McDowell criticises media on politicians


FORMER Tánaiste and Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell yesterday severely criticised the media’s treatment of politicians. He also claimed that Gordon Brown was “bullied” into taking part in television election debates.

He received a round of applause when he told the gathering, largely made up of lawyers and university lecturers, that the media treat politicians as a “sub-class barely deserving of an audience.”

At the conference on constitutional reform, which was organised by the UCD school of law, Mr McDowell said that calls by the media for every donation a party receives to be released into the public domain are an attempt by them to secure power.

“Do we want a society where every €100 or €200 contribution needs to be public? Most people don’t want their neighbours knowing they gave money to a party.

“If you can’t afford posters to put up, how are you going to get ideas across?

“They’ll only be heard after they’ve been interpreted by Denis O’Brien or Tony O’Reilly or Rupert Murdoch.”

Mr McDowell was also critical of the media’s involvement in the recent British general election campaign, and, in particular, the television debates which were introduced for the first time in Britain this year.

“Sky News were campaigning for the debate and they bullied Gordon Brown into taking part in this beauty contest. We saw Nick Clegg coming along during them and going ‘I’m not like these two, but don’t ask me why because it’s too complex.’

“The media then looks at these, tells you who has won and on the basis of that who deserves to win the election.”

Mr McDowell said that The Irish Timesis “mildly pro-Labour”, and criticised RTÉ’s Morning Irelandfor how it deals with politicians. “If you listen to it, politicians are cut across, interrupted and told their time is up, but journalists are listened to and respected. “I think we should look at the unintended consequences of political and constitutional reform. When you think of Justine McCarthy, what experience has she in standing for election? Politicians are better judges on these things than the commentariat.”

Speaking on Seanad reform, he said that it was “inexcusable” that Enda Kenny would commit his party to supporting the abolition of the upper house without forewarning them of the public announcement.

He criticised Fine Gael proposals to cut the number of TDs, saying that if it were cut to 100, then ministers and junior ministers would make up almost half of the government.