There was much hoo ha across the gallant old school press this morning about the banking inquiry. And aren’t they right to devote column inches to it?
Sure, there was something like a crazy 400 hours of evidence given, about 5 million quid in tax payers money went on it and a parade of over 120 witnesses were dragged along.
Lots to report on so.
One thing you didn’t see amongst all the guffawing was the press itself holding its hands up.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s editorial in the Irish Times continued pushing that old line on how “few in academia, officialdom or the media spotted the impending storm.”
A mantra favored by political leaders who long fell from grace. We all partied after all so, remember?
Let’s grab the spotlight for a moment and spin it around on the media itself, what do we find?
A vain fickle creature scurrying int0 the corner, masquerading as a bold upholder of the public interest with its chummy chuckles and simultaneous evasions of anything remotely looking like self-criticism.
This inquiry had two distinct phases looking at the “context and nexus” of the banking bailout. That first “context” phase was divided into five different themes. One fifth of the first phase of the inquiry was meant to cover the media.
That’s not an inconsiderable fraction.
All in all, the report devotes just under two pages to it and carries a recommendation about setting up “a detailed and comprehensive commercial property price register”.
The report is piss weak when it comes to properly admonishing the media and shows no vision in setting out strategies for ensuring a mediascape that doesn’t just suckle obediently off the same prize sow.
Still, there hasn’t been a damn thing in the blanket reportage about any of this.
You might be sick to your teeth of it, but to compensate for where others are lacking, it’s worth regurgitating some of the evidence given in the report:
Harry Browne, a lecturer in journalism in the School of Media of Dublin Institute of Technology, gave evidence that:
“Print and broadcast media in Ireland played a difficult-to-measure but almost certainly significant role in the inflation of the property bubble and the legitimisation of risky behaviour by the financial services sector in the lead up to the crisis of 2007 and 2008.”
He also said that glossy magazines, property and lifestyle sections were significant sources of income:
“Those supplements were, after all, paying the bills. When The Irish Times Limited infamously paid €50 million for myhome.ie in 2006, it appeared to confirm the company’s dedication to what increasingly looked like its core business – the advertising of property sales.”
Property advertising was a considerable source of income for some media organisations.
Maeve Donovan, former managing director, “The Irish Times”, gave evidence that property revenue for that newspaper ranged from €10 million in 2002 to €22 million in 2006; at its peak, this accounted for 17% of the newspaper’s total revenue from all sources.
The Joint Committee also heard evidence that the equivalent figures for the “Irish Examiner” and Independent News and Media were 7% and 14% respectively.
The evidence from the academic witnesses was that, as a result of the significant revenue streams that came from relevant sources, it was necessary for media outlets to (at least unconsciously) protect these sources.
Harry Browne gave evidence that:
“Much of the mainstream media seems to me to be very conflicted because of their reliance on real-estate and recruitment advertising. That doesn’t mean reporters consciously avoid writing bad news stories, but it’s hard to run against the tide when everyone is getting rich.”
On the other hand, he also said:
“… journalists and the organisations that employ them do also have an interest in producing strong stories that challenge conventional thinking, and afflict the powerful.”
The evidence and analysis put forward by academic and Broadsheetista Julien Mercille didn’t even merit a mention in the report despite all the attention bestowed on him at the time.
As they say, there’s no show like a Joe show and Higgins certainly didn’t mince words about the role of the media in his own minority report:
“Significant sections of the Media not only glamourised and cheerled the bubble but were actors in it.
Denials by senior media representatives at the Inquiry Public Hearings that they played no role whatever in the inflation of the property bubble, have no credibility. In fact major media outlets fawned on the major bankers and developers, never questioned the morality of the profiteering and speculations that was going on or carried out any serious investigation into the level of exploitation in the housing market and the social consequences that resulted. Significant sections of the media made a for tune from the property industry during the bubble, with glossy property supplements in the newspapers and ‘property porn’ programming on RTE”
And have we learned anything?
Not according to Micheal Hennigan over at Finfacts, who claims this same press pack is back doing a fine job upholding whatever conventional wisdom government spin doctors are pumping out at the moment:
In 2013 the revelations in the US about Apple’s tax avoidance, using Irish companies, showed how the denial that was seen in 2001-2007, could be deployed again when there is a mainstream consensus.”
And on and on it goes. In all the commentary to come, these outlets of opinion shaping power and prestige should be on bended knees too.
Talk about stating the obvious.