Examiner editor: We faced a formidable consensus

Newspapers and other media outlets were unable to fully forewarn of the economic crash before 2008 because State and international agencies were insistent there was nothing wrong.

Examiner editor: We faced a formidable consensus

Irish Examiner editor Tim Vaughan outlined the difficult situation which faced the industry during the Celtic Tiger at the latest meeting of the Oireachtas banking inquiry.

Speaking during a two-hour meeting with the cross-party group, Mr Vaughan said his newspaper never allowed itself to become vulnerable to property market interests.

He said between 2001 - when he became editor - and the crash in 2008, the Irish Examiner published numerous prominent articles, editorials and columns highlighting potential economic problems.

Mr Vaughan acknowledged there was an “insufficient critique” of the claim that our “‘economic miracle’ would continue”.

However, he said even with more questioning “we would still have been unable to find out the true state of the banks and their regulation” due to the “formidable consensus” of those in authority.

“We would still have been faced with an alignment of authority in the form of the IMF, the ECB, the European Commission, the international credit agencies, the Taoiseach and the finance minister.

“They were all of the view our economic fundamentals were sound, with the IMF giving Ireland a clean bill of health as late as 2006-2007.

“It’s difficult to envisage how any media organization could effectively challenge such a formidable consensus,” he said.

Despite claims from Julien Mercille, lecturer in UCD’s geography department, that property advertisement income prevented journalists from examining the economy, Mr Vaughan said the academic was talking about “a planet I neither recognise nor inhabit”.

Speaking at the same meeting, the chief executive of Landmark Media — which owns the Irish Examiner — Tom Murphy said property advertisements amounted to 7% of the newspaper’s total revenue during the boom.

He said at no stage was editorial removed or downplayed due to property sector pressure, and he would never want this to happen.

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Academics suggest media had a "significant" role in property bubble

Moya Doherty, chairwoman of RTÉ, and Kevin Bakhurst, deputy director general RTÉ, arriving at Leinster House for the banking inquiry.

A journalist was offered "retail" in exchange for positive property market coverage during the economic boom, the banking inquiry has heard.

DIT academic and former Irish Times journalist Harry Browne made the claim during the latest meeting of the cross-party body.

Responding to questions about whether the media failed to scrutinize the Celtic Tiger, Mr Browne insisted this was the intention of the industry.

However, he said it is self-evident media outlets also came under intense pressure from the PR and property worlds, with one reporter offered "bricks and mortar" for "light touch journalism".

Mr Browne said during this era there was a "property porn" tendency, with some reports explaining "how to decorate your apartment in Bulgaria".

He said this attitude inadvertently sidelined contrarian views and was in part due to media companies' advertisement revenue needs - an issue which should have been prevented by the "myth" of a "Chinese wall" between editorial and advertising.

Mr Browne said this situation played into the fact the media had an "immeasurable but almost certainly significant" role in developing a property bubble.

UCD media analyst Dr Julien Mercille earlier said the media ignored the economic crisis before the crash and were happy to champion the bank guarantee.

The expert hit out at RTE's focus on shows like I'm An Adult Get Me Out of Here, and the Irish Times and Irish Independent's multi-million euro property website investments.

He said the media's coverage of the property sector has "essentially not changed" since the economic crash, meaning the same problems could be repeated again.

In particular, Dr Mercille said the industry's support from advertisement revenue - specifically from the property sector - has created a situation where it is still at risk of being a "cheerleader" for developers.

"I mean that the tends in media coverage point roughly in the same director as pre-2008. In general, it is still the interests of elites that are mostly reflected in editorials and news stories, while those of ordinary people are often left out."

Referencing his "cheerleaders" remark, Dr Mercille said during the pre-2008 boom many reporters "had even persisted in rejecting the view the market had been in a bubble months after it started collapsing".

He said some newspapers and media outlets were too focussed on establishment views and information, and criticised the initial coverage of the bank guarantee.

"After the crash, the media also presented the government's crisis resolution policies in a largely favourable manner, again in line with Irish and global elites' views," he said.

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