Full transcript via Broadsheet.ie
Shift in the media balance of power has been greatly exaggerated
Despite optimistic claims that “Israel is losing the social media war over Gaza”, the mediating influence of the news industry remains dominant in our cognitive understanding of the conflict; contorting information through both bureaucratic and institutional parameters; determining what is sayable and unsayable, what is visible and what remains hidden.
However, there is certainly a sense that this power is beginning to be eroded. Whereas television was said to bring war into our living rooms, social media realises the uncensored sights and sounds of war in realtime. Paul Mason’s recent essay on the role of social media in informing a new generation of hyper-connected news readers makes a strong case for a shift in power. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence this has translated into a broader media shift.
“It was supposed to be a routine job, police say. Move 69 prisoners from an outlying town to a jail in southern Baghdad.” [Reuters, 27 Jun ‘14]
But those 69 prisoners never reached their destination, they were instead gunned down during a fire fight between the Iraqi army and the insurgent force of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to army spokespeople that is. This is the second such mass killing of army prisoners in the last weeks.
Just 9 days ago Reuters reported that 52 prisoners were found in Baquba, a regional capital north of Baghdad, with “execution-style wounds to the head and chest”. Again, according to the government, the prisoners were said to have been killed by crossfire.
However, according to anonymous sources cited by Reuters, these prisoners were not the victims of stray bullets, but were instead summarily executed by their captors.
In Baquba, the New York Times reported that a source at the morgue said that “many of the victims had been shot to death at close range”.
While in Hilla, a police officer and a senior local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters, “no attack took place, and the police had executed the 69 men”.
But, in contrast to the claims of mass killings made by ISIL earlier this month, these massacres have yet to be widely reported. This is despite reports by Amnesty International and tweets by Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings there was some media interest, at the time when responsibility was attributed to ISIL. However, since the blame shifted, the interest has quickly waned – save for less than a handful of reports, the first by Reuters (republished by several other news organisations) and then by the New York Times.
Quietly at least, it seems the Iraqi government is sending a message to ISIL that it does not have a monopoly over mass killings.
The New York Times cited these two events as evidence of the return to a “familiar cycle of violence” between Sunni and Shia. At the very same time, evidence of deaths in Baghdad neighbourhoods are said to “fit the pattern of Shiite death squads during the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007”.
Yet these aren’t the kind of events that form part of the broader narrative.
ISIL are still the only “extremists” in this conflict, while the Iraqi government and military, and the various Shia militias, are constantly said to be engaged in “counteroffensive”, responding to violence, and only engaging in it after their “patience had run out”. These executions, where they are referred to, are branded of a lesser evil than those of the ISIL led insurgency, unhindered by “a raw, sectarian quality“, despite being directed predominantly towards the Sunni minority.
An email to the Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole regarding the recently published report on Ireland’s financial crisis.
Hope you’re well.
I’ve just scanned the Nyberg Report and wanted to ask whether you are planning to write anything about what this report says about the media’s role in the economic crisis? Adding a little depth to the single sentence mention you gave it in your last piece on Sean Quinn.
Here’s a few choice quotes from the report that would be a great basis for a long over due bit of soul searching about journalism. Fisk has done it for war reporting, it’s about time someone did it for economics reporting.
““nobody told them” there was a potential problem” (pp iii)“…(“media”) had a relatively large influence on how pre-crisis developments were perceived,discussed and acted upon” (pp 6)
Groupthink more likely where “the media and the political system take a supportive rather than a challenging role” (pp 9)
“much of the media enthusiastically supported households’ preoccupation with property ownership” (pp 50)
“Anglo was widely admired,and lauded (by […] the media) as a role model for other Irish banks to emulate” (pp ii)
For more on this subject:
Favouring the Rich – A Media Prerogative? (Dec 2009)
The Elephant in between the property ads (Feb 2009)
The Media and the Banking Bailout (Oct 2008)
For the past decade the media inscribed a “triangular relationship between politics, development and banking” which largely explains why despite the witch hunts for rogue bankers, developers and politicians the media has not yet reflected on its own role in the crisis.
