Ireland – and the world – in middle of media storm

December 16th, 2011 No comments

As 2011 limps to a close, many newspapers face that ‘c’ word (close) in the next few years.

Circulations of the print product are going down everywhere in the West. Optimists who point excitedly to rising newspaper circulations in India or China are deliberately overlooking cultural and market differences. How has the Irish media coped with 2012?

There were the great gifts of not one election but two: all the fun of the fair at the presidential poll, and earlier the rather more serious, but foregone conclusion, of the general election.

Queen Elizabeth graciously descended in May, to be met equally graciously by Mary McAleese.

Then it was President Obama’s turn to give Ireland a chance of a moment in the world spotlight – though the fleeting nature of his visit, Moneygall, College Green, and goodbye, left the taste of burnt rubber in the mouth.

Ongoing stories were the space- and attention-grabbers. Recession horrors, ineffectual European Union action, and vague dabs by the new Irish government (JobBridge, for example) were constant themes, if not always given illuminating reporting.

The sad story of clerical child abuse, and the mishandling of complaints, continued – and continues. Patsy McGarry’s story in The Irish Times about complaints against Archbishop John Charles McQuaid were a fitting if appalling coda to the whole saga.McGarry story December 8

The Sunday Tribune closed in February, on the heels of the rather less lamented Sunday Star. This left the serious Sunday market to the Business Post, although its circulation still languishes around 50,000. However, the Post has at least shown a smaller decrease in its sales than the Irish average – it went down by about 3 per cent in the first half of 2011, about half the average decline for print titles across the country. (ABC figures)

The journalistic workforce is shrinking – even on the large employers, such as the nationals . The Irish Independent outsourced most of its subbing several years ago, with little reported complaint (or even notice) from readers, and The Irish Times, which has already slashed, combined and downgraded its subbing desks, is said to be looking to cut subs’ numbers by another half-dozen. Read more…

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Enda’s address to the nation

December 5th, 2011 No comments

Angela watched Enda Kenny hint at how bad it is all going to be forever…

In the end it was a fairly damp squib. But at least he did it.

Enda Kenny, leader of the country, sat down and eyeballed the nation, albeit via a TV camera from his office, and told them the bad times are here to stay.

At least, the Taoiseach said, for ‘several’ years, perhaps a benign interpretation of a figure closer to 15.

And he acknowledged that the Irish state is spending €16 billion more than it has in the kitty per year.

The Taoiseach’s address to the nation last night, though much anticipated and now much analysed in the media, was never going to be a stirring experience. Even at the best of times, the polite gentleman from Mayo is not the type to get people leaping from their chairs and pumping air. (He used to be known as ‘Mayo’s answer to Prince Charles’.)

But, as one started to drift away on the sofa in the post-prandial haze, a couple of Kenny’s statements did stand out. Firstly, and rightly, he told us all that the savage recession is not our fault.

Then, and most importantly, he virtually said that the Irish government is prepared to accept any fiscal arrangement to keep the country in the euro. Whether that means total control of the finances, one Euro-wide policy on taxing and spending, the government is up for it. The Taoiseach indicated this with his statement that ‘Ireland supports stronger governance… in the euro zone.

‘In fact, the Irish people are paying the price now for the absence of such rules in the past,’ he added, perhaps to make the alternative seem more palatable.

Us little people here on the ground can only hope that the much-vaunted Euro leaders summit next Friday (Dec 9) will actually do something, even if this governance project takes away more autonomy. It’s nice to be autonomous, but better to eat.

Anyway, Kenny’s attempt to steady the nerves of his people was laudable, on the eve of a Budget so bad, so hard, that it had to be spread over two days for fear of killing the patient with delivery on one. Brian Cowen was much criticised for his on-going failure to communicate with the electorate in the midst of drastic upheaval.

And speaking of communication, it was a pity that on the day Enda advised us all to tighten our belts till 2015 – he hopes – it was revealed that one of his own communications advisers is to get a pay rise of €35,000. Ciaran Conlon, variously described as an old friend and a key adviser to Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton, will see his salary burst through the government’s alleged cap on such pay, going from €92,000 to €127,000. So handy to have that extra cash at Christmas!

If you were too busy or asleep to watch the Taoiseach’s address, here it is…
Enda Kenny addresses Ireland

And from, a bit more on lucky ol’ Ciaran Conlon…

Ministers overruled to give adviser €35,000 pay hike

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Privacy still matters in open digital world

November 14th, 2011 No comments

THE woman was distraught, there was no doubt about it. Her voice was shaky, and never far from tears. ‘We just can’t understand why we are still alive and others aren’t,” she managed to say at one point, referring to her partner. They had been involved in the disastrous motorway pile-up on the M5 near Taunton in Somerset, England. Seven people were dead, and another 50 hurt, some of them with what one reporter referred to, chillingly, as ‘life-changing injuries’. This woman, speaking on Irish radio, was, if not in shock, obviously traumatised.

She and her husband had indeed been extraordinarily lucky to escape, apparently with no physical harm. But one of the mental issues that was torturing her now, she explained, was how quotes and photographs of the couple, who had escaped ‘miraculously’, were appearing in newspapers and websites, without their permission.

“We spoke to The Times of London,” she said, “but other newspapers have run stories about us, have stolen our pictures from Facebook….I will never believe what I read in the papers again.”

This was Ciara Neno’s verdict, after being interviewed on RTE radio. Her distress was evident, and deserves kindness and respect. But her alarm at photographs being ‘stolen’ from Facebook highlights, yet again, how privacy has become a thing of the past. And many people don’t seem to have noticed, nor to care. It is only in extreme situations such as this that people feel violated when their information, and images, is taken and used without their permission. Everywhere, the media is doing the equivalent of the old unethical reporter’s trick of climbing in the bathroom window to steal a photograph of someone involved in a tragic or dramatic story.

