The media campaign against Sinn Fein
The media campaign against Sinn Fein


By Oliver Callan (for the Irish Sun)

The TV and radio blackout on election coverage began with the start of the loftily-worded “moratorium” period. It sounds like a room where the news goes to die.

It’s a fitting image of an election where sheep-minded media put fairness and objectivity through a meat grinder.

Coverage has whinged about how ‘boring’ the election has been, as if it isn’t the media’s job to make it interesting.

Despite a dull campaign, the results promise to be the most dramatic for decades. A hung Dail beckons, star names will fall and previously peripheral entities like Sinn Fein and Independents will win big.

While everyone in the media failed to predict the FG-FF alliance now expected, it has been a dreadful election for journalism in worse ways.

The most alarming feature has been the ferocious campaign against Sinn Fein. The State has never witnessed such a biased agenda across all media organisations against a political party.

Broadsheet newspapers were the worst offenders, with constant attacks on Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s policy on crime and the Special Criminal Court. Editorialising adjectives including “embarrassing”, “under pressure” and “biggest loser” were used in headlines.

In one article, a headline suggested Sinn Fein was in trouble in its stronghold of Donegal, with Fianna Fail set to beat them. When you got into the piece, it turned out both parties were on identical poll figures. Similarly, a newspaper reported Leo Varadkar was on course to top the poll in Dublin West, ignoring that Sinn Fein candidate Paul Donnelly had the same opinion poll rating.

At best, subjective opinions on Adams’ performance in debates and interviews were passed off as hard news.

At worst, the outburst of gangland crime in Dublin was directly linked to the party. Some commentary suggested a vote for Sinn Fein was a vote for drug dealers. Another Sunday newspaper report on Mary Lou was filled with such scathing anti-Sinn Fein sentiment, it bordered on sexism.

Reports on the final leaders’ debate on Tuesday night focussed again on Adams having an “uncomfortable night”. Enda Kenny’s bombshell that he made the Minister for Arts appoint the man at the centre of a cronyism row two years ago wasn’t highlighted comparatively.

Gerry’s poor grasp of economic policies was again underlined by journalists who appear to consider the Taoiseach’s shaky knowledge of economics less important.

A detailed analysis of the anti-Sinn Fein editorialising over the past three weeks would make a very interesting thesis for any media students. It had a significant negative effect on opinion polls.

The party was slow to take issue with bias until its poll numbers were hit. Even then it only focussed its ire on RTE.

Claims that the Taoiseach got softer treatment are untrue. That Enda looked unruffled by interrogations gave the appearance of an easy ride.

It’s just impossible to grill someone who prepares for interviews like it’s a Junior Cert Irish Oral. No matter what Dobbo or Sean O’Rourke or Miriam asked him, Enda had his “bhi me ar mo laethanta saoire” stock answer ready. There is no doubt anyone who even suggests Sinn Fein have been badly treated leaves themselves open to accusations of being a closet Shinner.

Let me be clear, there is no whiff of diesel from my clothes and I have no agenda for or against any political party. As a former student of journalism and its ethics, I have merely watched this campaign with dismay.

In Northern Ireland, the most conservative unionists with deep personal reasons to loathe Sinn Fein have shared power with ex-Provos. Do we so revere the offices in the Republic held by flawed men such as Haughey that a Shinner is not worthy?

The media class has a sneering attitude that those who vote for Adams’ party are more ill-informed than the average centre-right FF/FG voter. There is also a seldom-challenged view that Adams is a liability for the party on the canvass, which has zero basis in fact.

Despite these sheep-like views, support for Sinn Fein has grown in every election since the 1990s. Electoral success came even though there is no other party leader subjected so intensely to the same repeated questioning quite like Adams.

If most believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA were one and the same, then why obsess over which organisation Gerry says he was a member of? Everyone knows he cannot say he was an IRA commander as it would leave him open to prosecution.

There is an argument that Sinn Fein might do better if Adams retired but it is doubtful Pearse Doherty or Mary Lou would get better treatment.

Adams’ major achievement in bringing radical elements of Republicanism into the peace process will never be acknowledged by the present media, even in death. However, history will remember him long after the scant achievements of Enda, Joan or Micheal are long gone.

For now, one of the big stories from Election 2016 will be the incredible rise of Adams’ party from one TD in 1997 to more than 20 after tomorrow.

The future of the print journalism that so despises the party is in serious peril, but Sinn Fein isn’t going away you know.

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