Posts Tagged ‘media


A very Murdoch conspiracy

Have you ever encountered an argument that you found deeply profound, but only because it was so utterly removed from reality. Such was my reaction to an opinion piece by James Murdoch (he of News Corp and Rupert’s penis) in today’s Guardian, an excerpt a lecture he gave yesterday at a Guardian Media event in Edinburgh. The subject of Master James’ ire is once again the BBC and Ofcom (PDF of the full text is here).

He begins with reference to Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the theory on evolution, claiming: “These views were an enormous challenge to Victorian religious orthodoxy and remain a provocation to many today. The number who cling to creationism is substantial – and the crop up in surprising places.” True, and they’re largely consumers of the Murdoch News Corp Empire.

The Darwin analogy needs further explaining, because Murdoch makes a piss-poor job of explaining what he’s on about (I had to read the paragraph three times to understand what he meant). Basically, supporters of the BBC are creationists, because they believe in a monolithic media deity created by the state (unlike the media evolutionists who apparantly believe that news outlets are the product of natural genetic mutations).

He writes: “Creationism penalises the poorest with regressive taxes – such as the licence fee.” This is a non-argument as he later extols the benefits of being able to choose to pay for news services. By arguing that we should be able to pay for the news we want, isn’t he effectively saying the poor shouldn’t have access to news they can’t afford.

Master James’ argument can be summed up by “state-sponsered news bad, private enterprise news good”. The trouble is that, in the case of the BBC, he can’t offer any evidence to support this. Instead he gives us silly insults. “The problem with the UK is that it is the Addams family of world media.” Bullshit. If there is an Addams family of world media, then it’s surely the one that has Glenn Beck as a member. Nonetheless, Master James attempts to defend the claim with comparisons elsewhere.

Tolstoy said that all happy families resemble one another, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. True, nowhere is completely happy, but there are things to welcome – Germany’s regularity professionalism, India’s growth opportunities, France’s robust defence of intellectual property.

France, now there’s an example. Shortly after coming to power, Sarkozy announced several reforms for France’s national broadcaster, including scrapping revenues received from advertising. One might suspect James would support this. However, Sarkozy’s reasoning is problematic, wanting to recreate the BBC model for France. Of course his true motivation is more likely financial interests in private media organisations, as well as apparent attitude within French political circles that they should be able to control public discourse. I could cite similar unhappiness with the German and Indian media families, but I’m distracting myself.

As for Master James’ difficulties with Ofcom, he sees this as government control over what his TV stations “can and cannot say”. “A recent Ofcom broadcasting bulletin weighed in at 119 pages. Every year, roughly half a million words are devoted to telling broadcasters what they can and cannot say.” Nonsense, of course. Ofcom works only to ensure standards in broadcasting are met, standards with which few reasonable people would disagree. Who wants to hear “nigger” or “paki” when watching Eastenders? Who wants football match to be interrupted by ads every twenty minutes (has happens stateside)? Who want a broadcaster, interested only ratings, exploiting instances of racial bullying on reality television? This is why Ofcom is there I for one am glad of this. James’ problem is purely the restriction place on amount of money he rakes in. “The latest EU-inspired rules on scheduling of advertising numbers of ad breaks permitted in news programming. Television news is already a tough enough business.” Tough shit! All advertising is essentially lying, convincing us that our lives will somehow be improved by product we really don’t need. A body that minimises this as much as possible is welcome in my view.

The BCC has been inexistence for almost a century, and this has hardly prevented quality journalism in Britain from flourishing. Indeed, British television is generally regarded as the best in the world, so you might wonder why James has gotten into such a tizzy lately. It’s not hard to figure out. He wants to continue News Corp’s inability to understand the internet and images the BBC to be a threat to this.

Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charge for news to people who value it.

