Trivial political coverage in the press is ready to cover anything except politics
Opinion: Stories focus on squabbles, PR and what can secure a party advantage over its rivals
Pensioners demonstrating outside the Dáil yesterday. “Small, well-organised lobby groups”? Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
On Friday, October 11th, this newspaper had a story on its front page headlined: “Coalition targets welfare benefit cuts”; On October 12th: “FG tackles Burton over ‘welfare traps’”; on October 14th: “Coalition agrees free GP care for under-fives”; on the morning of the budget: “Noonan to announce range of harsh budget cuts.”
On October 9th, the Irish Independent led with: “How budget will affect pensioners and young families”; on October 11th: “Free GP care for under-fives in jeopardy”; on October 14th: “Budget throws a lifeline to hard-pressed families”; on budget day: “Pensioners back in budget firing line.”
Other newspapers did likewise, and so too did RTÉ and other broadcast stations.
What was the point to this? We were all going to find out on budget day what the budget contained anyway and, given the closed manner in which the major decisions concerning our society are taken by a political elite, there was nothing anyone could do about pre-leaked decisions. So why all this journalistic effort for essentially damn all except the infantile impulse to be “first” with the news?
On Wednesday, October 16th this newspaper published a political commentary piece, which said: “As with every budget, the big question is whether there is some measure that will jump out from the rest to cause serious embarrassment for the Government.”
In a commentary piece on an inside page of the Irish Independent on the day after the budget, one of its political writers wrote: “Michael Noonan said there were a few ‘bits and bobs’ to be sorted out as the budget negotiations reached their final stages. The bits were clearly a series of quite unpleasant cutbacks in services and benefits that will hit various different groups of people in a variety of ways. The bobs were a bundle of measures to stimulate investment, keep up the momentum in the tourism industry, revive the construction sector and maintain the signs of uplift in the property market.” Later in the piece: “But there remain concerns within the Cabinet about whether a government gets appreciation for giving one benefit, versus taking one away.” It ended: “Political necessity takes priority.”
On Saturday last, in another commentary piece in this newspaper, the following appeared: “The latest in the series of harsh budgets has proved politically more acceptable than its predecessors but the Coalition needs to tread warily because there are signs that the Irish public has taken about as much pain as it can stand. One of the peculiarities of democratic politics is that the howls of outrage from small, well-organised lobby groups can often have far greater political impact than the mood of the broad mass of ordinary voters.” The reference was to pensioners.