Class Action: Anti-tabloid bias in Irish radio

An edited version of this article appeared in Village magazine, December 2015 edition

Irish news radio programming shows a strong anti-tabloid bias in selecting contributors, according to an examination of survey data from the three main broadcasters earlier this year.

Journalists interviewed by the stations’ news programmes and participating on panels came overwhelmingly from the Irish Times and Irish Independent during the one-week survey period, with none at all from the Irish Daily Star, the Sunday World, or the Irish Sun.ire_nasa

The data, originally collected by Lucy Keaveney and Dolores Gibbons as part of their research into gender bias in Irish radio, highlighting the absence of women’s voices on air, show that 50% of Irish journalists on air came from just two titles, the Times and Independent. Another quarter of journalists came from the remaining three broadsheet titles, the Sunday Business Post, the Irish Examiner, and the Sunday Times Irish edition.

[For the purposes of this analysis, the now “compact-size” Irish Independent is defined as a broadsheet. Although its sister paper the Sunday Independent is widely regarded as a tabloid at heart, and has been for years, this did not influence the results as no Sindo journalist participated in any of the programmes in the study during the time period under review.]

The analysis, by Village media correspondent Gerard Cunningham, excluded the stations’ own journalists.

It means that stories and viewpoints from some of the largest selling newspapers in Ireland are largely excluded from the airwaves, to the detriment of public debate.

And given the demographics associated with the readerships of those newspapers, it means that by proxy, working class voices are also locked out and silenced.

Curiously, despite the ownership overlap between Communicorp and Independent News and Media, both strongly identified with Denis O’Brien, Irish Times journalists were proportionately more likely than Independent journalists to appear on Newstalk programming during the period studied.

The data covered the Newstalk’s Breakfast Show, the Pat Kenny Show, Lunchtime News, the Right Hook, and TodayFM’s Last Word during the period 2-8 June 2016, Newstalk’s Sunday Show and RTE’s Marian Finucane show and This Week programmes on Sundays between 3 May and 7 June, and the Late Debate (RTE) between May 26-June 4.

International experience shows that less than one quarter of voices heard on radio belong to women, despite making up a little over half the world’s population. These figures indicate that when other demographic factoirs are taken into account, the lens through which radio reflects its audience becomes even narrower.

Working class voices are, as a rule, virtually unheard on national radio, outside of occasional vox pop and roving reporter reporter segments featuring Paddy O’Gorman and Henry McKean, where the tone is often voyeuristic. Non-Irish voices are even rarer. A 2012 CSO survey showed that Britons are the second largest ethnic minority in Ireland, yet their voices are heard far more often than those of the largest, Poles. Occasions when voices from Latvia, Lithuania, Nigeria, Romania, India, and other large migrant communities are heard equally rare.

Irish radio, in other words, is overwhelmingly white, English speaking, middle class, and male.

These findings are reinforced by other findings, such as a 2012 Freedom of Information request which showed that over half of the €120,000 RTÉ paid it’s top ten external correspondents over a three year period went to Irish Times journalists.

In a 2010 report on the Irish Broadcasting Landscape by Athena Media, commissioned for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the authors found that:

“Surprisingly, few broadcasting initiatives have been made to the changing dynamics of Irish society. There is little content available in languages other than English/Irish, and no local or community services offering specific choices to minorities, whether new communities such as the Polish, or established minorities, like the Irish Travellers. Beyond the RTÉ DAB service, Junior, there is no non-music radio service for children or young people since RTÉ 2FM now serves 25-45 year olds. There is a need to examine both the commercial and the public service opportunities in the changed Irish social landscape. In the current model, the delivery of services is defined by providers. A more flexible approach to innovation and licensing could stimulate more targeted offerings for specific groups.”

In the five years since, it would seem little is being done to redress the structural imbalances in Irish national radio.