Category Archives: Comment

Future of News is Past of News


[This is an expanded version of the article Reclaiming the printing press and was first published 3 Dec 2012 here]

Imagine a theme park. Imagine this theme park is the most popular theme park in the world. More popular than Disney World, more popular than Sea World, more popular than all US theme parks combined. Now imagine that it costs about $400 for an annual pass to enter this park. Yet there are no rides in this park. Sounds ridiculous right? But this isn’t an imaginary theme park. This park exists. In fact, you go there almost every day. 

Several weeks ago Newsweek announced it is to stop printing magazines. After 80 years, one of the giants of US news is going web only. It will no doubt be tempting for others to follow; off-loading manufacturing costs, abandoning a declining print readership, addressing steepening competition on the web. Newsweek’s bold move may well herald the long-forecast demise of the print industry.

But it is not just the physical paper that is disappearing. It is the media’s control over content distribution. Gutenberg’s printing press allowed publishers not only to realise their ideas in print, but also to share those ideas as they saw fit. That power is slowly being eroded. Newsweek’s decision underlines the fundamental shift in newspaper and magazine publishing in the age of Web 2.0; a relinquishing of the mode of production.

Continue reading Future of News is Past of News

Nexus Ireland – Relationships that Rule

Nexus Ireland
[This article was original published at Nexus Ireland, 9 Nov 2013]
Russell Brand’s manifesto for a “revolution of consciousness” has, it seems, opened space for an important debate about revolution and democracy. Unfortunately the UK press remains, for the most part, stuck on Brand’s disenchantment with a particular mechanic of democracy – voting. Yet few have offered the revolutionary generation a convincing reason why they should engage in a “tacit act of compliance” for a multi-party democratic system with no significant “distinctions between [political] parties.” 

Citing anecdotal evidence, Brand highlights a particular problem with capitalist democracy – the tendency of power to concentrate: “Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party.” An observation that couldn’t be more timely, coming as it does when the trial of News International’s Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson is getting into full swing.

Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, is a neighbour of Prime Minister David Cameron, and, it is said, they are on such good terms, she even lets him ride her horses (one of which was lent to her by Scotland Yard). Apparently, Brooks was introduced to Cameron through her husband, who was “one of his school friends”. For his part, Coulson, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, was made director of communications for the Conservative Party in 2007 and later appointed by Cameron to be his chief media spokesman.

‘Keeping it Real’ by Gavan Titley

The Media and the Teaching Unions

Following the introduction of his first ‘austerity’ budget in 2009, Irish Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan incensed many Irish people by boasting while traveling abroad that there ‘would have been riots’ had similar cuts to pay, pensions and welfare been imposed in other countries. The ruling party, Fianna Fail [Soldiers of Destiny] who caused one of the worst economic crises of any western ‘democracy’ have had to appease their neo-conservative paymasters and controllers. The International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank were chief targets among the audience the Minister would have had in mind while making his remarks and all the signs since then are that they were suitably impressed. While billions are being transferred to failed banks and in compensation for failed property developers who have been funders of Fianna Fail, another catastrophic budget has since been inflicted on Irish people while more are promised.  Our only consolation, evidently, is that we are no longer to be regarded as a member of the disgraced group of EU countries known as the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain made the most spectacular messes of their economies). Ireland’s teachers, much less their unions, would have been right down at the bottom of the list of publics Mr Lenihan was trying to impress. If they were on it at all.

The Easter break is traditionally the time when the Irish teaching unions hold their annual conferences and the 2010 events were held this year in the context of a ‘pay deal’ that had been ‘negotiated’ between union leaders and the Irish Labour Relations Court (on behalf of the government) and for which approval was being sought from the union membership. As one trade unionist put it, if the deal had gone through it would have set employment rights back a hundred years. Two of the three teaching unions rejected the deal unanimously, while the third agreed to it by a majority of just 4 votes.

Continue reading ‘Keeping it Real’ by Gavan Titley

Shell and The Fisherman

Article originally published on California-based Znet – Associated Interview in Village Magazine

I defy anyone to go to Erris, County Mayo and spend time with the local people there without finding that the place eventually gets into your soul. Though it seems at first to be a strange, even bleak landscape to those unfamiliar with it, the extensive peatland with all the colour of its extraordinary plant life, the surrounding mountains and the superb Atlantic coastline all conspire to draw you in.   Driving along the road through the small town of Bangor on the Belmullet road, the atmosphere is palpable.   Here a community of people had been attending to what is still in some respects a remote and unique way of life in undisturbed peace and quiet until the arrival in their midst of the giant oil and gas conglomerate, Royal Dutch Shell. Shell were invited in by the Irish government with all the decorum of a gangster’s moll (if the comparison is not offensive to gangster’s molls) for the purpose of building a gas refinery and exporting gas reserves that hitherto had been the property of the Irish people until the rights to it were sold in secret by a government politician, Ray Burke, who was subsequently jailed on unrelated corruption charges.

At first the community were unsure quite what to make of it all but they welcomed it cautiously as seeming to be something that would bring prosperity to the area. As the project advanced, however, they began to wake up to some alarming realities and during the last ten years have gone from that initial attitude of welcome to one of vehement and hugely distressed opposition to it.

Among the many people with painful experiences of resisting the project is Mayo fisherman, Pat “The Chief” O’ Donnell. The Chief has been a vocal objector to the present configuration of the benighted Corrib Gas project which is in the North West region of the Republic of Ireland. In 2008 he was instrumental in preventing Shell, the main partner in the consortium which owns the Corrib Gas field, from laying its disputed pipeline in Broadhaven Bay. Below is an interview in which he describes how he was held at gun-point and his fishing boat scuttled on the night of 12th June 2009.

As I write this in early April 2010, Pat O’ Donnell is in Castlerea prison in County Roscommon, convicted of a public order offence which Gardai [police] say he committed during a public protest. The circumstances of his arrest and conviction are strongly contested by his many friends and family who say that O’ Donnell has been subject to vindictive treatment because of his effective opposition to what Shell are doing in County Mayo. The claims made in his defence have also to be considered against the fact that since Pat O’ Donnell’s fishing boat was scuttled there has been no proper investigation into the events of that night.

