Tag Archive for Sunday Independent

Hunt-ing Roma in Waterford

Sweden Democrats 2014 election poster – to the left, it says “Time to stop the organised begging on our streets.”

So the Sunday Independent makes a predictable defence of the racist mob that targeted Roma homes in Waterford last week.

I’m not going to bother picking apart Carol’s arguments here – instead, I am going to tell you about a story I’m working on which illustrates how dangerous such writing can be.

In the summer of 2014 Vasile Zamfir came to Stockholm from Romania to collect the remains of his father, who had died of a heart attack while in Sweden, to bring his coffin home to be buried.

He was one of hundreds of Roma in the city, many of whom have made their way to Sweden to beg on the streets. He had a son with Downs Syndrome in Romania, and the money he and others collected – usually around €10 a day – was saved and brought home.

Like most of the Roma currently in Sweden, Vasile lived together with a group of others in a temporary camp, made up of lean-to shacks and tents.

Despite Sweden’s liberal reputation, the Roma aren’t popular with a lot of people, and the standard accusations are levelled at them.

They only come here for the social welfare (they are not entitled to social welfare), they are criminals, they are part of an organised begging ring (neither charities nor authorities have found any evidence to support this claim) and so on.

The wilder stories tell of them being dropped off in the morning in shiny BMWs and Mercedes, pictures of handicapped children handed out to increase their takings from the gullible Swedes.

I have followed these people, and I have never seen any evidence of the above.

But that didn’t stop the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party founded by neo-Nazis in 1988 – from printing up election posters about banning “organised begging”.

The internet went one step further.

“The beggars’ camp should be torn down, burned or blown to fuck. Preferably with the beggars hanging upside down. Hypothetical thoughts, but…” was one contribution to the debate.

“Stones, knives, petrol bombs, or Kalashinikov, makes no difference when our elected representatives haven’t the guts to take the step to free us from this modern plague, I will applaud each and everyone who contributes so we avoid seeing these people, who deliberately dress in rags and try to profit from the innate goodness of us Swedes,” was another.

Everywhere, there were well-meaning columns written – surely it can’t be racist to question why they are here, or why they are unemployed? And for every column written by a well-meaning, well-to-do journalist, the stakes for the Roma went up.

At 4am on the warm summer night that was August 31, and luckily for most of his friends, one of the residents of Vasile’s camp got up to urinate.

He saw how flames quickly spread across the roofs of the shacks that housed 17 people in Högdalen.

In the beginning there was no smoke – as there would have been if a cigarette butt had smouldered and set light to timber, for example – which led many of the residents to believe that the fire was started deliberately using a flammable liquid.

Vasile Zamfir och Codrut Kalanyos were trapped in their shack. Codrut survived but was badly injured.

Police and the fire brigade came, but the scene was not secured until seven hours later, making it almost impossible to conduct a proper investigation into what caused the fire. Many witnesses were never interviewed.

Vasile died in a Swedish hospital from injuries sustained in a fire that many believe was started deliberately, with the sole purpose of driving the Roma out of the area and out of Sweden – pretty much the same goal as the marchers in Waterford last Saturday night who broke windows and terrorised women and children.

He came to Sweden to collect the remains of his father, and instead he too now lies in the ground in Romania.

In your article Carol – which, incidentally, repeats a slew of favoured modern racist tropes, from Roma criminality to the invoking of Rotherham to permit any form of wild unfounded accusation – you refer to last week’s pogrom and ask the following question:

 

All of that is disgusting, horribly, criminally wrong.

But do I really need to say that? Isn’t it self-evident? 

The answer is very simple. As long as mobs feel that they can take the law into their own hands and go smashing the windows of families because of their ethnicity – yes, you do. Loudly and clearly, and without going on to legitimise such actions in the next paragraph.

Because your questioning of the Roma, your oblique references to the “moral failure” of their culture (whatever that may be), and your failure to understand that their difficulties are caused not by their ethnicity but by their marginalisation and poverty, legitimises real racism like the marching mobs of Waterford.

And it provides the fuel for the fires of these mobs who believe that they can burn out anyone they choose.

Suicide, social media and getting stick from voters

Shane McEntee TD, who died this week.

The death by suicide of Irish parliamentarian Shane McEntee has prompted a slew of stroies in Sunday’s papers suggesting that bullying on social media was in some way a contributing factor – it seems cyberbulying is making it into the adult world.

In cases of suicide there is always an unseemly yet understandable rush to find out the why, and media in particular are always looking for a hook to hang their hat on.

Invariably, they pick it up and move on soon afterwards, leaving pelnty of their original questions unanswered.

Noticeable in Ireland’s Sunday newspapers is the conclusion that social media abuse hurled at McEntee is partially responsible, without ever really analysing why he was getting it.

The Sunday Independent reports that it was over the respite care cuts in the last budget, and if true McEntee essentially represents the first known victim of the latest installment of the austerity we flagellate ourselves with.

