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Scrutinising the spin

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

IT is about time politicians realised that we journalists are not there to serve them. It is our role to scrutinise them, to hold them to account, to question them when there are clear discrepancies between their statements and the facts.
It is not our job to ‘spin’ for them either, to cover over the cracks. We are not their mouthpieces.
Neither are we outlets for other arms of official Ireland, whether they be county councils or big corporations who have had far too cosy relationships with the powers that be.
During these days of a constant news barrage it is very likely that the public has already forgotten the recent controversy over the Government’s spin unit trying to pull the wool over our eyes with manipulative press coverage (really advertorials) about Project 2040.
It is likely too that the public is already yawning about the fact that Independent News & Media (INM) is in the middle of a storm over a serious data breach involving the email accounts of some of its most high-profile journalists.
After protected disclosures from its former Chief Executive, Robert Pitt and its Chief Financial Officer, Ryan Preston, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) has now taken the dramatic step of going to the High Court to make an application for inspectors to be appointed to examine the alleged data breach at INM. Unsurprisingly, media mogul and majority shareholder, Denis O’Brien is challenging the ODCE application.
Indeed, he wrote to its Director Ian Drennan accusing him of leaking documents to the press. (“I intend to hold you fully and personally responsible for all the alleged leaking,” wrote O’Brien.)
Ironic or what!
Mr Drennan responded that any ‘leaking’ happened after a year-long investigation and the documents were served on INM.

Editorial independence
RETURNING after their Easter recess last week, the Fianna Fáil leader, Mícheál Martin fired the first salvo on the subject, stating “We should all hold dear the protection of journalistic sources, editorial independence, the independence of journalists and their freedom from any undue interference …. Recent events serve as a wake-up call for the Oireachtas to consider legislation to deal with these issues on several fronts.”
About bloody time.
Naturally, Leo the Lion had to add his tuppence ha’penny worth: “I think having an independent news and media service is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is, after all, the Fourth Estate, and I believe journalists must be free to pursue stories that they want to pursue.’’
As if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
So, let’s remind ourselves of what exactly the Fourth Estate means. Ignoring some of its relatively archaic etymology, it refers to the news media (broadcast and printed) while the other ‘three estates’ are the arms of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

Subservience to Church and State
HISTORICALLY, the Irish Fourth Estate – with a few exceptions – has been mainly subservient to our governing elite: whether that be Church or State. The Irish Independent and The Irish Press (now defunct) were family-owned, with clear clerical and ‘civil war’ party-political allegiances , while The Irish Times was originally the outlet for a Protestant ethos.
Last year, reviewing DCU academic Mark O’Brien’s book ‘The Fourth Estate: Journalism in Twentieth Century Ireland’, commentator Eamon Dunphy opined that a large part of O’Brien’s analysis of 20th-century Irish journalism ‘reflects on the power of the Catholic Church and how it, together with its political puppets, set an agenda designed to persecute the mass of Irish people’.
Dunphy writes: “Print journalism is dying. New masters of our universe have slipped slyly into the powerful space once occupied by the clerics. Cleverer, wealthier and in essence far more menacing to the common good, the new bullies do not threaten politicians. They recruit them. As the fourth estate dies slowly and a fifth estate is born, who is going to call the new masters of our universe to account?”
It is time to stand up and be counted. We all owe it to our readers to adhere to high standards in our reportage, analysis and commentary and not to bow to those who assume the privilege of power affords them the right to dictate what is published in local and national newspapers.