Tag Archive for Irish Times

Welfare tourism a one-way ticket for a go on the spin machine

Joan Burton – sign on, check in, fly out.

One of the only classes I vividly remember from secondary school was a civics class, when the teacher taught us how to read a newspaper.

Properly. Critically. Without fear or favour.

It is probably the only lesson that I learned in my five years there that I felt was any use – but it’s not a bad one, considering it has enabled me to make a living.

I thought of that this morning when I read the latest Irish Times puff piece backing up Joan Burton and her soft-focus attempt to come across as some sort of benign Irish Thatcher as she cracks down on “welfare tourism.”

In this process she is often aided by journalists and readers who fail to cast a critical eye over her claims that it is welfare recipients, and not her moneyed masters, that represent the greatest threat to Irish society – if they did, she would be instantly revealed to be spinning. Again.

The article is breathless in its promise, giving us a statistic that “one case has been detected every four days.”

It then goes on to produce Burton’s most fantastic, and transparently made-up, claim.

Welfare inspectors at ports and airports discovered 122 cases in the past 18 months, saving the State €1.35m as a result, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.

Firstly, “discovering” one case every four days is entirely irrelevant, as you’ll soon find out.

And the €1.35 million in savings is based on “estimates (of) future payments the welfare recipients would have received if they were not detected,” according to the Department.

That is to say – in Anglo parlance – that the Department “pulled the figure out of their arse.” They stuck their finger in the air and put 122 cases together, and came up with €1.35 million out of nowhere.

By this point most readers would have headed on over to theJournal.ie to engage in a flurry of comments about ne’er-do-wells too lazy to work.

A shame, because if they read further they’d discover that the 122 cases led to a whopping FIVE prosecutions.

And the concrete, non-pulled-out-of-the-arse figure for money recovered by the state? €54,000, or an average of around €11,000, give or take a claimable ministerial expense.

That can hardly be a sum Burton considers huge, given that she pays her “special adviser” €35,796 (or the tangible equivalent of three fraudulent social welfare claims) as a top-up to the €92,000 they are supposedly restricted to.

(For the record, the bank bailout will arguably end up costing each Irish citizen around €16,500. Maybe Joanie’s cronies would have been better off dispensing with the clipboard and waiting for the Troika with a baseball bat in the arrivals hall instead.)

There is a widespread belief, fostered by successive governments, that Ireland’s real enemies are the handful of crooks (and the fact that there have been only five prosecutions shows it’s truly a handful) that check in, sign on and fly out.

But those doing the real damage are those who fly into Ireland with a laptop bag, not a holdall.

For all their talk about “the most vulnerable,” Joan and the rest of the Labour Party insist on demonising welfare recipients – many of them put in that situation thanks to Burton’s government and its myopic insistence on continuing with their austerity fetish.

Having been constantly cowed, they do what any supplicant does in a corporate culture – kiss upwards and kick downwards. Their journey to the dark side is complete.

But rather than standing at the airport trying to save the odd ten grand (and at what cost?), Joan might spend a day or two at the departure gates this Christmas, apologising to all those forced to leave because of the ineptitude of her, her party and her government.

In Ireland, nothing lies like numbers, but most of the time they can’t even get them right.

 

Lines blurred online as Second Captains return

“So Dionysus says to George Best…”- Ken Early broadens a few minds at the Irish Times.

“Our gardening leave ended a couple of days ago and being in the constant company of four other men has become extremely tiresome.”

With those words, Eoin McDevitt announced the end of the exile of some of Ireland’s most popular sports broadcasters. The Second Captains (“the artists formally (sic) known as the Off the Ball 5″), have announced their new weekly show to be streamed and podcasted by the Irish Times.

It’s an intriguing development. Those who attended the recent Dublin Freelance Forum will have heard me speak on the subject of multimedia, and Ken Early will now be both writing and broadcasting for the Irish Times as it experiments further with its digital future.

