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Media Bias and its Influence on Journalism in Ireland

The media, also referred to as the fourth estate must act as a check for the society. It has a duty to inform the public on what is going on around them and what affects them. In carrying out its duty to inform and educate, several factors influence how they carry out their work. These factors include the interests and prejudices of their owners, editors, advertisers, readers and journalists Waters (1995, p. 12). This paper covers incidences of media bias, reasons for media bias, consequences of media bias and why some factors are beyond media control.

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Media bias is evaluated through the amount of airtime a story is given, placement in the newspaper, length of story and presence of news commentaries. The media can cause bias by filtering out some details to meet interests of owners or advertisers. The media can also emphasize issues that interest them. The media can also choose to sensationalize issues so that important issues seem less important.

To understand the environment in which the media operates it is good to note a few aspects of the media environment. First, freedom of the media is a right that is entrenched in the Irish constitution. This means that the media is supposed to report what is fair and true. The Irish media has many privileges like many western democracies. The media has access to the government and they can check all components of decision making. They act as the eye of the public. However there are many questions about whether this is really happening. The media is an important source of information and the Irish people heavily rely on it. Some of the national dailies include The Irish Times, The Cork Examiner, The Irish Press and The Irish Independent which are read regularly by the adult population (Shawcross 1991, p.284). The national terrestrial channels are four.

How media bias is measured

The bias in the media can be checked by the following indicators. First is checking the attitude of media elites and media students, checking prior connections between journalists and professionals, studying policies recommended in new stories. Studying quotes made by famous journalists that may show their stand on politics or their beliefs. Checking if the source of information has interests of a group or ideology before interviewing them and lastly investigating if there are payments are made to journalists from trade associations and corporations for them to report favorably.

Incidences of Media Bias

The media’s biased nature can be portrayed in the incidences below. First, the media bias can be seen in the homogenous anti-politics stand of the Irish media. The print media has a negative attitude towards political actors. The media has a habit of distorting party agendas depending on party size; they also offer little coverage to what is prominent.

The media-biased nature in Ireland has been reflected by how it handled the economic crisis. According to O’Toole (2010, p. 7), politicians, business elites and property developers gained from the financial crisis.This group participated in corruption hence reaping billions which was a cost offset by taxpayers’ money. Conor (2010, para. 1) states that people in key positions knew that a financial tsunami was about to strike and this message was not passed to the mainstream media in an authoritative understandable way.

The media reported that the government failed in its regulatory role after the crisis became too obvious rather than sounding the bells earlier. The Irish media has professional journalists trained on matters of the economy, so it is very strange and questionable why these issues were not brought to the public eye earlier. The economist had warned that the construction and housing industry has become vulnerable and that the prices of property had been overvalued as early as 2005.

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Multinationals have controlled the media which was clearly indicated by the reportage on the attack of Willie Corduff. Corduff was honored with Goldman Environmental Prize a coveted award. This is because of his efforts for protecting the community’s environment from destruction by a gas project by Shell Marathon Consortium’s Corrib and Statoil. This award did not please these companies; this great achievement received very little coverage in the Irish media. On April 23rd, 2009, Corduff prevented the erection of a fence at Glengad Beach in Broadhaven Bay. He sat under Shell’s work truck hence blocking it from putting up the fence. The threat caused by Shell who intended to build a pipeline for a volatile gas on the beach is very grave. What followed this incident is an attack of Corduff by men in balaclavas this left him heavily wounded with his tongue falling on the ground. The media only reported about a gang who had frightened off Shell’s security men. The media also refused to cover the attack of Corduff’s brother-in-law. Corduff’s wife also complained the when she was interviewed her statements were edited out to make a perception that her husband was fine sitting in the house.

The media is accused of bias when it gives very little coverage to the serious issues. One instance is the coverage of the first national conference of the campaign on anti-water charges. Many of those eligible households in Dublin were not bothered about the law and were refusing to pay. This conference was mentioned in only one Irish newspaper, the Irish times which was one and a half inches in size. This coverage has been contrasted with the finance minister’s announcement on a new law stating that accountants report cases of their clients if they cheat on tax. This was a big issue to the extent that special programs were made to explain this law. Another incident is the shooting of Northern Ireland by British loyalists. After bombing of Canary Wharf by IRA, the British carried out revenge attacks. They assaulted a disabled person and one of the members shot at his residence. The shooting incident was not considered important as the bombing hence not covered by the media.

In 1996 the media showed how biased it is by campaigning for free digital broadcast spectrum. The congress at this time was undecided on whether it should sell to the media digital broadcast worth $70 billion or give out free. The media embarked on intense lobbying so as to get the spectrum free. The Irish media also covers religious matters with a cynical attitude. It is hostile in covering religion. Matters of religion are given attention when there are sex scandals, celebrities in religion and claims of supernatural activity. This problem is not only in Ireland there seems to be a communication breakdown between religion and the media.

