Wednesday 23 January 2019

Comment: Varadkar's attack on the media is good for Irish journalists

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Laura Hutton/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Laura Hutton/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TODAY is a good day for Irish journalists.

Safely cocooned at a private lunch in New York, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar offered his sympathy to US President Donald Trump.

He has railed against ‘fake news’ and the gossipmongers who roam the corridors of Leinster House.

According to Mr Varadkar things were better 20 years ago when there were fewer journalists who acted with “dedication”.

In essence life was easier back in the day when politicians could simply fax a press release to their local newspaper who had to take it at face value.

Now there are too many political correspondents and we’re all trying to compete with each other for tittle tattle.

And there are no real consequences for journalists when they get things wrong, according to our ‘Dear Leader’.

Many people will agree with the Taoiseach but the facts don’t stand up.

In reality, political correspondents work from daybreak until well after the sun goes down. Newsrooms across the board have seen staff numbers gutted in recent years and the increase demand for online news means there is no ‘off’ button.

But that’s what you sign up when you become a journalist.

As for there being no real consequences, Mr Varadkar gets to unashamedly go back on political promises any day of the week.

A journalist who has to backtrack on a story faces genuine reputational damage, a risk to their income and a potential court battle under the shadow of some of the most draconian libel laws in the world.

As for our tendency to gossip, the best stories come from whispers. It’s the time spent fact-checking and giving context that turns ‘gossip’ into news.

Mr Varadkar’s comments will make ‘media bashing’ fair game for a few days. They will be exploited by people with something to hide.

If journalism is suffering it’s because of a lack of investment, something Mr Varadkar could look into if he is really worried about standards dropping.

But let’s not get too upset because on this occasion Leo Varadkar has handed us a story.

He will talk about the value of a free press and the importance of investigative journalism – but he won’t be able to spin his way out of this one.

The truth is Mr Varadkar likes to control the narrative but that’s not the way this game works.

And if he’s giving out about political correspondents then we’re probably doing something right. So it’s a good day.

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