If it’s successful, it won’t be long before the cameras are rolled into the studio and we have our first major online TV show in Ireland.

But the statement from the Irish Times is not as balls-out positive about this brave new media landscape as one might expect, and the closing line suggests that the paper of record isn’t exactly going all-in in its attempt to corner the online multimedia market.

Over the next few weeks we have the Heineken and Amlin Cup finals in Dublin, the Champions League final at Wembley, and the first match between England and the Republic of Ireland for nearly 20 years. Second Captains will be covering all of them alongside the Irish Times sports team.

This month, the only place to hear the Second Captains is with irishtimes.com

This month? Hardly jumping into the abyss now, is it?

And maybe rightly so.

If we cast our minds back to the Second Captains’ departure from Newstalk a few months back, we’ll find a hard-headed business decision by the broadcaster at the heart of it.

Various reports suggest that the Second Captains wanted to eat into George Hook’s remarkably popular and spectacularly scattergun evening show. The station looked at the numbers, and ultimately decided to let substitue the Captains, rather than sling their Hook.

At a commercial broadcaster, the bottom line ultimately steers such decisions, and Hook draws in more dollars. It’s that simple.

Like them or not, the Second Captains have evolved into an outstanding broadcasting team that changed the face of sports radio in Ireland forever.

But whether that can be translated into advertising or sponsorship revenue is what counts – and what remains to be seen. Either way, it’ll take more than one month.

Whatever happens, it’s a bold move by both parties that is to be applauded – instead of moaning about not being able to make money online, the Irish TImes is putting its money where its mouth is, even if it’s not going for broke.

And by moving online, the Second Captains will retain control of both their brand and their broadcasts, rather than risking it all on another commercial radio station where the same limitations would apply.

Game on.

 

There’s no such thing as “internet journalism”

The Irish Times- why, indeed.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all, shall we?

There’s no such thing as “internet journalism” – there is journalism, and then there is everything else.

There is some very good journalism out there in newspapers, magazines and on the internet, and an awful lot of very bad journalism too.

Whether it appears doesn’t matter – journalism is journalism, end of story.

Not in Ireland, apparently. An article in this morning’s Irish Times (don’t worry, I won’t be paying for the link) does the usual half-cocked job of attacking everything on the Internet, all at once.

Contrary to the preferences of millions around the globe – many of them journalists – Twitter is dismissed out of hand as simply a tool to showcase gossip and bad grammar.

The writer attempts to portray the Internet and social media as lawless badlands of bullying and libel, despite the fact that the law of the land applies as equally to online publication as it does everywhere else.

Then there is the Daily Mail-lite argument that people behave ignorantly online, as if somehow it is the Internet, rather than people themselves, that is responsible for such behaviour.

Then there is the lovely irony of the central argument:  ”so-called internet journalism is at a level equivalent to the Stone Age.”

The Internet has revolutionised how news is conveyed and how we consume it, but the basic tenets of journalism have not been changed one iota.

To pretend otherwise is to obscure “the story of why” (to borrow the cute phrase from the Irish Times) traditional media – in particular Irish newspapers – are struggling to adapt to changes in the industry.

 

The Ten Commandments of Irish Journalism

And lo, the Lords did not answer their e-mails, or return the phone calls, leaving the faithful to draw their own conclusions.

These commandments have been handed down to me on my two tablets (an iPad and a Samsung) and hold as true now as they did in the days of Moses (and Dev):

Denis O'Brien addresses editorial staff

1. Thou shalt honour The Editors that commission you above all else. Nor shall you have other gods before the Editor, unless it happens to be another Editor that offers you a tenner more for your thousand-word rant attacking the unemployed.

2. Thou shalt, as far as possible, portray as craven immigrants, those on social welfare, public servants and travellers.
But never fellow journalists, as we are all untouchable and never do anything wrong. Ever.

