Opinion journalism and the Houses of the Oireachtas (Letter, Sunday Independent)

Letter by Oireachtas Head of Communications Mark Mulqueen, which appeared in the Sunday Independent on 21 April 2013.

Madam — One by-product of the economic crisis has surely been a new form of opinion journalism that tends to have a few key characteristics; sweeping generalisations; very few facts or evidence to support its highly emotive denunciations and a tone honed by a lifetime spent on the peaks of Ireland's high moral ground.

Last Sunday's 1,400 word tirade by Emer O'Kelly about the Members of the 31st Dail was a particularly fine strain of this most contemporary form of Irish journalism.

The nearest thing to supporting 'research' for this article was to quote an equally skewed version of reality produced by the newspaper the previous week. That article told us that more drinks were sold in the Dail bar on a Wednesday night (a sitting night when politicians, journalists and a whole range of visitors are onsite) than on a Thursday night (a non-sitting night when the Leinster House complex is virtually empty)! Now, if you apply this forensic analysis to your local pub, it is much the same as comparing consumption on Saturday night in your local to a Monday night but explaining this simple fact to its readership would have undermined what is otherwise deemed a perfectly acceptable piece of journalism. With regard to the particular night in question, surely Emer O'Kelly would have had to have been on-site to be able to make any of the outlandish claims she makes in her article, otherwise her words would amount to little more than hearsay, wouldn't they? Or maybe I'm missing the point? My job is to promote a better public understanding of our national parliament. This is done by providing the media and the public with easy access to what is actually happening in the Dail, Seanad and the Oireachtas Committees. Every second of Oireachtas business can be watched live, read and followed across social media. Everything is published to the web for all to see. We provide broadcasters with approximately 2,500 hours of footage each year and at no cost to them. We provide a whole range of resources to journalists, such as PC's, telephones and parking. This makes sense because media scrutiny is a fundamental pillar of a parliamentary democracy and research also shows that the media shape most public understanding of the Oireachtas. Hence, if we want to improve public understanding, we need the media.

However, opinion journalism such as that addressed above may not only undermine public understanding of our parliament but it will eventually also undermine people's understanding of what we call journalism!

Mark Mulqueen, Head of Communications, Leinster House, Dublin 2