Lenihan critical of 'doomsday' media coverage


MINISTER FOR Finance Brian Lenihan has criticised some journalists for overstating Ireland’s economic difficulties to the detriment of the country.

Speaking at a conference titled Confidence in the Media in Dublin yesterday, Mr Lenihan said while most reporting had been fair, journalists needed to be aware of the self-fulfilling nature of any “doomsday scenarios” they wrote. Journalists could undermine or promote confidence in the economy.

He acknowledged there was a “climate of fear” about the impact of financial markets on the economy, the loss of jobs and the stability of the banking system. A crucial element in dispelling fear was the provision of accurate, reliable and balanced information, he said.

While the media was generally responsible about correcting inaccuracies, the issue of balance was more problematic. “There is a tendency to paint black-and-white pictures, to overstate difficulties, to use sometimes emotive language. And God knows, our problems are bad enough without exaggerating the reportage to present doomsday scenarios.”

Mr Lenihan said he did not agree with those who claimed the media did not report enough good news. It was facile to expect reporters to engage in “national back-patting” and journalists had to be sceptical in their treatment of stories. However, scepticism should not be reserved just for Government, or political parties, and the same rigour should be applied to the reporting of interest groups and representative bodies.

Agendas were not exclusive to politicians and governments, and many interest groups had better communication resources than political parties.

Mr Lenihan said a “cosy cartel” was in operation among economists, whereby they did not go head to head or disagree publicly.

Digicel chairman Denis O’Brien told the conference the economy was at a critical turning point where confidence could make a real difference.

He said Ireland was “under the microscope” of the international financial community. Irish news providers needed to be increasingly sensitive as to how they presented the news of the day. In practice, that meant reporting both good and bad news.

Mr O’Brien said there was good news to report about Ireland and it was not insensitive to report it when so many were suffering from unemployment, negative equity and emigration.

Among the positives that could have been reported in recent weeks, he said, was the fact our GDP remained the second-highest in the EU and that employment levels were stabilising.

“This is not to take from individual hardships but it does argue for the need for balance.”

He criticised the “frenzy of words” about Anglo Irish Bank, which has been “personality-driven about Seán FitzPatrick”.

John Corrigan, chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, said it was too early to say what the influence of the media was on our current crisis. Markets were not fully efficient and sentiment did matter.

Séamus Dooley, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said the Irish media had no interest in talking down the economy. Many media outlets had been crushed by the current crisis.

Mr Dooley criticised the “ridiculous” dependence of some newspapers on property and recruitment advertising during the boom and accused them of creating false expectations.