In that case, the ire should not be aimed at Twitter or Instagram, but at those who insist that our decent politicians – people like Shane McEntee, or many in the Labour party – are forced to vote against their principles, or walk the political desert.

That’s not to say that negativity directed at an individual on social media doesn’t have an effect.

I recall doing one TV show in Sweden which was put up on Youtube, where my contribution got dozens of positive comments. But the only one I recall is the one that said “he gets boring very quickly”.

It was like being punched in the stomach.

But as someone who works in media, I have to understand that the comment is not about my entire personality – the person making it has only seen me on Youtube, or maybe read some articles, so how could it be?

The commenter was criticising my performance, and that is fine – it goes with the territory. That I originally took it personally is my fault, not his or hers.

Personal abuse is different, and here is where the boundaries get blurred, especially in terms of politicians.

For instance, I think it’s entirely fair to refer to the Irish Labour Party’s elected representatives as spineless – how could one otherwise explain the abandonment of their principles as soon as they got into office?

That’s not to say that Pat Rabbitte isn’t a good father to his children, or that Joanna Tuffy is a bad person. It’s just that they are politically spineless, accepting policies that they promised their voters they wouldn’t.

Like the Arab Spring, social media has made our country more democratic. It provides instant feedback to our politicians about where they are going wrong, and indeed the few times they get it right.

But democracy demands that we be careful in our exercising of this power of communication – whatever the government does, we must play the ball, not the man.

Only then will can we demonstrate that it is the policies of this government that are ruining people’s lives, and not the reaction to them – on social media or otherwise.

Sindo’s journalists avoid questions and blame the bullies instead

Not Niamh Horan.

I once didn’t take some pictures that would have earned thousands of euros in a heartbeat.

AIK had played Levski Sofia in a Europa league qualifier, and as I left the ground fans of the Swedish club set about attacking their opponents’ team bus.

In my bag I had a professional-quality digital camera, zoom lenses, flashes, the works- all I had to do was pull it out and snap the action.

I would have made a fortune from the Swedish tabloids if I’d only captured the moment a brick was hurled through the window of the bus.

I didn’t, because had I done so the guys attacking the bus (hooligans whom I’ve crossed paths with before) would probably have attacked me instead, leading to an immense amount of damage to me and my equipment.

Instead, I got out of there and reported the story from safe distance, because sometimes as a journalist, you don’t take a picture or ask a question in the interests of your own safety.

It’s called professional judgment, and it seems to be sorely lacking over at the Sunday Independent.

Last week, Niamh Horan filled the front page with a report of how she was almost attacked by an Irish property developer in a bar in Portugal.

I’d love to be able to link to her report to let you see for yourself how bad it was, but I can’t, as the Sindo promptly removed it from its website.

Remarkably, there was a follow-up piece today denouncing those who criticized Horan for her stupidity and useless writing – but no explanation as to why an article that was deemed front-page material on Saturday night wasn’t allowed to remain online.

Indeed, when I contacted Horan and Sindo columnist Barry Egan via Twitter to ask why it had been removed, the “very brave” (Egan’s words) Horan blocked me.

Aside from being littered with snide references to “competing” journalists and allegations of online bullying, it essentially makes no effort to deal with Horan’s shoddy work, so let’s look at it a little more closely.

Horan – a journalist whose output mainly consists of gossip and harassing middle-aged celebrities like Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor, according to a quick Google search – sees a developer in a bar, and thinks that this would make a good story.

What seems to have happened next is that she approached said developer and asked him if he’d like to talk about his situation – this either before or after taking an opportunistic (and frankly awful) picture on her phone.

The developer then apparently threatened to ram his glass down her throat, smashing it in the process, and she ran off crying.

Now let me get one thing straight – there is never a valid reason for threatening a journalist, man or woman.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the job, it happens. All the time.

Despite the frankly bizarre question on the front page of last week’s Sindo, which asked people to identify the “thug” who had threatened her, Horan says she already knew who he was,, and vice versa.

Whatever the odd circumstances, it seems that it was at this point her professional judgment (or the total lack of it) failed her completely.

The man allegedly in Horan’s photo was once sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempted murder, possession of illegal weapons, and robbery, and had spent time on hunger strike – all of which Niamh would have known if she’d done her research properly, or indeed at all.

Had she done so, she would have given him a wide berth.

I’m 6’ 3”, weigh over 90 kilos and play Gaelic football regularly, but even at that I wouldn’t be going up to this guy when he’s full of pints, snapping pictures without his permission and asking questions about his finances. Journalist or not, that’s asking for trouble.

And had Horan called her editors at the Sunday Independent – who, let us remember, are well-versed in dealing with the dangers that face investigative journalists as they go about their work – to consult with them before approaching him, they surely would have said the same thing.

But somewhere  along the line, either she or they failed to correctly assess the situation, thus putting the reporter in grave physical danger. That is not the fault of any tweeter or blogger or critic or “bully”. That is the fault of the Sunday Independent and Niamh Horan.

Despite that, they went ahead and published, only to remove the online version without a trace.

