Irish media now more Eurosceptic, warns EC report

 

IRELAND'S MEDIA have become more Eurosceptic and more tabloid in their reporting in the years between the second Nice Treaty referendum and the Lisbon campaign, the European Commission has warned.

In a private briefing document circulated by the commission in Brussels, it warned that Ireland's "changing media landscape" between 2002 and 2008 has implications for public opinion about the European Union.

RTÉ's broadcasting dominance has been hit by satellite broadcasters who increased their audience by nearly 10 percentage points since the 2002 Nice referendum, while "news content on the main commercial national station TV3 is of quite low quality.

"There is a shift away from the State news radio and TV stations. This means that the quality of debate has suffered. Commercial radio and local radio are increasingly important to reach - and their style is different from the old State broadcasters," it said.

British "Eurosceptic" titles have become more influential in the Republic, while radio listeners have drifted from RTÉ to independent stations "that have a greater focus on entertainment than news".

"Since 2002 we have seen an increase in UK titles with "Irishised" editorial. Forty-one per cent of all Irish people read one or more of the following; the Irish Sun, Irish News of the World, Sunday Times, People, Irish Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mailand Mail on Sunday. These have proven to be significant opinion formers which in general have been more Euro-hostile," it said.

The Rupert Murdoch-led media group News International has increased its hold over the tabloid and Sunday paper market, the document explained.

"Editorial is highly critical of the European Union and even more so of the Lisbon Treaty. What has changed is that these papers were previously printed in the UK, but now they are printed in Ireland. Also more of its editorial content is produced by Irish journalists on Irish issues - but subject to the London editorial line," it went on.

The Irish Sun, which has 309,000 mostly young male readers, has "taken a campaigning Europhobic stance in line" with its sister title in the United Kingdom.

However, the influence of the upmarket Sunday Timesis particularly noted by the commission because it is read "by 363,000 middle-class, well-educated readers, who would traditionally have been European supporters.

"Not only has the editorial been largely critical of Europe, it is rumoured that it has been refusing contributions from staff that are pro-Europe," the commission's paper said.

The launch of the Irish Mail on Sundayand Irish Daily Mailhas also affected Irish opinions on the EU since they "have run intense Eurosceptic campaigns and employ a variety of right-wing journalists. These target primarily middle-class, middle-aged females, who tend to be a demographic that is widely more 'Euro-hesitant'. Of less importance are the Irish Daily Mirrorand the People. Both titles are owned by the UK Trinity group. In general their commentary has been fairly balanced," it went on.

While the commission notes the increase in sales of UK tabloids and broadsheets, it went on: "What has gone mainly unnoticed is the growth in reproduction of foreign news in indigenous Irish titles like the Irish Examiner, Irish Timesand Irish Independent. The Irish Independent takes much of its European news from the Daily Telegraph.

"Despite being the largest national daily title, it no longer has a Brussels-based journalist. The main reason for this is the cost-cutting that many of the indigenous Irish titles underwent in the early part of the decade. Both the Irish Timesand Independentreduced editorial staff numbers. This has created a dependency on outsourcing reporting to UK titles."

The development of a conservative religious press since the second Nice Treaty is particularly noted by the commission: "These titles have an even more conservative viewpoint than the Church hierarchy on many issues. They are bitterly anti-European, supposedly because of liberal European attitudes on; church/State relations, homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research and various other social issues."

Though the circulation of ALIVE!, which targets conservative, older readers, is unknown, the paper claims that 365,000 copies a month are handed out, the commission briefing went on.

The fragmented anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign had a much stronger internet presence, using viral e-mails, videos and songs.

"Apart from official websites, the internet has largely been a space left to anti-European feeling. Given the ability to reach an audience at a much lower cost, and given the simplicity of the No campaign messages, it has proven to be easily malleable during the campaign and pre-campaign period."

• The unabridged EC analysis of Irish media coverage of the Lisbon campaign is available at www.irishtimes.com/indepth