Voters suffer when journalism becomes a rich man’s game

One of the more interesting aspects of the current general election campaign – and indeed the last five years in Irish politics – is how both politicians and media are constantly and consistently misreading the electorate.

As the back-slapping reverberates around their self-contained echo chamber, journalists and politicians cosy up to one another, their flabbers completely gasted when voters either don’t buy their narratives.

Worse still, the great unwashed often ignore them completely, discussing the issues that mater to them on social media and alternative outlets like Broadsheet instead.

A recent example would be RTE’s Claire Byrne recently describing the continued existence of the Special Criminal Court as a “key issue” of the current election campaign, when it is nothing of the sort.

RTE has been accused of bias, not least by supporters of Sinn Féin and the left, and this may be true – but it’s not necessarily a conscious bias.

In fact it is more that, like a crow looking into a milk bottle, they simply don’t know what it is they are looking at.

The problem for journalism is clear – what was once a working-class profession has now become a luxury vocation for those who can afford to indulge in it, and more often than not, they are completely out of touch.

At the very outset, the gates into journalism are locked.

You either need to study journalism, communications, media or arts and pay the fees that Ruairí Quinn said you’d never have to pay.

That simple fact alone immediately closes off the avenue for many people.

(There is of course the possibility of joining a newsroom and working your way up, but this is very much the exception these days).

Then when you do struggle through college and come out the other side, you are expected to work for free for several years – the only difference between “internships” and Jobbridge is that the latter, staggeringly, actually pays more.

The fact of the matter is that more or less the only way to build a career in Irish journalism is to have a mummy or daddy with deep pockets – not the kind of people to be ticking the box for Mary Lou or Clare Daly, if the truth be told.

This process of self-selection leads to a complete lack of editorial understanding for vast swathes of the Irish political landscape, from the enormous anger over water charges to the fact that most people have long since moved on from what Sinn Féin used to be.

With expressions of anger and violence disbarred in the homes of the middle and upper classes, the editors and journalists simply do not know how to deal with it.

Instead of analysing it and trying to see it for what it is – and indeed doing something so simple as actually asking the people concerned what they think – they try to shoehorn it into a context that they can understand, and are doomed to failure.

As a result we have a situation where editors seeking to influence the political discourse don’t have to lift a finger – it is enough just to employ people who come from the same stock.

I am proud to contribute to RTE, the BBC and Swedish public service.

I strongly believe in their mandate and that it is to be defended at all costs from the constant political attacks – from both left and right – that would seek to either silence or castrate them.

I am also proud to remain independent of them – often, my only goal when I contribute is to put a face to people who go otherwise unseen in our media, be they refugees, the poor, drug addicts or whoever else..

That RTE has displayed bias during the current campaign is a moot point, but it should not be assumed that it is conscious or malevolent.

Instead, it is a problem of diversity.

Journalism was once full of working-class jobs, and we must open up the media once again not just to the working class, but to as diverse a range of people as possible.

We need to make journalism, and indeed all aspects of media work, possible, affordable and accessible for all.

At the moment, Irish media is becoming more and more a playground of rich kids, the heirs to the fortunes of The Lads, so its output in support of their aims shouldn’t surprise any of us.

And given the media’s responsibility to hold those in power to account, in the end it is voters that suffer.

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