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Why is the EU paying for Irish journalists’ flights to Brussels?

Imagine for a moment, if you will, this hypothetical scenario, and imagine how the media would react if it ever happened.

Suppose the Republicans were in power in the US. And imagine an Irish journalist, who was suspected to be somewhat conservative or right-leaning, flew over to the United States to cover a Republican Party press conference. And then suppose it was later revealed that this trip was paid for by the US government.

In such a situation, do you think the media would say this raises questions about journalistic impartiality? Would you say that would go over smoothly, with little fuss, or would it cause an almighty firestorm of controversy and hysterical screaming?

Well, thankfully, this hypothetical situation has never happened, nor will it if we’re lucky. But a different one did, however.

This week, Irish Examiner journalist Alison O’Connor tweeted that she and about 15 other Irish journalists had travelled to Brussels to engage in briefings with Irish government MEPs from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

However, when asked who was paying for the trip – the Irish media or the EU – O’Connor replied that it was paid for by the EU.

Without singling her out, it should be noted that O’Connor, like most members of the Irish mainstream media, appears to have quite a favourable view of the EU. She previously said that a speech in which Simon Coveney described Brexit as a “major disappointment” was “very much on target.”

She’s bewailed the “human toll of Brexit,” saying she has little sympathy for British politicians, and praised Coveney’s performance during the “lunatic Brexit process.”

And now it turns out that she is among a group of journalists being flown out to Brussels on trips paid for by the EU.

Now let me be clear: I am not casting any aspersions on Alison O’Connor, the Examiner or any of the other journalists present. I don’t know these people, I’ve never met them, and I wouldn’t make any claim as to their personal motivations or character.

My only point here is about double standards and selective scrutiny on the part of the wider media.

If this was any other political organisation paying for trips so Irish journalists could go on trips and interview elected officials, it would receive a lot more scrutiny (“a lot more”, in this case, meaning any amount of scrutiny at all, because it’s currently totally ignored). If the media didn’t already love the EU, and think it was the best thing since sliced bread, they’d be screaming bloody murder over this, and we all know it.

This isn’t the first incident like this either. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Journal.ie launched the “Good Information Project,” with an associated podcast which was co-funded by a grant programme from the European Parliament.

In their episode on Brexit, simply entitled “Brexit,” the blurb reads:

“As the United Kingdom’s political landscape endures scandal after scandal, Brexit continues to loom menacingly in the background. Already, the UK’s decision to leave the EU has changed its relationship with Ireland, and put pressure on cross-border relationship.”

At the start, they include pre-recorded interviews with three people about their view on Brexit.

One of them essentially said she was glad British people still seemed respectful to Ireland post-Brexit.

Another one was a naturalised Brit living in Ireland who said he was “dumbfounded” that his country has continued on this “Brexit-fuelled, Conservative-enabled downward spiral of self-harm.” He also expressed disbelief “that they [Britain] continue to think they have any relevance on the world stage with that utter clown, BoJo, at the helm.”

And lastly, they included a clip from an Irish woman who said it was “Shocking how the current British government have lost all sense of integrity [and] honesty.” She said that “history will not be kind to the many muppets in the current Conservative Party.”

So in other words, one is sort of a soft or moderate take, and two viciously anti-Brexit takes. Zero eurosceptic or Brexiteer representation. In a podcast co-funded by the EU.

Now, again: I’m not alleging any bias here at all. All I’m saying is, imagine if this was any other situation.

Imagine a journalist taking a grant from Israel, and then suddenly posting about what a load of eejits the Palestinian government are. Would Ireland’s media landscape stand for that? Well, what do you think?

And that’s just the EU. We all know that State-funding for RTÉ is an ever-growing priority, and that there are many more media outlets lining up for grants and funding cap-in-hand, especially since Covid-19.

For all the talk of “defending democracy” and the importance of media, it seems like there is absolutely zero scepticism when it comes to money or financing of trips from national or supranational state entities. And in a country always obsessing over stamping out potential “misinformation,” that is nothing short of bizarre.

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