Recent weeks have provided evidence for something many of us knew but couldn’t prove. Ireland’s media has a right-wing agenda.
First we had UCD’s Julien Mercille, fresh from exposing the Irish media’s role in cheerleading the property bubble, publishing a study showing how the media had been “relentless cheerleaders for austerity”.
His study looked at all editorials and opinion articles on the topic of austerity published since 2008 in the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday Business Post and Sunday Times and found that:
- Support for fiscal consolidation was overwhelming: only 10% of articles on the topic were against it, 58% supported it, and 32% didn’t voice a clear opinion.
- It was taboo to suggest economic stimulus: only 2% of articles suggested increasing government spending. This, he said, was “astonishing” given that it was “the main progressive alternative to austerity”.
- The elites dominate the discourse: 77% of commentators came from elite political or economic institutions (29% mainstream economists, 28% financiers and 20% from FF/FG/Labour). Academics (9%), social justice advocates (7%) and trade unionists (3%) were out of the picture.
Mercille concluded that “the media have announced their role in convincing the public that austerity is good for them very clearly.”
He went on to list some of the article titles that demonstrate this role:
- ‘Commitment and Stamina are Required for Fiscal Consolidation’ (Irish Times);
- ‘New Budget will Prove Tough but Necessary’ (Sunday Independent);
- ‘Austerity Vital to Maintain our Economic Sovereignty’ (Irish Times);
- ‘We Need to Stop Living in Denial and Cut Costs Even Further’ (Sunday Independent);
- ‘We Must Suffer the Pain Now—Or Else we will Blight Future Generations’ (Sunday Independent);
- ‘Bill is Tough but Necessary’ (Irish Times);
- ‘Tough Budget Would Restore Confidence’ (Irish Times);
- ‘Supplementary Budget can Begin Urgent Task of Restoring Depleted Tax Revenues’ (Irish Times);
- ‘Budget May Cut Wages and Raise Taxes to Restore Competitiveness’ (Irish Times);
- ‘[Austerity] Budget Will Restore Confidence and Hasten Economic Recovery’ (Irish Times);
- ‘Tough Budget Needed to Stave Off Grimmer Future’ (Irish Times).
Today DCU’s Henry Silke has produced the first part of a two-part series of research in a similar vein.
Silke is comparing media coverage of the right-wing Reform Alliance, a breakaway from Fine Gael that has seven TDs and Senators, and the United Left Alliance, which he said had “similar political weight… with one MEP, numerous councillors [and] the election of 5 TDs in the following election.”
The first part of his research looks at the ULA, which launched in 2010 (but has since split). Examining coverage in five of the leading Irish newspapers – The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Independent and The Sunday Business Post – he finds that only ten articles in the month leading-up to its launch and the two weeks afterwards covered the party at all.
Of these ten:
- None covered the launch.
- In only five was the ULA the focus of the article.
- While eight were neutral in their coverage, two were negative and not a single one was positive.
Silke intends to produce a follow-up blogpost in February on the right-wing Reform Alliance. This Alliance, which he points out is “almost identical in terms of political support” to the ULA, has had weeks of promotion in the media – including featuring on the front page of both the Sunday Independent and Sunday Business Post today.
The gross results of this comparative analysis are a foregone conclusion. The only question is how many multiples of the ULA’s 10 articles will the Reform Alliance receive?
But the form of this much-larger amount of coverage by the mainstream media will also be interesting. Will the Reform Alliance get a breakdown anything like 80% neutral, 20% negative and 0% positive?
And if, it doesn’t:
If the Reform Alliance gets much more coverage than the ULA; If this coverage is much more favourable; And if this happens after it has been comprehensively demonstrated that the press has been manufacturing consent for austerity…
Will the Irish media finally be forced to answer for its right-wing bias?