[Image via Irish Independent]
Dear Brian Brennan [BrianBrennan (at) independent.ie],
I just read your piece in today’s Irish Independent and wanted to say I thought it was well timed. The damning judgement at the ballot box was not just directed at Fianna Fail, but at all those who facilitated and were complicit in the economic crisis. I also wanted to say though, that while you target a number of groups who bear serious responsibility for the economic crisis, I would argue you have left out at least one significant group: journalists and journalism.
At both a corporate and a journalistic level Irish media institutions failed in their role as the fourth estate. They failed to investigate properly the property market and the economic rational that underpinned it, they failed to expose the banking and political system that fueled the bubble, and at the most basic level they failed to safeguard the supposed firewall between journalism and advertising. Quite oppositely, they actually developed an economic stake in a rising property market. Both the Irish Independent and the Irish Times moved into the property sector both in terms of news supplements and as sales agents. Economics reporting reflected and fed into that perspective, with few dissenting voices.
Despite all this the media has not reflected on its role in the economic crisis.
Discussion with Kathleen Lynch, Professor of Equality Studies, Department of Social Justice, UCD.
18th February 2011
(KL – Kathleen Lynch, MB – MediaBite, Miriam Cotton)
MB: Can you say a little about your own background and what attracted you to Equality Studies?
KL: I founded Equality Studies here in UCD in the late 1980s. Ireland was not unlike it is now. In the mid 80s we had the moving statues, we had the abortion referendum – a very controversial time. It was Ireland with the influence of Thatcher and Reagan – when they became extremely powerful politically and ideologically. There were a number of us here in UCD who felt we had an opportunity. I was always interested in equality issues and social justice since I was young. I had this idea for establishing Equality Studies. We had a women’s studies forum here. People often forget that the librarians in UCD were very involved in setting that up – more than the academics – but the women academics did get involved later and I participated in that in the mid 80s. Then I felt that while I was interested in women’s issues, my interests were bigger than that. I was interested in human rights, global justice and especially in class and equality. I felt that Ireland was a very class divided society. So I wrote a proposal. I got the support of colleagues in Law, Sociology and Business and eventually after two or three years – in 1990 – we got approval to start a masters degree and that’s 21 years ago this year.
So there was that context, but there was also another context. More seriously, I suppose, one thing I learned from the nature of politics in Britain at the time was that what Thatcher did in Britain was very significant. Obviously she broke the unions of course but she also institutionalised injustice through laws. Education was my main area of research then. The 1988 (UK) Education Act was deeply inegalitarian. It started the break-up of the public school system in Britain. I was very aware of what was happening and what we saw was that you can institutionalise injustice in the same way you can institutionalise systems of justice. I felt there was a need to create a site for intellectual life, for scholarship and teaching and to create a place in the university where people could actually study and research on equality issues. We worked at the time with Women’s Studies. Ailbhe Smith was a central person involved in that. There were a lot of initiatives then in the early 1990s. The idea was to create a safe intellectual space where people could create ideas that would outlive the lives of individuals – and that’s very important I think. A lot of people think of change in terms of charismatic individuals but I think that is very dangerous politically. Individuals are important but they are not as important as wider ideas. I would, as I say, be very aware of creating a space where people have the right to dissent from the prevailing orthodoxies whatever they may be. And the orthodoxies do change – they are not always the same.
MB: With regard to social justice and equality in Ireland – other than on TV3’s Tonight With Vincent Browne and among very few other journalists – the usual suspects such as Gene Kerrigan and Fintan O’Toole for example – and despite the grossly unequal burden that’s been landed on the less well-off, the media is substantially failing to report and discuss these issues in any depth, if at all. In fact it has been established that to do so is laughable. Sinn Fein and The United Left Alliance panel members on TV and radio are openly sneered at for raising them. Fionnan Sheahan, Political Editor at The Independent has referred to Sinn Fein’s ‘fairytales’ – by which he means economic policies aimed at responding to the crisis fairly.
KL: When the crisis happened first I thought that the source and cause of the crisis would be identified by the media – which was the unregulated power of global capitalism and what happened in Europe in the 1990s in Europe and throughout the world when capitalism won the cold war and was given free reign. Whether you like it or not – and you don’t have to be a socialist to believe this – or a feminist – the fact is that capitalism is for profit, the way it has been regulated is for share holder interest only, not for workers’ interest and certainly not in the interest of the common good in any sense of the term.