The Irish media has also been accused of not paying attention to the issue of climate change. This is because it loves controversy or opposing views. Without controversy there is less interest in covering the story. Scientists and other professionals all accept that climate change is happening and it’s a problem. No one has come out to oppose this view if there was then climate change would become an important issue for the media.

The media is accused of bias when covering conflict in Northern Ireland. The media was talking about a common ground between extremists who belonged to the IRA, Sinn Fein, loyalist paramilitary groups and moderates who are the SDLP, the UUP. The media itself could not define the common ground. The media tried to paint a picture that conflict can only be solved by use of force on the two parties of conflict. There was also no agreed definition for the Northern Ireland conflict. This meant that journalists risked using their own judgment and bias in reporting the conflict. There was inadequate information hence there was difficulty in analyzing events and susceptibility to use propaganda.

Catholics have been victims of media bias. The topic that gives them the spotlight is the clerics molesting page boys. Journalists are always fast in giving the one-sided story. The clerics are judged guilty before time is taken to gather evidence. BBC has been criticized by the Catholic Church when they proposed a program called Sex and the Holy City. This was a program aimed at satirizing the church which was to be aired the same day of Mother Teresa’s beatification and the Pope’s 25th anniversary.

Reasons for media bias

On matters of religion, there is lack of expertise is in covering religious matters. There is also ignorance from reporters who do not want to investigate and research religious issues and hence the preference for shallow coverage. There is also a problem of insufficient funds; the media does not see it as a priority to allocate adequate funds to ensure that religious matters are well covered. O’Brien (2005, para. 8) says that media houses have reporters covering different issues, a sports reporter covers sports but when it comes to the issues of religion any reporter is sent to cover the story. O’Brien also narrates about Liz Harries (press officer to Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh) whose colleague got a request asking her to grant an interview with a dead person. The late was John Wesley, Methodism founder who passed away in 1791.

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Among the groups of people classified to control the media most control comes from media owners. Media owners plan strategies for the enterprise that is in line with their interests. They have the power to hire staff members who will promote their interests and also fire those who go against it for whatever reasons. Journalists hence slant their reports to ensure that they match the owner’s views. Hence the journalist puts aside his ethical considerations and judgment to please the employer.

The media slants its content such as positions on politics, economy and social issues in order to create an identity.This identity will attract a category of readers who their advertisers wish to reach. The media is an industry-driven by deadlines. Sometimes journalists air or write content using one side of the story so as to meet set targets.

Kiberd (1997, p.35) has accused the Dublin media of lacking internal debate. This is an accusation he makes after working in the media for over 17 years. He quotes Conor Brady (editor of the Irish Times) who says that the national newspapers cannot offer countervailing views because of the media orthodoxy that has been formed. The media has formed its clique through which similar one-sided messages are being passed on to the public. This has created disconnect between the community and journalists. It has also created a gap between the two groups.

The media has the power to set the agenda for the society it helps the public point out what is important and what is less important. In the 1980s the media headline was the issue of national debt. Reports in the media indicated that the debt was so serious the Irish Republic risked running out of business. The debt was such an issue that the media calculated how much it would cost each person for the debt to e cleared. The Irish republic still has debts in the 21st century but no news covers this. The media gave a bleak picture exaggerating how the debt was out of control. The real reason behind the imagined crisis was that the government wanted to cut its budget without public outcry. The public would be sympathetic about hospitals being closed rather than demanding better healthcare. Other agenda pushed by the government in this crisis was that the government had excess civil servants who were now a burden to taxpayers and Ireland was no longer as industrialized as the rest of Europe.

Reasons why the media is unable to control its biased nature

The Irish people trust their media and do not think that it is biased. They trust the national press, radio and television. 70 percent find television and radio trustworthy. According to Brandenburg (2005, p.298) the Irish media is unbiased and informative. It gives equal coverage to different parties though it is not obligated to do so. The media is largely non-partisan.

The media is dominated by a few players who own many media outlets. Horgan gives an example of Alpha group who have acquired five media companies in Ireland in 2003.the group is controlled by John Taylor (former unionist MP). Another group of companies with a central owner is the Independent group; it has more than 165 newspapers and magazines. Since it has an 80 percent market share you can imagine how much control it has on shaping the views and opinions of the nation Horgan, McNamara and O’Sullivan (2007, p.36). In addition it has the power to decide what the public will find out or not.