One can only assume that the developer – having not been arrested, tried or convicted of anything like the assault (and maybe even attempted murder) described in Horan’s article – took umbrage at his image being used in this way and in this story, and complained to his lawyers.

I’d love to know for sure, but Niamh dosen’t seem in any hurry to tell me.

Instead, the Sindo article dismissing  criticism of Horan’s amateur efforts at investigative journalism blames – quite incredibly – the recession:

“Media suffering from the effects of recession and other ills are investing too few resources in serious, in-depth reporting on the agents, causes and extent of Ireland’s problems.

When they see an opportunity to highlight an aspect of that bigger story, reporters should be protected against assault and intimidation on the ground, and spared the attention of bullies in cyberspace.” (my italics)

The first duty of the editor is to protect his or her journalists from harm – either physical harm when reporting in the field, or the damage they can do to their careers when writing non-stories that, had they exercised a touch of common sense, never would have arisen.

And if the Sunday Independent feels that too few resources are being invested in investigative reporting, forgive me for suggesting that there might be a very simple way for them to remedy that.

Namely, by the Sunday Independent investing more resources in investigative reporting, and not relying on a gossip columnist striking gold in a pub in Portugal.

Rabbitte caught as Gallagher wags the dog

The last we've heard of Seanie? Don't bet on it.

So Pat Rabbitte said no.

There will be no public enquiry into “tweetgate”, and I doubt Gallagher is too disappointed.

He’s in a golden situation, whatever happens. He has been wronged, and he’s making as much hay as he can out of it.

Because this has little to do with RTE, or social media, or democracy, and everything to do with Sean Gallagher’s public political rehabilitation.

It is ironic that Denis O’Brien-owned organs like Newstalk and Independent Newspapers can be so lamenting of journalistic standards at RTE, all the while failing to apply them  themselves- before and after the fact.

In the first instance, there’s a good case to be made for the fact that Gallagher never should have gotten as far as he did.

Despite the prevailing anti-FF political climate, Dev’s border bagman was allowed to reinvent himself with ease as a community and social worker who had but a passing affiliation with the Galway tent.

Not only do we now know this to be true, we knew it at the time – but somehow, the silent acquiescence of the media allowed him to get away with it, almost all the way to the park.

Contrast this with the invasive analysis of the other candidates, in particular Martin McGuinness. Dana Rosemary Scallon had transatlantic family matters dragged up and Mary Davis was battered from pillar to post, as McGuinness had skeletons thrown at him from every conceivable closet.

But in the end Gallagher was placed in a farmyard with a cheque in his fist, very much a member of the inner circle of Fianna Fáil. The voters extracted their revenge, swiftly and mercilessly.

Since then, very little has been heard of him, but now Gallagher is back, having timed his return carefully.

With the wind of the BAI judgement in his sails, he is once again untouchable.

Once again, the lie is played out that the tweet sank him. It didn’t. The word ‘envelope’ and his proximity to the party that destroyed the country did.

Which leads us to the most worrying aspect – the hollow accusations of bias being bandied about, not least at RTE.

O’Brein’s minions would do well to remember that those in glass houses are ill advised to start getting careless with the rocks.

One only need to look at the first three pages of yesterday’s Sunday Independent to get a comprehensive view of the hysterical, anti-nationalist, anti-liberal agenda of the paper.

Turn on Newstalk for five minutes and you’ll hear a watered-down version of the same thing.

To accuse RTE of anything near that level of bias is beyond hypocritical.

RTE should not be biased. In as much as possible (and there are theoretical discussions that suggest that no-one is capable of full impartiality), RTE should strive to be as fair and as balanced as they possibly can, leaving the viewers, listeners and voters to make up their own mind.

The same cannot be demanded of privately-owned media – but what can be demanded is a clear distinction between what is news, and what is ideologically-driven comment.

For instance: the interview with Pat McGuirk – the man was delighted to ask a question on Frontline until the Sindo told him otherwise – by Jody Corcoran was not news. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on RTE, from beginning to end, and this should have been made clear. Any attempt to portray it as anything else is disingenuous and misleading.

(Add to this the fact that everyone in the PR/media business knows that you don’t just show up and ask whatever you like on TV shows. Producers and researchers are very careful about what it is they let through for all sorts of reasons- ironically, appearing to be impartial is one of the primary ones. Gallagher’s claims to be surprised at this fact lack credibility).

The same with Newstalk. At least I know George Hook is a blueshirt, and that he brings on the dimwitted squawking buffoon that is Michael Graham every week to himself appear moderate. I can take that into account, and god knows George says it often enough.

What I cannot take is Jonathan Healy saying “surely RTE must now face a public enquiry” when there is nothing surely about it.

It’s opinion masquerading as news, and the distinction should be an awful lot clearer.

As for Gallagher? Ironically, given that it was his association with them that destroyed his campaign, his FF handlers are now welcoming him back inside the tent.

Why? He is probably the only man who could save the party.  He may have been denied the Aras, but – with a little help from Denis’s uncritical minions – Kildare Street might still be he his.