What happened in Ireland was that at the very beginning of the crisis there was huge criticism in 2008 of unregulated capitalism. But slowly that dissent started to fade away. I think that is very worrisome because what is happening now is that the blame is being shifted. For example, you have this ideology being put about that welfare fraud must be taken on. This is risible in the context of a society which has been impoverished by its political and commercial elites – both the banking and development sectors have bankrupted the state. To make your main platform the taking on of welfare fraud which is tiny by comparison to major corruption and tax evasion which are widespread – is extraordinary. But that is what is happening – there is a deliberate attempt to scapegoat the vulnerable. Of course there is an attack on the public sector which is also an attack on women. People forget that over 60% of people in the public sector are women, the vast majority of them earning very average salaries. You have a handful of very high salaried people who are taken out and held up for public ridicule and the rest of the sector is held up for the same ridicule even though the majority in general have nothing to do with the crisis.
So you have two kinds of scapegoats: the very vulnerable and the ‘undeserving poor’. Of course they wouldn’t dare attack the elderly after the elderly took them on and they are a powerful voting block. But the people who are very vulnerable are women and children. People also forget that 20% of our children are defined as living in poverty by the UN – that is a huge number of children. None of these people have a political voice and so they don’t count and are gradually being discarded. That is my view and I think the media have played a very important role in actually creating that kind of ideology over the last two years.
The other issue is that control of the media is a huge consideration here. It is obvious when we look at what we have. We have to pay a licence to a national broadcaster which is controlled by the conservative political parties in terms of ideology. There is no question about it. How that is managed I don’t know but it is self-evident. You need only listen to the so-called news, which is not the news, it is the news as it is constructed for us, as we are allowed to know it. And you can see it in that a certain perspective on events is presented all the time. There is the odd television programme around the issues, but an odd dissenting programme is not a swallow that can make a summer, just as a couple of dissenting voices in a newspaper doesn’t make it a balanced newspaper.
MB: We find that often when we make that criticism of the media people invariably say ‘but there’s Fintan O’Toole’ as if one person or a very few people are enough to create balance.
KL: The media is not remotely balanced. There is no question that there is a media elite about whom a lot of questions need to be asked. Where did they acquire their education? What degrees have they studied? When they are studying journalism some of them are given placements in places like the Dáil. They become aligned with political parties. They get their stories from political parties so they are not truly independent in their political judgment. And then you have the ownership and control issue. About 60% is owned by Independent Newspapers and a handful of others own TV3 and other newspapers so we have no equivalent in Ireland, for example like The Guardian. We don’t have a newspaper that you can pick up and say this paper represents a dissent from the centre right.
MB: Our counterparts in the UK, Media Lens, would not agree with that and we agree with them that The Guardian is just as guilty of unquestioning conformity as any of the others despite the blush of dissent in its news coverage. Media Lens alluded to them as ‘The Guardians of Power’ which was in fact the title of their first book.
KL: I think you could say that is true but it’s certainly better than what we have in Ireland. I think we’re on a gradient here. But The Guardian does consistently hold a view that is different to the Tories. We have no newspaper that you could pick up and say this different from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael consensus – not a single paper has a consistently contrary view. Apart from a token journalist or two, that’s it. If you take what is printed out as the reportage of events, most of it reads like press releases.
MB: Do you think we are seeing what Naomi Kelin has called ‘The Shock Doctrine’ being put into effect? For instance there are a number of reports and analyses that show there are perfectly workable alternatives to many of the austerity measures being inflicted on us that would not involve cuts to disability allowances and other welfare supports. Is the response to the crisis ideologically driven?
KL: There are always alternatives. There is a deliberate attempt here to frighten people and to tell us we have no choice, that we can’t negotiate with Europe and that we can’t raise taxes. It’s ludicrous. I think that some of the media people should get out of their comfort zones and go around and look at the wealthy parts of the cities. Go and use their eyes and their ears. Look at the cars that sit on people’s drives. Go into Dublin or Cork City and see where people are wining and dining. There are a lot of very well off people in this country. I don’t know where the media do their research but I believe there is a lack of honesty about people in privileged positions in this country. There are wealthy people who are not being targeted in any serious way. Instead of that the average person is being made to feel “Oh well, you had a good time and you had security and now you can’t have that security any more”.