3. Thou shalt not take the names of your Gods in vain- holding editors, publications and other journalists to account is neither desired nor acceptable. Let’s face it, you could be working for them tomorrow.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, and that your best bet for getting published on it is to attack Sinn Féin or RTE as viciously as possible.

5. Honour your father and mother. This is best done by writing under a pseudonym so the neighbours won’t be able to identify you as their progeny.

6. Thou shalt not kill a story for lack of evidence – if the facts don’t bear it out, make some up. Most people won’t check, but if they do just ignore them and after a while your version will magically become the truth.

7. Thou shalt commit as much adultery as possible by writing for eveyone who asks you, and many who don’t. You can’t eat loyalty.

8. Thou shalt not steal – but if you must nick an idea or a quote, try not to get caught.  Under no circumstances should you ever credit other media as a source. Ever. This is not negotiable.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour. Save that for the foreigners, or the lads in the next parish.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house. Instead, thou shalt describe it as “a handyman’s dream” or whatever the estate agent or PR fop tells you to.

Thou shalt also remember that news is just a vehicle for advertising, and everything can be sold for a good price.

Except your stories, for which no-one is willing to pay more than a handful of peanuts for.

When “inaccurate” is just a fancy word for “wrong”

It says a lot about Ireland that the last written testament of a dead girl can be changed to protect the powerful, but the unwarranted vilification of an unemployed Polish immigrant doesn’t merit an apology, much less a retraction.

What it does tell us is, unfortunately, something we already know.

Ireland doesn’t do accountability.

Not from the politicians, one of whom saw fit to spoof his head off about “Magda” without knowing anything other than what he was told on the phone- by a non-Polish speaking journalist.

He offered to pay for her to go home; am I alone in hoping that he keeps the ticket for himself, and makes it one-way in the process?

Nor do we hold the bankers and bondholders accountable either, trucking over borrowed money to ensure that risk is erased from their portfolios, rather than forcing on them the losses that would make them accountable for those risks.

Nor can we get it from the fourth estate. Like the Irish Times before them, the Irish Independent- proud stable of thinly-veiled islamophobia as peddled by Ian O’Doherty, lest we forget – has neglected to offer any apology or explanation, other than the following:

YESTERDAY’S story about a Polish woman living on welfare payments in Ireland sparked much discussion and controversy.

Some parts of the original interview, on which the story was based, were inaccurately translated.

Let’s be honest here- they weren’t “inaccurately translated”.

They were wrong.

The article was wrong.

Publishing it was wrong.

Not deleting it immediately was wrong.

And not apologising to the readers and the Polish people is wrong.

What is most disturbing is the total silence from the two journalists who wrote the original cack-handed rubbish- where are they? Where is their explanation? Where is their apology?

Part of the job of newspapers is to hold others accountable.

And the major part of the problem with Irish newspapers is that they fail to hold either themselves or each other accountable, especially in cases like this or Kate Fitzgerald.

So there we have it- another scandal in Irish public life. There will be no resignations, no trials, no arrests and definitely no apologies.

It’s not what we do.

Those in power in Ireland are not accountable to anyone.

There is no-one policing those in power, and they cannot police themselves.

Is it any wonder we’re in hock to the world?

EDIT: I’ve just spotted on Twitter that the Press Ombudsman will not be taking any action against the Indo as they published a revised transcript and a letter from the Polish ambassador- so apparently it’s now OK to publish articles full of racist undertones and you don’t even have to apologise.

What was it I said about Ireland not doing accountability again?

Bleak future as Irish media face credibility crunch

Terry Prone- "no further questions, your honour."

It seems there is no better place to be a spin doctor than in Ireland.

This morning Terry Prone guested Newstalk’s Sunday Show. Toothless since the departure of Dunphy, I tuned in anyway, listening in vain for a question that would never be asked.

You might recall before Christmas that Terry Prone’s name came up in relation to the suicide of Kate Fitzgerald, who worked for her at the Communications Clinic and  who alleged in an Irish Times article that her employer’s attitude to her depression wasn’t all it should be.

