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7 March 2016 Edition

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The media war against Sinn Féin

Attempts by media to destroy party’s campaign fail

• Sinn Féin faced a vicious media onslaught led by Independent News & Media and state broadcaster RTÉ

SINN FÉIN faced a media dirty war during the Dáil general election as the Establishment rounded on the only serious electoral threat to the Golden Circles and the elites of Irish society.

Unsurprisingly, the first mud-slingers out of the traps were the Denis O’Brien-controlled Independent News and Media newspapers which launched a vitriolic and insidious campaign in an attempt to frighten voters. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams described it as “vindictive, personalised and untruthful”. Peadar Tóibín TD said he “could not remember any election where a newspaper group owned by a billionaire targeted one political party in such a manner”.

State broadcaster RTÉ came in for severe criticism as it slashed Sinn Féin’s election coverage following a poll in the Sunday Business Post on 14 February which showed the party gaining ground.

RTÉ claimed its constant attacks and questioning of Sinn Féin over its stance on the Special Criminal Court amounted to an unfair advantage – to Sinn Féin! And for two days the voices of Sinn Féin candidates were banned from the airways in a bizarre episode that was reminiscent of Section 31 and state censorship.

The Denis O’Brien press deployed the same tactic as it callously exploited the brutal murder of two men by criminal gangs in Dublin to accuse Sinn Féin of being “soft on crime”. The fact the killings occurred at a time when Garda numbers were at their lowest in a decade – and when the Garda station a few hundred metres from one of the attacks was closed (just one of 139 shut down by the Fine Gael/Labour Government) didn’t stop the Indo from heaping blame on the opposition party of Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin’s response was a massive online campaign to get the message out which blew the other parties out of the water. The response from the Indo was pathetic.

An irked Irish Independent Editor Fionnán Sheahan – who just happens to be husband of failed Independent candidate and vitriolic anti-republican Senator Averil Power – penned three separate articles claiming Sinn Féin “orchestrated a campaign of intimidation and bullying” against RTÉ. His fairy tale, however, was quickly exposed by actual data which showed that this campaign consisted of  nothing more than a small number of Sinn Féin supporters making official complaints to RTÉ over a lack of airtime. Mocking the pitiful Indo, Sinn Féin’s Director of Elections Matt Carthy said the paper claimed Sinn Féin were “going to do everything bar take the pets off your children”.

The Independent’s coverage was routinely panned online. In fact, research by global communications firm Edelman showed that Sinn Féin’s in-house team produced content that beat the Irish Independent behemoth in terms of engagement with social media users.

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• Independent News & Media boss Denis O’Brien and Irish Independent Editor Fionnán Sheahan

Veteran journalist and broadcaster Vincent Browne, writing in The Irish Times, described the Independent’s coverage of Sinn Féin as “reflexive air-headed hysteria”. In the Irish Sun, Oliver Callan, creator of RTÉ’s ‘Callan’s Kicks’ satire, was scathing in his criticism of the Irish media landscape:

“The most alarming feature has been the ferocious campaign against Sinn Féin. The state has never witnessed such a biased agenda across all media organisations against a political party,” he said.

“The media class has a sneering attitude that those who vote for Adams’s party are more ill-informed than the average centre-right FF/FG voter. There is also a seldom-challenged view that Adams is a liability for the party on the canvass, which has zero basis in fact.”

Some of the most blatant bias was reserved for the state broadcaster, ironically one of the few media outlets which is mandated to be impartial.

While Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton required a ring of gardaí to keep protesters at bay, RTÉ was indifferent to the outright hostility which she encountered as she campaigned and instead produced puff-pieces about women in politics.

Conversely, when a man only identified as a ‘concerned citizen’ and ‘small business owner’ barracked Mary Lou McDonald TD as she spoke during a press event on Grafton Street over her party’s plans to increase tax on individual income in excess of €100,000, he was given blanket coverage.

The confrontation received unquestioning publicity on RTÉ television, radio and newspapers. It was left to An Phoblacht to expose this individual as Fergus Crawford, a top banker formerly of ACC Bank and currently running the Irish branch of Swiss-owned Sarasin & Partners, which manages assets of €16billion. Some of its services include helping clients reduce their tax liability in Ireland through the use of hedge funds located in the Channel Islands. RTÉ and others refused to clarify their one-sided reporting. 

The nadir of the onslaught came on The Late Late Show when ‘crime journalist’ Paul Williams – who was named under Dáil privilege as being one of those who had penalty points for motoring offences quashed by gardaí – outrageously described people who would vote for Sinn Féin as “the drug dealers, the killers and kidnappers, and the terrorists”!

Despite such a horrendous media onslaught, Sinn Féin has weathered the storm and come through with flying colours. The Establishment media’s fear campaign isn’t working.

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