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Conor McKeogh


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Reddit Factor in United Airlines Debacle Shows Internet’s Long Memory

The furore created by the dragging from a United Airlines flight of Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old passenger, continues to rumble on, with the airline’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, due to testify at a House Transportation Committee Hearing on May 2.
The incident was a classic example of social media’s ability to amplify consumer outrage, as multiple videos were seen on internet platforms and news broadcasts all over the world. Then, in the wake of the airline’s poorly phrased response to the incident, a further anti-United backlash was unleashed. The financial cost to the company has been significant. If ever there was a crisis in management between an organization and its perception by the public, this was it.
But as the dust settles on social media, it’s worth looking at one aspect of the controversy in particular, one which, in the era of instant reactions and viral storms, shows that there are places online that do indeed have a long memory. You could call it the Reddit factor, and it can represent its own challenge to brands and organizations trying to manage crises or PR disasters.
While various videos of Dr Dao’s ordeal on April 9 continued to surface on social sites, adding fuel to the fire, on Reddit, people began posting about previous incidents related to United Airlines
Video links were being shared from 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, highlighting such issues as poor treatment of customers and poor animal welfare.
From the incident occurring on the Sunday evening to Monday afternoon, the number of mentions on Reddit of United rose steadily to over double from the day before and stayed at a higher rate for the week..

By early afternoon on Monday, April 10, every entry in the “hot” and “rising” lists in /r/videos was populated with United-related videos. Significantly, it wasn’t just the April 9 incident on the “hot” and “rising” lists, but a rundown of United lowlights past and present, making Reddit, for a time, a one-stop shop for bad-news stories about United – as if the April 9 incident alone wasn’t bad enough, from the airline’s point of view.

This Reddit factor underlines the multifaceted nature of how controversies operate on social media, and, consequently, the difficulty faced by companies and organizations in maintaining control of the narrative and their own brand identity at a time of crisis.

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Water Charges And The Media: Is There A Bias?

When the media brings up an issue which the public talk and think about, some details are emphasized, some obscured and some can be completely ignored. This is called media framing. Basically, media framing is the angle through which a story is told.

This could suggest that news in the headlines may have been distorted from the truth and could be false. Whilst this is overwhelmingly not the case, it is very difficult for a story not to be told through an angle; after all, any retelling of a story is merely a representation of a previous event.

Journalists and news media would argue that there is not an angle or ideology in news media. However, when focusing on a particular issue in the news, for example water charges in Ireland, by closely examining what assumptions are made, what sources and language are used and who is represented and who is not, it is possible to see an underlining narrative emerge from news media.

An analysis of the coverage by print news media in Ireland of water charges in the lead up to the February general election reveals the fourth estate as an agent of the establishment, or, implicitly supporting the government’s Neo-Liberal agenda of austere taxes in times of recession.

Using the journalist database LexisNexis, which records newspaper articles in the Republic, a search of print publications in Ireland containing the phrase ‘water charges’ reveals 200 articles between the 2nd February and the 25th February 2016.

Of the 200 articles, over 83% of articles were either neutral (65.5%) or in support (18%) of the tax. The remaining 16.5% of pieces are in favour of abolishing water charges or quote a person supporting their abolishment. The dates were chosen as they occur within the announcement of the Irish general election and the press moratorium of election coverage the day before polling began.

That’s roughly six out of every seven news articles in a Western democracy either being for or not in opposition of a new tax.

To gather this information, it had to be decided what each article stood for on the issue. Each piece was read and then given a value of either ‘for’, ‘neutral’, or ‘against’ water charges.

In order for a piece to be regarded as ‘for’ water charges, the article had to either support payment of the tax, as in an opinion piece, or quote a person in favour of keeping the tax, or attack or dismiss water charges protestors.

For an ‘against’ evaluation, the piece either supported the abolition of the tax or quoted a person favouring its elimination.

Importantly, the tone and the language used in all articles were examined before an evaluation was given to resolve ambiguity. If this was the case, and if a piece was difficult to define as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ water charges, a value of ‘neutral’ was given. By objectively defining what opinion each article had on water charges, it is possible to deconstruct news media’s framing of the issue.

The newspapers examined were The Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Daily Mail, Irish Examiner, Sunday Independent, Sunday Business Post, Drogheda Independent, Wexford People, Corkman, Sligo Champion and Kerryman.

Of the 200 pieces studied, 36 were assigned as being in favour of water charges, or against anti-water movements. They range from opinion pieces, letters to the editor, hard news pieces and survey results.

Ciarán Hancock, in the Irish Daily Mail on 24th February, writes of “the huff and puff about water charges, property tax and the like.” John Downing, in the Irish Independent on 23rd February writes about trade union activists “who are trying to politically harness the anti-water-charge movement.”

David Raleigh’s headline in The Irish Daily Mail on 19th February reads “Water charge protester is guilty of attack on detective.” The protesters against water have been linked to violence previously. A claim by Independent TD Mattie McGrath that then Labour Minister Allan Kelly had hidden in a van to avoid angry demonstrators was widely circulated before McGrath later admitted it was false, echoing the false imprisonment case of then Tánaiste Joan Burton in Jobstown in Novemeber 2015.

Violence seems to follow the issue of water charges. In Matt Cooper’s article in the Irish Daily Mail on 8th February he writes of Sinn Fein wishing to “blow up (metaphorically) the Special Criminal Court, abolish property tax, water charges and the USC”. Albeit with an eye to ridiculing Sinn Fein rather than anti-water charge protesters, the connection between protesting water charges and violence is at least, obliquely established.

