Time to turn spotlight on role of media


“DO WE need the Seanad? Do we need 166 TDs?” Those were questions asked by journalist and author Tim Pat Coogan at the opening of the Parnell Summer School in Avondale, Co Wicklow yesterday.

Now in its 20th year, the summer school which celebrates Parnell’s political legacy, will this year debate, The Role of the Media in Politics and Society.  Before welcoming attendees in front of Parnell’s family home at Avondale, academic director and former head of RTÉ Radio One Eithne Hand said: “Putting the media under the spotlight is timely. The church and the banks have come under scrutiny, but the media also needs to be scrutinised for its role in politics and society.”

Ms Hand said the theme was fitting as Parnell ran a newspaper himself while at the same time his political activism and his personal life made him newspaper fodder.

“It would be interesting to see how his political career and his personal life would have fared under the glare of modern media like Twitter or blogging,” she said.

Describing Parnell’s commitment to politics, Tim Pat Coogan said, “he would have travelled from here in Rathdrum to Dún Laoghaire, on across the Irish Sea, to then attend a hostile parliament. He showed commitment and self-sacrifice in the very act of getting to parliament. We don’t see that today.” Mr Coogan said: “Politics is a noble profession but the ignoble have taken control of it.” The former editor of the Irish Presscriticised the media too, saying that apart from one or two commentators, “we didn’t hear enough from the media about the great storm that was approaching. A climate of corruption was allowed to prosper”.

He went on to say he was an advocate of reforming parliament, “do we really need the Seanad? Do we need 166 TDs?” Questioning Dáil session times he said “96 days a year wouldn’t be enough to run a shop”.

Mr Coogan said it was regrettable that the Centre for Public Inquiry, funded by philanthropist Chuck Feeney to promote ethics and accountability in the public and private sectors was forced to close. He said the body was due to publish a report in 2006 that might have shed light on the workings of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Mr Coogan said the closure of the centre had left a gap and described government inquiries as “like a man going to the toilet. He sits for a long time. Nothing happens, and then there is a loud report”.

He challenged the Irish media to fund an independent inquiry system to “show that the media had the public interest at heart”. The Parnell Memorial Pipe Band led attendees to the opening lecture of the summer school given by award-winning political blogger, Mick Fealty, aka Slugger O’Toole. Mr Fealty described democracy as a process not a state: “Democracy needs to be remade every day. It’s about the disruption of silence. It’s about the utterance of things people don’t want to hear.”