Vincent misses the point

Normally I like Vincent Browne, even when I don’t agree with him. But todays piece in the Irish Times is bordering on lunacy, at least in my opinion. An opinion that I am expressing freely. On a blog. On the ‘Internet’.

Has Vincent heard of new media?

Let’s put his views up here for debate. Has Vincent not thought that the State putting these limits on media might not be counter-productive, and lead to yet more State censorship or power?

CanWest, the Canadian media firm that owns 45 per cent of TV3, casually announced on Monday that it is to sell its shareholding in TV3, which is otherwise owned by Granada TV (43 per cent) and an Irish company, Windmill Lane (which owns the remaining 12 per cent).

This announcement is regarded as merely of passing interest, and indeed, why should it matter which foreign multinational owns the largest stake in the only commercial television company in the State (that is of course assuming RTÉ is not “commercial”, which of course is not true)? Anyway aren’t most of the other media owned by foreign or domestic corporations?

Regional newspapers, once family-owned titles, are almost all owned by Independent News and Media plc, Thomas Crosbie Holdings, the Johnston Group (British), Dunfermline Press (Scottish) and Alpha Newspaper Group (Northern Ireland).

The national newspaper business is dominated by Independent News and Media plc, which is controlled by someone who lives somewhere in the Caribbean, we are told (and who rejoices – for once the cliche is appropriate – in the affectation of a British title).

Rupert Murdoch controls the Irish Sun, the Sunday Times and the News of the World, and Thomas Crosbie Holdings (now a sizeable Irish-owned corporation) owns the Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post, along with several provincial newspapers and radio stations. Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Mail in the UK, owns Ireland On Sunday and Metro and will soon launch the Irish Daily Mail.

In radio, State-owned goliath RTÉ has three of the four national radio stations, but almost all the other stations are foreign or corporate owned. Today FM was bought by the British Emap company recently. UTV holds the largest commercial radio market share in Ireland.

Only Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp – which owns 98FM, Newstalk 106, Spin FM and East Coast Radio – challenges this dominance.

It may seem self-aggrandizing on the part of someone in the media to make this claim, but I think it is true: the media is where it is at. It used to be that the three great transmitters of ideology were religion, education and the media. Now, with religion parked for the time being at least, and education faltering, the media is the main transmitter of ideology.

It shapes our politics, our society, our values, our culture, the way we think and what we think about. It sets the political agendas, it determines what is important and what is not politically, it decides what we talk about and, indeed, how we talk about what we talk about.

In other words, we have allowed foreign and corporate-owned media to run our country, our society, and our minds.

It will be argued that we have bulwarks against this in RTÉ and The Irish Times. But increasingly, both go along with the neo-liberal herd; for instance, with the “concern” that Iran is acting irresponsibly over its decision to develop nuclear energy, although it is in breach of no treaty or convention in so doing. Neither challenges the presumption of the US, Britain and France, all armed with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, in threatening another nation with dire consequences if it even hankers after the prospect of having a few nuclear weapons, nor their collective silence over Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.

All the media have bought into the neo-liberal consensus that the dictates of the market have to be obeyed almost irrespective of the human consequence, and the US has to be obeyed, almost irrespective of the sovereignty consequences.

Poverty and inequality will always be with us. Those who complain about police corruption almost certainly have subversive or criminal agenda. Organised crime is the collective criminality of small-time criminals, not the collective criminality of banks, or stockbrokers or large public corporations. Of course dissident voices are permitted, even encouraged in this media environment, but more as an assurance of the fairness of the media than as a realistic balance to the overwhelming weight of the main media message.

It is entirely within our power as a society to stop this. We could have a rule that no single legal entity, be that a person or a corporation, own or control, directly or indirectly, more than a single media outlet in our country, subject to a few very rare exceptions. It would mean The Irish Times trust could continue to own The Irish Times (and long may that endure), but that’s it. It would mean the break-up of Independent Newspapers and of RTÉ and Rupert Murdoch could decide which of his media should be available here. Yes, there might be problems with EU competition law, but does that have to be a trump card? This would open the way for diverse media voices, reflecting not just competing corporate interests, but competing values, ideologies, interests and agendas. We should not allow our democracy and minds to be subverted by corporate media.

