Archive for November 30, 2011

Covering a cover-up in the digital age

Kate Fitzgerald

Today marks a watershed for Irish media, but it’s not all positive – if Irish online journalism is truly to survive and thrive it will need to make sure that it adheres to the highest standards.

The watershed comes because of what is becoming another high-profile suicide – that of PR professional Kate Fitzgerald.

Kate suffered from depression and eventually took her own life, but not before making some serious allegations about the reaction of her employers to her illness in an anonymous piece written for the Irish Times and published in September.

Here’s where it gets sinister.

Kate worked for the Communications Clinic, a company owned by Terry Prone, her husband and son, and the article Kate wrote has been subsequently significantly altered by the Irish Times.

Terry Prone, you will remember, is Ireland’s first lady of spin and waffle. Her latest glorious achievement in the field of media training was the infliction of Gay Mitchell on the electorate as a boorish presidential no-hoper.

On Monday, Broadsheet.ie – sometimes funny, often irreverent – published a selection of links in an article about Kate.

By Monday afternoon, they noticed that the original Times article had been “butchered” (in the words of the late Kate’s mother Sally).

For whatever reason, three key paragraphs pertaining to her employers were removed from Kate’s original. You can read their account of what happened next here.

Now you may believe as I do that there is a sinister reason for that, that Ireland’s queen of spin and/or her cohorts may have decided that such a story about their heartlessness and incompetence in dealing with a sufferer of depression would be damaging to their brand- possibly even more so than Gay Mitchell’s inept candidacy was.

You may also believe that there is an entirely innocent explanation for why these three paragraphs have been removed by the Irish Times, and that the earth is flat and that gullible is not in the dictionary. It’s entirely up to yourself.

What will now follow is a test of Irish media mettle and practice.

Populated by hundreds of media types, the Irish twittersphere is alive with this story. From mainstream media, there is a deafening silence.

It should come as news to no-one that there are plenty of cosy cartels in the Irish media game (I recall one recent case whereby a Sunday paper gave over much space to a mea culpa by a radio personality that even Pravda would have balked at it, so soft was the interview and such was the easy ride given).

Nor should it be a surprise that there are those whose first call when they see their name in print or online is to their solicitor rather than the editor.

One particular sporting administrator manages to suppress almost any debate about his position or actions using this method – this I know because he has threatened a site I wrote for with legal action for simply criticising him.

But this case ensures that such – often public – figures will finally be held up to the light, at least in the digital sphere, and let us see for ourselves if they have a case to answer.

But we would do well to remember that the same journalistic rules apply online in the digital sphere as anywhere else.

The great Reuters correspondent Stephen Brown once told me that journalism is a trade, and that there are no short cuts- at its best, there is endless reading and fact-checking and corroboration needed before committing a single word to print.

Everything – especially for the world’s oldest news agency – has to be impeccable and above reproach.

So if those writing in the digital sphere are found to not have acted correctly, it will do real and lasting damage to what essentially are the green shoots of an independent Irish free press that is appearing online.

In short, the Irish online media have a massive responsibility to get it right.

What is for certain is that it is a good thing that this story is out there – it proves that the system is finally starting to work.

Am I worried about legal action? In a word, no. Put simply, I enjoy the same level of journalistic protection here in Sweden as Wikileaks and have no intention of putting myself in a similar position to Mr Assange when it comes to the ladies.

I am happy to publish the original Broadsheet.ie story, and to offer a right of reply to the Communications Clinic should they so wish. Anyone who has information relelvant to the development of the story can send it to me in confidence at philip[at]eblana.se where it will be verified before being published.

Note: In a break with tradition, this piece will not appear on journalist.ie in order to protect them from the possibility of legal action. Anyone wishing to pursue legal action based on any detail of this article is welcome to do so here in Sweden where it is published.

God Speed

Gary Speed, 1969 - 2011.

You may almost be feeling jealous this morning.

Gary Speed dies and the outpouring of grief and love and respect is enormous.

Imagine if that was you.

That would solve a few problems, wouldn’t it?

If you were to die today – like Gary did yesterday – your problems would be over and people would love and respect you the way you always wanted them to.

The way they love and respect Gary.

But the love and respect being poured out in print and on the airwaves this morning is masking something an awful lot bigger – sadness and anger and bitterness at Gary Speed’s passing.

You can be sure his wife and kids love him, but that’s probably not the primary emotion for them just now. They’re probably feeling confused and helpless and angry, consumed by the enormous emptiness left by the sudden death of someone close to them.

His team-mates and coaches who put so much trust in him will be feeling the same way. Shay Given’s tears yesterday were testament to that.

For all their money and fame, Shay and Craig Bellamy and Robbie Savage would surely hand over every penny to have Gary back with them this morning on the training ground or in the café.

They will all be ransacking themselves this morning- was there something they could have said or done to make him change his mind? The vacuum left by his passing will be filled by countless “if onlys”.

However dark and cloying and suffocating, however hopeless it seems, suicide is not the answer. Your problems may cease in that awful, violent moment at your own hand, but the suffering of those around you would be only beginning.

But don’t do it for them. Do it for you- for your own good, pick up the phone and get professional help.

No-one is going to tell you that defeating depression will be easy, but at least it won’t be the end.

Most people were shocked by Speed’s death because the rest of his life looked so promising.

So is yours. Go live it.

www.samaritans.org

Finding a light in the darkness

Welsh football legend Gary Speed, found dead today at age 42.

As I walked back from the shops with my seven-year-old an hour or two ago, I took a moment to think about how lucky I am.

