An argument for a better left wing media in Ireland.

There is something not quite right about left wing and progressive ‘alternative’ media in Ireland. From the beginning of the most recent economic crisis (that is 2008, not 2020), a number of attempts have been made to interpret and reconstruct the mainstream narrative about what this crisis meant. I was involved with a relatively short-lived mass media action around this time called BudgetJam (which became CrisisJam). We used to re-narrate live TV, radio and newspaper constructions of the crisis in its changing forms. When the ground shifted from an existential crisis of the state to a broad based political crisis in 2009, about 12 of us began providing fairly regular commentaries on how the crisis was being framed in mass media (“we’re all in this together” was a familiar refrain and provided us with a jumping off point). I then spent about 5 years trying to get my head around the stupidity that was weekend talk shows on both RTE Radio 1 and Newstalk, both of which provided partial and vacuous accounts about how these unfolding crises (including the ‘election’ of FG in 2011) were ruining small business and pressuring the squeezed middle. For the most part, the accounts we heard on the airwaves were about sealing up consensus around a few ideas: we all need to pull together / pull on the green jersey / get Ireland moving again. You know the sort of thing.
We have had many fine accounts (both academic and popular) written about the water charges movements as well as a number of other workplace disputes over the time since the middle of the last decade. Most of these have provided inspiration for people to get involved in a few campaigns fighting for broader sets of rights and they also provided a basis for a mass mobilisation around women’s reproductive rights that culminated in perhaps the largest mass movement since the tax marches of the late 1970s, that is to Repeal the 8th. I am not saying that the water charges movements led to pushing the Repeal movement on. Repeal didn’t need that momentum, it had been building for decades. Other people have written more authoritatively on the Repeal movement and its political impact. We’ve seen considerable mobilisation about housing, particularly in the run up to the 2020 general election. There’s little doubt that the current housing crisis has yet to peak: there is bubbling anger over continued speculative development at a time when the numbers of those without adequate housing creeps up every month. Movements roll like the tides, some have a massive impact, others take a lot longer to undermine reactionary defences.
In the last month, I met with an old friend from college who has been front and centre of many political struggles as a professional. We talked for a good hour about this and that, catching up since the March lockdown in person. One of things she said to me really resonated: the way we make media about our current struggles is boring. We are not adequately representing the nuances and subtleties and positional struggles across Dublin city, let alone elsewhere in Ireland. Furthermore, we are aping the format of the mainstream media, creating parallel structures which mimic tired formats. This invariably revolves around weekly commentary about this scandal or that parliamentary news item. We are trying but we agreed that we are not building audiences. If we cannot build audiences, we are going nowhere with any amount of podcasts or anger-filled to-camera pieces. A podcast to introduce an issue must be interesting, not about the guest’s likes and dislikes. Sometimes it means explaining things in a little detail. We need not do this: we can build alternatives by presenting grounded ideas, firmly based on facts and the material conditions of struggles we are all involved in. Instead of talking about strikes, go and record 5 minutes with striking workers or their union. Instead of telling us about how the newspapers are treating a legal issue, interview a lawyer (there are quite a few on the left in this country) about the Industrial Relations Act. Above all, we need not feel constantly outraged at this sleight or that policy intervention by an increasingly incompetent political elite.
Across the entire covid crisis, Andrew Flood has been providing facebook-based and recorded accounts of where we are on a weekly and daily basis with infections and clusters. In some ways, Andrew’s daily accounts are a great place to start. They are comprehensive and take on some of the trends over the medium term. It is a place to work out from. They are, above all, based on facts. Many smaller political parties and movements, including the Workers’ Party, have presented factual information about housing policy and outcomes. This is an attempt to bolster public rhetoric which gets us motivated but cannot sustain a longer term vision. Fight The Power is not adequate. We can achieve very little without the basic facts of a field, whether that be public health concerns or prison policy. We can achieve a great deal by shedding the sense of ourselves as toiling individually, one damned issue after another. Acknowledging the existence of the connections between things is not enough: we need analyses which then go one to ground daily reality. There are places and spaces for us to become active: we do not need another movement. We must not continue to believe that we dance to the tune of a sockpuppet’s tweets and FG’s evident Tory politics. This necessarily means casting aside the significance of daily outrage. We build nothing on continued outrage; the work of political action is slow, mostly quite boring and repetitive. Twitter is the main culprit here and I of course am not immune to this. Daily outrage (being fuelled by trolls funded by US thinktanks and others using our own language against us) means very little to the vast bulk of people in Ireland. The Irish Times has taken hold of the Shelbourne statues issue and is continuously using that as a rod to beat the backs of people who want far more than a few statues taken down. These are not the totality of our demands and we refuse to be patronised for the sake of a few paper sales. We also need to shed the idea that change only comes from parliamentarians debating amendments and The Latest Issue. Repeal showed us all the path out of endless parliamentary intrigue. If we do not we risk becoming just another Miriam Lord column where the content of our daily lives is just another rehearsal for the next struggle.
In conclusion, I am suggesting that we think a little harder about how we are spreading and analysing news amongst and about ourselves. We need to build an audience for left wing media in Ireland. Connecting issues which we all know are connected must be the focus of our media work. For example, negative interest rates means money gets pushed out of banks seeking return elsewhere leading to speculative development which is why we are seeing hotels and student accommodation being built in Dublin 8. Naming something as neoliberal / capitalist / patriarchal / postcolonial is taken as a given. We must think beyond these phrases and get organised around how the interconnections are worth fighting against.

Posted in Uncategorized