Continue reading Shell and The Fisherman

Right turn ahead

Ireland, the Lisbon Treaty and the New World Order

By Miriam Cotton

This analysis of the background to the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum which will take place in Ireland on 2nd October 2009 was originally published at Znet.

Here we go again

These days in Ireland, people are mostly either a ’Yes’ or a ‘No’.  There are also, crucially, the ‘Dont Knows’.   This situation has come about because the disobedient citizens of Ireland defeated the European Union’s proposed Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in 2008.   The Nos had won and the solidly Yes establishment consensus was furious with us.  We were ‘ungrateful’ and ’ignorant’.  We were ’liars’.  We would be sent to detention and our pocket money would be withheld.  None of our European friends would want to play with us any more and would want to punish us severely, what is more.  They would hold their party without us in future and we would have to wait outside the door looking longingly in at the feast.  The Lisbon Treaty has far greater significance than any of this.  If it is not also the focus of popular attention in the US, China, Russia, India and the Middle East among others then it really should be, though it’s certain that there are plenty of powerful people in those places who are watching its progress carefully.

For its own constitutional reasons, Ireland had to put the treaty to its electorate for approval.  Alone among all of the member states of the union, this pesky little country of just over 4 million people had delivered a verdict which should, because of a requirement for unanimity among EU states, have seen the EU go back to the drawing board or abandon the treaty altogether.   But things seldom work like they are supposed to round these parts and now we are being told instead  to go back to the polling booth to do as ordered last time and vote yes in a re-run referendum on the exact same treaty.   This has all resulted in a heated public debate that it had been intended should never take place but which has gone some way to exposing the enormous underbelly of the  Lisbon Treaty project.  And so we find ourselves in Ireland with the fate of 500, 000, 000 European people in our hands, almost certainly most of them begging us not to approve the treaty.  We have had to do this vote/re-vote routine with two earlier pieces of European legislation already as Irish people try to resist the increasingly but now utterly discredited ‘liberal’ or ‘free market’ economics which the EU is now trying to foist on us permanently.  But the Irish have obstinately refused to learn the lesson being rammed down our throats: get it right first time.  Each time around, however, the electorate appears to lose its collective nerve and we submit in the second vote to the prescribed view.    We have a bit of a shout about things and then settle down to behaving like compliant Europeans, though at the time of writing there is a possibility that the outcome will be different this time.   The Nos comprise mainly working people, trade unionists and peace activists for example, who fear a reduction in employment rights and a militarised, less democratic Europe.   The make-up of the first Lisbon Treaty vote was no exception – although it was notable that a large majority of women had voted against it.  Right -wing opponents of the treaty, though far fewer in number, had been the focus of hysterical pro-treaty media attention, as they are again now, but that did nothing to persuade the majority who had different reasons for saying no to Lisbon.

Continue reading Right turn ahead

Irish media failing over Rossport

The media are taking the side of Goliath in this David v Goliath issue, without verifying their facts. By Miriam Cotton

A version of this article appears in this month’s issue of Village Magazine (June 2009).

“I hate to criticise a multinational, because generally speaking I am a great fan of multinationals (they being the basis of our present prosperity) but I have to say that Shell has been scandalously remiss in not employing someone to bump off a few of these fellows.” [Kevin Myers, Irish Independent, Friday 3rd August 2007]

In April 2006, life-long native of Erris, Co Mayo, Willie Corduff was honoured to go to California to accept the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize – awarded to him for his efforts to protect his community from environmental and other threats it faces from the proposed Shell/ Statoil/ Marathon Consortium’s Corrib Gas project. The Goldman is awarded annually to just six people from around the world. Here was a big story, a source of national pride, with international significance and full of human and social interest. Yet there was only a relatively low-key murmur about it in the Irish national media.

Three years later almost to the day Corduff found himself attacked and viciously beaten by a number of men in balaclavas.

By the early hours of April 23rd, 2009, Corduff had spent much of the previous day trying to prevent the erection (with dubious permission) of fencing for a Shell compound above Glengad Beach in Broadhaven Bay, by sitting under a Shell works truck thus rendering it inoperative. The sandy beach cliff at Glengad is home to a much-loved population of sand martins but it is also the proposed landfall site for the 92km, globally unprecedented, pipeline of highly volatile raw gas – from seven well heads out in the Corrib field. Having hit the landfall at Glengad, Shell say the pressure will, if the project goes ahead, be reduced from the extremely high 345 bar pressure to 144 bar via a “reduction valve” and then travel a further 9 kilometres inland, criss-crossing the exquisitely beautiful Broadhaven Bay, to a proposed refinery at Ballinaboy.

Continue reading Irish media failing over Rossport

Harney and Husband

Brian Geoghegan’s role as chairman of MKC posed conflicts of interests for Mary Harney

By Miriam Cotton and Frank Connolly

This article appears in this month’s issue of the Village Magazine (April 2009).

The curious professional relationship between health minister Mary Harney and her husband, Brian Geoghegan, has raised quite a few eyebrows among friends, critics and colleagues over many years.  Their paths have crossed in many ways not least during Harney’s most recent terms as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and since 2003 as Minister for Health.  Geoghegan’s former position as Director of Economic Affairs for the employers’ group, IBEC, meant regular, sometimes daily, contact with the enterprise and trade department while his more recent role as chairman of public relations consultants MKC Communications (previously MRPA Kinman) involved intensive negotiations with the health department on various matters.

It is well known that Harney appointed Geoghegan chairman of FAS during her term in Enterprise just months before they married in 2001, and that they travelled together on a number of official trips which were recently the subject some embarrassing scrutiny by the Oireachtas committee on public accounts and the media.

While many were amused, and distracted, by the cost of Harney’s hair-do during the FAS trip to Florida, the more serious questions surrounding the benefit of such trips to the Irish taxpayer and of similar junkets with her husband in her capacity as health minister have remained largely unaddressed.  Last year, a trip by Harney, her husband, and several officials to the US on the government jet cost no less than €190,000 and took in visits to four cities and controversially the US Superbowl.  Due to this trip, which was described as a ‘dental and cancer fact finding trip’ she missed an important Dail debate on the health services.  A total of €3,380 was spent on food and drink and €11,000 on hotel bills during the Stateside excursion.

