Why won’t the media admit when they get it wrong?

Invasion of Fake NewsIMPACT spent most of this week explaining that the €1.5 billion of savings so far delivered under the Croke Park agreement had not been overstated. This was because of a report in last week’s Sunday Business Post, which claimed that the savings were being exaggerated because Government departments routinely added 25-30% to account for the pension costs of staff who leave the public service. The newspaper claimed departments then routinely added another 40% in non-pay savings to account for overheads associated with the staff who left.

The Sunday Business Post report was loosely based on a report by accountants Grant Thornton, which was published by the Croke Park implementation body last June. We say loosely, because the paper got it completely wrong. So much so that Grant Thornton subsequently wrote to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, explaining their methodology and concluding that the media reports were a “significant misrepresentation of the information factually contained in the report.”

You can say that again. The figure added to the savings calculations for pensions is not 25%. It is zero. Nothing. Zilch. And there’s no evidence that any department has added a 40% savings premium for ‘overheads’. Not in their reports to the Croke Park implementation body. Not in the Grant Thornton report. Indeed, not in the Sunday Business Post article itself.

In short, no evidence has been presented to prove that there has been any overestimate or overstatement of Croke Park savings.“So what?” you might say. The Sunday Business Post’s readership is not exactly huge. Why worry? Well, we worry because much of the rest of the Irish media is so receptive to anti-Croke Park bias that, starting with the Sunday Independent, they virtually all picked up on the false claims as if they were fact.

The following day the Irish Times was reporting, without evidence or sources, that “serious misgivings” had emerged about the scale of the savings. Stephen Collins, its obsessively anti-public service political editor, extrapolated that the troika itself was dissatisfied with the scale of the savings. The ‘paper of record’ chose not to report the fact that this claim was later dismissed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who actually took the trouble to ask troika officials if they had a problem with the reported savings. The answer was “no.”

RTÉ took the same course, repeating that the troika were dissatisfied, then choosing not to run with the fact that the department had checked with the troika and been told that this was not the case.

Calling for cuts in increments on Monday morning, eight Fine Gael TDs also swallowed the story hook, line and sinker in an article for the Irish Examiner. Their views were, again, widely rehashed across the Irish media. The only challenge to their claim that the Croke Park books were cooked came from IMPACT.

It’s a sad state of affairs that virtually all the Irish media are now so biased against the Croke Park deal that they ignore the facts and routinely publish incorrect information – and then feel no need to report the other side of the story, even when the people reported to be the source of the story (in this case, Grant Thornton and the troika) deny it.

If they are so convinced that Croke Park is bad for the country, why do they have to make up their arguments?

Inconvenient truths

Each time the troika visit, there is feverish speculation as to what it makes of Croke Park. Earlier visits by the IMF this year revealed that the organisation was satisfied that Croke Park was fulfilling its brief. But the IMF’s positive answer to the question was generally buried deep in newspaper articles, very far from being considered worthy of a headline.

Individual representatives have, no doubt, a wide range of views on the Croke Park agreement. Collectively, the troika’s only concern is that targets are being met, and that costs are being extracted in a manner they consider sustainable and ensures continuing stability. All the evidence says Croke Park is doing just that, regardless of its critics.

The Irish Times also published this piece on Wednesday, which has since become one of the most widely read and shared of the week. It’s an account of the difficulties faced by a family paying a huge mortgage by means of a single public sector (Garda) income of €65,000. The comments which follow the article include, as you might expect, the usual inflammatory troll fodder, to which this readers letter response was published today.

It illustrates the complex nature of the Irish economic crisis, insofar as, much like a twisted game of musical chairs, how the crisis affects you depends largely on where you were when the music stopped. Mortgage debt is proving to be a much larger and damaging faultline when it comes to a family’s capacity to get by. Worth bearing in mind the next time you hear complaints about the cushy perks and recession-proof life of a public servant.