Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

The Gentleman’s Agreement and other controls

December 29th, 2009 · 14 Comments · Irish Media, Irish Politics

A slumber inspired rambling tangent on recent events.

We now know that TV3 didn’t believe in it or stick by whatever the press office in the Department of Finance or Government Press Office asked for before Christmas.

Some people, myself included, have difficulty in these agreements and the culture that surrounds them – ie.when a party requests another party to not say or do something or one offers something else instead to stop something else being reported or acted upon. I’ve no doubt that many journalists are asked to keep something quiet or are given something else instead to stop something being reported. There have been accusations of cosiness between political correspondents and politicians and their handlers but no real analysis of whether this is actually the case. Press offices also refuse to co-operate with journalists and attempt to kill stories in a variety of ways.

Where do these agreements lie now? Are the gloves off and a ruthless media unleashed? Is the condemnation of TV3 by many other media groups because they don’t want these agreements challenged, are genuinely outraged and have a moral compass or are people in other media organisations happy that the story is out? Looking at Andrew Lynch’s op-ed piece in the Evening Herald yesterday one could be very confused. He condemns TV3 before launching into speculation on reshuffles to come.

What other issues are not reported on due to agreements, nods and winks? And what now for TV3 correspondents in terms of their treatment by press handlers and politicians in the weeks ahead?

I’m not mentioning this because I have a problem with someone asking for personal information such as that which TV3 reported on being kept from the public. I thought the manner of the reporting by TV3 was really crass and I do think that some right to privacy should remain for people. I don’t go by the public interest angle that many are citing in the disclosure of Minister Lenihan’s health especially during a Christmas holiday and when he’s not had the time to tell family members. The contribution to the report by oncologist John Crown was also new low for Irish media.

Maybe we should be more worried about editorial influences on the way in which news is reported than the control that politicians and decision makers seek to have on the ‘news’ itself. The lack of news reporting at all is also something increasingly of concern both by those consuming and working in the sector. There’s far too much opinion and commentary and far too little news and investigative reporting (says she expressing an opinion!) The role of the licence fee and veiled and not too veiled threats made to RTE funding if they get too near the bone are always in the background when thinking about this topic.

All the above is without ever being near a journalism ethics class – it’s the views of a consumer. I expect lectures.

Eoin O’Dell nudges us towards thinking on whether the recent incident will prompt the introduction of a privacy bill much liked in some quarters of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Freelancer and author Gerard Cunningham looks at the mistakes TV3 made. Another freelancer and editor of Forth Magazine, Jason Walsh, also thinks TV3 was right but wrong and launches a defence of journalism and there’s a lot of interesting toing and froing in the comments. Deirdre O’Shaughnessy from the Cork Independent (but blogging on her own blog) writes about the dilemma’s involved and wonders on the impact on TV3.

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14 Comments so far

  • Just how tactless can TV3 be? Answer: very. « Gav Reilly | thinking out loud

    […] Elsewhere, Suzy Byrne contemplates the impact for ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ between politics and the […]

  • Laura

    Happy Christmas and new year to you and other readers Suzy!

    The question I had to ask myself was in what way the news served the public interest?

  • Deirdre O'Shaughnessy

    Thanks for the link. I think the question of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ (much as the expression alone irks me) is something that must be examined once this issue itself is resolved. As a working journalist it can often be difficult to decide where the line between being honourable and being duplicitous lies – for example, if every media organisation in the country had kept quiet about this story until the Minister decided to announce it, that would have meant journalists and those in ‘the elite’ political world had inside knowledge nobody else was privy to. Knowledge that could have had an impact on very sensitive financial markets. That’s something that’s always being criticised in this country – but now TV3 are being criticised for breaking the silence. Not as cut and dried as many commentators are making it out to be.

  • Maman Poulet

    The news from the sensitive financial markets today? ‘Dublin’s ISEQ index soared 70 points (2.3%) to close at 3,059 this evening’

    This reason for public interest is not washing with me anyway!