There is an even more serious matter concerning the involvement of Harney and Geoghegan with the private medical health sector.  Very few have considered whether there has been a long running conflict of interest arising from the various roles she and her husband have played in the rush to privatisation of the health services.  Certainly, the overlap in the personal and professional activities of the Minister and her husband up to his recent retirement as chairman of MKC Communications warrants a good deal more public scrutiny than they have had to date.

In this regard it is worth revisiting a press release issued by IBEC on 18th June 2003:

‘IBEC Welcomes Health Service Reform Programme;

The business and employers organisation, IBEC, has today welcomed the publication of the Government’s Health Service Reform Programme.

The Programme is a serious effort to address issues of accountability and value for money in the health service.  The two reports on which the Reform Programme is based confirm the need for much greater clarity, accountability and efficiency in the management of this major area of public service delivery, said Brian Geoghegan, Director Economic Affairs, IBEC.  Managers in the health service and hospitals need to be given the power to manage.  It is a positive development that organisational structures are being streamlined and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy stripped away.

Health accounts for a quarter of all public spending.  Ireland needs a 21st centruy health service that is delivered in a cost effective, efficient and accountable manner, said Geoghegan.  The Reform Programme is a genuine attempt to achieve this goal and should be implemented in a speedy and determined manner by the appointment of a high level leadership team with responsibility to follow through on these Government decisions.  The Government must stand firm in the implementation of this important Reform Programme and withstand the inevitable pressure from many vested interestes, concluded Geoghegan.’

Clearly, Geoghegan did not mean to imply that he might have a vested interest in the matter himself.  Within a year, Mary Harney resigned unexpectedly as leader of the Progressive Democrats and took up her post as Minister for Health.

In January 2006, Brian Geoghegan resigned from IBEC and took up a position as Chairman of MRPA Kinman.  According to the company, which re-branded as MKC Communications in mid 2008 and from which Geoghegan resigned as chairman in October last, it is a consultancy firm that prides itself on its access to government for lobbying purposes.  It is led by former PD spokesman, Ray Gordon, and former party press officer and policy director Stephen O’ Byrnes.  It counts among its government and commercial clients the Health Information and Quality Authority, a body which was set up by Minister Harney to implement the sort of reforms which Brian Geoghegan was anxious to see – and which his wife is now responsible for implementing.

HIQA might be described as exactly the sort of ‘team’ or quango that Geoghegan had called for – and in due course his own firm was benefiting financially from its establishement.  Moreover, MKC has been the point of contact on behalf of HIQA for many of the agency’s reform activities so that interested stakeholders have had to apply not to HIQA itself for information about what is happening, but to MKC Account Executives.

Further questions about MKC were exposed by Kieran Allen, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at UCD.  In his book ‘The Corporate Take-Over of Ireland’, he has written about the influence they were able to bring to bear on persuading Harney to ditch some urgently needed legislation, painstakingly put together for the purpose of tackling the enormous problem of young people and alcohol abuse in ireland.  Allen puts it like this:

“The sharpest move that the drinks industry made was to hire MRPA Kinman Communitations as its lobbying agency.  MRPA Kinman boasts that ‘it has unrivalled experience’ of lobbying as two of the firms partners ‘worked at the coalface with one of the leading political parties’.  With this team on board, the drinks industry certainly had access to the corridors of power…by the start of October 2005, it became clear that the government had capitulated and had withdrawn the Alcohol Products Bill.  In its place a special code of practice was accepted – just as the drinks industry had requested.  Junior health Minister Sean Power, who happens to be a publican, claimed that the industry were told about the draft law and were asked their opinions.  As they agreed to implement an improved voluntary code drawn up under the aegis of the Department of Health, it was decided to ‘delay’ the introduction of the Bill.

‘The Department approached representatives from the relevant industries – not the other way around’, he said.

The cynicism of this statement was, however, revealed when the journalist Fintan  O’Toole, showed that the new voluntary code for advertising alcohol in cinemas was written by none other than Carlton Screen Advertising.  O’ Toole wrote that the
‘The Department of Health were so subservient to industry that they even used the same grammatical errors as the original version supplied by the company!’..The drinks industry had won – game, set and match”, Allen concludes.

In recent years, Harney has been to the fore in promoting private health care and the co-location of private hospitals on public lands; and is currently rolling out the National Plan for Radiation Oncology which also involves the private-sector construction of new radiation units on the grounds of public hospitals.  While there may be questions about the viability of the controversial co-located hospital scheme in the current economic climate, the proposed new radiation units at Beaumont and St James in Dublin and at Cork and Galway University hospitals are a guaranteed money spinner for the private developers involved.

They will replace the current radiation treatment cetnre at St Luke’s in Dublin and every patient needing the service will have no choice but to attend one of the p[rivately-built units, with their treatment funded by the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, Harney has been busy opening other private radiation units at the Beacon Clinic in Dublin, in Galway and in Waterford.  Each of these openings is organised and facilitated by the PR consultancies in which some of her former colleagues and friends are also involved.  It is believed that the objection of very senior figures in the health service to the private corporate role in the construction and operation of these radiation units were overruled by the minister.

MKC and similar private lobbyists have arguably mroe influence on such matters than the elected representatives of poltiical groupings that have a much better-grounded mandate than the PDs – especially since their drubbing at the last election.

Surely taxpayers should be told the full extent to which various consultancies have benefited commercially and the nature and extent of their influence on health and other policy?  When all of this is considered against a background of massively increased spending on these reforms and on private consultants, private hopsitals and others employed to put them into effect, the continuing service-failures and their serious impacts on patients call the Minister’s priorities into question.  We are certainly a long way from the reduced bureaucracy, improved accountability, value for money and resistance to vested interests that was so urgently called for by Mr Geoghegan in 2003.

Drowning the good guys and gals

Analysis of MediaBite interview with Harry Browne

This analysis of our interview with Harry Browne is not a critique of his journalism but rather of the coercive effect on him of the professional, corporate media environment as it seemed evident during the interview. We contend all mainstream journalists are unavoidably affected by this phenomenon – even those who are conscious of it.

These are hardly original observations but they are worth restating for the purpose of exploring the case in point. Professional journalism is a commodity, a product that we buy. We should regard it as we would detergent on a supermarket shelf, recognising the various brand qualities but always aware that it is fundamentally the same sort of profit-orientated, business and advertiser- pleasing product – with a few mildly abrasive bio-granules tolerated in the mixture (the good guy journalists) so that news will come out of the wash with an illusion of whiter-than-whiteness. It’s not a substitute for establishing a normal, collective and truly factual understanding of our world. Sometimes it’s quite good at giving the impression that it is – occasionally it even manages to do it.

