Mainstream media: Failing to speak truth to power

By Anthony Sheridan

A deep and disturbing malaise has taken hold of journalism right across mainstream media.  The infection stems from the decades long close and  inappropriate association of journalists with the rotten centre of Irish politics principally composed of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour.

For a long time the sickness was hardly noticeable but the brutal austerity implemented by the political centre in response to the 2008 economic collapse opened the eyes of many Irish citizens.  And not just to how power was wielded in the interests of the powerful, but how mainstream media provided unquestioning support for the actions of the political establishment.

The unhealthy relationship between mainstream media and the ruling political class has become so close that the journalists themselves seem to be genuinely unaware of it.

A recent political podcast by the Irish Times, in which readers were invited to submit questions to journalists, provides a startling example of how mainstream journalism has become a parody of what good journalism should be all about.

I submitted the following question to the podcast which was selected for discussion:

Why is the link between the rise of Sinn Fein and the ongoing disintegration of the political centre ignored by mainstream media? 

Almost all comment and analysis surrounding this historic development focuses on attacking Sinn Fein on behalf of and in defence of the political centre. 

There is virtually no analysis or comment as to why this is happening.

Harry McGee, the Irish Times political correspondent, responded but failed to adequately address the question.  Instead, he unwittingly revealed the true nature of the tainted relationship between mainstream journalism and the political establishment.  

We’re working in an environment that is like a big boarding school and the thing is, you do forge relationships with politicians.  And journalists depend on politicians especially when they’re looking to get stories in advance.  And that makes it slightly problematic when it comes to criticising politicians – suddenly you have to pounce and bite the hand that feeds. 

Effectively, McGee is making the shocking admission that Irish mainstream journalists do not observe one of the central principles of international journalism – the obligation to speak truth to power.  

He is candidly admitting that mainstream journalists do not come down hard on establishment politicians because they depend on them for stories.

It is, of course, true that journalists line up like ducks in a pond to be fed tit bits by politicians in return for favourable reportage but it is rare to witness a journalist actually admit to this reality.

McGee went on to deny that there was any concerted attack on Sinn Fein feebly claiming that the problem lay with Sinn Fein’s reluctance to make itself accessible to media.

It’s not so much that there’s any attempt to attack Sinn Fein.  I think there’s just been a difficulty of getting access to Sinn Fein but that has become less of a difficulty in recent years.

The notion that Sinn Fein is shy about engaging with media is almost as ridiculous as claiming that there’s no concerted campaign against the rise of that party.

So here’s the truth that McGee and his colleagues in mainstream media are so fearful of confronting.

The political centre is on a death spiral after decades of corruption, incompetence and arrogance wrapped in a blanket of delusion that they have a divine right to rule. 

This is not opinion, it’s fact.  Labour are in the waiting room to extinction, Fine Gael effectively lost the last three elections and Fianna Fail are struggling to remain relevant as the the party begins to tear itself asunder in an internal civil war.

All of this has come about for one simple but powerful reason – the Irish electorate, in election after election, has rejected the old corrupt regime and is demanding radical change.

But this ongoing revolutionary shift across the entire political landscape is practically ignored by mainstream media.  Instead, in an increasingly desperate effort to defend and preserve the old regime, we see an avalanche of ‘end of civilisation’ type articles and broadcasts warning of the dangers of populism, Trumpism, the so-called evils of social media and increasingly bizarre anti-Sinn Fein propaganda.

The sickness that has resulted in mainstream media abandoning its obligation to speak truth to power is best summed up by McGee’s mindset:

‘We fear criticising politicians in case they stop giving us stories’

This dangerous mindset is in stark contrast to the highest principles of the profession as expressed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault:

Only the courageous may pursue the truth-to-power course as they risk losing their friends, their liberty, even their lives.

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Irish Times

Harry McGee

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