Friday, February 16, 2018


Me with Joe MacAnthony
Photo: Anne Harris (thanks)
Click on any image for a larger version

Another book launch but a very special one as it turned out. The launch was in the RIA on 14/2/2018. The book was the second edition, seventeen years after the first, of Irish Media - A Critical History.

A second edition because:
Since the first publication of this book in 2001, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically, and has made the publication of a second revised edition particularly timely. The switch from analogue to digital, the growth of social media, the new dominance of mobile, the increasing dominance of aggregators like Google and Facebook, and accelerated patterns of mergers and acquisitions following the 2008 economic crash have all impacted drastically on the media landscape and have raised questions about the future to which few, if any, analysts or media managers have yet managed to construct answers.

The earlier edition was written by John Horgan alone. In this edition he partners with Roddy Flynn. Going on their individual remarks at the launch they seem to have been the dream team for this book.

John is emeritus professor at the School of Communications in DCU. He was the first press ombudsman in Ireland and prior to that had a distinguished career in journalism and politics. Roddy is a lecturer at the School of Communications in DCU, where he is chair of film and television studies. He has written extensively on Irish screen policy, with a particular focus on media ownership and media regulation.

Kevin Rafter

Kevin Rafter is the current head of the School of Communications in DCU, John's old job. He outlined the contribution the School is making to current Irish journalism.

I would add that DCU has so far been a great success as a new university, outclassing its "betters" in many fields. I would hold up their linguistic research and technological application in the Irish language as one of the other interesting areas into which they have ventured.

It was once described to my son, who had a very successful and happy innings there, as "The Nerds University". Those so describing it were attending a southside university from which he had fled so that he could actually get a bit of work done. All kinds.

John Horgan

John gave us many stories and themes from the book. One of these was the story, way back, of Joe MacAnthony and his exposé of the corruption inside the Irish Sweepstakes. He paid dearly for that and has been one of my heroes since. And John said he was there with us in the audience.

I immediately resolved to have my photo taken with him and later press ganged Anne Harris, whom I had just met, to do the needful. Thank you Anne. Eternally grateful. You can see the result at the head of this post.

John made a very optimistic and encouraging point - the legacy media were fighting back and now looked like they were actually coming back. Perhaps in not quite the same form but nevertheless. Their decline had bottomed out and they were on the rise. This was down to two factors. The proliferation of "fake news" and undisciplined and shoddy reporting had led to a desire for solid authoritative copy. At the same time the legacy media were developing business models which would be sustainable in the cyber age.

There would clearly be exceptions but the overall vibe was positive.

Roddy Flynn

There were two new aspects to this book over its predecessor: the period covered was extended back way beyond the establishment of the Free State, to the seventeenth century in fact; and the range of coverage was extended to include online media.

I think Roddy covered the latter extension but it was clear from his respect for John, which John had reciprocated earlier, that this was really a joint and largely seamless effort.

Joe Duffy

In launching the book, Joe Duffy made a number of significant points about media in general and in paticular about the interplay between the State and the broadcaster, an area John had touched on earlier. Joe's career in broadcasting goes back a long way and he has always been involved in bringing the show to the people and the people to the show.

Many of my own colleagues in the civil service saw him simply as a stirrer-upper to be avoided at all costs. I did not share that view. It was clear to me that he was giving a voice to the voiceless and if that required a bit of showmanship from time to time so be it.

It did not surprise me, when I read his autobiography, that he had come from a modest background, or that he had been a probation officer. He has a quality which is rare enough among broadcasters: he actually listens and he is not afraid of on-air silences. These attributes, aside from serving a higher purpose, go a long way towards making for great radio.

Joe MacAnthony

I mentioned Joe MacAnthony already. Best to expand that reference by again quoting from the book. But first to set the context. There was speculation at the time that the ailing Independent Newspaper Group might be bought by the McGrath family whose wealth was based largely on a Goverment franchise to run the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes:
On 21 January 1973, however, this possibility evaporated in the wake of the publication in the Sunday Independent of that date of one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism that had ever appeared in an Irish newspaper up to that time and indeed for many years afterwards. This was an exposé by the journalist Joe MacAnthony of the activities by McGrath's sweepstakes company, many of them illegal, in the foreign jurisdictions in which sweepstakes' tickets were sold.

The article, which ran to some 8,000 words and over three pages of the paper, had been planned originally as a two-part series. `The editor of the paper, however, realised that if the first half was published that the second half, in all probability, would never see the light of day; accordingly he decided to run it all in one article. The McGraths were incensed and withdrew all their lucrative advertising from the group for some weeks.

MacAnthony resigned not long afterwards, after it had been made clear to him by a regretful O'Brien that his career within the organization had effectively reached a full stop, at least in terms of promotion.
Joe MacAnthony also investigated Ray Burke for planning abuse but the establishment closed ranks and it was some quarter of a century later before MacAnthony was vindicated. Meanwhile he had emigrated to Canada where he had a very successful career as an investigative journalist.

Anne Harris

And that brings me neatly to Anne Harris, who took the photo of me and Joe at the launch. It is not the act for which she will be most famous. That must surely be in her standing by her criticism of Denis O'Brien after he acquired a major interest in her newspaper. She is no longer its editor.

It's quite amazing the people you meet on these occasions. I spoke to a man I didn't know who was standing alone at the time. It turned out to be an interesting encounter. He is currently the editor of Books Ireland but in an earlier existence he founded the Newry and Mourne Museum, now in its thirtieth year and in a much expanded form. I happen to be a great fan of the museum and was fascinated to meet its founder.

The museum is currently on the site of Bagnal's Castle. For many years the location of the castle was unknownn. This man, Tony Canavan, worked out where it was and brought his discovery to Heritage HQ in Belfast but they dismissed it. He was later vindicated when the ruins of the castle were discovered when the Victoria Bakery which had been covering them up was being renovated.

Tony also turned out to be a brother in law of Brian Goggin, with whom I had previously been corresponding in the course of my family history research.

And my interest in all of this?

Well, once upon a time, I was a newspaper proprietor and editor myself.

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