Murder coverage betrays media's editorial agenda

Of the murders of two women in January 2011, one has got blanket coverage, the other only passing attention. By Vincent Browne.

On 11 January 2011, the following death notice was posted on the website “The death has occurred of Breda Waters of St Munchin’s Court, St Mary’s Park, Limerick City, Limerick. Deeply regretted by her parents, John and Patricia, children Courtney, Amber, Jonathan, brothers and sisters, partner, Pat, grandparents, nephews, nieces, extended family, neighbours and friends. May she rest in peace. Requiem Mass on Thursday morning at 11am. Burial afterwards in Mount St Oliver Cemetery.”

Courtney was aged 9, Amber aged 4 and Jonathan aged 2. Their mother, Breda Waters, aged 28, had been murdered in a house in Southill, Limerick, a few days previously. She was murdered apparently because she was in the company of a person who allegedly owed money to a crime gang in Limerick, Des Kelly (24), who was murdered along with her. There was no suggestion of any criminality on the part of Breda Waters.

Her murder got only passing media attention, mainly when people accused of her and Des Kelly’s murder have been before the courts. The trial begins in Ennis next month.

On 2 August last, the Limerick Leader reported that Breda Waters’s bereaved family were heartbroken again on learning that an inquest had been held into her death at Limerick’s coroner’s court and nobody had bothered to inform them. As it happened, the inquest was adjourned because of the supposed imminence of criminal proceedings.

On 10 January 2011, the day after Breda Waters was murdered, another woman was murdered. In contrast to the indifference of the media to the murder of the Limerick mother of three young children, this other woman’s murder has received immense media attention. This other murdered woman left no bereaved young children and her murder was hardly any more traumatic for her parents, siblings, relatives and friends than the murder of Breda Waters was for hers.

The national public service broadcaster, RTÉ, might be expected to give proportionate attention to the two horrific events – or at least not to ignore one while giving inexhaustible coverage to the other.

One of RTÉ’s highest-profile reporters has been dispatched to a remote country, Mauritius, at considerable expense no doubt, to give almost hourly emotional reports of the trial of two people accused of her murder, as though this was an event of national importance – this is now into its fifth week. I can think of no other trial that has got such extensive coverage on RTÉ in recent years, certainly not since the Catherine Nevin murder trial.

This person murdered on 10 January 2011, was, of course, Michaela McAreavey. It was perhaps inevitable her murder would get considerable media attention, for she was married to a well-known footballer; she was daughter of one of the most respected figures in the GAA, Mickey Harte; she herself became known from her appearances at her father’s side on special celebratory occasions and, most particularly, she was murdered on her honeymoon.

But that her murder should get such inexhaustible coverage and that of Breda Waters would get almost no mention at all betrays the editorial agenda of the media and of RTÉ in particular.

Essentially, the lives of obscure working-class people are of relatively little significance, as compared with the lives of the rich, powerful and famous, even when it is not just the lives of obscure working-class people that are involved but the lives of their children as well. That’s part of the agenda.

The famous bit is a powerful element in the agenda and when that is matched by youth and beauty it’s a clincher! The attendant disrespect to others is of no consequence; the societal significance of one versus another doesn’t rate. Let’s face it: nobody gives a damn about the life of a poor working-class woman in Limerick and her three children – they won’t sell newspapers or win television ratings. And, let’s be frank (or is the phrase “let’s be perfectly honest”?) sales and ratings are what it’s all about.

I understand Breda Waters had a very troubled background, largely because of social disadvantage – she was one of 19 children of one family, all brought up in a council house in St Mary’s Park in Limerick; two of her siblings also lost their lives in tragic circumstances; and all the familiar features of extreme social disadvantage were present in her life, that of her immediate family and, probably, now her children’s lives.

But then stories about social disadvantage don’t rate, certainly not as a regular theme. And as for assigning a high-profile reporter for five weeks or more to cover the trial of those accused of her murder, which starts in faraway Ennis on 3 July?

No way. To be perfectly honest.  {jathumbnailoff}

Image top: Still from Michaela McAreavey's appearance on The Late Late Show in 2008.