Irish Examiner View: Post-truth electioneering - Honesty needs help to prevail

Irish Examiner View: Post-truth electioneering - Honesty needs help to prevail

A century ago this month, as the War of Independence led towards the remaking of this country, 155 candidates contested 56 seats in Cork City local elections.

The two candidates best remembered are Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney. Both represented Sinn Féin and their party won 30 of 56 seats.

This was a victory in a journey that ended tragically. Each died for their cause, but, long before that sacrifice, they had a reputation for honesty that did not waver.

Their moral authority and that of their cause was in part built on this integrity. It is, therefore, hard to imagine how they might regard today’s electioneering, especially the wild, wild west of online drum beating and poison spreading.

It would be foolish to argue a politician or one of their acolytes never lied before this post-truth age was consolidated.

Nevertheless, the truth was never more contested or so maliciously manipulated. Poor behaviour, daily from the White House, and media evolution and concentration exacerbate this regression.

Citizens are treated like mushrooms, more often than not uniformed, plotting fellow citizens.

Earlier this week the BBC announced it will cut 450 jobs from its news operation. Executives warned the organisation faced an unprecedented threat and must save £80m (€95m).

Even in a week that ended with Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU, this is tragic news. It is relevant as the very same beckons for RTÉ and because, for so long, the BBC has been a benchmark organisation.

The same issues — collapsing revenues and huge change in how media is used — are in play as they are for all legacy media organisations.

That evisceration may not bring a tear to every eye. Indeed, it is welcomed by some, especially ardent Bexiteers.

That is, in its own disturbing way, significant. Some Brexiteers want to end the BBC’s licence income, which is the same as saying it should be closed and its culture of reportage, though occasionally circumspect, brought to an end.

The same voices may not yet be as loud in demanding changes at RTÉ but they need not be. Indifference, licence fee stagnation, and poor administration seem likely to achieve that inglorious end.

Which then begs an important question — where might fair, disinterested, and reliable news, commentary, and cultural enrichment be then found?

There are myriad options but nearly all of them seem beyond the defining influence of public service.

We have, with disastrous consequences, entrusted housing and health to the market, so are we really going to entrust it exclusively with the truth business too?

As this election, Brexit, and Trump show, social-media electioneering exists in a manipulated echo chamber where, more often than not, vitriol and gross, deliberate inaccuracy dominate.

The commentary on many threads shows how successful that ambition has been.

Indeed, the vast majority of contributions on some threads would, if published in traditional media, lead to costly libel actions.

This points to one of the ways that those organisation still committed to the idea of truth might be helped. Politicians of all hues have, for many years, promised reform of the libel laws.

Delivering on that promise becomes more urgent by the day. Honestly.

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