I have given a lot of attention to the party manifestos and the Fine Gael ‘5-point plan’ is straight out of a Tory text book. It’s full of soft language hiding hard policies. It’s full of vagueness. I’ve looked at their policies on higher education, for example, and nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that the fees will be about doubled for arts degrees and approximately trebled for science degrees. You’d have to pay a percentage up front and balance when you are finished. That sort of hiding of policy is going unexamined. The failure of the media to interrogate policies is in my view shameful. I’ve read today’s Irish Times (18th Feb 2011). There’s an analysis of Higher Education policy and there is no reference to this. It’s in S.9.9 of Fine Gael’s manifesto and though this has enormous implications for the country, nobody has picked it up in the media.
So that’s what I’m talking about – maybe the media don’t read things but they certainly do no not pick them up. In that sense, of course it is a softening up to accept hardship. If you read about neo-liberalism and capitalism and Harvey’s work internationally, it is part of the strategy. You never give facts. You give vague statements which can be read in a multiple of ways which give people the impression that something is being done. A lot of the conservative think-tanks in the US no longer produce research; they just produce propaganda in the form of statements. The fact that the media don’t see through those is unbelievable. Maybe it’s their training or their education – or maybe it’s their ideology. There is a strong anti-intellectualism in Ireland.
MB: We don’t contend that apart from a few cases there is an actual conspiracy to suppress information. It goes to the point you made earlier about people being educated and trained and coming up through the ranks through highly conformist processes and coming out the other end with generally identikit views in all the essentials – Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael orthodoxy is ‘realism’ or ‘pragmatism’ because to most journalists what these parties say reflects what they themselves believe is normal or usual. But they are nevertheless fully convinced that they are being completely objective and balanced in their journalism – and astounded by the suggestion that this might not actually be true. Again, when Sinn Fein or the United Left Alliance talk about the need for social justice most of our political correspondents cackle in unison at the idea and accuse them of ‘populism’ or of indulging in ‘bar room rhetoric’. Apparently they don’t notice a word of the entirely pro-elite rhetoric and policy spewing from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael!
KL: It’s a very closed community. It would be interesting to look at the degrees media people are studying. Have they the same class and cultural backgrounds? Have they lived outside the country? It’s a very important social-scientific fact, your biographical assumptions influence your paradigmatic assumptions – i.e your biography influences how you think intellectually. The problem we have is that we have a very homogeneous media intellectually speaking. I don’t regularly analyse the media, but if you only go to buy a Sunday newspaper, there is no significant difference between them except for the obvious ones that have the sensationalist headlines. There are no choices anymore. If you want to read a critical analysis of something there is nothing there. In that sense I think people’s minds are kept under control and are being closed off from dissenting voices. I agree it is not a conspiracy but our thinking is being kept under control by default. I think what might be called the feminist left movements in the country have been naïve – extremely naïve – in not starting their own newspapers and TV stations.
MB: As you know, it has been Brian Lenihan’s proud boast that there would have been riots if the same austerity measures had been attempted in any other country. Well that lesson has been learned well – all the political parties now know we will apparently meekly put up with anything.
My third question to you is about the extraordinarily sexist backlash on twitter during your last appearance on TV3’s ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’. It was particularly virulent and I believe the reason that was so was because you said some things that were true and that struck home. You had, in effect, threatened some of people’s treasured ‘givens’ and assumptions. You made a factual observation about how the media is all but ignoring social justice issues beyond insisting that the unfairness is a regrettable ‘necessity’. By any objective measure what you said is demonstrably true – that this is the largely unqualified media consensus. But leaving the media aside for the moment, would you agree that gender equality appears to be going backwards in Ireland – at the very least where political representation is concerned? You were speaking as a Professor of Equality Studies with decades of research and knowledge on the subjects you were talking about and yet you were actually called a ‘bitch’ and a ‘moron’.
What do you think are the main obstacles to gender equality in Ireland and would you agree that Ireland still has a deeply chauvinist culture and that this too is a major factor underpinning the meek acceptance of gross injustice as a solution to what is essentially a crisis of and by the richest people?
