Parading propaganda as news

So far, in contemplating what appears to be imminent death of the mainstream print media, we have tended to adopt an apocalyptic demeanour. And, yes, there are many potentially ominous aspects of what is happening and likely to happen next. The death of the newspaper may well, under certain headings, have drastic consequences for the health of modern democracies.


But the news may not be all bad. Perhaps it might be timely to mention the possibility that the collapse of the present model of what is called the ‘national’ newspaper may have some positive collateral benefits? For one thing, we might in future be spared the spectacle of newspapers parading propaganda as news and attacking those who seek to point out the difference.



The tendency of modern media to become pliable instruments of fashionable ideologies is damaging to democracy and human society on any number of levels. It impoverishes public discourse, ensuring that issues are presented in a pre-decided manner so as to guarantee the victory of particular outlooks. It distorts democracy, by in effect disenfranchising large sectors of opinion.


In Ireland, it has in recent years become abundantly clear that the media consensus on certain ‘liberal’ issues is pushing all the major political parties down the same road. Since most of the marginal and most volatile voting sectors are heavily influenced by such commentary, there is no percentage for politicians in adopting dissenting policies and taking on the dominant agendas. Such is the level of bullying and intolerance on certain issues that it is no longer possible to conduct free and fair debates on certain topics. Those who might be disposed to articulate a position contrary to elements of the ‘liberal’ agenda – abortion or gay marriage, for example – are increasingly of the mind that the most likely outcome will be their own stereotyping as ‘reactionary’, ‘right wing’ or worse, and therefore opt, more and more, not to participate.


‘Liberal’ agenda 

It goes without saying that the ‘liberal’ agenda is not liberal by any definition you care to name, its most visible characteristic being the supercilious certainty that the Irish people are in need of constant re-education so as to become freed from superstition, traditionalism and other eccentric dispositions.


‘Group think’ is a concept which has been in common usage in political discourse here for a couple of years, since the damning Carragher report on RTÉ’s treatment of Fr Kevin Reynolds. In many ways it speaks for itself, a graphic critique of people who feign objectivity and openness but are really the servants of an unacknowledged ideological consensus. The condition is endemic to both the print and broadcast sectors of Irish media.


The current debate about the universal broadcasting charge has so far focused on the question of whether or not people watch television or (presumably also) listen to the radio. But there is, of course, a deeper question concerning membership of society. If I’m part of Irish democracy, I – arguably – have a stake in the existence of a democratic discourse, notionally the ultimate guarantee of my freedoms. So even if I live in a cave without electricity or technological apparatuses of any kind, my freedom may depend on the conduct of that democratic discourse. This argument suggests that I may have a moral responsibility to pay for public service broadcasting by means of whatever tax is decided by those charged with overseeing this area.



However, this opens up another question: is the discourse we have in this society truly democratic? Does it represent the community as a whole, or make a decent attempt to do so? If not, can citizens have a moral obligation to support it? Arguably, no.


The Fr Kevin Reynolds affair was not merely a shocking libel of a good man – it was also an example of how certain forms of thinking have infected our national broadcaster to the detriment of Irish society. The Fr Reynolds affair brought to the surface the ideological opportunism running through all the mainstream Irish media, exposing a poisonous contempt for the Catholic Church and the reputations of those who wear its uniforms. In the climate arising from the sordid revelations about a tiny majority of Catholic clerics, an unrepresentative cadre of ideologically-motivated journalists has grasped the opportunity to hasten the end of the Irish Catholic Church. And, notwithstanding the assurances that followed the Carragher Report, there is no evidence of any real change. 


The Fr Reynolds affair is of a piece with virtually all treatment of religion and associated matters in Irish media –  typified by selective treatments of a partial menu of topics, haranguing of dissenters, discussion panels stuffed with like-minded fellow travellers and politically-correct parrots.



As well as affecting public discussion of issues like gay marriage, abortion and questions pertaining to faith, ‘group think syndrome’ has also inhibited questions as diverse as crime, immigration, social welfare, ‘gender’ issues, the EU and the possibility of alternative perspectives on our economic situation. On immigration, it can be argued that the denial of a proper debate has changed the face of Ireland without any possibility for dissent. Even to point this out leaves one open to charges of ‘racism’ from the group thinkers, but the fact remains that there is a great deal of unworked-through resentment about the way Irish society has been remade without consultation, and we may yet reap the whirlwind for this denial of an adequate democratic discourse.


The hegemonic character of much Irish media – including print and broadcast – is now leading to the desertion of media by those who feel neither affirmed nor recognized in most of the media experiences they encounter. Unfortunately, however, the media have the cover of the alibi provided by the growth of ‘new media’ to hide from the reality of their own failures and abuses. Choosing to diagnose the widespread turning away from their products as arising from the growth of online modes of communication, they manage to avoid the coincidence of these developments with their own unashamed capitulation to ideology and propaganda.


In reality, though, many more people would continue to buy newspapers if these newspapers made even token efforts to represent the general community, rather than a tiny cadre of ideologues and their agendas. And most people would have no objection to a universal broadcasting charge if they felt that, in paying it, they were genuinely contributing to the democratic health of their society.