Credit: Gript

Christmas present 1: Media gets €5m present to produce climate shows

If you ask five journalists about why they got into journalism, chances are at least one of them will give you a little speech about the essential role of the press in a democracy.  If they’re a little tipsy, or you get them on a particularly flowery day, then that speech might sound like something out of Game of Thrones – “we are the watchers on the wall, the quills that guard the realms of men”, and that sort of nonsense.

In an ideal world, they are of course correct to give that speech. In theory, how it is supposed to work is that journalism is independent. When you hear one politician talk about another, you know that there are incentives at play – a Government politician will always tell you that their policies are great, the opposition dangerous, and the public crying out for precisely the kind of reforms that only the incumbent’s visionary leadership can provide. If it’s an opposition politician, flip that script.

The media, by contrast, is supposed to stand somewhere between referee, and commentator, on the scenes playing out before you. On the one hand, knowledgeable enough about the issues to tell you why politicians are saying what they are saying, and to explain how politicians may be trying to manipulate public opinion, and why. On the other hand, brave enough to challenge all comers equally: To defend the public from such manipulation, and demand that the politicos stick to the facts.

Yesterday, Eamon Ryan sent out this press release:

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, has today (19/12/2022) together with Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, welcomed the announcement by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) of the award of €5million to 25 radio and TV projects under the Broadcasting Fund Sound and Vision Scheme. 

The awards are being made under a dedicated Climate Change and Climate Action Round of the scheme, which has been co-funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, to support new and relevant content to raise awareness of climate change and climate action. 

Speaking today Minister Martin, said “The media sector continues to have a key role in informing and educating on the impact of climate change, but also in promoting awareness and highlighting the positive actions which we can take as we strive to achieve our climate targets. The projects being announced today will provide interesting and relatable content not just on climate change, but importantly on what we can do to help stop and reverse its effects.”

When you strip away the spin, you are left with a simple fact: 25 programs and projects, produced by the Irish media next year, will be politically funded propaganda, paid for by the Government, and produced on the Government’s behalf.

The objective of these programs, the Press Release admits, is to influence the public in order to make you more supportive of Government Policy.

The definition of propaganda, in the Oxford English Dictionary, is as follows:

information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

In fairness, it remains to be seen how “misleading” these state-funded programs will be. But in that definition, everything else is ticked off the list: The programs will be biased, because the funding for them is linked to their being biased. Just read the press release: “educating on the impact of climate change” is hardly neutral, or intended to reduce your alarm, is it?

The programs are also intended, explicity, to promote a political cause and point of view: In this case, that we must vote and act politically in a certain way, to tackle climate change.

One misleading claim, in just one of these programs, and we’ll have ticked every box for the literal dictionary definition of “propaganda”. And, frankly, I’d bet my house that we’ll get more than one such claim.

A media that allows itself to be used like this is not, to my mind, worthy of the name. Obviously, all media outlets, including this one, need advertising to survive. Sometimes, one might even publish paid content in the form of an advertorial, but basic media ethics require that content to be labelled.

This is not that. What this is, and there is no dispute here, is the Government paying the media to tell the public things that the Government wishes the public to believe, under the guise of the programming coming directly from media outlets themselves. When you watch, you will be told that a particular show is – for example – an RTE show. But it will actually be a Government show, posing as an RTE show.

People in media will, of course, rationalise this away on two grounds: First, that on Climate Change, they’d frankly be happy to sell Government propaganda for free, and therefore getting paid doesn’t compromise them because well, they believe it anyway.

Second on the grounds that they are financially struggling, and some compromises – especially on a “good cause” like this – are tolerable in order to preserve all the other good work they do.

It’s all bullshit. Whatever the facts around Climate Change, journalists who take money to promote the Government’s views are not journalists. And they should stop calling themselves journalists.

And when you watch these shows, please be aware what you’re watching.

 

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