Dr Julien Mercille, a French-Canadian who lectures at University College Dublin (UCD) has written a book, 'The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland' on the performance of the Irish mainstream media in times of boom and bust.
The Irish national mainstream media market is small: 3 locally-controlled broadsheet dailies; 2 Sunday newspapers; RTÉ, the State-owned broadcaster dominates television and radio broadcasting and is funded via a mandatory licence and commercial advertising; a small commercial TV station and 2 national commercial radio stations.
About 30 middle-aged people have editorial control on business/ economics content and the stable of pundits tends to be stable whether they are right wrong and or sometimes disastrously wrong.
It's interesting that it's a foreign academic who is prepared to put the gatekeepers to newspaper columns and media appearances, in the dock.
The number of Irish journalists with an knowledge of economics to forensically question ministers is small and the taoiseach of the day can get away with refusing all requests for broadcast interviews where he would be questioned in detail on policy.
At a ministerial press conference this year I had the experience of being told not to interrupt the minister when Richard Bruton was defending 2013 jobs data that he claimed to be reliable but was later shown to have been wrong.
It should also be noted that in the small society, Dr Mercille's colleagues at UCD and counterparts elsewhere are not noted for treading on each other's toes.
Mercille says Ireland’s economic crisis has its roots in a housing bubble that collapsed in 2007. Commentators have pointed to a number of bankers, politicians, developers and builders who share part of the responsibility for the orgy of lending and borrowing that preceded the crash, but the key role of the media as a cheerleader has not yet been systematically examined.
The book was preceded last year by 2 papers: The Role Of The Media In Propping Up Ireland’s Housing Bubble; The Role of The Media in the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland [pdf - free download].
Mercille summarised the pre-boom cheerleading:
Finfacts said last year that RTÉ, the public broadcaster, reported in 2011 that Geraldine Kennedy, former Irish Times editor, had denied that her paper compromised its standards with its property coverage during the boom.
She said at a public forum that The Irish Times had been the first and only newspaper to publish in 2007 the views of Morgan Kelly, a professor of economics at University College Dublin.
Kelly began a series of searing indictments of monumental misgovernance, policy and regulatory failures during the years when many thought the free lunch had been invented.
Kennedy said his articles had "astounded" the political and business establishment by saying the property boom was over and how far the market was to fall. "And we were eaten alive for it," she said.
However, the penny had dropped only when the firestorm was out of control.
We also reported in 2006 that it was believed that 60% of Irish Times revenues came from property advertising.
In 2006 the Thursday Irish Times Property Supplement averaged about 60 pages - - excluding editorial, that was about 50 pages of advertising at €12,000-€15,000 a page.
In the Sunday Business Post, Laura Noonan wrote in 2006:
In 2002, property advertising rose by 31%, followed by 34% in 2003, 46% in 2004 and 29% in 2005. "The first eight months of this year, however, have recorded rises of just over 7%."
In respect of the aftermath of the bust Mercille argues "that elites in both creditor and debtor countries share a similar interest in full debt repayment through the imposition of fiscal consolidation and austerity programs on taxpayers in debtor countries, a process which can be seen clearly in Europe today. The media, being part and parcel of the corporate establishment, share elite interests and views and have thus played an important role in making such policies acceptable to the public by dismissing the option of defaulting on sovereign debt, even if empirical and historical evidence shows that it could potentially be beneficial for countries like Ireland. This will be shown through a systematic examination of articles published in three leading Irish newspapers over the period 2008-2012."
On debt default, "only a total of 28 articles appeared in the three newspapers which addressed the subject directly over five years.
Of those, 17 were favourable to the default option, 7 were against it, and 4 adopted a neutral stance. The fact that such a small number of articles addressed the topic, out of thousands of 16 articles about the economy since 2008, constitutes a strong piece of evidence to support the claim that the media present views that tend to be in line with those of elites."
Peter Murtagh who had experience with The Sunday Times in London and later at The Guardian where he was deputy foreign editor and finally news editor, was opinion editor at The Irish Times when the Celtic Tiger crashed. My own experience was that he was prepared to give a platform to dissenters from the status quo.
After being switched to foreign affairs in 2011, the section returned to the editorship of cautious conservatives.
A flaw in Mercille's post-crash argument is that a hugely consequential State bank guarantee that was initially termed "the cheapest bailout in the world" turned out to be a decision that was made with no serious considerations of downsides.
The proponents of default and exiting the euro were also unwilling to sketch scenarios in detail that would follow such unilateral decisions.
The typical response was that Frankfurt would cave but even if that was likely, a Plan B could have given such proposals more credibility.
Shane Ross, a former business editor of the Sunday Independent who had been admirer of two of boom's leading bankers, in June 2011, proposed a default and cited the post default successes of Russia and Argentina, which had both gained from commodity booms - - but still foreign examples were no substitute for a local blueprint.
When tax revenues collapsed, how realistic was it to expect external grants or loans to support bubbletime spending?
Commercial considerations are hard to avoid and the book costs £90 ($123) and downloading last years papers from the official site would cost $39 a pop.
Finally, despite the bust, few Irish data indicators can be taken at face value:
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