Does Ireland enjoy a diversity of published opinion?

Here’s an interesting proposition. Writing in yesterday’s Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole suggests that there is no outlet in this country for alternative opinions. He writes:

Given the right-wing domination of our political and media cultures, it is not at all odd that radical dissent has been marginalised. (Even the word “marginalised” suggests, wrongly, that it was anything but marginal in the first place.) What is much harder to grasp, however, is that mainstream, rational analysis has been marginalised too.

This seems to me to be quite wrong, and I wonder whether he is confusing the expression of opinions with the implementation of what those expressing the opinions are recommending. Honestly, you cannot open a newspaper or switch on the television these days without having someone roundly condemn NAMA, the government, the banks, the builders, the politicians, those who defend the banks-builders-politicians-etc, and so on. In fact, if the free and plentiful availability of a particular perspective expressed in the media and other public outlets were to be evidence of its orthodoxy then Fintan O’Toole himself would be right at the centre of power. Indeed it is perhaps remarkable that one of the most frequently published opinions is the view that such opinions are not frequently published.

Public debate that includes a genuine diversity of opinion is not one of the things we lack. Indeed Fintan O’Toole’s column in the Irish Times (which is always worth reading) is itself evidence of the opposite of what he claims. What perhaps we don’t have is a clear trajectory from persuasive argument to action. We don’t have a sense, as a nation, that debate is more than a leisure activity. Even parliamentary debates are wholly ineffective as a source of decision-making. An Irish emigrant in the United States recently suggested that ‘debate is something you do at the bar; it makes the Guinness go down’.

The exchange and analysis of ideas is an important academic task. It is our mission to persuade people that critical analysis is not an abstract skill but rather a basis for reform. We need to celebrate diversity of opinion, not because it passes the time, but because it makes the things we do as a community work more effectively and more fairly. If we get that across better, we may win much more respect as a profession.

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7 Comments on “Does Ireland enjoy a diversity of published opinion?”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    There are a few problems with Fintan’s argument, the first being Fintan himself. He is, I think, Deputy or Assistant Editor of the IT, probably the most influential paper in the country, enjoys a high profile & he is clearly not a right-wing ideologue. Other people with what might be called left-wing or radical views also have a high profile, V.Brown for example. Increasingly, the internet is the medium of influence and no one controls that. As you point out, the critics of the government’s banking policy are never out of the media. So I don’t know what he is on about.
    Fintan O’Toole is usually worth reading, even when I completely disagree with him, but that article was not his finest hour by a long chalk.

  2. Jilly Says:

    Hmm. Firstly, I don’t think that either O’Toole or Browne could be considered ‘radical’. And secondly, despite the existence of their columns and O’Toole’s job-title, they are just 2 journalists at 1 newspaper. Even though they’re both pretty high profile, that isn’t much of a proportion of the total newsprint (let alone broadcast media) produced each day. Which I think was probably a significant part of the point O’Toole was trying to make.

    • kevin denny Says:

      “Left-wing” then? I don’t think one could dispute that. In fact Browne’s strictures about redistribution are pretty radical (personally I think they are insane but that’s another matter). VB also appears in a Sunday paper and on radio & FT also does some broadcasting so they have a lot of exposure. And there are others commentators with broadly similar views and plenty of others with more eclectic stances. I don’t think there’s many nakedly right wing commentators though, of course, that depends on where you are coming from.
      In short, I think there is a reasonable diversity of opinion. Inevitably, one would always like to see more of one’s own views being articulated and that, I think, is what was driving O’Toole piece.

  3. Jilly Says:

    I really do disagree with you, Kevin. I think there’s an extraordinary hegemony of political discourse in the mainstream media (obviously the internet is another thing, but that also brings with it many other questions) in Ireland.

    The worse offenders in this regard are not bylined columnists (of any political stripe), but editorials and supposedly straight ‘reportage’ pieces which speak from certain ideological positions but never acknowledge that they’re doing this. Did you see the IT editorial on the public sector pay deal last week, for example? Or the way that the Indo for several months running up to the public sector pay cuts had a named section of news stories under a heading of something like ‘the public sector crisis’? It’s this kind of unobtrusive but powerful shaping of political/news discussion which I think is extremely distorted in this country.

    • kevin denny Says:

      In general I don’t read editorials since I find them rather pompous & I like to know who I am disagreeing with. I didn’t read the one in question.
      I find in general – and this is not a comment on you – that its always the other guy whose position is ideological. So commentators will cheerfully dismiss someone else’s position as coming from, say, a neo-liberal ideology, but it never occurs to them that they themselves might carry some ideological baggage. VB is a master of this. Funny that!

  4. Vincent Says:

    While FG and Labour refuse to come out and state that they will repudiate NAMA and any bank guarantee beyond direct deposit. Then they are directly supporting all the measures undertaken to date. This regardless of what they say.
    That O’Toole came out with this has little to do with the Media, I suspect. And more to do with irritation at the toothless display of the Opposition, or for that matter the Dail itself.

  5. Sally Says:

    You have to look for it.

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