This is the crux of Murdoch complaint. It’s no secret that News Corp’s newspapers are considering introducing a fee for their online content, which isn’t exactly feasible with the BBC’s website providing first rate news for free. This is nothing more than Rupert’s invisible believe that the internet “must change”. They still think they can place barriers on their website without diverting traffic elsewhere. This is simply hubris. There are plenty of quality news sites other than the BBC. For instance, the Guardian has positioned itself as the primary left-leaning online news source. The point is that newspapers need to adapt to the internet. It’s not going to work the other way round.

Anyway, this has been a long rant. The final thing I want to say is about Master James’ repeated references to “state-sponsored media”, and apparent love for independent news. Can News Corp’s outlets really consider themselves independent? BBC may be a state body, but its editorial independence is beyond question, which is more than can be said for Fox News or The Sun. The independence of News Corp itself can’t be said to be pure, given James’ recent courting of David Cameron. His only concern is profits, which he is not ashamed of because “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”. In this age who could actually believe this.


The bad mother weekly

Is there any justification for the splash in yesterday’s Sunday World? If you missed it, it was basically an attack on Melissa Mahon’s mother. The Real Irish Sunday went to great lengths to point out how Mary Mahon, whose daughter Melissa was killed by Ronnie Dunbar, missed the funeral due to being too ill, yet was able to go on an eight hour drinking binge afterwards.

Media commentators have long pointed out that tabloids often confuse the public interest and what the public are interested in. But in this case I’m not convinced the public are really that interested in this one. Perhaps I’m letting my optimistic view on humanity cloud my judgement, but do people really want to join a rabble against a mother who’s lost a daughter, no matter the circumstances? I for one read only a couple of paragraphs. That’s all I had the stomach for.

I felt a great contempt for this woman (not helped by the photos they used) until I realised that’s what the newspaper wanted me to feel. Basically, we were being sold an outrage. Usually I don’t have a problem with this, it’s what tabloids do, but this time?

Assuming the story is true (which is by no means a certainty), who are we to judge a woman in this position? Could it be that guilt prevented her from attending the funeral, and the same guilt is driving her to drink? I don’t know, but I do know that the attitude of the Sunday World was puerile and smug, and characteristic of no society I want to be a part of.


Green shoots are not jobs

It has always amused me how certain words and phrases can become part of a general vocabulary, simply because they’re part of some event that’s a major news story at the time. For instance, I lived in Galway when the water supply was contaminated with Cryptosporidium. Do you think anybody in the city, apart from the scientific types, had even heard the word “Cryptosporidium” before this? Yet suddenly we were all experts on it. It even earned its own nickname: Crypto. It sounds like a type of chocolate bar.

At the moment it’s the recession. It seems to me that it permeates every conversation uttered by any person in the land. Even discussions the rugby last night placed the match within the context of a recession. Apparently the win is just the boost to the national spirits we need. This is, of course, bullshit. If there is anything to cheer up people losing their homes and life-savings it’s not a bunch of Blackrock cityboys winning a rugby match.

Prior to this recession, few even considered such a concept. I’m not convinced the majority of people even knew what the word meant. Back then, it was carbon footprints and such that bothered us all. Now the subject gets barely a mention, which leads me to conclude that global warming was fixed and this event has somehow slipped me by.

The next phrase to land of everyone’s lips seems to be “green shoots”. We’re all on the lookout for these green shoots. A somewhat sustained rise in house-sales in Britain: green shoots. American banks paying back some of the bailout money: green shoots. A couple of green shoots appearing in Dad’s vegetable patch: green shoots (ok, those are actual green shoots. It’s gardening season in the Foley household).

I had to laugh during the week when Cowen had the nerve to mention the green shoots in a wildly optimistic speech to the party-fold in Slane. There’s a detailed critique of the speech here. The problem with green shoots of course is that they’re not likely to survive an administration preoccupied with tax-increases and spending cuts. In year’s time when we’re still in the same hole, this speech will be another marker of a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing. But then, this was not a speech for next year’s benefit. It was a desperate attempt to generate some good news to dilute the humiliation FF is going to face next month.

By the way, what happened with Swine Flu? Is that over now?


