Academic points to media coverage as stoking boom

Banking inquiry hears that media ‘property porn’ fuelled consumer desire to scale ladder

The Irish media has not changed in its tendency to cover the interests of the country's elites, even in the midst of a recovering property market, the Oireachtas banking inquiry was told yesterday.

UCD academic Dr Julien Mercille said this close relationship with the political and corporate establishment had prevented the media from being a critical watchdog of the growing property bubble in the build up to the crash.

“A number of journalists simply acted as cheerleaders for the property sector,” Dr Mercille said during the inquiry’s media module.

He warned that as the sector, particularly in Dublin, began to recover, media standards and approaches had “essentially not changed”.


He said he was not referring to the nature of content per se.

“Rather, I mean that the trends in media coverage point roughly in the same directions as pre-2008. In general, it is still the interests of the elites that are mostly reflected in editorials and news stories.”

Predicting the crash

Dr Mercille, who has written on the subject of the media’s coverage of the European economic crisis, said this ineffectiveness in predicting an impending crash was down to three key factors: close ties with corporate and government interests, reliance on advertising, and the sourcing of stories.

He said the media made money from property advertising, often through supplements, and he noted that both The Irish Times and Irish Independent had invested in property-related websites.

Quoting Independent TD Shane Ross, Dr Mercille said there was an implicit threat for any media organisations offering unfavourable coverage of events that "advertising would go elsewhere".

Denied sources

A similar situation arose in the area of sourcing information, Dr Mercille said. Journalists were reliant on established institutions for information, which could be denied to them in cases where coverage was deemed negative or unhelpful.

“After the crash, the media also presented the government’s crisis resolution policies in a largely favourable manner, again in line with Irish and global elites’ views,” he said.

The inquiry also heard from Dublin Institute of Technology media lecturer Harry Browne.

He said “property porn” produced by the media had played its role in fuelling consumer behaviour.

This, he said, "encouraged readers to constantly think about going higher and higher up the ladder. To think about how to get that bigger house; to think about how to decorate their apartment in Bulgaria, that sort of thing."

Mr Browne said it was tempting to conclude there was no conflict of interest at all within the media, but rather “a congruence of interests between media organisations and the developers and financiers who were advertising with them and cashing in constantly on a speculative bubble”.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times