Newspaper Watch: Wading in a sea of Shell propaganda
For the last three weeks Shell have been constructing a terminal in Ballinaboy Co. Mayo. Every morning upwards of 100 people gather outside the site to protest against the terminal and every morning a similar number of police arrive to forcibly remove them and allow the work to continue. As the protests have gained in intensity, coverage of them has slowly fallen off the media agenda. On 20 October, the Shell to Sea campaign organised a national day of action, and bussed in a couple of hundred supporters from around the country.
Lorna Siggins, writing in the Irish Times, gave a brief description of the protests, but her article, entitled "Intervention urged in Corrib gas row", primarily focused on Mayo TD Dr Jerry Cowley's calls for the government to intervene. The prioritisation of such vapid statements by politicians – most people would consider the deployment of hundreds of gardaí to be an "intervention" – over the actions of hundreds of civilians is a cornerstone of the media's news agenda.
Nevertheless, simply by reporting many of the well-known facts about the Rossport protests, Siggins has stood against the media herd who have otherwise enthusiastically adopted the role of Shell's propagandists. As Harry Browne pointed out (Village 11 May 2006), the editorial line of the Irish Times has often opted for Shell's version of events over the reportage of their own correspondant. Alongside Siggins' account of the day of action, more than twice as much space was provided to Terry Nolan, a deputy managing director of Shell E&P. His article gave the impression that Shell's involvement in the project was motivated by philanthropy and a love of progress.
While Siggins has ensured that the Irish Times has provided some space to the arguments of the protestors, the rest of the media has been unencumbered by such aspirations.
The Independent greeted the day of action with two articles and an editorial denouncing the "extremely sinister campaign". They once again wheeled out evidence-free allegations of intimidation and of political groups 'hi-jacking' the campaign. Sinn Féin, their regular bogeyman, was this time joined by "groups of Dublin-based anarchists" who had "attached themselves to the campaign". Since the campaign is open to the public, accusing activists of infiltrating it is like accusing the audience of infiltrating a cinema.
As far back as July 2005, the Sunday Independent quoted Martin Ferris as saying, "Sinn Féin is fully supportive of the Rossport protesters and is part of a broad-based campaign that involves the families of the Rossport men, the local community there, environmentalists, anti-globalisation activists, socialists, anarchists and many people who are simply outraged at what lies behind the protest."
The Sunday Times has somehow managed to outdo the Independent in the malice of their coverage. On 22 October, they ran yet another article targeting Maura Harrington, a prominent member of Shell To Sea. The article, entitled "Protest principal's school has double time off", once again insinuated that her professional work was suffering due to her involvement in the campaign.
However, Siobhan Maguire's article revealed that she had no idea whether the high number of substitute teachers used by Harrington's school was "due to the absence of a number of staff or if a teacher took maternity leave".
We have no evidence, we haven't even bothered researching the story, but why let that stop us making malicious insinuations?