Over the past decade mass media has often promoted false assumptions and communicated poor social analysis and, in many cases, is continuing to do so today according to Fr Seán Healy, SMA, Director of Social Justice Ireland.
Addressing journalism students in the University of Limerick Seán Healy argued that:
- Mass media plays a major role in society. It is one of the key institutions in transmitting the meaning that explains society to itself.
- Consequently, it is crucial that media communicates an accurate social analysis of the present situation, challenges all underlying assumptions and questions the vision being presented.
Among the false assumptions that underpinned Ireland’s policy-making during the past decade Seán Healy highlighted the following:
- Economic growth was good in itself and the higher the rate of economic growth the better it would be for Ireland. Whatever supported economic growth was to be facilitated. Whatever controlled or limited economic growth was to be resisted. So the promotion of growth as an end in itself became the focus of policy.
- The benefits of economic growth would trickle down automatically. Everyone would benefit.
- Infrastructure and social services at an EU-average level could be delivered with one of the lowest total tax-takes in the EU.
- The growing inequality and the widening gaps between the better-off and the poor that followed from this approach to policy-development were not important as everyone was gaining something.
- Low taxation was good.
- Reducing tax rates would lead inevitably to an increase in tax-take.
- "Giving people back their own money”, through reducing taxes, was far better than investing that money in developing and improving infrastructure and services. The sum of Irish people’s individual decisions would produce far better results for Ireland than allowing Government to decide how best to use the money.
- Ireland had a great deal to teach the rest of the world particularly about how it could reach full employment, generate huge economic growth and provide for all the society’s needs while having one of the lowest total tax-takes in the Western world.
Following on a period of well-grounded growth stretching from 1994 to 2001, it was the false assumptions about growth, among other things, that led Ireland to make very poor decisions in the years that followed. This culminated in the housing bubble crash and the related banking crisis. Much of the media had a very unquestioning approach to these issues during this period. In reality the media was more noted for its propaganda promoting new housing developments than it was for challenging the false underlying assumptions.
There is a salutary lesson to be learned from this. It is crucial that all assumptions be challenged and all the social analysis provided in support of particular policy initiatives, by Government or others, be checked if we are to exit from the present series of crises that Ireland is facing.
Much of the current debate in public media outlets is making the same mistakes as before and as a result many people are poorly informed on the choices that have to be made and the options that Ireland has in making those choices.