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Paul Allen: Are house prices sinking or swimming? it depends who's spinning ...

THE property market is either on the verge of bouncing back or is set to remain stagnant, according the reports. But the ‘truth’ depends on which newspaper you read.

You may point your finger at me, but the vast majority of people seem blissfully unaware of who the real ‘spin doctors’ actually are. They scoff at communications specialists, public relations consultants and media advisors, constantly blaming them for spinning the truth.

But the question is — how would you define ‘spin’?

Most of us see it as an attempt to put a particular viewpoint or bias on information and how it is portrayed in the media. For sure, I am guilty as charged, your honour.

But when it comes to the information we all consume on a daily basis it is important we understand that when it comes to ‘spinning’ there are many hands at work.

Take the latest report released by the property website Daft.ie just last week. Its “inaugural Consumer Attitudes Survey” attempts to measure how people currently feel about the property market and tries to uncover their purchasing intentions.

The results of the survey were presented in a relatively straightforward manner when released by Daft.ie, but the interpretation or dare I say ‘spin’ given to them by the media was interesting to note.

The Irish Independent’s headline was arguably the most sober and straightforward of the lot — “Home-buyers not planning to take plunge for two years.”

The introduction to the story underlined how the Government’s attempts at kickstarting the property market have so far failed. This is because the majority of people, according to Daft.ie, expect house prices to continue falling as they do not believe, even now, they represent good value for money.

Readers of The Irish Times, however, woke up to a somewhat different spin on the figures. The self-professed paper of record ran the headline — “Survey finds 40% set to buy property.”

It then went on to highlight how the report “found that more than 12 per cent of those want to buy a place as soon as possible, while another quarter hope to find a new home in 12 months.”

It is interesting that the country’s two main papers would have such different interpretations of the Daft report when it came to headline writing. One took a glass-half-empty viewpoint, while the other put on its rose-tinted glasses and saw the glass as being at least half full.

One would have to wonder if the obsession we all had with the Irish property market, which for many was fuelled by The Irish Times’ property supplement, has any connection with that paper’s rosier outlook?

So if you happened to arrive in Ireland from abroad last week and spotted the Irish Independent’s headline you would most likely believe the Irish property market still has some ways to go before finally recovering.

However, if you happened upon The Irish Times’ you would be left with the impression that property market is getting ready to roar once more.

The main winner out of all of this is of course Daft.ie. Not only was its press release carried by the daily nationals and on countless radio and television bulletins, but once again it is being highlighted in this article. Daft simply threw in the ball and let the media put its own spin on things. That is often how the media game works.

Indeed, we would be gullible to think that given standard facts all newspapers will take the same viewpoint. This is a good thing in general as the more pluralistic our media the better. However, the negative side of this is when people don’t believe there is any inherent bias brought to bear by the media organisation delivering the story.

People would be wise to remember that often when it comes to the most effective ‘spin doctors’ the media at large wins hands down.

Paul Allen, Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com