  • SeanR

    Gentlemen’s agreement how are ya! Sometimes, you get sick of the media not reporting ‘sensitive’ issues because invariably it is about protecting the elite when disclosing the truth to the nation is more critical. Given Lenihan’s seniority in an (albeit discredited) government, TV3 did the right thing.

  • MelR

    TV3 behaved in a mature manner and did absolutely the right thing by bringing Lenihan’s illness out into the public arena, the people have a right to know.

    For to long the media and the governing establishment have kept secrets and this has done more harm than good, treating the public as if they are children is not healthy.

  • Laura Daly

    @MelR… gosh is it mature to blackmail a man into telling who he needed to tell in 48 hours? Did you ever consider that the man may still be coming to terms with the diagnoses himself. The Government is virtually shut down till New Year and no public interest was served by this piece of trash TV. The people have the right to know but not at the expensive of a man’s health, family and decent human feeling. Treating people with Cancer in a despicable way is not healthy.

  • pratie9

    The rise in the Iseq following the announcement of Lenihan’s illness indicates perhaps that he is perceived not to have gone far enough in his recent mean-spirited budget. If so, the future for the poor and the low-paid is grim as his successor tries to measure up to the market’s expectations. Hanafin’s idea on cutting child benefit is perhaps the opening shot in a bid for the job. Her language in the context of this suggested cut is interesting. She talks about ‘attachment to the book’ as a disincentive to work. Straight out of the Thatcher phrasebook circa 1980. Though not actively wishing Lenihan any ill it is difficult to empathise with him on his ‘outing’, given the recent decisions he has made. The folk who will suffer as a result have no treatment available to them.

  • Brian Greene

    The ISE closed below 3000 for the end of year. 2,974.93 86 points below 29/12 close.

    This story and the picture-gate (apology) are 2 examples of editorial failure in Irish news 2009. I am no fan of John Crown but I have listened to him closely having recorded him at a SP public meeting on health. There is a bigger story here and he is talking about it, beyond privacy and press pack agreements there are needless deaths due to other types of privacy, private health insurance and privatisation of health making profit of the sick.

    January 9th 2010 it will be 3 years (this week) since Susie Long went on liveline as Rosie. Here is her story in her own words. I urge anyone who hasn’t read it to read it in full.

    Harney and co. have done what in these 3 years? Set up doc-on-call which they are now running down (I have a front page piece on this in the Northside People this week). Halligan & co. should chase the bigger story that is staring them in the farce. Pity that car door only got Halligan’s hand.

  • Holemaster

    I hear many scandalous stories about politicians and public figures from reliable sources yet these never seem to make it into the news. We don’t have an open press in Ireland, we really don’t. The country is too small to rock the boat and still have a career afterwards.

    I also think Irish people are wary of scandal. They don’t really want it said out loud. We’re squeamish with the truth.

  • Holemaster

    @ Brian Greene. I have a health industry client and there is no doubt that the HSE is the liquidation vehicle for the health service. They’re getting it ready to sell. And people are dying as a result.

  • pratie9

    What is happening in the HSE along with the other cuts in services are part and parcel of the reorganisation that western capitalism undertakes periodically. When it happened in the UK Michael Heseltine, Thatcher’s sidekick remarked in an incautious moment that,
    ‘This is class warfare and we are determined to win it.’
    What more needs to be said other than that it is likely be more severe in Ireland due to the absence of dissent?

  • Catch Up – Part One « Kick Out The Jams

    […] the story until the Lenihan family had been informed. This just goes to show that there is a very cosy relationship between the Government and news media. Why should news of this magnitude not be reported? It is a […]

  • EWI

    Where do these agreements lie now? Are the gloves off and a ruthless media unleashed?

    The problem is, I think, that TV3 are very much a yellow-pack operation and their news centre may be (i) inexperienced as to the ways of the world and (ii) desperate for that big break, given that they’re rather unlikely to ever attain the funding and prestige otherwise needed to fund investigations and to get access.