SIPTU members at Shanganagh Waste Water Treatment Plant, Co.
The rich man's propaganda machine
The Irish Independent ran yet another of its repetitive stories on Mick Wallace – but it illustrated it with a picture of Richard Boyd Barrett speaking with a megaphone.
In the days preceding, it ran stories about how Joe Higgins TD had claimed €900 in travel expenses to speak at anti-household charges meetings around the country. It never mentioned that Junior Minister, Brian Hayes, had made similar claims for travelling outside his constituency.
The Independent News and Media is copying the tactics of the Murdoch Press in targeting the Left. It is what Noam Chomsky has called the ‘flak’ tactic where dissidents are systematically vilified. The crude propaganda campaign is repeated daily and follows a particular pattern.
The Independent presents itself as the champion of the ‘little man’ and sets out to express his rage at celebrity figures who are living the high life. The intention is to convey the impression that ‘they are all at it’ and that the Left is as bad as the Right.
The fact that Joe Higgins, for example, lives on a worker’s wage and puts the rest of his TD’s salary into wider campaigns is not portrayed as an honourable measure to avoid being inveigled the privileged life of Dail Eireann. No, it is just another devious charade to fool us. The common man, it appears, has no champions –only the brave journalists of the Irish Independent who focus his rage on left wing hypocrites.
This particular campaign has a definite political purpose. The anti-household charges campaign persuaded half the population to defy the law and refuse to pay the tax. But now a rearguard action is being mounted to claw back the gains of the campaign. In the next few months, non-payers will receive letters threatening them with fines and the courts.
Before any decisive battle, a propaganda offensive is mounted to break the morale of the enemy. The Independent Group has been allocated the prime role. Its mission is to launch a smear campaign against the United Left Alliance so as to undermine the trust that many non-payers have placed in them. The dominance of INM allows to them to act as an ‘agenda setting’ news maker. As well as the Irish Independent, they control Daily Star and the Sunday World and 14 regional titles. The key investor in INM is Denis O Brien and his other company, Communicorp, which controls Newstalk, Today FM, Dublin 98, Spin 1038, Spin South West.
The main tactic was to start with a series of articles about the ‘tax cheat’ Mick Wallace and then to associate Wallace with the Left. Crude propaganda techniques were used to show Wallace in the same picture as members of the United Left Alliance. But once the label of ‘tax cheat’ was attached to him, it was then shifted onto the wider anti-household charges campaign. The aim was to associate the tax dodging of a capitalist who exploited his workers with the refusal of ordinary people to pay an unjust tax.
A key figure in this campaign is Denis O Brien himself. O Brien is an arrogant right winger who is determined to gain Berlusconi style control over the Irish media. His outlook was summed up in an outburst he made in 2003:
There is too much shite going on inside Ireland at the moment. I think people are too negative towards politicians, Government and entrepreneurs. We are fast turning into a communist state. We are fast moving towards communist doctrine. People in this country should be thankful for what they achieved in the last ten years. Instead I come back to Ireland and people are screaming like spoiled children.
‘Communism’ for O’Brien means any criticism of his efforts to dodge taxes or pay politicians like Michael Lowry. And he will use his money and his media to put ‘the communists’ down.
So while contrived rage is targeted against Joe Higgins, there is no mention or photograph of O Brien hanging out with his drinking mate and ex Anglo boss, Sean Fitzpatrick, in Poland.
The attacks on the Left has also a less obvious purpose. There is a covert debate going on in the cabinet over what to do about O Brien’s near total dominance of the Irish media. Calls have been made for greater ‘media diversity’ and the Irish Independent journalist, Anne Harris, has even warned that ‘allow a media mogul who has influence -- O'Brien makes no secret of his desire for influence -- with the dominant party and before long it may not be just an appearance of the dictatorial.’
O Brien hopes to ward off any Dail threat to divest part of his media empire by showing how useful he can be to the state. Hence the smear campaign against spokespeople for the anti-household charges tax.
There is a great irony in the Irish Independent’s attacks on ‘tax cheats’ like Mick Wallace because O Brien, is the biggest tax dodger of all. His official residence is in Malta – a country that charges no tax on global assets or income that ‘residents’ bring in. Despite having an address in Malta O Brien has four houses in Dublin 4, valued at €15 million.
When it comes to costing the taxpayer money, there are also few to rival O Brien. If he had simply come out into the open and stated clearly why he had made two payments to Lowry totalling IR£500,000 there would have been no need for the Moriarty Tribunal. That tribunal cost the country €200 million.
It is time to put a stop to the colossal ambitions of Denis O Brien to shape the direction of Irish politics through his control of INM.
• The Criminal Assets Bureau should be sent in to follow up the findings of the Moriarty investigation and establish exactly how his assets were acquired.
• The Revenue Commissioners should be told to investigate his tax affairs and to end the absurd situation where the richest man in Ireland pays minimal tax.
• All control of the news media should be removed from this fanatical right winger.
• A genuinely free press – that is independent of corporate control – should be used to investigate the connections between O Brien and the funders of Fine Gael.
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