'Ardagh, Gardai, Journos - all attention seeking Muppets' sez Wag
This is an opinion piece recently published on the Indymedia Newswire based on a recently published bogus news item relating to a fictional tale of drug trafficking on the Luas.
The basic rules of journalism seem straightforward; verify your story from at least two independent sources and always get the important 5 ‘W’s’ and a ‘H’, who, what, when, where, why & how? For a clearer example of my belief that media crime coverage sometimes purposely tries to create a moral outcry, I decided to set up an experiment. Being an avid writer of fiction, I set up a false Hotmail account under a pseudonym. I wrote the mail in the guise of a disgruntled semi-retired member of a fictional unnamed residents association. I claimed to be acting on behalf of some concerned neighbours. I posted my mail to newspaper The Star. on the 5th of January, (2005). I requested that they look into a new Luas related drugs problem, figuring that drug stories are a solid popular crime issue and the inclusion of the new Luas system, (which had not yet been linked to any crime) would prove too tempting. I did not name any names and mentioned two districts in an effort to be more vague. I also stated that I wanted to remain anonymous, as I was well known in the area concerned.
On Sunday the 9th of January 2005, The Star Sunday printed a story, which read, ‘Claims Luas is Drugs Ferry’, (Hynes, F. P.12). This was my story. When not directly quoting me, I was paraphrased. Almost the entire content of my false Hotmail was there in print. I checked the account and found a reply from the Star’s News Editor requesting I contact Ms. Hynes. This was not an over eager journalist, but an entire chain of command prematurely printing a story relating to a fictional criminal matter. . . .
The piece followed with, ‘A group of residents, who asked not to be named for fear of their safety…’ Yet again we are fed a tale of bogus foreboding as fearful residents are visualised by the paper’s readers. The crux of my mail and the printed story was that as the Luas travels through many different areas the Gardaí are powerless to do anything, as specific Gardaí stations only cover specific areas. Amazingly, to counteract this problem the story reads,
‘On the foot of these concerns, Sean Ardagh, the Chairman of the Governments justice Committee confirmed to Star Sunday that he will be speaking to relevant members of the Gardaí about this issue.’ Even more worryingly, a sub-heading reads, ‘A powerful government watchdog has said it plans to investigate claims…’
Above we see a photo of Ardagh with the words ‘Action: Ardagh’ underneath. Does this show the possible appearance of a political bias on the papers behalf? As I helped in the creation of this tale of moral panic, I know it to be false. Does the media coverage of crime try to sensationalise crime reporting? Sometimes, sometimes it also creates the story. As I write this I am neither proud nor elated, but somewhat surprised. We are left with some rather troubling questions. Whatever happened to source verification, facts? If my character was so well known, why didn’t The Star try to contact resident associations in the areas mentioned. Why were the claims that I had contacted the Gardaí in two stations, (both named in the mail), not verified?
I am tempted to write a tale of a new inner-city crime gang to match 'The Westies', I'm thinking, 'The Sugar Hill Gang.'