herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Terry Prone: Negative media feeding frenzy abroad

Remember when a bloody fine row was going on within your family and some decent soul said, "Shhh. The neighbours will hear"?

Maybe there's a case for us in the media to murmur that warning to each other, right now.

Because, while there may be a certain purgative pleasure to getting off our chest the rage we feel against bankers, politicians and developers, it's doubtful that all of the words printed and broadcast in recent weeks have done us any good, internationally.

They sure as hell have not conveyed to the outside world that Ireland Inc., despite being brought to its knees, can and will get its act together, fight back and surmount its current problems. Rather, the image conveyed is of a toddler in a tantrum demanding that someone unspill the drink that came out of their Sippy-cup.

The media, in theory, should be donning the green jersey and zipping its lip about its reservations related to the Government's rescue plans. The problem is that the very suggestion that we tell anything less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the Full Monty negative truth gives anybody in the media warts. The media does not see it as its job to cheerlead for the Government that got us into this mess, and the media in Ireland has no tradition of buttoning its lip in the national interest.

The Government, of course, believes that the media has other functions it's not currently fulfilling, one of which is the delivery of hope to a beleaguered populace. Brian Lenihan exemplifies this approach in his every communication. His theme song is not "There, there, this won't hurt a bit." On the contrary. His theme song is "This is gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt for a while. But I'm a good doctor and I'll have you on your feet in due course."

International media get it. Even yesterday, when Bloomberg was in town, broadcasting to the world via satellite, THEY got it. It's only Irish media who DON'T get it.

The Irish media don't want to buy in to the Government line for a number of reasons.

First of all, it's our problem, not their problem.



Reluctant

Most writers and broadcasters in the Irish media know just how badly their readers have been hit.

They have friends on the dole queue. They have friends running their own businesses who can't pay themselves a salary. So they are reluctant to tell those readers and listeners and viewers to suck up their miseries. And anyway, bad news has always been what sells papers and makes viewers and listeners tune in.

Nobody wants a headline that says things aren't that bad, all things considered. Despite the constantly articulated demand for good news, whenever newspapers have been set up to deliver that kind of positivity, they've fallen on their faces.

On the other hand, it can be argued that pandering to misery makes it worse.

That refusal to be hopeful is making people switch off current affairs radio and plug into music instead.

And -- above all -- that the constant stream of media negativity is reflecting badly on Ireland in international media in a way that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may be shooting ourselves in the foot and stitching a line of bullet holes in our shins as well.

When the Government makes this point, we interpret it as them wanting to censor us to protect themselves. When the Government says "we are where we are," we instinctively go "yeah, and who got us to where we are and to where we'll be for the next 10 years?"

We're right. That's our job. Or maybe -- just maybe -- that WAS our job. Maybe we also have a function in evoking the Irish capacity for fightback. For pride. For refusal to lie down under disaster.

There's nothing wrong with delivering a little hope and self-belief along with the truth, and now may be the time to start doing so.

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