KL: Ireland has an extremely chauvinist culture. I travel abroad a lot – in Northern Europe and have a lot of contacts outside the country. I have been a Visiting Professor and I work with many people in Germany and in France – which isn’t exactly devoid of sexism either. I also work in Brussels. I would say that we are going backwards because in terms of political representation it is self evident. We have only 16%. The two main parties have only 15% each and it’s almost nothing. The smaller parties have more. I think there are so many factors at play. Women are too polite. We have been socialised not to offend as women – don’t be too strident, don’t be too this or that. I suppose the backlash that you mention when I raised things that people don’t want to hear is one of the reasons that women will not put themselves forward because they are abused in a different way than men are abused. Men are abused for their ideas but they are not abused in terms of their appearance in the media if they dissent. Women are subjected to sexualised abuse. I think the political class in our society has no interest in this issue and women have not been resistant. We have been too conciliatory and accepting. My view is we should have marches on the Dáil – we should sit down in the middle of Dublin and stay there until something changes. We have no proper childcare, we have no infrastructure. Quebec in Canada has a very successful, non-profit childcare system because the women went out there and organised it. The Irish Women’s Council has no money, for example. There is no-one to organise it here. There have been all kinds of backlashes in the media against women who have dissented. The have actually been called nazis – or ‘feminazis’. A lot of women are afraid of that kind of abuse and it’s a form of violence against women that is accepted in Ireland.
MB: Lucinda Creighton recently felt the necessity to preface something she said with the qualifier “I’m no crazed feminist but…” – as if it would be a terrible thing to be thought of as a feminist.
KL: There are lots of sociological reasons that can explain that but if you have a young woman going into politics who is so fearful of that, what will she ever do? If she can’t defend herself as a woman, I’d be worried about what she will ever defend. You have to stand up for what you believe in and women are not equal to men in this country. For many, many years we have had second class citizenship. I’m not saying that I want a whole group of middle class women coming into politics. I’ve always said this – if we want gender balance we want it of men and women from different backgrounds which I think is as big an issue as gender. There is research from Norway and from a number of countries where they have gender balance, relatively speaking i.e. 40% and which shows that even women from conservative parties actually promote health, education and social welfare. It’s because they are closer to the vulnerable in society. It isn’t because women are morally superior to men – I would never say that, I think that’s nonsense. Or that men can’t care for children as well as women – of course they can. But because of the way our society is, women are the primary carers and a lot of the vulnerable people in society are cared for by women most of the time. Therefore policies that affect the vulnerable are more visible to women and they are more likely to vote for policies that are supportive of childcare, disability, healthcare and education. That is a simple empirical fact – observable from countries that have large numbers of women in their parliaments. I believe we will never get women in politics in sufficient numbers in this country without some sort of a quota system.
MB: I’ve argued before that in any other circumstance where you have such an obvious imbalance or social lack it’s only natural for some sort of remedial action to be taken to restore the situation to health.
KL: We need only have it for a period of time to overcome the problem, otherwise it’s not going to happen.
MB: And yet very disappointingly women in the Dáil – over half of them – are saying they are against gender quotas.
KL: Well you only have to look at who they are, a lot of them. Many of the women who succeed in politics in this country have family associations in politics and they get selected on the basis of their family connections – and that in my view is a form of a quota. They have already benefited from the family quota and they should remember that. And many of the others have benefited from their money. I’m sorry, but there are some women with wealthy backgrounds and that has greatly helped them. You’ve probably been to privileged schools and enjoyed all the privileges of your class and therefore of course you don’t need a quota because you belong to the privileged upper middle class. So bully for you! The vast majority of women do not. Any woman from a poor community down the country hasn’t a hope.
MB: Beyond gender and media bias there seems as much as anything to be an absence of ordinary humanitarianism in media coverage about what is being done to the country right now and in all of the party political pre-election debate. To call for being ordinarily decent about your fellow citizens is to be accused of being a rabid communist. It’s as if for a substantial core of Irish people it’s in the DNA that you have to step on other people’s faces to secure an advantage and that this is the only ‘realistic’ way of doing things.
The facts that emerged from the Ryan report go to the heart of the same attitude, I believe, in that you can see something of the same hard, cold chauvinist attitude evident in the lack of concern now for social justice and fairness.
All of the main parties are wading, eyes wide open, into creating what are entirely predictable and avoidable, further, social and economic catastrophes – but from which the very rich will also emerge safely unscathed. That’s all in the plan. Whether or not you subscribe to the belief, we are supposedly a very Christian country but where is the evidence for it?