Is it still worth trying?

Today’s “Media” supplement in the Guardian made for depressing reading. The splash was about graduate and trainee journalists, and how they’ve been left behind as this recession bites on newspapers (which, as we all know, have for years been on a downward spiral without need of an economic downturn).

I won’t repeat the article, it’s all hear, but I will agree that this is a loss not just to graduates but to the newspapers as well. A dynamic newsroom feeds from the energy of newcomers as well as the experience of the older journalists. I loved my brief spell at a national news-desk, and I particularly enjoyed the advice and guidance shown to me by one of our senior political writers, who seemed to take me under his wing.

As for what this mean for me personally, well, it might be best advised to give it up. It seems the death-notice for this industry has been long ago nailed to the door. Freelancing doesn’t cut it, I don’t think it ever did for an inexperienced journalist. Several well-meaning individuals have suggested I go for a change of career (PR as obviously been mentioned). However, I’m not letting go of the dream just yet. I’m a hack. I’ve been convinced for almost a decade now that this is my vocation, and it’s what I’ve worked for and committed myself to. I don’t think it’s time go give up on that just yet.


Cowengate Debate on RTE, not yet

The discussion on The Late Late Show regarding the (artificially created) controversy for those paintings was a typically pathetic attempt by RTÉ to ‘address’ the issue, in that it completely missed the point. In case you missed it, Senator Ronan Mullen, Comedian Alan Shortt, Sunday Tribune editor Noirin Hegarty and Mammy O’Rourke TD were invited on to discuss the issue. And by ‘discuss’, I mean Shortt told some jokes that reminded us how awful Bull Island was (he even pulled out a wig, for fuck sake), Senator Ronan claimed the paintings didn’t count as satire as they didn’t say anything (or it might have been because they were funny enough. His argument was so inane that I couldn’t identify anything that might be described as a “point”), and Mammy displayed (not for the first time) an inability to distinguish between popular opinion and her own perception of events. After whining that we would have been up-in-arms had the subject of the paintings been one of our female politicians (or “Marys”, as she referred to them), she then claimed that the paintings were in particular bad taste as Cowen has two daughters. By that rational, any parent is entitled to a limit being placed on criticism or reproach, due to the impact it may have on their child. Even Joe O’Reilly wouldn’t have thought of that one.

So, the focus of the discussion stayed squarely on whether the paintings were satire or just a mean-spirited attack on Cowen’s physique. I would argue that they are satire as they depict the holder of the highest office in our land naked and vulnerable as the rest of us. You could also draw comparisons between The Emperor’s New Clothes and what happened to our economy, but I’m sidetracking myself by mentioning this as the purpose of the paintings is now irrelevant. Only Hegarty touched on the real significance of this story, by saying it should have died on Monday night rather that grow and become an international phenomenon. Pat did mention that RTÉ may be somewhat responsible for this, but he did this in a manner that was so limp-wristed and uncommitted that it doesn’t count. RTÉ is undoubtedly (though not solely) responsible for this. The reason this story has grown is not because it was an insult and not because somebody illicitly hung paintings in two of our state galleries. It’s because of the over-response of our government and our state bodies, and because of the implication that free speech is now limited in this country. None of this was addressed on the Late Late last night.

It also seemed odd to me that the discussion was never opened up the audience, as is typical for this kind of item. I’m not suggesting this was a deliberate attempt to restrict a discussion. It could have been just an oversight on the producer’s part. Either way, this was missed opportunity as audience participation might have invited some real insights on this. I mean, here is a scenario where the state broadcaster backs down so readily and cops are sent to the offices of a commercial radio station to look at e-mails even though nobody is convinced an actual crime has been committed (and this at a time when we can’t know the identities of the Anglo 10 because of “due process”). There is clearly something to say on this regarding our freedoms. Ireland’s reputation on the international stage has already been sullied by the meteoric collapse of our economy and the scandals that have emerged in our banking system. On top of this, we now look like a tin-pot dictatorship where criticism of our leader does not go unpunished. The fault for this does not lie with the media (RTÉ excepted) or bloggers (despite what John Waters would have us believe) and certainly does not lie with Conor Casby. Responsibility lies purely with the powers that be. Cowen may have been embarrassed by the pics, but we as a nation have (once again) been humiliated by our government. As for RTÉ, it is possible, I suppose, that they withdrew the story independent of pressure from the Taoiseach’s office, but this does nothing to make the station appear as any less of a weak-willed, unprofessional news body that refused to stand by a story. In fact it makes them seem a lot worse.