Avoidance is the key

That all of the above is true is easily proved by observing the fate of the best journalists. Those who try hard to resist the essential untruth of most corporate journalism, as Harry Browne does, seldom enjoy the extent of the recognition they deserve within the Irish mainstream no matter how good they are. The Irish journalists Joe MacAnthony and Frank Connolly can tell us all about that. It may seem provocative to say so, but there is no one now working in Irish journalism at a senior level who does not make seriously unworthy compromises with his or her journalism – routinely. The challenge is for a single one of them to prove this is not true – or that it is even possible for it to be otherwise. Kevin Myers might possibly be the single exception to prove the rule having cornered the market in uncompromising obnoxiousness – an observation I imagine he would be proud to own. For everyone else ‘avoidance’, to use an expression of Harry Browne’s, is the key to survival.

Browne is honest enough in his interview with us to acknowledge having avoided a more direct response to some of the questions asked of him – though it would be good for the public record to know what he might have said had he not felt constrained. This avoidance is incongruous in his case, given the more forthright quality of much of his actual journalism. But the interview is instructive – the conflict for any conscientious journalist is so evident in his responses. I find it hard to believe that he truly means all of what he has to say about Geraldine Kennedy, editor of the Irish Times for instance. Or alternatively that he has not left out a lot of criticisms that he would make off-the-record. We can only guess whether that is one of the questions that he was inclined to go around, but is he really ‘loathe to agree’ that the paper has been unquestionably favourable to business interests if at the same time he concedes it is his ‘impression’ that that is so? Does that word ‘unquestionably’ really pose such a challenge to his sense of correctness? Would Harry Browne really prefer Geraldine Kennedy for editor over Fintan O’Toole as he seems to imply – are her leadership abilities truly more significant to him than their differing editorial perspectives?

Likewise with his colleague Cliff Taylor at The Sunday Business Post who has written to say that it is ‘nonsense to talk of taxing the rich’. That’s just what Cliff does, Browne says, in effect – that’s Cliff’s thing.  Browne doesn’t address the substantive point: how any journalist writing in the middle of this economic crisis can be so comfortable about publishing a statement like that? It’s because Cliff knows, whatever his readers might think, the corporate media will love him for it. He could never offend big business interests so deeply and so casually as he does so many of his potential readers with such an arrogant remark.

Browne says that Gene Kerrigan’s column in The Sunday Independent goes some way to balancing out the poison of the rest of the paper but that seems a bit like wishful thinking. Readers and viewers are mostly over reliant on journalists like Kerrigan. Whatever honesty they dare – or are allowed – to bring to bear on their journalism is spread too thin. However good a journalist he is, Kerrigan is a woefully inadequate fig leaf with which to disguise the overwhelming intellectual and moral nakedness of The Sunday Independent. Fintan O’Toole, Lorna Siggins, Michael Jansen and Lara Marlowe have to do similar service for the Irish Times. Vincent Browne and Tom McGurk, likewise for the Sunday Business Post. The net effect of having them at all is the opposite of what is claimed: their journalism mostly only goes to validate everything else that is said – because the media hangs much of its claim to ‘balance’ on what is in fact extremely unbalanced coverage taken in the round. All of these journalists are massively outnumbered by more compliant and even servile journalists on all sides but the quality of the latter’s journalism is made to look better than it is by the fact of the Kerrigans and the Marlowes in the same paper. It’s a moot point whether there are any good guys at all in news reporting at RTE – radio or television. Life expectancy for them there, at any rate, is a good deal shorter than elsewhere. It also has to be acknowledged that most of these journalists are happily convinced of the rigour and professionalism with which they do their work – and confounded by ideas and observations like these.

‘Celebrities’, ‘Dilettantes’ and ‘Citizen Journalists’

Since recording this interview with Harry Browne he has said that he regretted, as a lecturer, being as positive as he was at the time about the impact of citizen journalists on the mainstream media meaning, I understand, those who submit unpaid pieces to news outlets. He was concerned with the effect on the availability of work for newly qualified students of journalism, for example. I interpret his comments to mean that the ‘dilettantes’, ‘celebrity bloggers’ and citizen journalists who write voluntarily are encouraging a climate in which editors can exploit journalists who have been through the professional training system by having them write for nothing too – and calling it ‘work experience’. Browne also said that some citizen journalists / dilettantes are only motivated by a desire to see their names in print. I asked if he would like to qualify what he had said in the interview in the light of these remarks but he declined, though re-emphasising the points above. For someone who daily logged himself into the Irish Times system under an ID which was a variation on the spelling of Chomsky’s name, the thrust of some of his comments are surprising – beyond his valid concern about exploitation of young journalists who choose to apply for work in the mainstream media.

The reasons for saying these things go back to first principles. The public account of events and of communities are not the property of any person or group, no matter how much some might like to ring fence them for a paid career in a profit-making enterprise – and persuade us that they are thereby better motivated and placed to do it for us. It’s incredible that it appears necessary to remind journalists of this but we, individually and collectively, own the telling of the events of our lives and our experience and views of events in the world in general. We are as qualified as any journalist to do this by virtue of membership of the human race – whenever and wherever we believe it necessary. Where we chose to organize for the purpose of reporting things ourselves, our voices are as legitimate and expert as any journalist’s – right across the social spectrum and regardless of educational background. We should not allow ourselves to be infantilised by schools of journalism, corporate journalists or their journalism, however they see things themselves.

The present reality of news reporting is a far cry from that, of course. A thing printed in a newspaper, no matter how much ‘agency’ people are relied upon to have in order to decipher its worth or truth, carries weight and authority beyond what it deserves most of the time. The ‘balance’ trick (above) works better than Browne would seem to think. That said, many of us feel no particular reverence or respect for what journalists say beyond what we would feel about any other human being offering a view or a report of events. And that’s exactly as it should be – even when journalists are as talented at writing as Browne is.

As to people who only want to see their names in print, it’s not clear what the difference between a citizen or a paid journalist is where that is concerned. If vanity is the issue for some, arguably it’s rather more of a problem when people are paid to indulge it. At any rate the outpouring of vanity evident daily in the corporate media is something we have to wade through wearily to get to the small spaces where we can avoid it. And it has to be said too, where vanity is concerned, as a profession, journalists are notoriously defensive about criticism while frequently excoriating others (usually soft targets) with impunity – protected by their editors a lot of the time from seeing any equivalent responses to them. Even those responses that do appear are less prominent, frequently censored and much shorter. Not much of the vaunted journalistic ‘balance’ there, then.

And if we are searching for examples of dilettantism it is surely the dabblers in faux truth hiding their cowardice behind absurdly contrived notions of professionalism to whom we must look for the best examples. For instance, the journalistic ritual of achieving ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ are so self-interestedly applied more often than not that they manage to render truth and facts into virtually meaningless versions of themselves for all the worth they have in their professionally eviscerated form: thus a criminal and murderous war becomes ‘a military adventure’ and even a ‘mistake’; corruption and fraud become ‘an appearance of impropriety’;  greed-driven privatisation becomes ‘reform’; the slashing of desperately needed services for sick and disabled people becomes ‘efficiency’. It’s an ocean of euphemism the consequence of which is, for the journalists responsible, that they never upset anyone powerful.

Readers can also be completely unaware of the highly subjective ‘objectivity’ of what they are reading – Harry Browne had an exchange with the Irish Times about their reporting of a recent debate held at Trinity College, ‘Nobel winner defends Israel’s actions’.

Despite the fact that there were other participants in the debate, the report focuses exclusively on the contribution of just one of them, the staunchly pro Israeli Professor Steven Weinberg. Ronan McGreevy described the others present as an ‘audience’. Weinberg’s justifications for Israel’s violence in Palestine are taken at face value. Not one word of anyone else’s contribution is reported. People who had indicated that they wanted to ask questions or make a point of order are described as ‘those of a different view’ and of having ‘several times interrupted’ the professor. Browne wrote to the Irish Times in response.

But his letter was altered. Browne says “the IT took my inverted commas off “disorderly”, which I think made it somewhat offensive to the woman in question, who was genuinely charming, and disorderly only in the absurd technical sense I was trying to capture in my depiction of the debate. I was surprised the letter was published — I suspect only the Prof’s own letter made the appearance of mine possible.”

The multiple failures of the corporate media

If anyone is inclined to think all of this is exaggeration, it might help to itemise some of the media’s continuing and determined failures: the media knows who is corrupt in politics and why – it will not thoroughly investigate or report it; it knew the property bubble was corrupt long before the current crisis, but it would not investigate or report it; it knew parts of the banking system was corrupt long before it collapsed and even now it is failing properly to investigate and report it; it knows that climate change is a potentially devastating threat and it is failing to report it – particularly in relation to any of the causes that implicate major corporate interests; it knows many businessmen are corrupt and why but it will not investigate or report about them; it knows the abject failures and corruption of public administration and governance but it will not thoroughly investigate or report them. If any news journalist doesn’t know any of these things, it can only be for choosing to peg their nose in the stink so as not to have to deal with it.
Is there an alternative?

Open-publishing, internet-based citizen journalism is without fear or favour to editors, advertisers, newspaper owners or professional colleagues – funded by donations from its users and contributors to cover only its basic costs. Nobody is paid to write there. The journalism there is also vulnerable to instant and equally public challenge from anyone with information or motive to do so. Fools are suffered very un-gladly – any vanity in evidence will be rounded on in short order. Gerry Ryan wouldn’t last, oh, five minutes.

In the case of Indymedia Ireland, one of the most successful and popular of the hundreds of Independent Media Centre newswires like it around the world, the editors have no input on what news items will be published until they are already on the site, in public view. What editing they do is to ensure anything published is within the law and basic guidelines for publishing – and all their decisions are publicly recorded with reasons given – for the whole world to see. There is no transparency, accountability or editorial freedom to equal that of Indymedia in the mainstream media where we are kept completely in the dark about what has been edited out of the account. There are many other examples but The Real News Network – based in Toronto – deserves a mention too. Funded by subscription from viewers and independent of advertising revenue RNN has made a serious foray into broadcast journalism providing a desperately needed alternative perspective on the dominant themes of the advertiser and owner-constrained journalism of the mainstream networks.

This interview with Harry Browne is depressing in this context: despite the fact that he has often been a pretty fearless journalist himself and has paid the price of it at the Irish Times, it’s clear that even he – as one of the best journalists we have in Ireland – cannot withstand the immense pressure from within the profession to conform, not to critique the journalism of colleagues or papers that he has worked with or for, too closely. Browne has said that he is inclined to be cautious in the context of an interview like this for reasons that would not be apparent. I may have put an interpretation on his responses that doesn’t do him justice. Nevertheless, I still think that even in allowing for what he says there is strong evidence of the coercive, subtly intimidating effect of the corporate media environment in his caution and evasion in places.

So where does the truthful telling of the public account stand in all of this? For the vast majority of journalists who, unlike Harry Browne, scarcely even question the values and conventions of their profession, framing the story in acceptable and unchallenging terms and not upsetting powerful people too much will trump it more often than not – while the conventions of their ‘professionalism’ are the very things that encourage them to believe they are doing the opposite. As the editors of Medialens in the UK wrote in a recent media alert ‘freedom of expression into corporate journalism does not go‘. The good guys and gals almost all drown there sooner or later. Harry Browne is doing his damndest to tread water and keep air in his lungs.

‘Sometimes you just have to do the right thing’

“We have no interest in oppressing other people. We are not moved by hatred against any other nation. The … maintenance of a tremendous military arsenal can only be regarded as a focus of danger. We have displayed a truly unexampled patience, but I am no longer willing to remain inactive while this madman ill-treats millions of human beings.” (1)

Book review: ‘Hammered by the Irish’, Harry Browne, Counterpunch and AK Press, 2008.

The American journalist Harry Browne (2) has lived and worked in Ireland for 23 years. A committed anti-war campaigner, his recently published book ‘Hammered by the Irish’  is an account of an anti-war action by five activists who have come to be known as ‘The Pitstop Ploughshares’ (3) – and who together disabled an Iraq-bound US warplane at Shannon airport in  February 2003. The book is the story of that action from its planning, the subsequent arrest of those involved and their long journey through the Irish legal system, to the victory of their ultimate acquittal – possibly one of the best examples of justice ever secured within the Irish legal system.   As one of the jurors put it after the verdict was announced ‘sometimes you just have to do the right thing’. The use of Shannon airport as a stop off point for the American military has been a deeply unpopular consequence of the ‘war on terror’ in Ireland – not alone because of overwhelming opposition here to the war itself but because the use of Shannon for assisting in a war between other countries is also believed by most to be blatantly unconstitutional – in direct breach of the country’s neutral status.  Even the prosecuting counsel, who had given the defendants hell through two previous trials, revealed in his closing speech at the final trial that he had himself been on the big anti-war march in Dublin in 2003.

Harry Browne’s book is an accomplished and succinct account of an at-times complex story of the legal and other maneuvering which its five principals endured as a consequence of their witness to the cause of peace – and it is a fascinating story. Browne draws a compelling and affectionate portrait of the activists individually, their collective action and the resulting stresses caused to each and among the group as a whole. He is the best possible person to chronicle their story, not just because of his formidable writing talent but also because of his close personal affinity with his subjects’ perspective – an uncanny coincidence that those with religious leanings might view as a form of divine intervention:

“In the 22 years after my father, an Irish-American New York Catholic priest, died in 1980, on the same day as Dorothy Day, [founder of the Catholic Worker movement (4)] I had long since become an atheist and stopped talking and thinking about Catholic Worker, a movement Father Harry Browne admired and drew upon for political sustenance.  Father Phil Berrigan [the Jesuit peace activist who wrote the foreword for the book] was arrested by duplicitous Feds in my dad’s Upper West Side closet in 1970.  And now Berrigan’s name has been scrawled on an Irish airport, his moral descendents have found me in Dublin and no one has ever seemed more self-evidently ‘right’ to me.  A jury could have convicted them and a judge sent them down for 10 years and there would have been not a ripple on the calm certainty of my judgment which comes from my deepest places.”

The Catholic Workers Nuin Dunlop (American/Irish), Karen Fallon (Scots/Irish), Deirdre Clancy (Irish), Damien Moran (Irish) and Ciaron O’Reilly (Australian/Irish) – each in their own way clearly brought a special quality of commitment and poignancy to the action they undertook.  Their testimony in court to their methods and motives were wonderfully expressed and are equally well contextualized by Browne – perhaps nowhere more so than in this quotation from the evidence of Nuin Dunlop.  Asked in the witness box why she had done this action, Browne recounts her response:

“’There were several reasons, four reasons actually.  I would say the words responsibility, solidarity, urgency and prayer – and please, if I could explain?’

The whole courtroom willed her to explain.

‘Responsibility to me means literally the ability to respond:  I am a person who had an ability to respond:  I’m not an Iraqi person standing under the threat of bombardment, I’m not an economic conscript in the US military, I am a person who had an ability to respond to what I saw was going to be the killing of innocent people and so I had the ability to respond, I did respond.  Secondly, solidarity to me is ‘being with’, it is a presence with people who are suffering in some way, and I saw the Iraqi people as very much suffering under psychological threat of potential full-on war; and I wanted to say to those people in Iraq, you are seen, you are heard and you’re not alone in this; so that is solidarity, it is ‘being with’, even from a slight distance.  Urgency:  I had a sense that war was imminent, that bombs were going to be crashing down on people in the very near future, and that people’s lives in Iraq were at risk and action needed to be taken to protect the people and the land of Iraq.  And prayer:  I had a sense through prayer that I needed to participate in this particular action at Shannon.’

 Sure, it was a well thought-out piece of speech-making, but it was a beautiful one too, and from this striking woman – a dark-haired mix of Irish and native American, it blew like a breeze of truth through the courtroom.”

There are many things to like about Hammered.  Browne’s narrative style and sense of humour are foremost among them – ‘one good American deserves another’ – and as his observation of an intervention by a member of the public in the court room during the last trial attests:

 “There was still more and more tedious, legal argument in the jury’s absence about particular lines of questioning.  The tedium was relieved, however, by one of those now rare Dublin moments that remind you of the peculiar character that still lingers around the place.  In the midst of an argument about whether and when it was appropriate to interrupt a witness, Judge McDonagh said that witnesses should not ‘go off at a tangent.’  This prompted a loud interruption from a well-spoken gentleman in the court, quaintly referred to in the official transcript as ‘Man From The Public Gallery’.

‘MFTPG:  Politicians normally do that, go off on a tangent.

Judge:     Can we remove that gentleman from the court.

MFTPG:   You’re a fucking joke, sir.

Judge:      Place that man under arrest.  I will deal with him at lunchtime for contempt.  Put him under arrest, in the cells, I’ll deal with him at lunchtime.  I’m not going to be referred to in those tones by anybody.

MFTPG:    Swan eggs, please, for lunch.

(man removed from the courtroom)’

The gentleman proved to be an eccentric and barely-known cousin of one of the defence barristers – not one of the defendants’, whose family and supporters had been impeccably behaved throughout their trials.  He apologized and was freed just after lunchtime: it is not recorded if he was disappointed at being served something other than swans’ eggs in the courthouse cells.”

One of the book’s greatest accomplishments is the small masterpiece that is the snapshot Browne gives of contemporary Irish life and of its modern history.   His intention, presumably, was to give the backdrop to the events, the people involved and their story but he has achieved much more than that in so doing.  For anyone who is interested in what it is like to live in contemporary Ireland, ‘Hammered by the Irish’ would be an excellent place to start:

“The ‘well-liked’ priest was often the man who combined superficial out-of-Church friendliness with a capacity to mutter his way through a quick and painless Sunday mass.  The bit in the Catholic liturgy when the congregation is invited to exchange a sign of peace with fellow parishioners, used in much of the global Church as an opportunity for embraces, is treated in Ireland as an unwanted occasion to catch your neighbour’s eye, murmur a greeting and share a barely-brushing handshake (you never know what you might catch).  To an outsider, Irish Catholicism looks like it has entered some international competition to see which nation can best empty Christian rituals of any conceivable meaning and it has won hands down.”