KL: I think what happened was that we had a ritualistic Catholicism. People obeyed the rules and when they became wealthy there was no intellectual basis for that deference. And I don’t mean intellectual in the elitist sense. There was no civic culture created outside religion so we have no sense of civic responsibility. Their Christianity was a box people could tick to say they were a part of it. I am astounded by people’s lack of compassion – genuinely shocked. I wonder what has happened.
Take emigration – I cannot believe that people are so complacent about it. It is a national tragedy. There is no country that would take emigration the way we are taking it. We have a birth rate of approximately 60k per annum. About 1,000 people per week are leaving. That means we are losing our entire birth corp. It is an extraordinary crisis – a huge emotional crisis as much as anything. Why do people have children? Because they want their company – not to service the economy. The associational loss and the sense of community that is lost are enormous. It’s not just even your own children, it’s your neighbours’, your friends’, your nieces and nephews – they’re gone. Nobody is saying it’s an absolute disaster. I was shocked too at the 5-way leaders debate, I thought it was appalling that there was such a lack of initiative about alternative economic models. But that goes back to the elite again – their own children, on average, will not have to emigrate because they are well connected.
MB: What’s being done is breaking down our fundamental nature as human beings – we’re collectively losing perspective because we’re so steeped in the false, unquestioned neo-liberal orthodoxy.
KL: Most people don’t work to become millionaires, they work to support their life with their families and to enjoy their friendships. They are more concerned with the affirmation that comes from being with the people they love. When people are taken away from you, that affirmation goes too. The party political system we have is a disaster. They blame intellectuals – people like myself – for not participating. But I have often addressed political parties during my working life and I find that they don’t want to engage because ‘The Party’ has become the object of desire. ‘The Party’ is their raison detre. They seem to have forgotten it’s there to service people – not the other way around.
The media seem to think of politics as a football being kicked around between the two main parties and they don’t seem to think in any depth about what the parties stand for or what their policies are. I find it extraordinary as well, the lack of connect between people who are avowedly Christian – who declare it prominently – and their lack of concern for their fellow human beings – not just in Ireland but globally. It is a cruelty.
I read an article published about 30 years ago – not in Ireland – and it said Irish people were indifferent to their own children. They were again talking about the birth rate and emigration and the question was asked “Why do Irish people have all these children if there is no plan in the country to enable them to survive?”
The same question could be asked now but the difference is that in our generation, people did plan for their children, they were not expecting them to emigrate. People put a lot of money and effort into their children to ensure they didn’t. But at the collective level of political responsibility there is still an appalling indifference about this.
I’m not a particularly religious person but from childhood I always took very seriously the message “love thy neighbour as thyself”. It’s a very important message, regardless of belief. Solidarity, feminism – it’s all the same thing and I can never understand people who profess a Christian belief and then go out and behave with complete indifference to people who have no jobs, or to travellers or asylum seekers. Most politicians don’t enter into the world of such people. To do so would be to understand them. I had a woman in here the other day who is living on €365 gross income for herself, her husband and two children. It can’t be done.
MB: Last question – Gene Kerrigan at The Sunday Independent and other commentators have lamented the media consensus – even now when Fianna Fáil’s crisis policies have clearly been a disaster – that “there is no alternative”. The bank guarantee was editorialised and written authoritatively about as being the only way forward at the time. Many of the correspondents who advocated it as such in 2008 are now unblushingly describing it as a disaster, their own role in promoting it apparently forgotten. On Tonight With Vincent Browne you mentioned the Mondregon Corporation as a highly successful, alternative business model. What do you think are the reasons our journalists appear to be incapable of rational analysis and discussion about other economic models?
KL: Because they don’t know them, have never read about them and therefore don’t understand them. I think there is a serious problem in the country among the people who work in the sphere of economics. I say that as someone whose first degree was in economics. We have literally thousands of people who are studying economics but they are all studying the same thing. We have classical economic theory and nothing else. There is no department in this country teaching a substantial amount of feminist economics, or even institutional economics – they’re certainly not studying Marxist economics! So we have ideological consensus very often as well within the sphere of certain disciplines. I don’t know what’s happening in the Business Schools but I do monitor what’s happening in Economics Departments because it interests me and I’m shocked at the lack of intellectual dissent within the academy. Yes, there are again individuals – to go back to what I was saying earlier – who are saying something alternative but you don’t have a whole strand of independent economic thought in Ireland that you could say was providing a different economic model.
