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3 May 2007 Edition

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Media View

Dirty tricks campaign

Now that the 26 County general election has finally been called, the gloves are off and the media are falling over themselves to show their true colours. No story is too low or too dirty for those who control the media, and there are many journalists who are quite happy – because of their own prejudices or because of their lust for money – to do their bosses’ dirty work.
Top of the league here, of course, is Paul Williams, the so-called “crime correspondent” of the Sunday World.  Williams has made a good living out of crime, purveying lurid stories about criminals whom he has made almost household names with a host of pithy nicknames – the Coach, the Monk, the Penguin and so on.
But Williams is also a bitter anti-republican, who repeatedly tries to tie republicans into the world of criminality about which he writes – sometimes creatively (in other words he makes it up), and occasionally repeating stories given to him by the police.
Last Sunday even Williams surpassed himself with a dirty and despicable story in the Sunday World which suggested that republicans were involved with the drug dealer and paedophile Christopher Griffin.
There is, of course, no truth whatsoever in this story, but that has never held Williams back.  Neither did the fact, which Williams studiously ignored, that it was republicans, members of Sinn Féin, together with local concerned community activists who began the fightback against the drug lords and took on the likes of Griffin. As a result of these campaigns, many drug dealers were forced to quit the neighbourhoods they preyed upon.
People on the ground know this, so why does Williams spew out these lies?  The answer is to frighten people on the margins who don’t know. And in this, Williams is assisted by some of Ireland’s less honest journalists.
Last Sunday, Newstalk 106 carried an election special presented by Karen Coleman.  She directed almost all her interview with Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald to these allegations, and then showed her own bias by repeatedly interrupting Mary Lou to claim that “Paul Williams is a highly respected journalist”. Highly respected by whom?  By people who don’t care about journalistic integrity, who don’t look for evidence for allegations, who have their own prejudices to the fore?
But even more annoying was that after Mary Lou had comprehensively denounced and rejected the Williams allegations (for which no evidence whatever was put forward), the studio pundits, who included Damien Kiberd, proceeded to intone that she hadn’t answered the questions.  Mary Lou had indeed given them their answer; it’s just that the pundits didn’t like the fact that reality contradicted their bias.


Republicans can expect more of this in the coming weeks as the establishment instructs its journalists to up the anti-Sinn Féin campaign, now that the party looks more and more as if it will be kingmaker after the next election.
But we shouldn’t get above ourselves, because Fianna Fáil too is an object of their wrath. For some time now, the Irish Times has thrown all pretence of objectivity to the winds and appointed itself the chief campaigner against that party. Thus it picks a photograph of a lone Bertie leaving a deserted stage as the graphic to illustrate a claim that Fianna Fáil is running scared before the Rainbow juggernaut and the incisive (?) “you’d-better-take-me-seriously” Enda Kenny.
Since the Times can’t really attack Fianna Fáil’s policies because they are so similar to Fine Gael’s (except, so far, on stamp duty), they have no choice but to attack the personalities and to try and talk up the Fine Gael campaign in the hope that it will develop a momentum that will confound the realities on the ground.
But most interesting is the way that the Times insists on presenting everything in terms of a stark choice between Bertie Ahern (Fianna Fáil and the PDs) and Enda Kenny (Fine Gael and Labour with the unconsenting Greens).  But the world and its mother knows that neither of these blocs can win a majority and that one or other of them will have to negotiate with Sinn Féin, or else other options (such as Fianna Fáil/Labour) will have to be explored.
But the object of the Times campaign is to get Fine Gael into Government so that the progress of the peace process can hopefully (from their perspective) be rowed back.
The Times will not contemplate any other solution, and tailors its coverage of the news and issues accordingly.

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