make choices, whether they take the form of word choices, decisions over which details deserve prominence, or where the story is placed in the paper, or whether it is reported at all (along with all the structural limitations described by Nick Davies).
Sometimes of course, these biases are of little consequence, sometimes they are of major importance. Either way, if taken systematically and if they are found to be ideologically or politically driven then of course it should be of interest to media consumers. There is a reason why opinion pieces are often framed by pen portraits of the writer.
Those watching and commenting via Twitter took serious offense to this suggestion, and many were not shy to express their disapproval. A selection of these comments (not all negative) are presented below.
But first, here’s a transcript of the bit that seems to have caused so much anger:
[The speakers are Kathleen Lynch, Jim Power, Vincent Browne and Nicola Cooke]
Kathleen: “I don’t think you’re right actually, I think people would be very afraid of Fine Gael if they actually read their policies. In the debates and the way things have gone on, people don’t read their policies, I really think these personality debates are irrelevant. Go and read what they are saying”
Jim: “I think you are doing people a disservice. People are reading their policies.”
Kathleen: “Where? on the web?”
Jim: “The newspapers!”
Kathleen: “Let me just finish. When you read their policies, for example, they are proposing taxes. They are not disclosing them. There are a lot of indirect taxes. A tax when you go to use a service is a tax.”
Jim: “They are not hiding their policies.”
Kathleen: “I am only saying…the media is wrong. These newspapers are all owned and controlled by people who are wealthy. We have no critical newspaper in this country. Independent newspapers control 60%. We have already seen a newspaper close down last weekend which was often very critical of the status quo. I am very suspicious as to why the Tribune closed just before the election. I don’t know anything about it, but I am very suspicious.”
Vincent: “I wouldn’t be suspicious of that.”
Kathleen: “You wouldn’t? Maybe you know. I find when I go to the newspapers, for example in Britain, you have the Guardian, which is very clearly different to the Telegraph. We have no equivalent of the Guardian newspaper in this country.”
Vincent: “Ah the Irish Times is slightly…”
Kathleen: “It’s not remotely like the Guardian.”
Jim: “Just because parties or papers don’t agree with your view of the world you think people are ignorant.”
Kathleen: “No, I’m not saying…We don’t have the dissent in this country that you have in other countries.”
Jim: “Of course we have it. You look at Tasc for example.”
Kathleen: “We do not have it. Look at RTE. RTE very very rarely has the news. The news is not the news. The news is the propaganda that somebody actually decides is going to come out as the news. People have this idea that the news is the truth, the news is not the truth. It is somebody who decides you will get this version of the news, you will this version of the newspaper. That is what somebody decides.”
Vincent: “But Kathleen, the fact of the matter is that RTE and TV3 and other broadcasters report what people are saying during the course of the election time. And you can call that propaganda if you wish, but it’s factually important information. What’s wrong with that?”
Kathleen: “What I am saying is that they report it, but they don’t report it critically, they don’t say these are the implications of these policies if we implement them. Like in health, for example. We have no systematic health education policy across the country, we have a very under funded policy.”
Jim: “The purpose of news is to report the facts, not to interpret the facts.”
Kathleen: “Newspapers always interpret the facts. That’s a myth. Newspapers never report. There is no such thing as the truth. There is always a position and the person who writes a newspaper…”
Nicola: “There is opinion and analysis, here’s Fintan O’Toole…”
Kathleen: “He’s an exception.”
Nicola: “Yes, he’s an exception. He’s one of the main columnists in the country…”
Jim: “Vincent Browne writes in Sunday Business Post and the Irish Times.”
Kathleen: “There area handful of individuals, you can name them on one hand.”
Jim: “There were none a few minutes ago and suddenly we are starting to point them out…”
Kathleen: “I didn’t say there were none.”
Jim: “You have two articles here, Fintan O’Toole and Brian Lucey, very very different…”
Kathleen: “Brian Lucey is not, he is writing about an economic issue. What I am saying, is that in general. The only point I am making, it is well supported in media analysis, I am not making this up. There are studies done in the Irish media that show newspapers are predominately conservative in orientation by people outside and inside the country. That is all I am saying. We don’t have widespread intellectual…”
Nicola: “The whole point was that you said people didn’t question policies. Fine Gael are publishing their full manifesto this week and they are canvasing door to door, so Irish people are not just picking up a newspaper, and saying ‘oh that’s it’ and believing. They can question the candidates, search the manifestos themselves…”
And below are selection of tweets culled from a Twitter Search history on the topic, found using the #vinb hashtag: