Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment: Taoiseach's talk was cheap but did reveal uncomfortable truths

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It will come as breaking news to many 'media luvvies' but Leo Varadkar has a point.

The reaction to the Taoiseach's attack on journalists at a private lunch in New York has been nothing short of hysterical.

No doubt, he had a go at the 'hacks', particularly those of us in the Leinster House press gallery - but is it really that big of a deal?

Mr Varadkar's real mistake was leaving himself open to suggestions that he agrees with Donald Trump's view of the world.

Trump has described named news outlets as the "enemy of the American people".

It would be a stretch to argue that Mr Varadkar shares such a hatred of the fourth estate.

At the lunch, the Taoiseach mused that journalists are a bunch of gossips. That's not fake news.

Anybody who has paid a moment's notice to the Disclosures Tribunal over recent months could only reach that conclusion.

Mr Varadkar suggested journalists are under more pressure than ever to churn out stories. Again, most reporters would be hard pressed to disagree.

He claimed that the print media are often critical of social media companies because they are a threat to business. There's an element of truth in that.

And the Taoiseach complained there are too many political correspondents in Leinster House. On this point, he's wrong - but most TDs would probably agree with him.

Newsrooms have been gutted in recent years but the journalists still active are making an impact.

Irish journalism is struggling. Local papers are in decline, national newsrooms are being squeezed, British redtops are being dropped in at knock-down prices and nobody has figured out how to make sustainable money from the internet.

Good journalism isn't cheap. The Taoiseach's talk was cheap - but so too was some of the response.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald turned freedom fighter for the free press.

"The media is an essential part of our democracy. Of course it's very serious that the head of Government would launch such an attack in such an indiscriminate way," the shiny new Sinn Féin leader said.

This is the same politician who defended her predecessor Gerry Adams when he went Stateside and made light of the fact a gun was once held to the head of an Irish Independent editor.

Micheál Martin cleverly pointed out in the Dáil how the media had faithfully reported on all the Government's big announcements in recent times that have led to little.

But Mr Martin isn't a massive fan of the political correspondents either. The leader of the Opposition hasn't appeared on the plinth to face questions since February 2017.

The reality is that we scrutinise and criticise our TDs so it's no surprise that they might have a moan behind our backs, or even to our faces.

In recent days, I accused Simon Harris of "trotting out" the same old excuses for overspending in health, and derided Eoghan Murphy for posting photographs of himself swimming in pink trunks while the Dáil was grappling with housing.

Our readers trust us to pass judgment on politicians but that doesn't make us infallible.

So let's be honest, some soul-searching on the part of the media might also reveal some uncomfortable truths.

Irish Independent

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