12 Jul 2018 | 01.47 pm
Guest Blog: Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil
FF leader pledges support for independent journalism
12 Jul 2018 | 01.47 pm
One of the great problems in political discourse is that everyone involved, politicians and journalists equally, can fall into the trap of believing that every event is significant and that whatever they are involved in is the centre of the world.
In recent years this has become even more obvious with a relentless daily routine of over-briefed, over-sold and over-selfied events.
Let’s be clear there is a serious discussion to be had about the number of trivial political stories and the dominance of half-informed commentary on some issues. But there’s also a lot of deliberately-generated and expensively-promoted triviality which needs to be abandoned before that discussion can be had.
The point which has been missed in commentary about the Taoiseach’s ill-advised and highly-revealing comments in New York recently is that they were not throw-away and accidental. In fact they confirmed what has been his defining approach to communication over the last year.
I won’t rehash the stream of comments from him about the media being too negative or his desire to find a way of correcting the media’s coverage of government – these are well known.
What is more important is his idea that there is a supposedly ‘modern’ way of talking to the public and this should, as much as possible, cut out professional journalists.
Back in March, as he was confronted with having to close his beloved Strategic Communications Unit, he delivered what has been by some distance his most impassioned speech to the Dáil as Taoiseach.
He was genuinely furious to be losing his grand design even though documents demonstrated that all substantive claims for the Unit in terms of savings or international best practice were an illusion.
Ultimately what the SCU was about was an attempt to use the weight of public funding to grab control of the coverage of government. Documents released during that controversy even showed advisors and a member of government personally deciding on allocations to different media outlets – decisions taken against the background of private meetings with senior media managers.
What the Taoiseach and his government have done is to see the economic troubles of professional journalism as an opportunity. They have sought to create a dependence linked directly to the promotion of political priorities on a scale and with a systematic discipline never before tried in Ireland.
I believe that true democracy is impossible without independent and professional journalism. When the new online world is added to the edited content of professional journalism you have something which has many exciting and positive dimensions.
However when all you have is the uncurated and unaccountable then it is almost impossible to have a strong democracy which actually empowers people.
The way to achieve this is not to throw around millions in advertising on the basis of private conversations and in the service of political priorities. What is required is a systematic, permanent and non-political way of supporting professional journalism.
Many countries do this already and the need for action in Ireland is now urgent. My party has proposed measures to address this and we intend to keep pushing this policy.
If we want to have competitive, accountable and inclusive Irish politics then we have to take action to prevent the gradual but inevitable economic undermining of professional, independent Irish journalism.
+ Edited extract from speech in Dublin today to Association of European Journalists