A wind of change in the southern media?

It’s amazing how highly you start thinking about people who finally agree with you. This weekend produced comment by several sources that has given me a glow verging on smugness.

I’ve frequently expressed my irritation with  the way the mainstream media approach Sinn Féin. In fact within the last week I’ve compared  it to the infamous Section 31, which forbade Sinn Féin voices on air, even if they were only talking about mushroom-growing.  Over the weekend I stumbled on a topic in the satirical magazine The Phoenix   (required reading for anyone with a brain) which gave evidence in facts and figures.

The article commented on the unanimous praise from all sources on the death of Marian Finucane . However, like other southern media celebs, she was totally dismissive of Sinn Féin, and their voice was rarely heard on her weekend RTÉ radio show.  Eventually the Shinners got teed off and in 2012 they went after some facts and figures.

“When the [Marian Finucane]  programme denied the charge [of exclusion], SF elicited a list of all politically affiliated speakers on Finucane’s programme – via a Freedom of Information request to RTÉ – showing the percentages of such speakers on the show in the 15 months following the election. RTÉ’s own stats showed FG on 35%, Labour on 15, FF on 19 and Independents (including the far left ULA) on 28, with the shunned Shinners on just 2%.”

It’s hard to argue with cold facts like that. Since they support what I’ve always said, I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

I had two other  benign shocks to my system over the weekend.

The first was a column in the Sindo (someone pass Virginia the smelling salts) by Martina Devlin. In it she was heavily critical of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s refusal to countenance coalition with Sinn Féin. As she reads  it, that’s to turn your back on talent. Take a core issue in this election: housing.

“It’s a subject which [SF’s] Eoin Ó Broin knows inside out and upside down. He has demonstrated an excellent grasp of the brief and advanced some credible solutions.”

Then there’s SF’s Pearse Doherty:

“He has been equally adept in the shadow finance brief, doing worthwhile work particularly on the high cost of insurance. His party has also led the way on the question of pensions, setting the pace for the other parties.”

 Devlin also takes FF and FG to task for their talk about shadowy background figures in Sinn Fein shaping party policy. Deals and coalitions featuring FG and the Greens and others, she points out,  are invariably conducted in secret, so the public have no way of knowing who said what or who influenced whom. Sinn Féin could be more transparent, she agrees, but so could the parties accusing them.

The third in the hat-trick of astonishing articles came  in this morning’s Irish Times, by Una Mullally.  The title of her piece – ‘Those attacking Sinn Féin have become cheerleaders in reverse’ – pretty well says it all. She believes that the dismissal by FF and FG  of the Shinners emphasizes SF’s role as underdog, and if there’s one thing Irish people like to root for, it’s the underdog. Like Devlin, she notes the talent of Ó Broin and Doherty. And she explains how exclusion can be invaluable rather than damaging.

“Irish politics is obsessed with reaching the so-called ‘middle ground’. But you don’t look to the centre to analyse the drivers of cultural and social change. …The chip on the shoulder that fervent Sinn Féin supporters have about perceived media bias has been somewhat legitimized by the broadcaster’s decision to frame the election as one of Fine Gael versus Fianna Fail. Exclusion can be a gift.”

Neither the Sindo nor the Irish Times is noted for its admiration of the Shinners. These two columnists have just sent a signal that all of that may be about to change, and The Phoenix  has provided factual evidence of media bias in the past.

As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’. And as the old adage says, nothing succeeds like success. Suddenly, the southern election has begun to look like a potential turning point in Irish politics.

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