‘Meeja’ a word coined by metropolitans to keep the country bumpkin in his place

Journalists the most touchy of creatures when it comes to comment on their role

Journalists have so many questions, but seem averse to any questioning by others of their own procedures or prejudices. Photograph: AP

Journalists have so many questions, but seem averse to any questioning by others of their own procedures or prejudices. Photograph: AP

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 12:01

As a general principle, I believe, the more words the better. Still, there’s one word I would ban outright: “meeja”.

It started out as a harmless corruption of “media” – intended to diminish grandiosity, in much the manner of “hack” or “journo”. These days, it’s used almost exclusively by media personnel as a shield to protect themselves and their sector from criticism. Journalists say things like, “X (some ‘right-wing politician’) unsurprisingly blamed the meeja”, or “symptomatic of the usual kneejerk response to hold ‘the meeja’ responsible for just about everything . . .”.

“Meeja” derives from a caricature of a country bumpkin prognosticating, above his station, on media matters. Nobody in real life has ever uttered the word except as a parody of something that’s perfectly entitled to exist: someone with a non-metropolitan accent who’s less than 100 per cent happy with everything on radio, TV or in the newspaper. Minted into a stock phrase, “meeja” has become a kind of pre-emptive taunt, to be scatter-gunned about as a warning to anyone contemplating “having a go” at journalists.

I’ve long found journalists the most touchy of creatures concerning even the slightest criticism of how their profession carries out its public role. This sensitivity seems especially acute when the criticism comes from someone they see as belonging “inside the tent”. Over the years, I’ve written critically about innumerable categories of public actors – from Government Ministers to wheel-clampers – but have never received back such a vituperative mailbag as when I referred to some of the flaws or foibles of journalistic practice.

Here, the idea that “dog shouldn’t bite dog” adds to the weight of invective. It’s fruitless to point out to such correspondents that they themselves have trenchantly criticised those wielding other categories of public power precisely for their failure to break ranks when something was rotten in their own bailiwick.

The recent abortion “debate” exposed an abiding dysfunction in our national media: a grossly disproportionate number of journalists are ideologically exercised from a pro-choice direction. It was clear from the breaking of the dreadful story of Savita Halappanavar late last year that the unstated aim of the ensuing wall-to-wall media discussion was to break down Irish cultural resistance to abortion.

Usually, in stories where vital facts are unavailable, there’s a suspension of judgment until investigations have been completed. But here, the narrative was constructed from a few half-baked elements and, on the basis of speculation and ideological interpretation, dispatched around the globe with little regard for Ireland’s international reputation or the ultimate truth.

Moreover, in the domestic pseudo-debate on the substantive issue reignited by the Halappanavar story, contrary voices were barely tolerated, being harangued not just by ideological opponents but more often by those supposedly charged with ensuring that debates are fairly and impartially conducted.

It is frequently acknowledged – sometimes even by journalists – that there’s a growing problem with the way media selects new recruits from society. In the past, national news organisations recruited from, for example, both universities and the local press and operated internal meritocratic systems of advancement whereby the tea boy had the same chance as the graduate. Nowadays, journalists invariably come from the same stratum of society, with the same socio-cultural outlooks and aspirations, and are drilled in a handful of media courses by ex-journalist tutors exhibiting more than a passing affinity with certain ideological interpretations of reality.

As a result, Irish journalism now takes it for granted that that there is but one “virtuous” way of seeing the world. Ostensibly, the favoured ideological “principles” read as feminist, left-wing, liberal, secular, etc, but in reality nothing is advanced or promoted out of a desire for any kind of truth. The main purpose is effect – to provide the contributor with a gracing aspect in the eyes of those whose approval is the point of the whole thing. That’s why, every day now, fundamental principles of the pre-existing philosophical outlooks of this society are sold out in the name of fashion and fad.

Bias itself, oddly enough, is not the essential problem. Journalists, by their nature, need to be idealists of one kind or another. The real reason our media churn out in the name of journalism what’s really no more than propaganda is that media organisations don’t curb the ideological enthusiasm of their personnel, who are given free rein to advance their personal agendas in the name of reportage.

No organisation has yet announced an intention to introduce mechanisms to counterbalance the inevitable tendency of people from similar backgrounds, and with similar ideological conditioning, to hold the same opinions about virtually everything. And no media outlet is prepared to cover this story as it would if such a cultural crisis occurred in any other public institution of discipline.

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