I’d say that most of these people haven’t even read about Mondregon. And yet it’s the 7th largest industrial group in Spain. It’s around since the 1950s and it has a completely different concept of ownership because the workers are the owners of share capital. It wasn’t actually any different to the cooperative movement here initially. It’s just that ours never lived up to its ideals or developed in the same way. I don’t want to romanticise it because that would be foolish. The point is there are successful alternatives and I think part of the reason we never see them discussed is the ideological consensus. Our young people are educated to conform and that is a problem in intellectual life generally in Ireland. There is a lot of intellectual closure and people who dissent just go abroad and they stay broad and associate with colleagues abroad. I associate with a lot of people abroad because there are so few of us in Ireland who think like I do. And that’s the only way you can stay sane. A lot of people don’t engage with the Irish situation – they have emigrated abroad intellectually. That’s a far bigger problem in the country than people realise because we have a lot of really good scholars in this country and when you ask them why they don’t say certain things in public, they say “it’s because I’m going to get abuse” – like I did the other night on twitter. Whereas I can go to a conference in Berlin or Guttenberg and I can talk to people who think like I do and share ideas. Why would you bother sharing them here when you will be dismissed as a crank and a lunatic. We haven’t had a strong tradition of speaking out in the social services. There’s probably myself and Kieran Allen here at UCD who are the exceptions that prove the rule – and possibly Gavan Titley and Mary Murphy at Maynooth. You could go around the country and pick us up.
MB: I’ve seen each of the few you’ve mentioned referred to in the terms you describe. Vincent Browne for example introduced Kieran Allen as ‘notorious’ on his programme.
KL: You demonise the dissenter and so the dissenter is defined as ‘the other’ and ‘the outsider’ before they even begin. Whereas change in society always comes from the periphery – never from the centre. It’s naïve to think that it can. If you want to bring about change, listen to people on the outside and not at the table of power. We can be wrong like anyone else of course but I’m talking of the principle in general of listening to the outsider and learning from that perspective.
A lot of countries have far better intellectual frameworks for doing that. Whereas here, the country is so small and people take things personally that are not intended personally. I hold my views not because of some ideological perspective that I want to uphold but because I know the research. I know more equal societies are more sustainable. There are thousands and thousands of articles and books published on this. It’s not like I get up in the morning and say “I’d like to be a socialist so I’m going to find the truth that suits me.” You read, you do your research and find out over time. I don’t come from a radical socialist family. It’s education that has made me aware of how best to organise life in the world: solidarity, care, support, community, sharing – that is the way to create a good household and you can extend it to the local community, the nation state and beyond.
I think very often people don’t have the opportunity to study things that I have had the chance to. But also I think because it is so unusual to say these things in this country, people think you must be off your rocker or have some big agenda. I have no agenda – my life could be much easier. I could have had a very, very privileged academic life – gone to America and stayed there basically – for more money, for better quality of life personally. People who are successful academically – or who are lucky enough to be successful, who have had to good fortune – have many, many options. The fact that people choose to stay isn’t because there is anything to be gained except abuse most of the time.
MB: The public locus for that abuse is the media?
KL: I don’t listen to a lot of it. I’ve been successful in getting funding here. But yes, the locus is the media because they don’t engage in reflexivity. They don’t see their own self-interest.
MB: I’m thinking of Morgan Kelly for example whose economic outlook is hardly left-wing but who nevertheless merely made a series of factual observations and the thing that you described happened to him. It happened to Fintan O’Toole when he tried to become more directly involved in the issues recently. The Sunday Times published a vile, highly personal article which they have since apologised for but these apologies are never undo the damage done by the original.
KL: You have to look at the vested interests behind that newspaper. It’s a Murdoch paper and there is editorial control and people never talk about that. The newspapers are funded by big advertising.
MB: A distinction that could be made about the Sunday Times is that it is quite up front about what it’s doing. You know what you are getting. Better that than papers like the Irish Times which purports to be the great Irish liberal newspaper but is in reality deeply conservative and conformist.
KL: The fact that somebody like Dermot Desmond was given a full page to put out his views is absolutely ludicrous – an insult – somebody who isn’t, I believe, even tax resident telling us how to run the state! It’s to do with advertising and power. You always have to look at who has power. The pen is never controlled by the journalist. They might think they control it but their pen is controlled: RTE, the newspapers – they are dependent on advertising revenue.