For some reason, having published Kate’s original article in full, the Irish Times indulged in one of the most craven and embarrassing climbdowns in Irish journalistic history.

Terry Prone remained entirely silent on the issue.

I sent in a few half-hearted tweets to the show this morning, one suggesting that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan might bring up the subject of Fitzgerland’s untimely demise.

But true to form, Eamon avoided asking the hard question, instead choosing to continue his admirably consistent run of abject failure in holding those in power to account.

I don’t know what was said between Prone and the Newstalk researchers; maybe they struck a deal that the subject of FItzgerald’s passing not be brought up as condition of Prone’s appearance.

What I do know is that one of the most famous players in world football still doesn’t talk to me because I wouldn’t allow him to dictate the terms of an interview.

Because as a journalist, I’m the one that decides what questions the subject gets asked – not the other way round.

And if media outlets like Newstalk decide that it’s not in their best interests to ask certain questions, than we must ask questions of them.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Kate

Publish and be damned!

- Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, when the courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and his letters

It’s very hard to comment on anything in the Irish Times nowadays- by the time I get to the end of this post someone in a position of power might have threatened legal action and changed the whole thing.

But given the toothless, vacuous, cowardly non-explanation offered by the Irish Times blog about their despicable handling of the Kate Fitzgerald article, here goes.

Firstly, as soon as I saw the length of it I knew there would be no apology for calling the dead girl a liar.

I was right – 1500 words, and not one of them was ‘sorry’. It seems that, in the Irish Times, that word is reserved for a select few.

Instead, it opens with the classic excuse, and goes downhill from there, rambling on and on before finishing up with a mealy-mouthed pseudo excuse the like of which Sinn Féin are rightly pilloried for when they denigrate the memories of dead innocent women.

Rather than an apology, it is a 1500-word admission that journalism in Ireland has no teeth, and it does its best work when covering up its own inadequacies.

Some examples:

It is neither appropriate nor possible for me to go into detail on the specific legal issues involved in this case.

On the contrary Hugh- it would have been more than appropriate to comment on such issues, if only to explain what they were, if not the actual details.

Let us not forget that in the craven apology printed by your paper, you accused Kate Fitzgerald of being a liar, and that “significant assertions within the original piece were not factual”.

We still don’t know what they were, and no-one seems to be in any hurry to tell us.

There follows a lot of waffle about corrections policy, the net effect being to again imply that Kate had done something wrong in her original article.

For the entire 1500 words, the Irish Times are extremely cautious in their use of language to describe what went on, but there is one staggering, glaring fact- a veritable herd of elephants in the room – that is absolutely and utterly immutable, and that is this:

The piece that caused all the trouble was not Kate’s article.

It was the subsequent piece by Peter Murtagh and the revelation that Kate had worked for Terry Prone that caused the whole situation to go nuclear, and by then the genie was out of the bottle.

Changing Kate’s original article did not change anything, because there was nothing wrong with it.

All it did was appease the beast, as the baby was thrown out with the journalistic bathwater.

But make no mistake- this charade will be played out to the end, until Terry Prone or whoever is satisfied that it has been repeated often enough to become the truth.

The weasel words continue:

However, unfortunate and painful though these events have been, we as professional journalists and publishers took what we believed to be the best action from an ethical and legal perspective.

The implication here is that he and the Irish TImes must adhere to higher standards than bloggers or other social media – conveniently ignoring the fact that many of us who criticise their “ethical” course of action are professional journalists and publishers ourselves.

This is not about some kiss-and-tell Twitter rumour about a Premiership footballer. This is about a powerful woman reading something unpleasant and having her nose put out of joint – ironic, given Prone’s confessed love of plastic surgery.

This is about people on both sides ignoring the rights of writers and readers and deciding the narrative after the fact.

In Ireland, history is not written by the winners, because there are no winners any more.