People are, in effect, putting their personal information and images up in a vast public square. The so-called privacy settings on Facebook, Google+, and others are often only a minor obstacle to mildly skilful computer-users.   Read more…

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The little guy is your only man

October 25th, 2011 Comments off

Angela is a Labour Party supporter – but it’s not that which makes Michael D. the best choice for the next Irish president

Sean Gallagher seems a nice bloke, but surely Michael D. Higgins, after a life as a public representative, activist, artist and social justice campaigner, deserves to be president of Ireland more than a mere businessman?

Last night (October 24) the seven candidates in Ireland’s presidential election fronted up for the final all-in debate of the campaign. Screened by national broadcaster RTE, the encounter was adjudicated by Pat Kenny, RTE’s highly-polished senior man. It was an entertaining affair on several levels, at once more light-hearted and yet more intense than the meetings earlier in the campaign, when most of the candidates had a hope of success (the two women, Dana and Mary Davis, became also-rans fairly early on).

Gallagher, way ahead in three polls of voting intentions taken at the weekend, got a rough ride. He was skewered on two issues: an amount of €89,000 which was paid into a personal rather than business account some years ago; and, probably worse from an electoral point of view, his role as a money-collector for Fianna Fail during the dying days of the Celtic Tiger.

Martin McGuinness (who has faced a relentless tide of questions over his role in the IRA) dared to suggest that Gallagher’s past as a bagman for the former party of God was ‘murky’. Murkier than murder? But Gallagher, normally straightforward and unruffled, was obviously fazed by the questions, and dithered between ‘not remembering’ whether he had collected a €5,000 cheque and claiming that the person who said he had given the cheque was an unreliable witness with a chequered past.

The question was whether all this will damage Gallagher sufficiently to snatch victory away from him this Thursday [October 27] when voting takes place.

He’s an affable, straight-talking guy, and has garnered a lot of approval from young people and closet Fianna Failers, as well as some of the more overt kind. The Fianna Fail candidate who dare not speak its name.

My question is whether a man, pleasant as he may be, who has a background almost entirely as a businessman, with no political representation or across-the-board engagement, is what Ireland needs or should have as a president at this stage. Read more…

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Newspapers also victim of capitalism

October 17th, 2011 Comments off

Perhaps it was inevitable – but the triumph of capitalism which has led to poverty, joblessness and the anger of the people around the world also hammered a large nail in the newspaper industry, Angela believes

On Australian radio today a commentator asked, what do they want? She was referring to the thousands, millions, of people who have been protesting in cities around the world this past weekend. Inspired by the OccupyWallSt movement, and more fundamentally ‘los indignados’ of Spain and other European countries, the demonstrations were a cry of rage and pain at the destruction of the economic boom by its supposed guardians, the bankers and financial traders.

A wider view is that these people are angry at the resilience of the triumph of capitalism: even after the disaster which started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago, and the tide of Euro debt which could drown the EU, the masters of the universe are largely still in place.  As in the 1920s song, the rich get richer and the poor get laid off.

Michael Lewis noted in The Big Short that, when Hank Paulsen championed the $700 billion rescue of US financial institutions three years ago, there was never a whisper of such generous support for the ultimate victims of the sub-prime fiasco, poor people who had lost their homes and were the stooges of a capitalist system that was not just illogical but wicked.

The people ‘Occupying’ around the world are protesting to let off the steam of powerlessness, which has been reinforced by the chain reaction of austerity measures around the world.

And newspapers are picking their way among the ruins of their own industry, and the market ethic which corrupted them and their place in society.

The industry, my core industry, could even be seen as a motif for the triumph of capitalism. A newspaper, a social artefact, was never like a widget, subject to simple profit-and-loss equations, and measures of ‘shareholder value’. Back in the 1970s, a larrikin columnist on my newspaper used to boast that he and his mates would ‘win this place back from the accountants’. A newspaper was a social tool, not just a product to make profit. Granted, the financial viability of a print or broadcast news entity was essential: but making enough money to operate and hire staff got subsumed in the global lust for pforits, multiples, money money money. Good newspaper editors around the world stood up for investment in resources, in reporters and what they needed to expose scams, injustice, hypocrisy.

No, the bean-counters said, all that mattered was the profit profile. Give away CDs or feed readers lots of dross about untalented egomaniacal celebrities. And if you were at News Ltd, or one of its London competitors, get the dirt, get the personal anguish no matter what the morality or even legality of your manoeuvres.

Much has been said about the failure and demise of the ‘business model’ on which newspapers were based – briefly, most income from ads, a token amount from cover price. As circulations plummeted in the 1995-2010 period, the inability to deliver the same number of heads on a plate meant that cash-strapped advertisers fled.

Simply, a newspaper was never just a commercial product; but it was the demands of the proprietors of newspaper companies, buoyed on the tide of unquestioned ruthless capitalism, that ignored this reality and treated the daily accounts of human life in all phases as a pile of widgets.


PS When rambling around the web for similar arguments about media and capitalism, I came across this video of Michael Moore spouting something along these lines – so for all the Moore-heads (haters and lovers), here’s the link… Moore at Toronto Film Festival

And putting both side of the story (although aiming to diss the dismissively-titled ‘grad student’ who crunched the numbers) is this columnist on Gawker, who says surprise, surprise, newspapers were businesses…

Gawker view

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