This is a windingly funny observation – immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever been to Sunday mass in Ireland.  The book is laced through with acute observations of this sort – by turns warm, satirical, critical and sympathetic as appropriate:

“With just four million people, the Republic of Ireland is too small and its Tiger is too complex and contingent (just what would have happened without Viagra in Cork and/or Pentium chips in Kildare?) for it to be held up as a successful model of one form or another of economic development, though that doesn’t stop the pundits and politicians of different stripes from citing it either as the model case of low-tax neo-liberalism or of government directed social partnership.”

These observations have in the few months since they were published proved painfully prescient.  Browne’s profile of Brian Cowen who is now Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the September 11 attack is razor sharp – and all the more pertinent since the very qualities Browne shrewdly identified have are, in the midst of the Irish brand of the economic crisis, daily becoming more apparent – as is the folly and shallowness of those who feted him for the top job:

“Cowen’s main failing – apart from notably awful looks, still not regarded as a crippling disability in Irish politics – was his incapacity to indicate convincingly that he believed politics should have anything at all to do with the great unwashed.  (His elitism is commonplace; its transparency less so, and only his own down-home, rough rural manner protected him from political damage.)  Cowen’s every soporific public uttering – muttering, really – carried an implicit message:  “leave it to the professionals.”  Colleagues and journalists encouraged Cowen’s arrogance by constantly assuring him, in public and private, that he was the most intelligent and able of all government ministers, that the nation’s interests were indeed safe in his hands, that he owed no one any explanations.”

Browne has done a terrific job of distilling the complexity of the legal arguments and processes of the Pitstop Ploughshares trials with concision and comprehensibility – not an easy thing to do given the winding and protracted course of the proceedings.  The admirable skill he brings to bear on that difficult task has paid off as the legal argument is essential to a full understanding of how hard won and much deserved the Pitstop Ploughshares’ victory was.   And to this too he brings his sense of humour:

“The jury was sent out in the late afternoon, to reach a verdict.  At 6pm, a request came in from the jury for a copy of Section 6 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991 and Section 21 of the Non-Fatal  Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which amended it.  Judge Reynolds said that it was not usual to give written statutes to the jury.  Instead she read out relevant sections from the legislation and said that, if the jury wished, she would explain again how the law should be applied.  It was, said one observer, a bit like the Catholic Church, which reserved the right to interpret God’s words.  The jury were acting like Protestants, wanting to read the words for themselves.”

The developing courtroom deliberations are also an important aspect of the book in drawing out the point that the Ploughshares were trying to make.  Their hope was that their convictions would be properly discussed, recorded and adjudicated and that the moral imperative which drove them would thereby be vindicated in the eyes of the world – for the sake of the people of Iraq.  Contrariwise, the principal object of the prosecution – and a judge or three along the way – was to ensure that the war itself was not put on trial.  In one extraordinary legal twist of plot, an attempt was made to exclude evidence for the defence of ‘lawful excuse’ entirely – evidence which included the testimony of Denis Halliday, the former United Nations Head of the Humanitarian Programme in Iraq. (5)   In classically eye-watering legal-speak, the prosecuting barrister, Devally, argued it like this:

“The purpose of the application that I bring now is to apply that your lordship deprive the jury of consideration of the defence; in other words, that it does not go to the jury…the consideration of the honest belief is held to be a subjective test, but other features to the defence are objective, and not alone objective, but objective and capable and in fact necessary to be looked at by the judge.  And it being a matter of law as to whether the facts of that particular case are as such to allow for the defence at all.”

When it looked as though this unexpected argument was going to succeed, the defendants and their legal team were aghast.  There followed shortly afterwards, however, an even more extraordinary interim plot development, secured from the defence team’s own ‘arsenal’ of legal argument and strategy – but you will have to read the book to find out what that was.

As readers we get to share in the mounting tension and at times severe anxiety that beset the Ploughshares and those, including Browne himself, who supported them closely during the three years that they lived with the threat of prison sentences hanging over their heads.  They had already endured temporary imprisonment, unjustified and inaccurate media vilification and many other unwarranted consequences and interruptions to their lives.  This short book, in just 175 pages, gives all of ‘the what’ and ‘the why’ of their action.

The Pitstop Ploughshares’ action gave peaceful and courageous expression to what the majority of Irish people felt and feel about the war on Iraq – about all of the monstrous notion summed up in that vile term ‘war on terror’ – (even now being sneakily and violently pursued in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the supervision of the no-change-here President Barack Obama and his Envoy, Richard Holbrooke).   Hammered by the Irish does full justice to all of those considerations and should go some way to redressing the indifference of the mainstream media towards this action and towards the ordinary people who did an extraordinary thing and brought the establishment to meaningful recognition of the justice and truth of their case – and by unavoidable implication despite the best efforts of the prosecution to prevent it – an acknowledgement of the fundamental case against the war itself.

Harry Browne describes his response to the Ploughshares acquittal at the time:

“To be honest, the jury’s decision is a delight, and it has won the Shannon Five these 15 minutes of fame, but they didn’t need it for vindication, not in my eyes.  As an earnest American who has tried for 20 years to adjust to Irish people’s typical cynicism and undemonstrative natures (at least while sober), I find an emotional and moral truth in these five people – two Irish-born and three of diaspora descent – that resonates almost unbearably, almost accusingly, and fills me with embarrassing love for them, each of them and all of them.”


Miriam Cotton



March 6, 2009


MediaBite will shortly publish an in-depth interview with Harry Browne about his career, his views on journalism in general and some discussion about the Irish media.


1. Adolf Hitler, proclamation to the German people, 12 March 1938 – about Czechoslovakia.

The Elephant in between the property ads

This article appears in this month’s issue of the Village Magazine (February 2009).

“The people who got us into this mess in the first place are not the people to get us out of it.” [David McWilliams, Irish Independent, 19 November 2008] This is the most pertinent advice from any journalist since the simmering economic crisis boiled over. In general, however, a crushing absence of credibility infuses Ireland’s newsrooms. The proverbial elephant in the room remains unfathomably neglected.

Media analysis shares the blame for the current economic predicament between the central boom profiteers – what Fintan O’Toole calls “a triangular relationship between politics, development and banking.” The glaring omission is ‘the media’ itself. The media inscribes this triangle, putting it at the virtual helm of the property boom titanic.

A symbiotic relationship

Few will dispute that “the Irish media for the last 10-15 years have had a crucial economic stake in a rising property market.” It is no secret for instance that in July 2006 the Irish Times bought the property website for EUR50 million or that three months earlier Independent News & Media acquired, the “largest internet property site on the island of Ireland.”

