Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A "changing media landscape"

The EU commission is bitching about the Irish media becoming "more eurosceptic" and "more tabloid" in its reporting in the years between the second Nice Treaty referendum and the Lisbon campaign.

According to the Irish Times, it warns that Ireland's "changing media landscape" between 2002 and 2008 has implications for public opinion about the European Union.

Complaining that RTÉ's broadcasting dominance has been hit by satellite broadcasters – which have increased their audience by nearly 10 percent since the 2002 Nice referendum – the commission also observes that the "news content on the main commercial national station TV3 is of quite low quality."

"There is a shift away from the State news radio and TV stations," it adds, loftily declaring that this means the "quality of debate has suffered," i.e., that the party line is no longer followed so readily.

The commission is also worried that British "Eurosceptic" newspapers have become more influential in the Republic. "Since 2002 we have seen an increase in UK titles with "Irishised" editorial," it says. Forty-one per cent of all Irish people read one or more of the following; the Irish Sun, Irish News of the World, Sunday Times, People, Irish Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. "These have proven to be significant opinion formers which in general have been more Euro-hostile," the commission notes.

No such critique would be complete without a tilt at the Rupert Murdoch-led media group News International. This, complains the commission, has increased its hold over the tabloid and Sunday paper market. Its editorial "is highly critical of the European Union and even more so of the Lisbon Treaty."

Although these papers are printed in Ireland and more of its editorial content is produced by Irish journalists on Irish issues, it is – horror of horrors – "subject to the London editorial line."

The commission singles out the Irish Sun, which has 309,000 mostly young male readers. It, says the commission, has "taken a campaigning Europhobic stance in line" with its sister title in the United Kingdom.

Worse still though is the influence of the upmarket Sunday Times. It is read "by 363,000 middle-class, well-educated readers, who would traditionally have been European supporters." Now, "not only has the editorial been largely critical of Europe, it is rumoured that it has been refusing contributions from staff that are pro-Europe"

The launch of the Irish Mail on Sunday and Irish Daily Mail have also affected Irish opinions on the EU since they "have run intense Eurosceptic campaigns and employ a variety of right-wing journalists. These target primarily middle-class, middle-aged females, who tend to be a demographic that is widely more 'Euro-hesitant'."

Hilariously, the commission regards "of less importance" the Irish Daily Mirror and the People. Both titles are owned by the UK Trinity group and, declares the commission, "their commentary has been fairly balanced."

There is also the growth in reproduction of foreign news in indigenous Irish titles like the Irish Examiner, Irish Times and Irish Independent. Sneakily, the Irish Independent takes much of its European news from the Daily Telegraph. "Despite being the largest national daily title, it no longer has a Brussels-based journalist.

The main reason for this is the cost-cutting that many of the indigenous Irish titles underwent in the early part of the decade. Both the Irish Times and Independent reduced editorial staff numbers. This has created a dependency on outsourcing reporting to UK titles."

To add to the commission's woes, the development of a conservative religious press since the second Nice Treaty is a particular problem. "These titles have an even more conservative viewpoint than the Church hierarchy on many issues. They are bitterly anti-European, supposedly because of liberal European attitudes on; church/State relations, homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research and various other social issues."

The commission also has complaints about the "new media". The fragmented anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign had a much stronger internet presence, it notes, using viral e-mails, videos and songs.

"Apart from official websites, the internet has largely been a space left to anti-European feeling. Given the ability to reach an audience at a much lower cost, and given the simplicity of the 'no' campaign messages, it has proven to be easily malleable during the campaign and pre-campaign period."

Clearly, the commission is rattled about the media coverage it is getting and, despite huge expenditure in this area, has not yet come to terms with the internet. Not for once though does it show any signs of examining its own message choosing instead to shoot the messenger.