Paul Allen: The media is like a dog with a bone when probing others, but when it comes to itself ...
IS our media too self-obsessed? Well, according to Minister of Communications Pat Rabbitte it is. He believes that, "no other sector of society has the same ability or willingness to elevate their office politics to national news."
However, many believe the problem with the media is that it is not self-obsessed enough. This is because, unlike the other areas of society it so vigorously investigates, it rarely turns the spotlight on its own operations in any meaningful way.
Minister Rabbitte has rightly made it his mission to improve standards in the television, radio and newspaper sectors, particularly in the wake of the highly damaging and defaming Prime Time Investigates ‘A Mission To Pray’ programme.
It is of little surprise the knives are out for RTE and the media in general after the botched hack job on Father Kevin Reynolds.
RTE became a little too self-assured and over-confident, letting its position as a big fish in a small pond go to its head.
But, according to the Minister, the likes of RTE and other big players are in for a wake-up call because he believes the future of the media in Ireland will be poorer, more democratic and online.
However, while there is little doubt the media will continue to become more fragmented, the big players of today will not only be the top dogs for many years to come, but are also best placed and have the resources to help police a policy of more balanced and fair reporting.
But while such a policy is relatively easy to put on paper, the Minister needs to be aware that changing the very culture of news reporting is far more difficult.
The media has always thrived on bad news. Not so surprising given this constant diet of conflict and drama draws a large audience and, in turn, advertisers. Good news is boring and not good for business, just ask Joe Duffy.
All media loves drama. And like in most good dramas, it loves nothing more than shouldering blame on a dastardly villain.
Once this blame is apportioned, reporting and editorial comment becomes highly skewed and biased.
RTE’s unfair, unbalanced and unethical coverage concerning Father Kevin Reynolds had its birth in the fact that the burden of proof was deemed less important when it came to a priest thanks to the sins of the Catholic Church.
Politicians also suffer from the sins of others. And when they are frequently harangued live on air by presenters seemingly more interested in scoring points than uncovering the facts, it feeds into and re-enforces a public mood distrustful of our political classes.
Fake tweets, on air bullying and skewed coverage has not only affected RTE, but has impacted on our media’s ability to help us develop a balanced understanding of critical news stories.
This results in emotionally driven reactions to the collapse of the Celtic tiger, the performance of our government and our relationship with the EU.
While this is never a good thing, it becomes more problematic when we are faced with the upcoming vote on the European fiscal stability treaty referendum.
The reality is that empowering the existing media to better balance the inherent bias of all journalism, is far more effective than waiting for a time far in the future when the status quo in the sector might change.
How Minister Rabbitte proceeds is of critical importance because, we need a media that not only has the power, but also the resources to reflect the truth as clearly as possible. This is highly important because if we cannot view the past and present with unbiased clarity, our view of the future will always be worryingly skewed.
Paul Allen is Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com.