The media owners are the rich or millionaires; they share strong friendships with other millionaires. They play together, dine together, share entertainment spots and most important all they share economic interests. Their strong economic interests include paying employees the least amount possible, tax breaks for themselves. Since this small group controls the economy they use the media to further their interests. Kiberd (1997, p.35) states that the cutthroat competition within the marketplace is one of the reasons for bad editorial judgments or sometimes lack of it. Circulation and readership figures are what matter the most. Ethical considerations do not matter.

Advertisers are the backbone of the media industry. If the media talks negatively about an advertiser, they stop buying space or air time from them. The media cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds them. The media is also driven by profits earned by advertising revenue. A company like shell managed to control the media due to the revenue the media would lose if they portrayed it in bad light during the attack on Corduff.

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The media relies on wire services to get some of its news hence it takes what has been passed to them. For intake the media accepted news on Palestine Israel war as it was given. The wire services implicated the Palestinians as the guilty party. Yet the truth was the first missile was shot by the Israel despite an agreement of a cease-fire between the two countries.

Consequences of media bias

A biased media has several effects on itself and the society.First the media fail to bring out important issues at the right time. For instance the media of Ireland is accused of failing to warn the public on the looming economic crisis. The media was caught up in maintaining status quo that it failed to perform its watchdog role. They did not want to tell the public the bad news that tough times were coming and unemployment rates would increase. If the media had sensed this as early as 2005, then this crisis would have been avoided or its effects would have been minimized.

Public trust in the media will decline if a biased trend continues. This will cause the media to lose readership, viewership and listenership, and these consequences will be loss of advertisers hence loss of advertising revenue. Today there are alternative forms of communication that address the masses. For example, there is the increased growth of internet as an alternative source of information. Therefore, the media has to ensure that it maintains impartiality if at all it is to remain competitive in the face of the age of the internet.

How the media can reduce the bias

Media bias can be reduced by the use of a round table or counterpoint reduces bias. This is where two opposing viewpoints are covered.For instance airing views of those for legalization of abortion and those against legalization of abortion. Commentators are required to disclose conflict of interest in reportage. Journalists should report according to areas of specialization and interest for instance if a journalist is good at economics then he should cover financial issues, if a journalist has interest in gender issues then he should cover reports on gender matters.

Another method is hiring employees based on political views. This seems strange but it can work well. In this case, hiring employees who are composed of 50 percent pro-government 50 percent antigovernment is an ideal move. Since in general the Irish media is antigovernment, the pro-government employees will oppose biased coverage. The education sector should properly train its journalism students to avoid bias. The students should also learn extensively on various topics so that they are not ignorant when covering news. They should cover what they are knowledgeable about. Lastly, media organizations should fire editors or journalists who pass on biased news.

The Irish media however, argues that they are not biased they are just a mirror of the society’s reflection of how the society is and what happens in it. The society points a finger at the reflection when they see flaws in it. Rather than checking itself to find out what is wrong. The media also views itself as a messenger and whenever the audience does not like the message they claim that the media is being biased. The media merely reports about an occurrence. News stories are covered by journalists who are human beings who have felt like the rest of us. When they go to a war zone they experience the pain of the victims and a hate for the people who have hurt the victims. These feelings can distort news. The Irish media also complains of fear of libels when they cover investigative news. Journalists have complained that Investigative journalism is an illusion; it causes sensation then vanishes quickly.


In conclusion, free and fair media is necessary. In addition, media freedom should not be taken for granted and used to meet selfish interests. The media as the fourth estate should check on the excesses of society. The media is a voice for the voiceless. Some players in the media industry have argued that expecting the media to be impartial is impossible. Some say that this is all rubbish and it is obvious that journalism is biased. The media will never be neutral; hence readers, viewers and listeners must compare reports from different sources. They should also check for exaggerated remarks which make new stories look like adverts rather than mere coverage.


Brady, C., 2010. Did the media fail to sound alarm bells before the financial crisis. Web.

Brandenburg, H., 2005. Political Bias in the Irish Media. Irish Political StudiesVol. 20 No. 3, p. 298

Horgan, J, McNamara, P, & O’Sullivan, J., 2007, Irish print and broadcast media: the political, economic, journalistic and professional context IN: Horgan, J., O’Connor

B. and Sheehan. H. (eds.) Mapping Irish Media Critical Explorations. Dublin: University College Dublin Press.

Kiberd, D. 1997. Media in Ireland: The Search for Diversity. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd.

O’Brien,Breda. Irish media and religion.Web.

O’Toole, F., 2010. Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger. Dublin: Public Affairs.

Shawcross, W., 1991. Information Freedom and Censorship: World Report 1991. London: Library Association Publishing.

Waters, J. 1995. Journalists are neither detached nor neutral. The Irish Times.

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