By Niamh Ui Bhriain
You may have seen that media commentators are in a major tizzy about something called ‘fake news’, which they say is having an influence on public opinion, and that this is a Very Bad Thing.
The irony here is that fake news is nothing new in the mainstream media, and the breathless reporting on the supposed ‘strike’ in support of the repeal of the 8th [Amendment] is just the latest example of the media tendency to distort the facts, or exclude alternative views, on a whole range of issues.
This has led to public trust in the media pretty much collapsing in recent times.
The most recent Edelsman Trust barometer shows that the media is distrusted globally, and in Ireland only 29% of people have trust in the media, an all-time low since the poll began 17 years ago.
Similarly, according to a report in the Sunday Times, the communications minister, Derek Naughton, has taken the step of contacting RTE [Radio (and) Television of Ireland] to express concern that a report by the Broadcasting Authority found that trust in the public broadcaster has dropped another 7% – and is now 9% below the minimum trust level expected by the authority.
To illustrate this bias, the article featured a photo of Ray D’Arcy, the RTE broadcaster whose enormous salary is paid by the taxpayer and who has been criticised by the Broadcasting Authority, not once but three times, about his bias in favour of abortion.
It is now an established fact that the Irish media are biased on abortion, with this analysis finding that newspapers like the Irish Times are more like abortion campaigners than news reporters. Spend ten minutes on Twitter, and you’ll find it is littered with Irish journalists calling for the repeal of the right to life of the unborn child.
Journalist John Burns of the Sunday Times, referring to Irish journalists marching to repeal the 8th, has pointed out that “ journalists can’t be reporters and players; they can’t be pro-choice activists or marchers or even sympathisers and also report the complex and emotive abortion story impartially.”
Indeed. But does the persistent bias and insular groupthink so prevalent in the Irish media extend to the publication of ‘fake news’? The record shows that it does.
Remember the abortion ‘exclusive’ the Irish Times ran on the front page when it proclaimed that Ireland’s first abortion under the 2013 legislation had been performed, and had saved a woman’s life? Two days later they quietly acknowledged, in a short statement, that the case “did not happen.” They never explained that bit of fake news, and the whole thing was ignored by other media outlets.
Similarly, most of the media reporting around the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was designed to mislead people. Why talk about sepsis and seriously under-resourced hospitals, when you can push abortion? Why wait for the results of inquiries, when the willful misinformation reported around Savita’s death had already led to headlines saying she was ‘murdered’ by Catholic Ireland?
In recent weeks, we’ve seen that the Irish media are so desperately eager to promote the externally-funded Repeal the 8th campaign that they publish the press releases of abortion campaigners almost verbatim, even when they amount to fake news.
Take this much-heralded Strike for Repeal. It’s a spoof. The word strike has an actual meaning: it involves work stoppages and mass action. But the pro-aborts, being aware that almost no-one would actually support a real strike to legalise abortion, just want people to ‘take a day off work’ or to ‘wear black’.
That’s not a strike, and any decent journalist would have called these spoofers out on their duplicitousness. Instead they all enthusiastically wrote up the fake ‘strike’ news.
Then there’s ROSA’s [Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity’s ] ghastly abortion bus, which was meant to be tossing abortion pills out to all and sundry in an oh-so-brave defiance of the law. Turns out that’s not true either, since ROSA will just be putting women in touch with their equally ghastly counterparts in Women on Web, who will then take the responsibility of endangering women’s lives by sending them pills to take unsupervised – an action Dr. Sam Coulter Smith has said could kill women.
In other words, the whole abortion bus stunt is just a cut-and-paste of the previous abortion bus stunt from two years ago, but it attracts the usual adoring media clamor, and a rush to give the maximum attention possible to these head-bangers.
Of course, fake news on pro-life issues in the mainstream media happens worldwide, with the Atlantic being recently forced to correct its false claim that a six-week old preborn child does not have a heart.
That particular piece of fake news has a particular resonance because social media has played a huge part in bringing the public’s attention to the humanity of the preborn child.
Social media has been a breakthrough platform in revealing the humanity of the baby – and the reality of abortion; and women hurt by abortion; and the value of the lives of babies with life-limiting conditions; and of people conceived in rape – and in supporting many other people and viewpoints previously censored by the media.
But this has also made people question why the media censored these voices and these truths in the first place. That questioning naturally leads to a public perception of the media having an agenda, and being less than truthful, and using their power to support their biases.
So a great many people are abandoning powerful media corporations and looking for the truth elsewhere.
It seems that if you live by fake news, you may also die by fake news. And the media really only have themselves to blame.
Editor’s note. This appeared at the Life Institute and is reposted with permission. Niamh Ui Bhriain is a spokeswoman for Life Institute.