Trial by Media by Fra Hughes

The media as presented to us through radio, television and print have many functions and many facets. Among them is a remit is to inform, educate and entertain.

They have many platforms and increasing they have more distribution networks to interact with the public, including the burgeoning use of the internet, youtube and social media.

It could be argued that until the last decade or two the media have been run by a very small cartel of businessmen and state-affiliated outlets globally and for many countries  this is still the case.

These tentacles, where private media interests and state narratives converge can be seen most clearly at times when governmental policies lead to military interventions abroad and internal repression or austerity at home supported by the press.

It also is the function of the media to hold truth to power and power to account.

If we dwell briefly on how governments, in general, use the media to plant stories and manipulate the public narrative in favour of governmental policy, we need to look no further than the war on Iraq with the sexed-up, now discredited, dossier of weapons of mass destruction. This created fear in Britain of an imminent and credible threat from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi military against the people of Britain. 

This climate of fear created by Tony Blair and reported as truth by the BBC nationally, regionally and internationally which allowed the British government through a campaign of lies and disinformation to invade and occupy Iraq, led to the death of upwards of a million Iraqi citizens.

This war crime remains unprosecuted and Tony Blair wanders the corridors of power both in Britain and abroad as a free man with no sanction from the very media he duped with their connivance into an illegal war.

From neoliberal austerity to attacking the trade unions, Jeremy Corbyn and anyone who opposes capitalism, military adventurism and Britain’s sanctions on Syria, Venezuela and Yemen prove the lie that Britain has a free press.

What Britain has is an increasingly unified non-diverse partisan media projecting and protecting the established status quo in Britain on behalf of capitalist billionaires and centre-right governments which rule with the consent of the people via the manipulation of the people by the press through a compliant compromised media.

This scene is replicated throughout much of the trumped’ free world’ of western capitalised market-driven pseudo democracies.

When is a democracy not a democracy? That is when we the people are brainwashed from a very young age to believe we have the power to change the system of government and are fed the illusion that voting every 4-5 years gives us the power to choose how we are governed.

Increasingly as the parties unify under capitalism we do not, in reality, have a choice between left and right but a choice between two versions of capitalism as espoused by Starmer and Jonhson, Labour and Conservative.

Macron in France is the leader of the socialist party. A multi-millionaire who in my opinion espouses Islamophobia and uses French imperialism to support dictators, civil wars and French capitalist interests in Africa.

While these actions are international we must also focus on local regional media and how affects public opinion.

This leads me to our local media masters. The manipulators and creators of the public narrative in Ireland specifically in the North.

Our local flagship local radio outfits are the Nolan Show an early morning offering on BBC Radio Ulster and to a lesser extent Talkback the lunchtime mirror of Nolan.

Let us begin with Stephen Nolan.

The Nolan Show has a huge audience at times in the region of 100,000 listeners which penetrates the workplace, shops and offices. He claims that those wielding the levers of power at Stormont , Northern Irelands regionally devolved Assembly, are regular listeners and at times contributors.

Stephen appears to have set himself up as the peoples champion, the moral conscience of the north, using his position and the radio show to pressurise the assembly through the manipulation of the public narrative.

He will claim he is simply reporting the news and holding the powers that be to account.

Is this trial by media?

He has covered some very relevant stories and there is a place for the Nolan show in the public discourse.

When does holding power to account become influencing governmental policy?

When does being impartial become being used in the dirty politics of political rivalry?

When does a chat show become a one man crusade ?

Recently a story on wind turbine subsidies and grants related to how £520,000 pounds of public monies was paid to 52 owners of Wind Turbines which are already subject to huge governmental grants.

These monies we were informed by the Nolan show are to be reclaimed were possible from those who received them.

This story was replaced by a story revolving around £30,000 of grant-aided monies being issued to local MLA assembly constituency offices not being returned as it was deemed paid in error?

I have no problem with the  Nolan show covering this story nor the whistleblowers who leaked the story.

My concern is that the Nolan show has willingly allowed itself to be manipulated and diverted from the original story?

Was the leaked information designed to divert coverage of the Wind Turbine controversy in order to spare the blushes of the Economy Minister and deflect public criticism?

Has the Nolan show which constantly champions its own listening figures become purely about the ratings? 

Will it allow itself to become a willing pawn in the dirty political infighting at Stormont taking sides by focussing on stories which the political parties themselves might leak in order to score cheap points on the opposition in the court of public opinion?

Is Stephen Nolan simply collecting political scalps to go on the office wall or increase his ratings and market value? 

Recently the show focussed on the plight of taxi drivers and transport employees suffering immeasurably under the Covid 19 economic restrictions.

We heard from a spokesperson from the taxi drivers alliance?  who was the next day going into a meeting with the Infrastructure Minister?

The outcome of that meeting was a suggestion from the Minister that 14 million pounds be allocated for taxi drivers and a further 5 million to bus and coach help alleviate the distress felt by transport operators and their employees.

Does the Nolan show affect the decisions being made by the regional assembly? 

Does one man at the BBC using his show as a barometer and creator of public opinion and the public narrative have such an influence that those in power respond to whatever he focusses on while fronting his show? 

I guess the question I am really asking is, Does Stephen Nolan influence political decisions at Stormont as they try to appease public concern that he has helped to create through his style of reporting?

If the answer is Yes, have we gone from trial by media to government by media? 

Is the Assembly that craven it listens to a local radio programme, which is there to inform and entertain the public via a combative he said, she said, they said, style of the coffee morning, pass the sugar, did he really just say that, phone in and get your views on the air talk show drama and then base some of their most important decisions on what is being said? 

A knee jerk reactionary appeasement not of public opinion but of Stephen Nolan’s opinion?

Stormont and local politics may very well be in a much darker and much more unstable place than any of us realise.

If this truly is the case then,

God help us, as no one else can!

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