Tuesday 10 December 2019

How bullying RTÉ worked for Sinn Féin at the last election, so the party is at it again

A report on election coverage shows Sinn Féin tactics in action, says Fionnán Sheahan

A new study reveals RTÉ was hit by “a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters” claiming the party was being under-represented. Stock Image Photo: Getty Images
A new study reveals RTÉ was hit by “a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters” claiming the party was being under-represented. Stock Image Photo: Getty Images
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

The Shinnerbots is the nickname for the throngs of Sinn Féin supporters who seem to have little else to do but spend their days on social media criticising anybody who questions the party.

Many of the keyboard warriors are pathetically anonymous. Even with the distance of the internet, they won't identify themselves.

To be fair, the party, often described by its opponents as a "cult", has no shortage of activists happy to fly the flag.

'The Shinnerbots' have been busy over recent days as the party has claimed it is being silenced by RTÉ.

Supporters are sharing and reacting to their campaign claiming victimhood.

Sinn Féin doesn't like the amount of coverage it has been getting on RTÉ. Neither does it like the party's stance of abolishing the Special Criminal Court featuring.

The party doesn't seem to realise the national broadcaster is obliged to cover the topical issues of the day on its news bulletins - not just pump out its propaganda.

For a party which objected to Section 31 censorship of the Provos during the Troubles, it now, ironically, wants to dictate what can and cannot be covered.

The social media battle is a more modern version of the tactics adopted at the last general election.

On that occasion, RTÉ gave too much coverage to Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, based upon its own general guidelines.

Is it a coincidence that Sinn Féin benefited in this manner after its supporters targeted RTÉ programmes arguing it wasn't getting enough coverage?

A new study reveals the broadcaster was hit by "a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters" claiming the party was being under-represented.

The study explores the way RTÉ endeavours to give balanced coverage to all parties in a General Election.

The broadcaster is obliged to give each party a set amount of time based on complex criteria around levels of support both past and present.

But the study found "the outcome in 2011 meant Sinn Féin and Labour were over-represented with Fianna Fáil and independents under-represented".

In the end, Labour got almost 60pc too much airtime. But then-leader Eamon Gilmore's party was initally challenging Fine Gael for the Taoiseach's office and then fighting for the make-up of the next government, so it was very much an agenda-setter.

Although less prominent, Sinn Féin got about 35pc too much time on air.

The imbalance was identified by RTÉ chiefs through the campaign.

Instead, management congratulated themselves on their coverage not becoming an issue.

The study is based upon access to confidential minutes of internal RTÉ management meetings.

Throughout the campaign, there were warnings about "the excessive level of attention" given to some parties, such as Labour, and the under-representation of Independents and small parties.

Proposals to redress the balance included putting Independent and small-party candidates on shows with "relatively modest audiences".

Party political broadcasts by small parties were also given the worst timeslots on TV.

After the election, RTÉ officially concluded it had "achieved across radio and television a level of attention to each party and to candidates that broadly reflected the guidelines provided by the criteria we had established".

However, the academic study by renowned former RTE broadcaster Kevin Rafter of the DCU School of Communications finds: "This conclusion is, however, difficult to reconcile against the internal monitoring data reported to the [RTE management committee]."

'Regulating the Airwaves: How Political Balance is Achieved in Practice in Election News Coverage' also reveals an insidious campaign by Sinn Féin supporters to bully RTÉ into giving their candidates more airtime.

RTE management met with the parties and discussed the leaders' debates and general campaign coverage. Meetings of RTE management through the campaign showed complaints from the party were "relatively low" with programmes getting the "usual amount of representations from the parties about perceived inadequacies in RTÉ's coverage".

But the meetings did identify "repeated references to complaints from Sinn Féin supporters". After the election, an internal RTE review concluded there had been "a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters" to make complaints about time allocations to parties and candidates.

The "orchestrated campaign" clearly worked.

So Sinn Féin is at it again.

Irish Independent

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