#GSOC: A brief note on the crime correspondent

The crime correspondent is a servant of the State. It can be no other way. The crime correspondent will never ask: should this be a crime? Instead, the crime correspondent exists to relate what the State is doing about crime. To do this, he -let’s say it is a he- relies on the offices of the State to transmit information. He is therefore a conduit for the ruling powers. Let me stress: it can be no other way. The crime correspondent is a symbol of the established order of things, a spokesman for the way things are done around here. He reinforces the legitimacy of the State and its power to determine what is criminal and what is not, its power to discipline and punish. If the State scapegoats a certain group, the crime correspondent will replicate the scapegoating.

Perhaps the least appropriate person in the world to report on the misdeeds of the police is the crime correspondent. Even less appropriate, I suggest, than a spokesperson formally appointed by the police. If the public is confronted with the police spokesperson, the suspicion will sink in, at some stage, that the police are lying. For the crime correspondent, the prospect of the police telling lies is similar to Lord Denning’s appalling vista: if the police are telling lies, how many lies has the crime correspondent told? Such a prospect is inadmissible.

Let me stress, this is not a matter of personal integrity: it is part of the job definition. Therefore the public will never be confronted with the prospect, before the fact, that the police might be lying. The fact that it is in the nature of police forces to have officers who lie, conspire, undermine, control and condition, will never be taken into account in the crime correspondent’s reporting. If the police were lying, that would mean the crime correspondent was lying too. And you can’t be having that.


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2 responses to “#GSOC: A brief note on the crime correspondent

  1. Pingback: #GSOC: A brief note on the crime correspondent | na rudai ata i mo cheann

  2. Very nice Richard.

    I don’t think you’d disagree with my view that while we must tolerate an uncritical approach to crime reporting by designated crime correspondents (as those of us who do engage in critical appraisals of Garda activity might get a lot less information about what the police, on behalf of the state, are up to) – crime correspondents with any integrity should be at pains to avoid becoming publicly involved in cases involving garda corruption (unless, of course, it is one of those particularly unusual examples where the case has resulted in a decision to prosecute by the DPP).

    This is what makes the behaviour of the two Pauls so abhorrent. Paul Williams has a track record of weighing in to defend the Gardaí in cases of Garda misconduct (on twitter over the last few days I have mentioned his bizarre (though, on reflection, completely consistent with his MO) defence of the Gardaí in the rape tape controversy up in Rossport, on the Marian Finucane weekend programme). But I am genuinely (perhaps naively) shocked at Paul Reynolds’ coverage of the GSOC controversies.

    Whatever about the Indo, RTÉ journos, like all broadcast media based journos, have statutory obligations under the Broadcasting Acts that normally have an influence (a positive influence that militates against the partisan news reporting so pervasive and damaging in American “public” discourse) on the manner they approach critical analysis of State action.

    They are, obviously, intimately immersed in the wider culture of governance in Ireland. But I think some credit should be given to RTÉ in that when they do get their finger out and start covering these controversies, they make an attempt to pursue them with journalistic values of transparency accountability in mind, and avoiding excessive pro-establishment partisanship. RTÉ’s coverage of the background scandals to the Morris Tribunal, and their coverage of Morris itself, was, from memory, pretty good. This is not the case with their coverage of the GSOC controversies. RTÉ should not be engaging Reynolds in its coverage of this story. His barely concealed pro-Garda partisan line undermines both RTÉ’s statutory, and wider public interest (being the “independent” state broadcaster) obligations in its news reporting.

    This, along with the Panti censorship, raises really serious concerns about the critical integrity of the biggest player in Irish broadcasting. They may have always been decidedly pro-establishment (though I think their history from the 1980s to recently has shown them to have had a consistent and admirable strand of contrarian opinion in their reporting), but their recent behaviour suggests they are now more of a neutered mouthpiece for establishment elites.

    The roots of this cultural shift in the national broadcaster are manifold, including management pressure from the decline in revenues from advertising, increasing corporate-managerialist influence in editorial culture and practise, increasing pressure from the rising influence from INM-owned news broadcasting, years of partisan attacks from the Irish Independent, and, most recently, the fallout from their epic Father Reynolds fuck up.

    On the whole, I believe these crime journos are decent people (as, I might add, are the Gardaí – even the ones who have arrested and prosecuted me over the years). Having spent a lot of time following cases down in the CCJ, and chatting with the odd journo down there, I am sympathetic to the need of crime correspondents to maintain good relations with the Gardaí. The media are useful to the police, but contact with the police is essential for crime correspondents. As long as Ireland refuses to properly fund independent empirical research in every area of public and corporate life, we need some information to keep trickling out, so that there is some material to critique.

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