Media coverage of pilot’s medical condition ‘an outrage’

Head of journalists’ union in Ireland also calls for a Government commission on media

Candles for the victims of Germanwings Airbus fight sit on a table during a church service at the altar at the cathedral Notre Dame du Bourg  in Digne-les-Bains, France. Photgraph:  Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Candles for the victims of Germanwings Airbus fight sit on a table during a church service at the altar at the cathedral Notre Dame du Bourg in Digne-les-Bains, France. Photgraph: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

 

Media coverage of the Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz, who flew 149 people and himself into a mountainside in the French Alps last Tuesday, has been heavily criticised by NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley. He has also called for a Government commission on the media.

Representing the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at the national seminar on the President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative on Saturday, he was addressing the issue of ethics and the media. He raised concerns at how Andreas Lubitz’s mental issues were being handled in the media and said that, as Irish secretary of the NUJ “I may represent journalists but I don’t think I always have to defend them”.

He didn’t think many people supported the type of coverage he was speaking about. He instanced the headlines on the story in Saturday’s Irish Star newspaper ‘Torment of Killer Pilot Revealed’ and ‘Haunted by Gay Demons’. The article referred to reports in Gemany that the pilot may have been gay and repressed this.

Mr Dooley described such reportage as an “outrage”, fomented at gay and depressed people.

“There was no question whether homophobia contributed to this incredible event”, he said, referring to the air crash.

Where media in general was concerned he said the greatest challenge was the way language was distorted and manipulated by owners who no longer refer to staff as journalists but as ‘content providers’ and who refer to newspapers as ‘platforms’.”

There was, he said, “a need for a commission in Ireland” which would address issues such as ownership and access, and ensure that communities were best served by regional and local media.

“The State has an obligation, civic society has an obligation to ensure that (media ownership) is not a licence to print money for someone who doesn’t pay taxes in this country. And I’m not talking about anyone in particular,” he said.

Ivan Cooper of The Wheel, a body representing voluntary community organisations, noted that there were 8,500 not-for-profit organisations in Ireland, involving 50,000 people.

It was “a very developed and energised community voluntary sector” but, he asked, “still, why have we such inequalities?”

Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council said there remained “a level of acceptance of sexism in society” an outcome of which were experiences of harassment by women in their daily lives.

Hans Zomer of Dochas said ethical behaviour depended on how people around us reinforced it or impeded it.

This also applied at a global level where “the linkage between lifestyle, little choices, embattle the world we are shaping”.

Prof Maureen Junker Kenny of TCD said the universities, like the churches, could provide fora for discussion of “what is good and what is right”.

The universities were “where heterogenous elements of society can talk to one another,” she said.