On Friday, we learned definitively how the Irish media sees its role in Irish society.
For some years now, as the readership of newspapers and the viewership of RTE has declined, the public have been treated to regular lectures about the importance of so-called “public service journalism”. Without public funding to keep the media alive, we are warned, the country would be covered in a vesuvian ash cloud of misinformation, fearmongering, and open lies, wrought upon us by the social media sites.
In but a few short years, one might think, society would fall apart as without RTE and the Irish Times to ensure the prevalence of trustworthy news neighbours would turn upon neighbours and usher in a sort of Trump-style Mad Max dystopia.
I exaggerate, but only a little. From the Taoiseach on down, the Irish people have been on the receiving end of endless lectures about how the only information they can truly trust is that which is solemnly intoned to them at one minute past six each evening, after the Angelus.
The basic problem with this is not that simply that it is false. It is that the media believes, with all its heart, that it is true.
When the media believes, as it sincerely does, that its existence is all that is standing between the Irish people and their own worst instincts, then its duty is no longer to simply report the news. If anything, its duty is the opposite: To actively suppress any news that might appeal to – as the media sees it – the worst instincts of the Irish people.
Which is why Ryan Casey was widely censored, last Friday.
When Ashling Murphy’s boyfriend gave his victim impact statement – laden, it should be said, with much more than the part on which this piece is focusing – there was, I am told, an audible intake of breath in some parts of the courtroom when he said the following, referring to her murderer, Jozef Puska:
“How can someone come to his country, get social housing, social welfare, not hold down a job of any description and never contribute to society for 10 years?”
This is a significant, and obviously newsworthy statement. In the biggest murder case of the decade, the person closest in the world to the victim is openly suggesting that Government policy – or lack of policy, or inaction, characterise it how you wish – played a role in her death.
Yet, for all that it is newsworthy, the Irish media consciously and deliberately omitted the question from their coverage of Mr. Casey’s statement. I say consciously and deliberately because, in the case of RTE, the quote initially appeared in their news coverage, but was then deleted from later editions. The Irish Times had a reporter in the courtroom. Newstalk’s court reporter did a 20 minute segment on the victim impact statements on the station, but omitted to mention this comment from the bereaved boyfriend.
The net effect of these omissions is to ensure that the single most politically relevant thing said during the entire trial and sentencing process is heard by as few Irish people as possible. In this case, the Irish media did not cover the news. Instead, they co-operated to cover up the news.
The psychology of this is not particularly hard to understand. The Irish media as a whole – with some exceptions, but only a few – does not see its job as being to report the news to the public. Instead, it sees its job as being to protect the country, and those running it, from the worst instincts of the public. The omission of Ryan Casey’s statement from their coverage was not the first example of that, simply the most blatant to date.
But why does the media see Ryan Casey’s statement as so dangerous in the first place? Essentially, I think, because it was a dagger aimed right at the heart of the story the Irish media has been telling the Irish people about immigration for years.
That story is not hard to recount: As the media tells it, immigrants come here to work and make our society better, and make an overwhelmingly positive contribution, and the only people who object to them or consider any immigration a negative are the so-called “far right” and other disrespectable types who have no place in polite society.
The problem is that Ryan Casey is neither far right, nor disrespectable. Usually, when an anti-immigration message is delivered to the public, the standard ploy by the media is to attack the messenger by suggesting that they are an extremist. See, for example, Peter Casey, whose every word had journalists running to NGOs for statements of condemnation that could be reported.
You cannot do that with the grieving boyfriend of a murder victim. If anything, he is at the very top of the Irish respectability pyramid, alongside people like the late Vicky Phelan. Before his victim impact statement, it might have been expected that he was a cinch to appear on the Late Late Show.
I suspect that particular invitation will no longer be forthcoming.
In this case, the fear that Ryan Casey’s words might resonate with a big chunk of middle Ireland is palpable. Overtly attacking him is impossible. Arguing with him directly would be in bad taste. The only option the media had left was to abandon all pretence that it covers the news, and to embrace the alternative of openly suppressing the news instead.
The good news is that a media that behaves like this cannot survive, long term. Yes, in some cases, the public will simply never hear what Ryan Casey said. But tens of thousands will have heard it, and noticed that it was suppressed.
And they will begin to ask themselves what else the Irish media is suppressing, or twisting, or otherwise keeping from them. And the answer is, as we know: an awful, awful lot.