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12 October 2006 Edition

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Media View


Gulf between media and public underlined again

The 'crisis' over Bertie Ahern's gifts/loans/debt-of-honour petered out last week, with journalists frothing over an issue that, yet again, underlined the gulf between the media and the public.

Nobody outside the self-important crew of political correspondents in Leinster House regarded the issue as one that ranks with Charlie Haughey's venal behaviour or with the straightforward corruption of Ray Burke and the late Liam Lawlor. Nor did it raise issues comparable to the tribunal suggestions that Denis O'Brien secured a mobile telephone license worth hundreds of millions due to improper influence over Michael Lowry.

Most punters would regard it as a bit dodgy, as well as part of the Drumcondra good old boys' behaviour, that Bertie Ahern was able to extricate himself in this way from his financial/marital difficulties. The lifestyle and relative wealth of these people are those of the classic, new moneyed section of Fianna Fáil on the 'up and up' as most of them rise out of the working class and into the middle class. In a generation or so, their children will probably vote PD or Fine Gael and lecture the next group of cowboys on the make. But corporate greed and corruption on the scale that the tribunals are inquiring into, it was not.

Sinn Féin's position was measured and principled, but attracted little media attention given that it did not accord with the hysteria of Fine Gael and Labour and led by The Irish Times. The Sinn Féin position was that the scandal, as such, may or may be not a resigning issue but that privatisation, the appalling health service, the very real scandal of non-affordable housing, and so on, certainly are resigning issues.

Most people in the country would aver. But most people's opinions and concerns are not the same as those of Madam Editor at The Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, as well as most national media editors. From a media viewpoint, one would have to say that Kennedy was correct to run the story, if only because it does indicate how cabinet members are in a better position than most to get a 'dig-out' when they need it. And the story was in the public interest, regardless of the personal background. The spectacle of a Finance Minister receiving a whip-around from his mates was unedifying and compromising for Ahern.

But Kennedy went much further than merely reporting the story - and the elevation of this minor act of cronyism to that of a national scandal was not something that ordinary people felt to be either fair or proportionate. But then, the nearest Kennedy ever got to ordinary people was when she pulled the crudest political stunt of modern times: when, as a PD deputy, she spent a week in a corporation flat in Ballymun on the same income as an unemployed single person. What rich material for after-dinner conversation that wheeze must have provided for Madam.

Another media consensus that fails to reflect Irish people's outlook and interests is privatisation, the jaded and discredited experiment that has reduced much of Britain's transport infrastructure to an expensive, bad joke. Now that Michael O'Leary threatens to buy Aer Lingus, there are shrieks of alarm from many of the same commentators and politicians who provided the best bargain that corporate greed can buy. Just who did the Government, Martin Cullen and the small army of reactionary neo-liberal journalists think would rush to snap up the national airline? A local credit union? The co-operative movement? The Franciscan Order?

Only the big boys, the corporate multinationals who have the millions and the nous to recognise that Aer Lingus is a steal - literally - given its prestige, infrastructure and performance record were ever going to be contenders. So what makes O'Leary any different (other than his irritating, in-your-face mouthing)? He is a union-basher, but that hardly distinguishes him from many of the corporations that have been eyeing up the Irish sale of the century.

Many millions of public money have been invested in Aer Lingus and much sweat and labour has gone into making the airline a national asset. Listening to the media and political comment about the terrific prospects for growth at Aer Lingus as they touted it around the world, one wondered why they wanted to sell it in the first place. It is the big unanswered question of contemporary Irish business - but you won't see any investigative articles on it from the cream of Irish journalists.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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