Hopefully we’ll get a proper debate on Questions & Answers on Monday.


I’m soooo, soooooo sorry

Last night’s nine o’clock news on RTÉ was one of the most craven displays of cowardice I’ve ever witnessed, even by this country’s standards. If you’re unfamiliar with the story (though there’s really no reason for you to be at this stage) RTÉ apologised for a story they ran the night before regarding two paintings for our glorious Taoiseach Biffo in the nip. As usual, Suzy was first out of the paddock on this one. Just to be clear, nobody in RTÉ was responsible for the painting, and their report merely highlighted that these works were somehow displayed in two state galleries. And this has apparently evoked enough anger in the Taoiseach’s office to get the state broadcaster, OUR broadcaster, to apologise.

There is just no defending this. It is simply not something happens in a free country. A commenter on Suzy’s post has argued that RTÉ was right to apologise as the paintings are personally offensive. It could also be argued that they were libellous, and as we all know repeat of libel is still libel (though from what I understand of precedent law RTÉ has automatically admitted liability by issuing an apology). Though I can respect this argument, I disagree with it strongly. By buckling under pressure from the government, RTÉ has effectively stated that limits are to be placed on to satire and, more importantly, free speech. What’s weird is that RTÉ wasn’t the only, or even the first, media outlet to report this. Even the Guardian had it today, reporting that the Gardaí are tracking down the anonymous artist. They even called into Today FM’s office because Ray D’arcy was reportedly in contact with him. If ever this country was made to look like more of a banana republic then I shudder to think what that might have been.

I don’t want to get any further into the ridiculousness of this as it’s already been well discussed by the blogosphere. Instead, in a spirit of public activism (I know we still have it in us), I want to propose what we should do about it. Many people have said they e-mailed the department of the Taoiseach and RTÉ to express their disgust over this. This is completely understandable, but I have a better idea. Instead of getting ourselves worked up with complaining, why not go the other way with mass apologies. Here’s what I’m proposing: we go through our old posts looking for anything that might be perceived as offensive to our leader or the government, and send a letter of apology to the Taoiseach’s office for everything we find. We highlight in these letters that were are doing this under the new restrictions that have been placed on public discourse in light of RTÉ’s cowardice. If you can afford to post rather than e-mail, I suggest you do that. Forcing them to deal with hard-copies of letters will ensure this is a nuisance for them. There’s no need to let RTÉ off the hook either. We can send them letters highlighting further instances where they might like to apologise. I realise this will be difficult without access to their archive, but I’m sure memory will serve. And theirs always stuff we can find on the internet.

I’m completely serious about this. I’m going to e-mail some of our better satirists to ask if they’re interested in participating. But I think the blogosphere is where most of the heat of this will come from, if I comes from anywhere. You might say this idea is childish and petty, but it’s no less childish and petty that what has given rise to it.


The tabloid media and cultural necrophilia: or where are we going as a society?

I’ve really wanted to post something on Jade Goody, but honestly I haven’t had the nerve. So I’m just going to link to Alan Moloney’s thoughts on the issue, as it says everything I was thinking on the issue.

I realise I’m mad late jumping on this bandwagon, but fuck it.


Patrick Rocca and the media

I see that the family of Patrick Rocca will be referring to the Press Ombudsman reports on his death they feel were hurtful and inaccurate (see here and here. Interesting that the Indo has ignored the story). This is proper order as far as I can see. The coverage was certainly speculative and sensationalist. Personally, I don’t see how Horgan can not rule in the family’s favour without making his position redundant.

