Siteserv: media review

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

It’s not exactly scientific, but sometimes there are insights to be gained into Siteserv coverage from a survey of newspaper front pages.siteserv

On Sunday 26 April, five days after Catherine Murphy TD revealed the answers to Freedom of Information requests at an open press conference announced through her twitter feed, each of the broadsheet Sunday papers covered the week’s events to date.

The Sunday Times led with “Share trades spike before Siteserv deal”, reporting a “sharp rise” in shares traded in the days before state-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society) received bids for the utility support company. The company’s assets were eventually sold to Milligton, an Isle of Man registered Denis O’Brien vehicle.

“’State should probe AIB and Nama write-offs’”, the Sunday Business Post blared across eight columns in a twin deck headline, reporting Mike Aynsley’s call to widen the inquiry into debt write-offs beyond Siteserv and IBRC, part of an extended interview they carried with the former IBRC boss. The Post also revealed “big business names” who benefited from debt writedowns from the former Anglo bank, including Denis O’Brien, TV3, and Sean Quinn’s family.

The Irish Times doesn’t publish on Sundays, but the previous day’s Weekend Edition was still on the shelves for a second day as the Sundays paraded their wares. It led with “IBRC declined to appoint senior civil servant to board, says Duke.”

Only the Sunday Independent failed to lead with the story, preferring to go with promised pay rises for public sector workers based on briefings from unnamed “senior cabinet sources” and a “senior minister” in the lead-up to the Spring Statement. Tax cuts and increased spending were also promised, according to anonymous “coalition sources” cited in the article. The ongoing Siteserv saga did make the Independent’s front page, but below the fold, in a story headlined “Revealed: Dukes wanted to oust Noonan’s man in IBRC”.

Between the covers, the Irish Times and Sunday Independent each devoted a full page to the story, while the Sunday Business Post spread its Aynsley interview over two pages. In a column dealing with the latest opinion poll results, Pat Rabbitte wondered if the Siteserv story might have had something to do with the government’s declining numbers. The Sunday Independent inside coverage followed the theme of its front page story, concentrating on the rift between IBRC and the Department of Finance. The Irish Times also has a opinion column on the subject (two if you include Stephen Collins’ article, though it was less about Siteserv than the ongoing Oireachtas banking inquiry). The Sunday Times carried a full page of coverage on page 8, in addition to the Dukes story on page 2, which also carried their report on the expected Spring Statement. The Sunday Times capped off its coverage with an editorial drawing a line back to the Moriarty tribunal, framing the story in the context of a long term relationship between Denis O’Brien and Fine Gael.

There is a maxim in politics, coined by British Labour party director of communications Alastair Campbell, that “no minister can survive beyond a two-week feeding frenzy in the press”. Two of the three Sunday broadsheets – the Sunday Times and Sunday Business Post – led with Siteserv related stories for the second week on 3 May, although the Sunday Independent opted for the Lenihan family’s ongoing efforts to protect Brian Lenihan’s reputation. It remains to be seen whether the story has any permanent impact.