If you listened to the radio, yesterday, or read a newspaper, yesterday, then there’s a good chance you’ll have come across the horrifying news that Ireland has had a “record number” of racist incidents over the last year. There is a good chance, too, that you’ll have heard that this is entirely the fault of “right wing fake news”.
None of that is true. Or, at least, none of that can be proved. Here’s what the Irish Times reported, just so we can refresh our memories:
“A record number of racist incidents were reported last year as “Irish far right fake news came into its own” and Asian people and other minorities were blamed often for the pandemic, according to the Irish Network Against Racism.
The total number of incidents, which includes attacks and hate speech against members of the Traveller community, increased to 700 last year from 530 in 2019.
The trends are revealed in the network’s iReport for 2020 to be published on Tuesday. Last year the system established to take receipt of reports of racist incidents logged 159 criminal incidents, a record 51 racist assaults and a record 594 hate speech incidents.”
Words matter, and how we use words is very important. For example, when you read that a “system established to take receipt of reports of racist incidents” logged 159 criminal incidents, then your mind automatically assumes some sort of official, judicial process. “Criminal incidents” makes you think that the Gardai investigated them. “Reports” makes you think that the authorities are logging them. “System” makes you think of official, state-of-the art processes designed to detect racist crimes.
But of course, none of those things are true. The “system” in question amounts to little more than an online survey. Anybody can report “a racist incident”. In fact, you can report as many as you like. In fact, whether an incident is criminal is not down to the Gardai, but entirely up to you. For example, yesterday afternoon, this writer logged on to the system at iReport.ie, and logged an entirely fake report of a hate crime in North Dublin. You can do that too, if you want.
The system is not run by the Government, either, but by the Irish Network Against Racism, a sort of lefty-Super-NGO, which takes funding and membership fees from a range of taxpayer funded NGOs. It has nothing to do with the Gardai, the state, or any academic process.
Nonetheless, the Irish Times, and other media outlets, swallowed this story whole, and regurgitated it onto their pages, and the national airwaves, without so much as a mention of any of those facts. There were lots of questions a decent journalist could have asked, but nobody asked them. Some of those questions are, of the top of my head:
“What methods do INAR use to verify that these alleged incidents ever actually happened?”
“When reports are received, how does INAR verify that they incidents are actually racist, and not just somebody taking offence needlessly?”
“Why are you counting “reports” of incidents, and not actually using Garda figures on the number of incidents they have investigated and declared criminal?”
Those are reasonable questions, but no media outlet bothered their backsides to ask them. Why?
Part of it, of course, is that journalists are always much less eager to ask questions when statements made to them align with what they already think. A lot of Irish journalists are convinced that the country is in imminent danger of a racist, far-right, takeover. So when they hear “reports of racism up”, all scepticism goes out the window because it aligns with their prejudices.
Imagine, for example, that we set up a system here on Gript.ie that allowed readers to report incidents of media bias, anonymously, based on their own opinion about whether the media in question was biased. Then imagine that we just released the figures, once a year, in a Press Release saying “Media Bias on the Rise in Ireland, figures show”.
Do you think, hand on heart, that the Irish Times would write that news story without asking us any questions? Do you think Newstalk would run a whole Breakfast Show item about it?
Of course, they would not. In that instance, their journalistic instincts would kick in, and they’d be all about asking those probing questions about methodology and how trustworthy our report is.
But when it comes to Ireland’s NGO-complex, that journalistic instinct goes out the window. And when it comes to stories about how Irish people are darkly racist, and Ireland is a bad place for women and minorities, any questions are frankly unwelcome. The instinct is to get this to print, pronto.
This would be a mildly amusing diversion from our day to day lives if it was not for the fact that this same media is absolutely obsessed with worrying about “fake news” and “fact checking” and “disinformation on the internet”.
But why should we trust them on any of that, when they can’t be trusted to recognise an unscientific, nonsense report, when its staring them in their faces?