Two children, a growing business, a new house and a book nominated for two prizes.

It doesn’t get much better.

My daughter was going through a list of animals to see if there was one I could consider getting her as a pet.

Despite the grey, blustery Stockholm weather, I wouldn’t have swapped places with anyone else in the world at that moment.

Shortly afterwards, the news of the death of former Newcastle and Wales midfielder Gary Speed hit me like a punch in the stomach.

I met him briefly in Dublin once. He was different to most other footballers- self-assured but not arrogant, confident but not cocky. Intelligent, well-spoken, a gentleman.

There is nothing gentle about depression or suicide.

Depression doesn’t care about your skill, or your money, or how many medals you have.

Depression is not a passive lying-down in the face of the challenges of life.

It is a battle, a struggle. Sometimes it is a fight to the bitter end. Sometimes it doesn’t end well.

Just before I moved to Sweden a team-mate of mine took his own life. Few things have affected me as much as that did – he was a young man, a superb footballer with a beautiful young son. But none of this mattered in the end.

Aside for the grief and memories of his family and friends, all that is left is a fair play trophy named after him- ironic given that he was known as the hardest tackler on our team.

The coming days will see much written about what a great player Gary Speed was for his clubs and his country. Much will be written about depression and suicide, and a lot of it will be nonsense.

If you haven’t suffered it, you will find it hard to imagine just how suffocating and crushing it can be. It is not an illness that can be cured by simply talking to someone, or going for a walk or “copping yourself on”. It’s a lot more complex than that.

But one thing that is certain is that there are organisations who do great work in helping people who are depressed or suicidal. The likes of the Samaritans and Pieta House have a proven track record of helping people who suffer from depression to find a light in the darkness. They are deserving of your support.

As Swansea played at home to Aston Villa today, the minute’s silence was interrupted by spontaneous applause and the chant of “there’s only one Gary Speed”. It was a far more fitting tribute to a man whose goals and tackles often brought the crowds to their feet.

But it is a tragedy for the man, his family and for football that his undoubted skill and courage on the field wasn’t enough to help him defeat depression off it.

Rest in peace Gary. You were a great champion, and you will be missed.

 

Suicide won’t solve your problems, or make people love or respect you more.

Call the Samaritans or visit www.samaritans.org and get help. There is an answer, but suicide is not it. 

These troubled waters need more than a bridge

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In a fit of rage I just donated €50 to Pieta House.

Here’s why.

Tonight’s Late Late Show featured one of the most craven, egotistical acts I’ve seen in a long time- and I divide most of my time between professional sports people and media types.

In a display of staggering poor taste, members of the Irish Oireachtas (the national executive made up of members of parliament and the senate) have recorded “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” as a charity single for Pieta House.

Their Late Late appearance comes on the same day that People With Disabilities in Ireland had it’s funding cut by 100%.

Even in Ireland, where are politicians are born with forked tongues and lauded for their skill with them, this is breathtaking.

Pieta House helps people who are suicidal or who self-harm – that the ineptitude of those singing (which would be criminal in other jurisdictions) have caused so much of the misery that keeps Pieta House so busy was seemingly ignored.

The crass speeches about doing their bit for those in need went unquestioned.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to simpering buffoons like Finian McGrath and Peter Matthews that there is actually something they can do about it – they can legislate.

It’s what they’re paid for.

That the first cuts made by all politicians in times of crisis are at the expense of the poor made no difference to their warbling either.

Don’t buy this single. The damage caused by the savage cuts imposed by successive governments will not be solved by spending two euro on iTunes.

Instead, give a tenner to someone (why not Pieta House?) and instead, ask your neighbour or your brother or your granny how they’re doing.

Given the current situation, they might be more in need of a listening ear than the despicable egomaniacs that foisted this self-indulgent rubbish on the Irish public.

 

Darren Scully and Enda Kenny. (Not pictured- all their black friends)

Every now and again a politician says something so profound that it echoes in our history books.

“Ich bin ein Berliner”.

“Peace in our time.

“Tear down this wall”.

“I will no longer represent black Africans”.

Thank God for the appalling stupidity of Darren Scully – an avowed non-racist, some of whose best friends aren’t black – for once again showing us that austerity produces not just hard choices and more poverty for the already-impoverished, but it’s a greenhouse for racism too.

Far from drowning in a sea of celtic tiger-era skinny lattes, our racists and racism survive and thrive, especially now that we’re poor again.

I’ve written before about the ridiculous nature of some of the rubbish that gets spouted about Africans in Ireland by the defenders of the ideologies of Hitler , and yet still they come. Our friend Sven with his “99.8% of sex crimes in Oslo are committed by non-Europeans” comment on another piece is just one of them.

I argued long and hard on a similar subject with another crackpot racist (this time from Israel), whose basic assertion was that people were being raped in their droves by the Muslim hordes right outside my very window.

Be that as it may, there would be no statistics, as Swedish police do not record ethnicity- let alone religious affiliation- when investigating crimes here.

Gavin Titley wrote a brilliant piece today for politico.ie outlining why the likes of Scully think it’s OK to be staggeringly and publicly racist, and then deny it as not being racism at all.

I’d like to say read it and learn something, but having listened to George Hook’s section on it yesterday, it’s more like read it and weep.

Of course, there is an elephant in the room here too, and that is his continued status as a member of Fine Gael. Whereas a non-racist political party would have kicked him to touch the second he opened his gob, Fine Gael can’t.

Because to do so would be to admit that Enda Kenny’s Patrice Lumumba joke was equally wrong.