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Corrib coverage ‘infected’ by power of Public Relations

Áine Ryan - Mayo News

THE media’s seamless link to governments’ and big corporations’ public relations strategies and spin has increasingly ‘infected’ the quality of news reportage, an award-winning British journalist has told a conference about the Corrib controversy.
Speaking in Seanscoil Ceathrú Thaidhg, at the second seminar about media coverage,  entitled ‘Airing Erris’ and organised by the peace and justice group, Afri (Action from Ireland), Ed Vulliamy, said that resources had been curtailed to the extent that journalists had ‘shrunk in number’ while those working in public relations had grown.
He is the journalist, with The Guardian and Observer, who broke the story last August about the alleged gifting of alcohol by Shell to Belmullet gardaí in December 2007 while The Mayo News subsequently reported that gardaí were given smaller amounts of alcohol in 2005 and 2006.
Shell has denied the allegations by its former contractor, OSSL, but the matter is the subject of an ongoing GSOC (Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission) investigation after a senior garda carried out a second internal investigation into the claims and referred his findings to GSOC.  
Mr Vulliamy, who has reported from New York after 9/11, Bosnia, Iraq and Mexico, told the seminar that while he was investigating the allegations by OSSL, at one point, a senior Shell communications executive had said: “It would be best for us if you did not publish this story.” The executive acknowledged that the company had implemented an internal inquiry into the matter and later press statements by the company ‘rejected’ the allegations.
Vulliamy praised the community in Erris for its fearlessness in voicing its environmental concerns about Corrib and particularly cited film-maker, Risteard O’Domhnaill  for his award-winning documentary, The Pipe, which, Vulliamy said was ‘part of the epic narrative of Ireland at a particularly cogent time in the country’s history’.
Mr O’Domhanill, whose company Scannáin Inbhear live-streamed the seminar, is building a broadcasting site which will show his new documentary about how Ireland could learn from Norway and Newfoundland about capitalising on the dividends from its offshore resources.
Meanwhile, journalist William Hederman addressed a number of specific examples of misleading reports about the Corrib project. He noted the fact that the names and addresses of women involved in the so-called rape-tape controversy were leaked to the media.  He also cited the fact that complaints made to the Press Ombudsman and Broadcasting Authority of Ireland about Sunday Independent and RTE reportage of the rape-tape debacle were upheld.
At the first ‘Airing Erris’ seminar on media coverage, a former Producer and Editor at RTE, Betty Purcell, revealed that in 2009, she proposed and scheduled 21 documentaries and only one, ‘Living on the Edge’, a Would You Believe programme about Willie and Mary Corduff’s life on their farm in remote Rossport, was questioned and challenged by management. It was even  suggested, she said, that because TV3 were about to do a documentary on Corrib ‘maybe we should leave it to them’.
She claimed the pressure on her team was ‘sustained’ and stated her belief that Shell personnel appeared to have ‘automatic access’ to senior management in RTE.


Posted Date: 
18 March 2014