Mike Murphy and the Casual Arrogance of Media Complicity

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It is the casual arrogance of it that is most striking. It is not that things are said that we previously didn’t know it is just that it is all so blatantly and dismissively imparted. If you haven’t already seen it I urge you to read it. In last Saturday’s Irish Times, the paper of record for fee-paying schools rugby, the weekend supplement contained an interview with RTE veteran Mike Murphy. You’ll remember him as both a presenter of Winning Streak and RTE arts programmes. Indeed he depoliticised arts in the way that one of his successors, Derek Mooney, depoliticised the environment. Murphy made the arts a branch of the communication industry the way Mooney has made the environment part of the light entertainment industry. Which is not really depoliticising at all, is it? As Slavoj Zizek reminds us, the depoliticising of anything is deeply ideological.

The Irish Times interview is not a piece of hard hitting investigative journalism, indeed if I tell you that Jedward get a mention early on in the chat, you’ll guess the general tone. Still, Murphy’s asides about his relationship with power are, even post-Mahon, enough to have startled a desultory Saturday morning’s reading.

What the interview turned up, in its short, few lines was a truly disturbing insight into the cosy collision in Ireland between politics, business and the media. First up, after being asked about the Bertie Ahern interview he did he casually says, ‘I had known Bertie for years’ and that on this basis he thought Bertie might ‘have felt he’d get an easy ride from me.’ Now doesn’t that itself sound a bit odd? Whilst he goes on to say that he had not known Bertie particularly well the suggestion that Bertie believed he was in for an easy ride, well, that suggests some kind of closeness, does it not? Is it not a bit worrying if those in power and those being paid to question them hang out together? And see this relationship as so much an accepted part of things that they tell us about it?

That though is by far the least jarring of Murphy’s comments for he is then asked whether his Ahern interview was in any way complicated by the fact that he was also the director of a property company that had made substantial donations to Fianna Fail. Now that in itself says something about the power structure within this country. A leading RTE journalist interviews a leading political figure with whom he is not only personally friendly but financially connected, through donations made to said politician’s party in journalists other role as property developer. Irish media, Irish politics, Irish business, all cosy, all cuddled up together. Not that Murphy sees anything amiss here for he goes on to say that he didn’t see it affecting the interview because ‘during the boom years, so to speak, we did make contributions to Fianna Fail, as did every developer. But it wasn’t a lot and we contributed to all of the political parties, not just Fianna Fail.’ Though just for the record, for the sake of transparency, for the sake of knowing a bit more of the context of an interview between a leading journalist and a leading politician, the contributions were actually 129,000 euro to Fianna Fail and 49,900 to the PDs. Sums that Murphy is utterly blasé about. Is that how things are supposed to work?

Murphy goes on to tell us, in this light-hearted, Jedward-get-a-mention chit-chat, just how business in Ireland works. ‘When you are developing a site like Park West, and you are seen to be a large-ish entity, you are moving into a neighbourhood where you are expected to look after people. Not just political parties. We donated to a riding school in Cherry Orchard. We contributed computers to a school in Ballyfermot.’ So during the boom, one of our most deprived areas, Ballyfermot, when the country was, in Charlie McCreevy’s own words, awash with money, was getting school computers not as part of government educational policy but from property developers.

The media are the property developers are the friends and financial backers of the politicians who are the friends of the developers and the media who ask them questions and then give them money.  Speak truth to power? The Tanaiste said last week he had feared at one stage when he entered government that we might fall into the status of a banana republic. Am I missing something?

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