Leading Irish journalists discuss political communication in Ireland at DCU symposium
18 April 2011
A symposium on political communication was treated to first hand accounts of how political communication has evolved from the Taoiseach briefing print journalists at the back of a plane in the 1960s to political crises developing from Tweets sent by people instantly responding to breaking news. Among the distinguished speakers who addressed the symposium were former political correspondent of the Irish Independent Chris Glennon, political correspondents Pat Leahy (Sunday Business Post) and Michael O’Regan (Irish Times), former assistant government press secretary Stephen O’Byrnes, founder of the politics.ie website, David Cochrane, and communications consultant Mark Mortell, until recently communications and electoral strategy advisor to Fine Gael.
Along with hearing about the experiences of the individual speakers the symposium included a roundtable debate on political communication and Election 2011. The debate operated on the Chatham House Rule, according to which, participants are free to use the information received but are not allowed to identify the speaker.
The failure of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen to understand the importance of political communication was described by one participant as ‘the ultimate conundrum’ in political communication. The value of opinion polls, their constant presence in the election campaign and whether they affected voter behaviour was discussed at length, with one speaker advocating that they be banned in the week before polling day. Fine Gael’s election winning Five Point Plan was described by another participant as ‘spin that lacked substance’ although it was also pointed out that the latest opinion poll indicated that the electorate was satisfied with the new government. Another participant stated that digital media was now more important than traditional media and noted that Simon Covney’s Tweet about Brian Cowen’s infamous Morning Ireland interview ensured that traditional media could not ignore the story. However, another speaker noted that the controversy would not have occurred in the first place without traditional media. There was, he concluded, an ‘echo chamber’ whereby old and new media complimented each other in breaking and progressing stories of national importance.