Irish media prefers to ignore itself

Our media loves to probe, analyse and criticise all Irish institutions - except itself, writes Angela Long


There’s sport in plenty, crime in spades, politics (if you’re with the broadsheets) by the acre.

But one thing the reader finds sparse in the Irish media is reporting on the media itself.

Arguably, this is a big miss: doesn’t the media, new or old, influence our lives and thinking down to the most minute degree?

But self-analysis – or navel-gazing, as detractors might label it – is few and far between.

Whereas all the serious British newspapers have regular and comprehensive media sections, the only faint echoes in the Irish press are columns almost exclusively to do with marketing.

Takeovers and results of media companies such as Independent News & Media, Thomas Crosbie Holdings, The Irish Times, will merit a story or two. But the papers fight shy of having a dedicated media correspondent. The Irish Times, for example, had Michael Foley, son of legendary news editor Donal, in this role in the 1990s, but hasn’t seen fit to replace him since Foley jun left to teach at Dublin Institute of Technology.

What passes for coverage of media issues in the Irish press (and broadcast sector) consists of reports of financial results, circulation and listenership figures, and stories about Rupert Murdoch and his evil empire.

News editors might argue that the public is not interested in the workings of its media. But the flurry of controversy over Denis O’Brien’s increasingly extensive media holdings, which accompanied the recent publication of the Moriarty report, suggests differently.

Employees of O’Brien organisations (The Independent, Newstalk) plausibly denied any direct influence from the great man. But a faint suspicion lingers that you don’t trash the boss, if you know what side you’re bread is buttered on.

The press, including online and broadcast, is one of the ‘pillars’ of society in that it directs our lives. Didn’t Peter Nyberg, in his report on the banking disaster, have words for the media’s delighted, largely uncritical, focus on the joys of property investment, during the boom? The press is the fourth estate, after the lords temporal and spiritual, and members of parliament, in Thomas Carlyle’s formulation. It is unelected, sometimes unrepresentative of the society it serves, in both commercial and political senses. When it’s doing its proper job of revealing bad things happening to good people, or the wealthy and powerful acting only in their own interests, it is an admirable force. But like any unelected body, the media needs scrutiny – yet where will that come from, if the media organisations and editors are not prepared to look in the mirror?

In the serious media, we have The Sunday Business Post’s media and marketing section, which is mostly about commercial issues (see last week’s section here).

The Irish Times has a column by Siobhán O’Connell once a week, in its Business section.

And RTE alternates between putting media stories within the remit of its arts/entertainment and business reporters.

There is nothing like The Guardian’s extensive Media section, and the similar ones in The London Independent, The Times, etc. On radio, Newstalk used to run a programme called Media Matters, with Roger Greene, but that has faded away.

The subject matter of such sections would most likely be opinion and analysis, plus interviews with the people deciding the news agendas, the editors, board directors and bankrollers. Too much disclosure, perhaps.

Are the Irish people really not interested in their main conduits of information –that tells when to buy a house, which politician to trust, where to shop, what hospital to avoid?

Or does the Irish media feel that to know oneself is the most painful lesson of all?