One of the worrying aspects of the No campaign coverage was the ease with which Libertas became de facto spokesmen for the ‘No’ vote. Those campaigning for a Yes vote who cried foul over this were right to do so. Last Saturday I heard several radio news bulletins across different channels, and Libertas needed no introduction on any of them. It was as though they had acquired the status of a long-established institution of Irish political life. There is a certain similarity to this in how news outlets report on the latest Big Brother or Apprentice casualty as though these people had been in our lives forever.

But by seeing Libertas as bothersome intruders, you could be mistaken for thinking that wealthy businessmen did not already exercise a large degree of control over news media, manifest in ownership of newspapers and radio stations. Even within what passes for news content, you have a remarkBable degree of deference and airtime given to the political opinions of people who are either extremely wealthy in their own right or acting on behalf of extremely wealthy people. For instance, how often are Michael O’Leary’s declarations reported as news?

Then you have the fact that the profit motive -in the form of a dependence on sales and advertising revenue- has a massive influence on news content, in terms of how politics is reported on and the relative space or airtime given to it compared to, say, ‘lifestyle’ features. One of the obvious reasons Libertas was so successful in getting so much attention was the fact that they had a product ready for digestion and regurgitation by news media at little cost. Because the only significant political party to oppose the treaty -Sinn Fein- is still radioactive to many in the establishment (and I’m somewhat loathe to use that term in an Irish context since, among other things, it puts me in the same camp as The Sunday Times, whose support for a No vote, in line with their proprietor’s well known anti-EU sentiments, was deemed by them, quite ludicrously, as ‘anti-Establishment’.), Libertas filled a gap in the market in that they presented an apparently cogent (however misleading it was in reality) case for a No, and did so in the dynamic, go-getting language of the free market: the sort of stuff that is particularly palatable to media barons. It was really pushing at an open door.

I think we can expect to see an intensification of this sort of activity -‘think-tanks’ with pompous titles hawking their free-market wares- now that it has been demonstrated that you can have a substantial impact on political proceedings. Indeed, David Quinn -columnist with the Irish Independent and director of the Iona Institute- has been quick off the blocks in making the case for more organisations like Libertas.


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June 2008
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