The complaints highlighted by the Rocca family were previously mention by me here, if somewhat sparingly. Rather than congratulate myself, however, I’m feeling somewhat guilty about it, as I’m worried I may have contributed to the hurtful media reporting. This particular post generated a lot of traffic, about three times what I might normally expect. Now as Patrick Rocca wasn’t really a major household name (my post is still the only WordPress post tagged to him), I suspect much of this traffic came from people connected to him. And whereas they might have expected an “our thoughts are with you” sentiment, they found instead a slightly cynical “them and us” rant.

I just want to say that if any of Mr Rocca’ family or friends read my post and found it hurtful, I apologise. This was not my intent, and I hope you believe my thoughts are with you.


The first tragedy that matters, at least

The front page of today’s Irish Daily Mail really irked me quite a bit. I found the declaration that the suicide of Patrick Rocca is the first tragedy of the recession quite insulting. Now I don’t wish to make light of anyone’s suicide, or add to the pain of the families who have to deal with it, but I find it hard to believe that The Daily Mail has investigated every suicide in recent months and concluded this was the first one that was a result of the recession.

I say this with some certainty as a friend of my father, a man very popular in the town I grew up in, hanged himself shortly before Christmas. Of course it’s wrong of me to guess why he did this (there were money issues, but other issues too), but the Mail is equally wrong is this regard, and it seems perverse to me that the death of my dad’s friend can be disregarded so easily. Mr Rocca’s death may have put Ireland’s “business and social elite in shock”, but that doesn’t make it any more important.

There is also the issue of how the way this was reported will affect those close to Patrick Rocca. When I was in college I was told the way to report suicide was to publish the details without including the victim’s name. I believe this is what various suicide agencies ask of the media. Of course this was not possible in Mr Rocca’s case, being the public icon that he was, but I think the Mail could have shown a lot more consideration than to publish the story as a full front-page splash.


Media matters and Kerry’s weight

I was browsing around the newsagents in Superquinn today when I noticed that Kerry Katona had made the front pages of a number of publications. Both OK and Star magazine had cover stories on Kerry’s fabulous weight loss. The Daily Mirror had a somewhat different Kerry angle, reporting that she has evicted her own mother from her home in order to pay off a massive tax debt.

Now I’m not in the business of pointing and laughing at celebrities for having breakdowns in a very public way (see here for more evidence of Charlie Brooker being right about everything). Besides, if we slap a hate-figure label on Kerry we effectively assume a goodie tag on Brian McFadden, and that simply wont do. Nonetheless, the weight issue is worth discussing for one reason. Star magazine declared that Kerry has lost four stone. OK topped this by claiming it was six. Plastered on the two magazine, in big, bold typeface for all to see, are two very different figures (numbers-wise, I mean).

Now if I were a cynical man I might reach the conclusion that celebrity magazines are less than reputable; that they’re just making it all up. Further inspection might discount this explaination, however. Both OK and Star are owned by Northern and Shell Media Publications, so surely two arms of the one company would want to liaise with each other to avoid such embarrassing discrepancies. Even celebrity magazines wouldn’t be so feckless with the truth, right?

No, the answer to this conundrum lies as I see it with deadlines. This particular issue of Star, you see, was dated January 19, whereas OK was dated the 20th. So, obviously, in the 24 hours that lies between each magazine’s deadline Ms Katona went and lost a further two stone. What a trooper.

In a related story, my 15 year old sister lost over a stone while spending Christmas in the States. As she is by no means over-weight, my aunts – with whom she was staying – fretted that she might be anorexic. The truth, happily, is that my sister simply couldn’t stomach the artificial-tasting food across the pond (which I can understand). Her eating habits are fine. Still, with the dick-swinging reporting of celebrities and their weight, would it be any surprise if my sister were anorexic.