10 thoughts on “Vincent misses the point”

  1. I think lunacy rather overstates the case. Though I think his prescription might overstep the mark a bit, he’s correct in principle to identify the monopolising tendency of the corporate media, against which the State is required to be vigilant, and the desire of its most profit-driven (which is not to say profitability is not a perfectly valid goal) to acclimatise its customer base to less and less challenging, complex material, and systematically lower their standards to make it less onerous to sell them a particular worldview and set of products.

    In an interview on today, David McDonald notes that the reissued Dandy comic, which I’m sure we all read when we were kids, now has only four panels per page, whereas it used to have 12. It’s unlikely that kids today aren’t up to the challenge of 12 panels, though it is unlikely that they will be once they’ve been habituated to a lower quality product.

    On the other hand, I think you overstate the case for new media. I did a post on James Kelly’s book Gallows Speeches in 18th Century Ireland ( the first sentence of which was “The relationship of blogging to what is termed by some the ‘MSM’ (mainstream media) is a matter of current debate around the ‘Irish blogosphere’, as elsewhere, and no doubt will be for some time to come.”

    Feel free to have a look.

  2. Vincent Browne is a bit paranoid.

    Bloggers are the men and women on the street that used to only get on the T.V when programmes do what the people think. They will never replace the main media. But they are possibly as a whole the voice of the people.

  3. er, if the whole voice of the people is a preponderence of right-wing twenty somethings, barely out of college, with a few generally progressive types – guys and gals – in their early 30s.

    The demographic which counts in this country is 40s up, and I doubt very many of them bother with blogs.

  4. im 25 and im certainly not right wing
    on what basis do only 40s and up count? In the words of George Galloway: Proposterous
    my parents are both over 60 and both read blogs

  5. Dom, I didn’t say all twenty somethings were right wing, I said there was a preponderence of right wing twenty something bloggers. I didn’t say “only” people over 40s count. I said that was the demographic which counts, i.e. in the aggregate. They are the ones who a) go to the polls, b) are involved in grassroots electoral politics, c) have economic clout etc. etc.

    I also think your parents are commendable but unusual in their perusal of blogs at 60.

    I was just thinking, the Saint could run a poll on his site asking which Irish bloggers exercised their franchise in the 2002 general election.

    While it’s true to say that the self-published voices of the Internet will become heard to a greater extent in the mainstream (I expect through the offices of the David McWilliams/Naoise Nunn/Mick Fealty axis and their “in” with the MSM), rumours of the death of the corporate media are greatly exaggerated.

    I also maintain that anyone who’s 20 now can expect to begin to make a serious impact on the public consciousness when he or she is about 40 if they stick at it long and hard enough. (A few turgid articles for Eamonn Delaney don’t really count I’m afraid).

  6. It is tempting to believe that Browne has merely fallen off the deep end and is merely swimming in lunacy. However, I rather suspect that he has accurately calculated what would happen if TV and radio were opened up to a free market and if RTÉ was privatised – namely that the Left would suffer from having to defend their views against the free speech of others – and is doing everything he can to make sure this never happens.

  7. copernicus, thanks for the clarification
    in reference to the 2002 election i remember reading in the aftermath that there was an exceptionally strong young voter turnout, and that many young voters chose only to vote for the citezenship referendum … we all know the result of that one … this would alarmingly point to lots of young people being right wing …

    Also, to be fair my parents started reading blogs when i started writing on one

  8. I was just thinking, the Saint could run a poll on his site asking which Irish bloggers exercised their franchise in the 2002 general election.

    Interesting one alright.

  9. Hear hear to Copernicus.

    As for the rest:

    However, I rather suspect that he has accurately calculated what would happen if TV and radio were opened up to a free market and if RTÉ was privatised – namely that the Left would suffer from having to defend their views against the free speech of others – and is doing everything he can to make sure this never happens.

    The problem with libertarian types is their Utopian fantasies of the perfect marketplace.

    Deregulation of the media means the inexorable concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few wealthy individuals – and if you’re going to complain about your imagined discrimination by RTÉ, then all I can say is that you must be blissfully unaware of how Murdoch, Black, Berlusconi, O’Reilly etc. show what ‘bias’ really looks like.

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