It is uncontroversial then to say that a deflating property bubble is bad for business.

However, this relationship between media and business is not a simple one. It is inconceivable that the media, a wildly disparate group of individuals working in a variety of organisations, all with differing codes of practice and economic and ideological objectives, conceived a plan to inflate the property bubble. So if we discount collusion and mere chance, there must be something else.

A revolving door

One element of this relationship that could be considered unhealthy is the seeming interdependence of journalism, government and big business. This is no more evident than in the property sector. Estate agents and developers are not only consulted as experts, they themselves file copy.

Take for example Ken MacDonald, veteran Managing Director of Hooke and MacDonald, purveyors of lower-end apartments, and long-term advocate of the relaxations of architectural standards for new homes. He was described by Sunday Independent property editor John O’Keefe as the “Elvis of apartments and new homes” who “may not yet be able to turn water into wine – but you get the feeling it’s only a matter of time.” As late as March 2007 Mr. MacDonald was hilariously assuring Sunday Independent readers: “I am totally convinced that the market is currently in good shape and that anyone buying now will do extremely well in the years ahead.

The Irish Times’ Environment Editor and development expert Frank McDonald wrote how from one month to the next he would be in Sicily to interview one of Ireland’s leading property developers and then Ibiza to attend the birthday party of architect and old friend John Meagher, at which tax exile and part-time developer Denis O’Brien made “the speech”.

This cosy relationship is perhaps why developers are incessantly described as “affable”. The term is ubiquitous in the Irish Times and Irish Independent – when capturing the essence of our development Titans. So in these pages, Michael Taggart the “affable Derryman“, Sean Dunne the “affable but tough former ordnance surveyor“, Joe Moran the “affable Kerryman“, Bernard McNamara the “affable presence in the Fianna Fail tent” and Sean Mulryan the “affable but shrewd businessman.

The fact this cosy circle of elites exists doesn’t suggest back patting or unprofessional favour. It simply underlies the common interests and shared ideology that constrains media discourse and ultimately billowed the expanding bubble.

Futureshock: Property Crash

Take for instance RTE’s documentary Futureshock: Property Crash, broadcast in 2006 and presented by Richard Curran and his “Econo-Witches“, as they would later be dubbed. The programme explored the potential problems that might occur if the property market followed the boom-bust scenario of other countries – a timely and important thesis which had rarely been seriously considered in the media.

Recent praise of the programme neglects to mention the media’s widespread “outrage” towards RTE’s “sensationalist shock tactics” and “lurid predictions.” The Irish Independent claimed RTE had “broadcast fear” and accused it of trying to “kill the property market.” The Irish Times suggested the programme was responsible for the big decline in house-building.

It was “perversely irresponsible” according to the Irish Independent’s Alan Ruddock. Cl�odhna O’Donoghue reported on the “irresponsible, partly inaccurate and wholly sensationalist” programme. Marc Coleman, who now, in an absurd self-promoting ad, touts as one of the few prescient soothsayers and then the Irish Times economics correspondent, stated: “We are not on course for a property crash, unless we choose to manufacture one with irresponsible comment.” Other journalists simply found it “difficult to take too seriously.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission however found that the programme “achieved an overall balance of argument.

Following the wave of criticism readers were comforted with fantastic predictions: “Far from an economic storm — or a property shock — Ireland’s economy is set to rock and roll into the century.

The ‘Pessimists’

There were of course dissenters. It is certainly not the case that the Irish media was completely resistant to contrary views. They were however few and far between.

In late 2006 Morgan Kelly, professor of economics at University College Dublin, writing in the Irish Times stated: “Compared with income, rents have actually fallen since 2000. The fact that rents have fallen shows conclusively that our housing boom is a bubble, pure and simple. A soft landing is not so much unlikely as contradictory.

A definitive statement from an authoritative and independent expert on the subject, yet the following month, as consumers returned from their holiday break, Arthur Beesley, the Irish Times’ Senior Business Correspondent reported that “the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute (IAVI) is predicting a soft landing for the residential market in 2007.” Marc Coleman reassured potential buyers “All will be well – if politicians don’t meddle in the property market,” warning however that there would be a “gentle correction in the early year before a recovery.” And the IAVI smugly claimed the property market “continued to confound the pessimists.

The same IAVI who stated in January 2008: “the market is beginning to stabilise. The worst is over.

An elephant is never forgotten

There is far too much to cover in one article on this subject. We could ask why journalists were so adamant that buying to rent was such a good idea in early 2008. We could ask why readers suffered incongruous headlines like “Sub-prime mortgage market reigns supreme.” There is a plethora of such journalism in the archives of our national newspapers.

The unfortunate thing is that it appears the media has not learnt from these mistakes.

While we can understand its reluctance or inability to address its own complicity, an inability cursing even ‘radical’ journalists such as Vincent Browne, Fintan O’Toole and our ‘Economist in Chief’ David McWilliams, it is saddening to see those same mistakes being repeated.

A Procession of the Powerful

The ‘procession of the powerful‘ that dominated the bubble years – where debate was commanded by those with financial vested interests – continues.

For example, when the Irish Independent and the Irish Times looked for “educated guesses” as to what 2008 would bring, the experts they consulted were estate agents, auctioneers and bankers. When the government was considering changes to stamp duty in order to artificially bolster property prices in late 2007 the Irish Business Post “asked six experts for their views on whether now is the time for the government to reform the tax.” Those experts were estate agents, auctioneers and bankers.

Now that these expert opinions have been largely discredited, who do the media turn to looking for solutions to the crisis? Denis O’Brien of course – who recommended only months ago in the Irish Times that the disgraced Chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Sean Fitzpatrick be encouraged by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to become part-time executive chairmen of public hospitals.

And when the media hosts a debate on a potential economic solution who do they invite to balance the thoughts of those economists that predicted the malaise? The director of new homes at Savills Hamilton Osborne King and director of policy at IBEC the Irish Business and Employers Confederation of course.

While we watch the media host this narrow debate on how our economy is to be cured and our future redirected we must not forget David McWilliams’ warning. We must remember that just like business, banking and politics; corporate journalism has been nakedly exposed by this crisis.