The point of the media – the reason it exists – is to report the news to the public. Our job, as journalists, is to pull together relevant information about the things that are happening in the world, and present it to you, the public, in a way that is accessible, understandable, and accurate. When you have accurate, understandable, and accessible information, you can then form your own opinion.
Of course, journalists have opinions of our own. Where those opinions are strong, we have, at least in my view, a duty to share them with you. Not necessarily to convince you to agree with us, but so that you know where we are coming from, and can make your own judgments. Opinion is fine, so long as all the relevant information is presented to allow you, the reader, to disagree with that opinion.
When journalism stops being journalism, and starts becoming propaganda, is when certain facts are not presented, and certain viewpoints are not given space, because they conflict with the journalist’s opinion. When you start hiding information from your readers, because the readers might take that information and arrive at an opinion other than your own, then you are no longer a journalist, but a propagandist.
The Irish media, over the course of the lockdown, have shifted from journalism to propaganda. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the “reporting” of the UK’s decision to abandon covid restrictions.
Take this piece from our friends over at the Journal. The UK’s decision, it says, is “reckless”, and “has triggered a series of warnings”. The article quotes several experts criticising the decision, and political opponents of Boris Johnson doing the same. Nowhere, not even in one paragraph, is the space for an argument in favour of re-opening provided.
Or take this piece from the Irish Examiner, which does almost word for word the same thing. Again, the UK approach is described as “loose” and “reckless”, and again, only opponents of the policy are given space to make their case.
Now – let’s be clear, and let us not commit the same crime as those we criticise: The UK policy is, indeed, a risk. There is every chance – because it has happened before – that the UK might be hit with an overwhelming surge of the virus, driving up hospitalisations and deaths, and forcing the Government to close down again. In fact, it is a risk that Johnson himself alluded to, when he noted in his speech announcing the measures that the virus was spiking, and would likely spike further as the weather turns cooler in the Autumn and Winter, giving Covid, in his words, “an advantage”. It is not unfair to note that the UK’s policy has some scientists worried.
It is unfair, though, and indeed tilting across the line into propaganda, not to note or report the case in favour of re-opening. And what is that case?
Well, it is that in the United States, they have been fully re-open for weeks (not that you would ever hear this on an Irish radio station or read it in an Irish newspaper) and their case numbers have not dramatically spiked. It is that with the vaccine, Washington DC’s hospitals reported this week their first week in over a year with no Covid patient in ICU. It is that the UK’s own data shows that the Delta variant has a case fatality rate on a par with the flu.
It is, further, that mass events have been taking place in the UK, and on the continent, for weeks now, with no adverse side effects. Whether it is because of the vaccines (which is my view) or seasonality, or some combination of the two, Covid simply is not posing a threat to life anywhere in the western world, to anything near the degree it did during the first two waves of the virus
Now, you may know all that, and have seen all the figures, and still arrive at the conclusion that a few more weeks of caution is warranted in the UK, and indeed in Ireland. That is what is called “drawing an informed conclusion”. You may simply be of the view that while the risks are low, the downsides of remaining closed for another month or two are low enough to endure, while more people are vaccinated.
But if you have drawn a conclusion that the UK is reckless because you do not know about the situation in the United States, or the very low death rates from Delta, or because all you read in the Irish media is that Johnson is reckless, then you have not arrived at an informed conclusion. You have, instead, been directed to a conclusion by journalists who have presented you with less than the full amount of information. You have been the victim of propaganda.
For some time now, the Irish media – at least on the subject of Covid – has strayed from reporting and honest opinion into the realm of propaganda. They are consciously (because, believe me, they know the facts as well as I do) keeping information from their readers, in order to bolster the conservative position adopted by the Irish Government. At the same time, the outlets they work for are receiving hundreds of thousands of euros in Covid adverts.
It is not journalism. And the Irish public, which probably considers itself well informed, is anything but. There should be a reckoning. But then, most people will never even figure out that they are being led by the nose.