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2 February 2006 Edition

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Trial by media?

Republicans neither like nor respect the media and for good reason; it is largely biased against all things progressive and especially republican. But despite the yellow press methods of the tabloids and the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Irish Times and RTÉ, we should not lose our perspective on the media. It is the abuse and undemocratic control of media power that we object to, not the media itself.

Such is the sensationalism and distortation of the media that many people, republicans included, often condemn it for the wrong reasons. Take the Wayne O'Donoghue manslaughter conviction, which produced a torrent of reports and analysis as well as some tasteless and erroneous tabloid headlines.

You could spot the cheap and nasty stories straight away but most coverage focused on detail surrounding the killing that was in the public interest. People can reach their own judgement about the accusations levelled against various parties — from the DPP to Wayne O'Donoghue — but the fact is that because of the media coverage we now know a lot more about the supposedly "exact" science of DNA testing methods and the dangers of blind acceptance of it's use as proposed by Justice Minister, Herr McDowell, last week.

It was not some investigative journalist that put the issues surrounding the killing of Robert Holahan into the public arena but a witness impact statement by Holohan's mother. It may be that the manner and delivery of witness impact statements may have to be looked at but public debate about possible evidential detail in serious cases cannot be dismissed as trial by media.

The American media for all it's faults, feels free to discuss circumstances surrounding important trials and few people argue that this damages the legal process. Our judicial system is largely inherited from the British and the obsession with keeping total control of knowledge within that system is a fetish born of the secret state.

There is only one thing worse than a biased media and that is no media at all. Republicans should use he limited opportunities presented by the media, engage where possible in public debate and controversy within it and refuse to allow the establishment to totally dominate the public flow of ideas and opinion.

Ethics and the hack

Speaking of the hypocrisy of what passes for intellectual discourse in the "quality media", one has to congratulate Fintan O'Toole, hero of the liberal establishment and Labour Party leadership, for his masterful manoeuvre on the sticky issue of race relations.

The Trade Union Movement and political parties have been engaged in a debate about the exploitation of Eastern European workers and the parallel attempt to undermine local wages and conditions, a debate that took an unpleasant turn with Labour leader Pat Rabbite's lurid rhetoric about four-million Poles and green cards.

When it comes to western liberal values, Fintan and co are usually to the fore, but in the middle of the fallout from Rabbitte's four-million Poles scare, it was the stupid and technically racist remarks by Mary O'Rourke about "working like blacks" that moved O'Toole to devote his entire column to racism in Ireland. O'Toole went back to Dáil debates in the 1950s, 1960s and even 1932 to show that offensive words had been used against black people by Irish politicians. The column betrays that peculiar tendency by Irish liberals to argue that Irish people are inherently racist. However, of the great debate on green cards, Irish labour laws and Rabbitte's scare story about the imminent invasion of four-million poles Fintan has not a word to say.

Could this perhaps be because O'Toole's political journey mirrors that of Rabbitte? Fintan was a Stickie supporter throughout the late 1970s and '80s, transferring his allegiance to Labour around the same time as did Rabbitte. O'Toole is now the leading figure in Tasc, a Labour think-tank that seeks to undertake an "audit of Irish democracy" (That last bit is not made up.)

Surely this model of journalistic standards and auditor of Irish democracy has something to say about Rabbitte's sordid and opportunistic foray into the politics of immigration? Or does the Irish Times columnist put party before principle? An Phoblacht invites Fintan to explain himself, either in his own newspaper or in this publication. Watch this space as hacks like to say.

The Minister, his hack, the former Minister and the private investigator

Presumably, Fine Gael will chastise Herr McDowell following Ireland on Sunday's allegations that he collaborated with controversial characters in a media hatchet job on former Justice Minister, Nora Owen.

Apparently McDowell visited private investigator, Billy Flynn, the man who triggered the Donegal Garda scandal tribunal, last June. Two days later, a certain journalist broke a story claiming that Owen and Fine Gael knew about Garda cover-ups as far back as 1997. All the info in this "scoop" came from letters that Flynn had written to Owen in 1997 and the story silenced Fine Gael critics of McDowell who accused him of sitting on the scandal.

And the name of the investigative journalist who published yet another story boosting McDowell's political stock? Would you believe it but he's called Sam Smyth (McDowell's German shepherd). It looks as though McDowell now has two of his very own investigative sleuths working for him.

Er, both Smyth and McDowell deny that they dealt with each other in the publication of the story. The very idea!

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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