Monday, June 04, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - ANTI FF BIAS?

I found myself at the wrong end of a Tom McGurk and John Waters onslaught this morning on radio - forced to act, by proxy, as a reluctant defender of the Greens (and I don't think I rounded my thoughts as convincingly as I might have).

But that's besides the point. John Waters has argued that there's an innate and inherent bias against FF in the media and by its commentariat. I'm not sure if that is true. Nor do I believe it's true, as he suggested last week, that very few called it right. There were many other voices in the media who suggested in the run-up to the election that FF would win - though none suggested they would win big.

Most journalists based their predictions (and their analysis) not on any fatuous wish-fulfillment for the soft left or prejudice against FF, but on the only evidence that was available to them - the opinion polls. The same polls waxed and waned during the 25 days of the campaign. And it meant that many journalists, who are creatures of the moment, swayed with whichever way the wind was blowing. In the main, the writing reflected this flux and the volatility (and I'm including my own in this). Sure there's a question about our almost craven reliance on opinion polls. And perhaps, in retrospect, journalists over-estimated the impact of the BertieGate allegations. But that's a reflection (sadly) of superficiality - not of any deep-seated ideological prejudice. And, what nobody predicted, even FFers themselves, was the sheer ease of the FF victory.

Sure, it's undoubtedly true that a number of journalists and commentators wanted FF out or wanted FG or Labour or the Greens in (and maybe that was reflected in their copy). But a majority? No way. To be sure, does the portrayal of the media as a homogeneous Dublin 4 smoked salmon set hold any water any more? Has the media really been stuck in some Palestinian scarf time warp while the real Ireland has moved on with real life? Hardly.

The under-reckoning (by everybody) of FF's stunning support level will need a fair deal of parsing. Sure, I agree totally with John Waters that there's a disconnect between what the media are clearly very interested in (Bertie's finances) and what the public are clearly not all interested in (Bertie's finances).

But, in all seriousness, could journalists have ignored or downplayed that story during the campaign, once the material got into the public domain? Sure, the timing was horrible for FF and for Ahern. Sure, he argued trenchantly that the circumstances surrounding his house rental and purchase were completely unconnected to the claim by Tom Gilmartin (one that's categorically disputed by Ahern) that Owen O'Callaghan had given Ahern £80,000. The timing and nature of the leaks was very unfair. It's also true to say that whoever was behind the leads was intent on damaging him politically.

But irrespective of source or motive, once the details about his house leaked out (especially the non-salary monies that were given to him, or passed through his hands) it would have been remiss of the media not to ask the kind of questions that journalists have asked since time immemorial, without fear or favour.

I don't think Waters was arguing against that, rather saying that the over-concentration on this (to the exclusion of everything else) placed a mote in the eye when it came to the mood, sentiments, and views of the electorate. And that, of course, is self-evidently true.

2 comments:

citizenmick said...

john waters.... pure legend of a songwriter

Anonymous said...

I agree that the people who think the media is one giant anti-FF conspiracy are wildly overstating the case. But there’s no getting away from the fact that on certain issues, many senior political correspondents see things very differently from the general public.
The leaders’ debate was a case in point. I was mildly pro-Kenny and anti-Ahern at the start, but at the end my wife and I simultaneously agreed that Bertie had won by a mile. It wasn’t that Enda was bad exactly, it was just that Bertie was much, much better.
The next morning I was genuinely taken aback by the broadsheets’ analysis. They all agreed that Ahern had “shaded it” at best and that it wouldn’t make any difference to voters’ intentions.
Had I just misjudged the whole thing? After a few minutes in work I realised that I hadn’t. My co-workers, who come from all sides of the political spectrum, all agreed that Bertie had won hands-down. Moreover, at least three of them that I can remember said that it had made them much more likely to vote FF.
After the election itself I think we’re fairly safe in saying that on this occasion at least, most of the pol corrs got it wrong. The question is why.
Personally I don’t believe that they deliberately set out to misrepresent things. I think that to a large extent, subconsciously or not, a lot of pol corrs wanted the Rainbow to win and so they wrote what they wanted to be true, not what actually was true. It wasn’t malicious or deliberately deceitful, but it was certainly unprofessional and they should feel at least a little bit ashamed of themselves.
However, that’s just my theory and I’m sure you have your own point of view.