It is written by the rich and the powerful and those with influence.

The version written by young women, the life crushed out of them under the burden of depression, is seemingly a mere footnote to be changed at will.

In kowtowing to the former, the Irish Times is in dereliction of its journalistic duty as the paper of record.

Not only have they sullied the name of a dead woman, they have singularly failed to follow up the story and ask the questions people would like to see answered by Terry Prone and Kate’s ex-colleagues at the Communications Clinic about Kate and her demise.

I somehow doubt Prone and the Communications Clinic, not to mention would-be president and friend of the suicidal Gay Mitchell, will be in a hurry to give their side of this uncomfortable story, so why not send someone out to ask them?

But instead of Prone using her considerable network and influence to explore and explain the death of Kate Fitzgerald, she has chosen to ignore it – instead, she wrote some folksy nonsense for the Irish Examiner.

Worse still, they published it.

All this does is copper-fastens the idea that in Ireland, we still don’t do accountability, and we don’t tolerate criticism.

Like Fianna Fáil’s inability to apologise for ruining the country – saying “mistakes were made” is not the same thing – it seems that everyone can do whatever they like, and never be held accountable.

Nor is it acceptable to criticise anyone, however deserving they may be.

I have no problem with Hugh Linehan or any other journalist in Ireland.

I have a massive problem with how he and his paper have handled this case.

It’s not good enough.

I want them to win their credibility back.

I want to know the circumstances around Kate’s death.

I want to know if her employers supported her in her battle with the illness that led her to take her own life, or if they didn’t.

I want to know what Terry Prone thinks about Kate and what she wrote and why the Communications Clinic reacted so badly to it.

I want the Irish Times to ask those questions.

And then I want them to publish and be damned.

A right of reply

Terry Prone - expert on what working women should do - doesn't appear to be too keen to share that knowledge with us at the moment.

Busy day today, but here goes anyway – some things cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

The Irish Times has issued an apology to the Communications Clinic- the house of spin owned by Terry Prone and her family – after Kate Fitzgerald’s article published on September 9.

There is a simple anomaly here- neither she nor they were mentioned by name, so what is the Times apologising for?

Surely it should be regretting the fact that their identities became known by other means, rather than the article itself?

The Times goes on to say that “ significant assertions within the original piece were not factual”, but neither they nor the Communications Clinic specify what these assertions were.

In fact, I cannot recall seeing a single public statement from Prone on the issue, despite the fact that it appears she’d normally turn up at the opening of an envelope if it was televised or photographed.

The craven apology then goes on to state “their publication was significantly damaging to the staff and management of her employer, the Communications Clinic”.

Is it glib to suggest that the writing of the article was even more damaging to Kate Fitzgerald, who took her own life shortly after doing so?

But the killer blow comes at the end, when the Times blithely states that “no legal representation was made to us on this matter.”

It’s as if they woke up one morning and said “remember that anoymous piece about depression by that girl who killed herself? That must have been very upsetting for the Communications Company. We really should apologise for that.”

The reason for this rebuttal is this; the Irish Times is saying that it was wrong to publish the article. I disagree.

Despite the application of the highest journalistic standars, in an open debate about depression and its effects on the family, society and the workplace, reputations are going to get questioned and in some cases damaged.

Instead, the Irish Times has chosen the easy way out and apologised to, possibly without realising that in doing so, they are implying in the process that Kate Fitzgerald was lying in her article – a serious allegation in itself, I think you’ll agree.

In allowing the piece to be published anonymously with no reference to her employer, the Irish Times has done all that is reasonably possible to facillitate that debate whilst protecting the reputations of those involved.

That the Communications Clinic was subsequently identified is regrettable; that they have been apologised to in this manner is shameful.

They have offered nothing to the public debate on the treatment of people who suffer from depression in the workplace – all they have offered is more of the same thing that allows depression and bullying to prosper.

Silence.

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.