MB: And yet even Fintan O’Toole denies that this is the case. He insists, in effect, that ‘the editorial firewall’ exists. But so far as what journalists believe about themselves is concerned, it’s the cooperative intellectual capital you were talking about earlier that ensures journalists are on message. They don’t even need to be overtly controlled. Their own thinking is already dependably under control. Beyond that, journalists are of course acutely aware that rocking boats is not a good career move. Access to power and the stories of the powerful is not possible if they tell the unvarnished truth. Cowardice is a lot of the reason why so much corruption and so much ideological orthodoxy goes largely unchallenged. Of course journalists are very good at telling themselves that this cowardice is in fact professional balance and objectivity.
KL: It’s time to tell it as it is – time to call a spade a shovel. This sort of control is going on everywhere – in academic life too. The sociology of knowledge is a major interest of mine so I’m keenly aware of it. Who controls your pen and who controls your voice is what I’d ask any journalist about – because somebody controls it. If you are under the illusion that you have complete control, try saying something that is completely dissenting and see how far you’ll get. The mind is a big site of political struggle and we need education about how people’s minds are being managed. On the positive side – and whatever about twitter – I got overwhelmingly positive emails after what I said on Tonight with Vincent Browne – many of them in support of what I said about the media and about Mondregon. These were people from all walks of life – ordinary people, strangers.
[For further interviews on this and other issues please check out our interview archive.]
Eamon Gilmore is not a serious man:
“EAMON Gilmore’s lack of a credible cabinet of policies is the modern day political equivalent of the vain emperor’s folly.” [Irish Independent, 18/10/10]
“On Saturday last, Mary Byrne brought ‘The X Factor’ house down with a stunning rendition of ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Just Be Close at Hand’. Her performance was marked by clarity, honesty and dignity. Eamon Gilmore might prefer that other old number, ‘You don’t have to give the details, just tell us we’ll be grand’.” [Irish Independent, 18/10/10]
“Gilmore has been sailing along, careful to avoid nailing his colours to any mast. Presumably he is doing so in the hope of gaining power, where he could implement whatever agenda it is that he is being very coy about.” [Irish Times, 18/10/10]
Response from the Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black to this email:
i would say that the phrase “security issue” can encompass both defence and offence. (security forces. national security etc).
if you have any other questions i suggest you contact firstname.lastname@example.org
And my response:
I would only say that if I accepted the Bush Doctrine.
As regards the readers editor, I don’t see the need to hide behind a mediator.
After reading a letter by David Traynier to the Guardian’s Ian Black regarding a report he’d penned on the recent US arms deal with Saudi Arabia, posted at Persistence of Vision, I found the article had been reproduced by the Irish Times the next day.
Traynier has since received a fairly uninterested response from Black (captured for posterity below), where he failed to answer any of Traynier’s reasonable questions:
“thanks for your email. i would say that the phrase “any military threat” includes the possibility that there isn’t actually one. a standfirst inevitably compresses material contained in the body of the article.
I thought it was worth following up, even just to allow Black the chance to dismiss another criticism.
Dear Ian Black,
I’ve just read your report for the Guardian on the US arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which has been republished (in part) by the Irish Times, and I had a quick question I hope you can answer.
You explain at the beginning of the report that the purpose of the “biggest arms deal in US history” is to “shore up [US] Gulf Arab allies to face any military threat from Iran.” And again, towards the end of the piece you write: “Questions about democracy, freedoms and human rights in the kingdom clearly have a lower priority than security issues.”
Would it be fair to say that in describing the deal as a ‘security issue’ designed to face a ‘military threat’ you have framed the sale of weapons as a ‘defensive act’? It seems to me as though you have dismissed entirely the possibility that the sale of arms could potentially be viewed as an act of provocation.
Even if the reader accepts that Iran may well, now or at some future point, pose a military threat to the US and its allies, the arms deal could, even then, only be reasonably seen as a tit-for-tat provocation between regional powers, definitely not a simple case of ‘security’ against a ‘threat’.
I’d be interested to hear back from you on this. I’m also copying the Irish Times foreign desk.
[Update: I should have said: Israel clearly sees it a provocation, and they’re an ally!]