When Tony Blair branded the British media ‘‘a feral beast’’, the backlash was predictable. How could Blair, someone who has closely courted the media, complain about the very beast he so often tried to tame?
But while journalists mocked Blair and claimed the press’s lack of support for the Iraq war was the motivation behind his criticism, they once again missed the point.
Today’s media hunts in packs and, more often than not, sets its own news agenda. It has fallen out of touch with the public it attempts to serve.
The media loves dishing out criticism, but it rarely analyses the negative barbs aimed its way.
While the British media was the focus of Blair’s wrath, coverage of the general election here proved a perfect example of how this pack mentality has also infected the Irish media.
Bertie Ahern was hunted down by a bloodthirsty media, which
attempted to tear his reputation apart.
Journalists went into a frenzy as each tried to outdo the other and uncover alleged illicit payments to the Taoiseach that did not add up.
It all seemed like old news rehashed, but the main question was: did the public care? Was it an election issue in their minds?
Or did the media simply want a change of government so it would have some new fodder to sink its teeth into? I think the result of the election provided the answer to that uncomplicated conundrum.
The media has always been somewhat incestuous. It feeds off itself and can often end up manufacturing the news rather than reporting it.
Politicians and public relations professionals are constantly vilified for spinning stories, but it is the media that has become the spin doctor extraordinaire.
It assumes the position as the ultimate gatekeeper as to what makes front page news and what is relegated to the inside pages.
It seems, with the pressure of ever increasing commercial competitiveness, this power has spiralled out of control.
Bertie – and indeed Blair – may grumble and complain about the media, but Ireland as a nation may be the ultimate loser in this race to the bottom.
Nothing makes news like bad news, and the Irish media is full of it at present.
Let’s look at the facts. We have a growing population, full employment, strong job creation, rising household income, a high savings ratio, together with strong retail sales and industrial production.
Ok, we are not achieving the jaw-dropping growth levels of previous years, but in international terms, Ireland is still in an economically envied position.
But turn on RTE, read the papers, tune into radio broadcasts and you’d swear we were heading straight for recession.
One of the country’s leading economists, Dan McLaughlin of Bank of Ireland, rightly slammed negative reports of our current economic situation.
He has suggested that certain elements in the media are trying to talk us into a recession and do not give a true picture of how the economy is performing. He suggested misleading headlines were taking things out of context.
It is the media’s obsession with spinning negative news that potentially will have a more negative longer-term impact on our fortunes.
We owe a great deal to our international neighbours for our economic success. Direct foreign investment was – and continues to be – a vital element in our growth.
But as our neighbours look in from afar at our performance, the question is – are they being misled by our media? As we constantly question our own economic future, so do they.
Any assumptions about our impending future should be based on sound fact, rather than a vociferous media pack intent on spinning headlines of doom and gloom.
It is time the media got back on track and started acting like an independent observer and reporter on our current fortunes, rather than spinning the stories to suit its own bad news agenda.
It’s enough to even make my good friend Alastair Campbell blush.