While facing scrutiny over unrecorded meetings he, Phil Hogan, gardaí and others had with Irish Water management, Pat Rabbitte came out swinging in the Dail and accused RTÉ of acting “as a recruiting sergeant” for protests against Irish Water. Oireachtas Retort drags us down memory lane to look at RTE’s coverage of all that Irish Water malarkey.
Joe Higgins pointed out that Rabbitte had alerted the #media to be present for his speech. This was no off the cuff attack, this was planned. Rabbite continued: “If I didn’t know better, one might conclude that the lopsided coverage of the water issue derives from a decision of the #RTE Board to strangle Irish Water at birth”.
The rest of us have a rather divergent view of how the state broadcaster has been handling the whole Irish Water debacle.
RTÉ barely mentioned the issue for three years. The commitment to establish a single water utility was signed under the Troika in November 2010. RTÉ said almost nothing about it till after legislation had passed all stages of the Oireachtas in December 2013. However, they did not report that either. On the day Irish Water became law, RTÉ didn’t bother covering it all. Ming caused an almighty uproar by crossing the chamber and handing Fergus O’Dowd a glass of “glorified piss”. This display of poisonous Roscommon drinking water was not dramatic enough to warrant mention on RTÉ News. If that wasn’t enough, shortly after Ming had left the chamber, the entire opposition walked out of the Dáil because government had guillotined the legislation. Thus, the Water Services Bill became law receiving no scrutiny from either parliament or the national broadcaster.
In January of 2014, the papers set to work exposing the enormous money pit Irish Water had become. For three years there had only been sporadic reporting across the media but now it was all about consultants, contracts and staff gyms. The media was scandalised by costs however during all this outrage at no point did RTÉ question the legitimacy of Irish Water or the circumstances under which it was being established.
A massive conversion of resources to revenue at a time when government are in fact gutting public services and openly pursuing a project of extracting money from people. Irish Water had arrived, context free, and exists simply because people like Pat Rabbitte said it did. We are to believe that a bankrupt government in the beef industry’s pocket, a state playing patsy for Royal Dutch Shell, the most heavily indebted people on earth, were just taking an eye-wateringly expensive jaunt into saving the planet. Led by Phil Hogan.
In February, Fergus O’Dowd TD told the Dáil that we “have real reason to be concerned” about privatisation and that “there are other forces at work. They may not necessarily be political forces. I do not know where they are coming from but they exist, they are active and they have an influence”.
These comments were shared widely, reported on Broadsheet, The Journal and even the O’Brien controlled media. Questions were put to Alan Kelly on the plinth. Over on RTE however, they managed to write an article about O’Dowd’s contribution to the committee stage without mentioning any of this. They devoted four sentences to his regret that TDs weren’t kept better informed about costs.
4. CORPORATE PR
Irish Water’s Head of Communications Elizabeth Arnett is routinely given free airtime to read a prepared script. She has been gifted one-to-one interviews on Primetime and Marian Finucane. In the case of her highly choreographed face off with Miriam O’Callaghan, we had the token gesture of vetted questions from the studio audience.
On the Late Late Show she appeared alongside Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle, Richard Boydd Barrett and Paul Murphy. Murphy had been invited, told to cancel other media, then uninvited, then swiftly invited again after kicking up stink online. We could assume the flip flopping at RTÉ was down to finding debate appearance terms which Irish Water would agree to. Irish Water’s public relations professional has, in a matter of months, appeared on the country’s three largest current affairs platforms.
In December, Primetime’s Fran McNulty and others were caught secretly filming protesters in Stoneybatter from a camera concealed inside a gear bag and another from a van with blacked out windows. Remember, this is happening when we know that gardai are demanding material from journalists in order to secure convictions.
A month earlier, Mark Coughlan presented an “in-depth report from the water protests” that amounted to Primetime’s trademark scary music and as many republican flags as you could fit into an eight minute report. Protesters were being profiled right there on Tuesday night telly. Extracts from the éirígí manifesto were read aloud, on a programme that struggles to inform viewers which members of the Iona Institute are on every other week. This was the manufacturing of the “sinister fringe”.
Ahead of the national demonstration on December 10th, RTÉ devoted nearly ten minutes to boosting government’s revised plan. Despite Alan Kelly announcing the changes nearly three weeks previously on November 19th,, RTÉ’s main evening news rehashed the whole thing again for no reason other than the impending protest. “You can beat the cap” according to Sean Whelan. The Economics Correspondent, apparently.
7. RIGGED INTERVIEWS
In February, Morning Ireland decided not to broadcast an interview they had recorded with Brendan Ogle after failing to trap him as intended. RTÉ researchers had got their facts wrong and when corrected, both interviewer and staff were ‘visibly shocked” according to Ogle’s account.
8. RIGGED REPORTING
Throughout these months, Primetime and Clare Byrne Live topics ranged from “are protests out of control” or “gone too far” to “crossed a line”. A Primetime video package on protests was titled ‘anger management’ and at this stage everything from the troubles, ISIS, suicide, anarchy and cyberbullying had been rolled into the mix as if it something these protests have to answer for.
9. DODGY FIGURES
On Primetime in March, Katie Hannon took the trouble to clarify confusion arising from Alan Kelly’s contradictory registration numbers earlier in the week. The Political Correspondent “confirmed” the figures and was able to tell viewers that around two thirds have signed up. How was this confirmed? She asked Irish Water. There was no indication of how this was verified before broadcast. Take it or leave it. This has been going since day one. Random numbers are tossed around, front page headlines contradicting those on the inside.
Regina Doherty categorically stating one figure on Morning Ireland and Joanna Tuffy another on Vincent Browne. There were three different figures circulating in the Irish media within an hour of each other on one day last week. No one, not least RTÉ, are asking why. Instead they are churning press releases from an organisation that does not even know how many “customers” they should have to begin with. As we are now in boycott territory, journalists are simply repeating whatever figure Irish Water tell them. Do you believe any of them?
This is an abridged version on an article that appeared at oireachtasretort.tumblr.com.