On the 13th February, the Irish Examiner reported of “angry scenes” in Cork as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ministers were approached by anti-water protestors; “dozens of gardaí had to step in to surround him as he and his retinue of ministers and TDs were swamped by up to 40 water charges protesters who screamed and shouted Enda Enda Enda, out, out, out.” Previously former health Minister Leo Varadkar spoke of a “sinister fringe” within the anti-water movement. Three court cases were included in the 200; each of which mentioned a water charge protester and a charge of violent disorder.

An opinion piece in the Irish Examiner on 6th February stated “I am not against water charges.” Another opinion piece in the Examiner on the 8th February stated “I agree with water charges.” There were no such opinion pieces categorically in favour of abolishing water charges.

Independence Alliance TD and now Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport  Shane Ross, wrote in the Sunday Independent on 7th February how “in the smarter suburbs of Dublin Fine Gael loyalists… think the great unwashed should just grow up and pay their water charges.”

Eoin Burke-Kennedy in The Irish Times on 4th February reported of a survey of the five most important issues to voters and that “perhaps surprisingly, the issue of water charges ranked higher than tax reductions.” The same article stated “respondents in higher-income brackets, who regularly consume media, follow public policy issues and have a university degree, had greater trust in public institutions compared with the people who did not fall within this description.” This disagrees with many politicians quoted in the research whom all agree that water charges is a constant issue brought up when canvassing the electorate.

Of the 200 pieces published within the timeframe, 54 mention ‘austerity’ and 39 mention ‘protests’.

There were 33 articles that proposed abolishing water charges or quoted a figure supporting their abolishment. There were no opinion pieces calling for the scrapping of water charges during the period and the majority of pieces were quotes from figures in the anti-water movement and Sinn Fein.

Pieces included manifestos in local newspapers by independent candidates running on the promise to scrap water charges if elected, like Ciara Leonardi-Roche in the Corkman, or letters to the editor. A letter to The Irish Times on 17th February read “the abolition of water charges would provide badly needed relief to hard-pressed families and pensioners.” There are no letters to the editor published during the timeframe that support the continuance of a water tax.

Jack Horgan-Jones in the Sunday Business Post on 7th February reported that while canvassing with Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit (AAA/PBP) Councillor Mick Barry “almost every voter mentions water charges. Barry urges them to vote for him or other anti-water candidates.” “Water charges were a constant issue on the doorsteps”, according to the Sligo champion on 23rd February.

Senan Maloney in the Irish Daily Mail’s 12th February coverage of the previous night’s leaders’ debate reviewed Sinn Fein TD Gerry Adams’ performance as playing “a very populist line on getting rid of water charges and property taxes, et cetera. Good attacks on the other three leaders”.

The last anti-water protest before the election was covered by The Irish Times and Irish Independent and how the demonstrators had “braved” harsh weather conditions to parade. According to Aine McMahon “protesters had come from all over the country and, while organisers said up to 80,000 attended, gardaí put the figure at between 10,000 and 20,000.”

The sources used in each of the pieces is also relevant to find a picture of where the information supplied comes from. Of the 200 articles, 56 had no primary source. This was due to these articles mainly being opinion or review. 116 were from government sources, TDs, party representatives or press releases. 17 were letters to the editor with the remaining 11 coming from polls (5), quotes from members of the public (2), court transcripts (3) and 1 non-applicable. This is important as it shows the power the establishment (in this case, the state) has in controlling the narrative of an issue.

All this leads to the theory of cultivation in the media. News media, as an agent of the establishment serves to maintain rather than threaten conventional beliefs, or ‘common sense.’ Scholars have argued that news media’s ultimate function is to spread and stabilize cultural norms. In this case, that the water charges are necessary, the tax should be paid and protests against it are anti-social or outside normal social circles.

Thankfully however all is not lost. While news media is very good at telling people what to think about, it does not control how the public thinks.


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Analysis Shows Media’s Coverage of Political Parties Skewered.

The performance of Renua, Labour and SDs shows that not only can the media tell us what to think about, they can also be stunningly successful in telling us how to think about it.

A quantitative content analysis of the Irish print media’s coverage of political parties in the 2016 general election campaign has revealed interesting results.

A survey of headlines mentioning political parties, opening paragraphs mentioning parties, and mentions anywhere in the text of parties shows a disproportionate amount of coverage towards Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF), Sinn Féin (SF), Labour (LP) and Renua (RI) when compared with the results of the general election.

Notably, the coverage of The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) and The Independent Alliance (IA) in the lead up to the election is significantly less than the groups election results.

Interestingly, Renua and Social Democrats’ (SD) coverage during the election campaign is significantly higher than their polling and final results.

METHODOLOGY

Using LexisNexis to search for Irish print publications that mentioned a political party between 2nd February and 25th February 2016 (from the announcement of the general election until the press moratorium) in either the headline, opening paragraph, or anywhere in the text, it is possible to quantify the amount of coverage a political party received. Independent candidates with no affiliation were not counted.

The newspapers surveyed were The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Daily Mail, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Independent, The Irish News, The Corkman, The Wexford People, The Drogheda Independent, The Sligo Champion and The Kerryman.

FINDINGS

HEADLINES

Of the 421 headlines naming political parties, Sinn Féin (97) had the most, closely followed by Labour (92), and Fine Gael (83) and Fianna Fáil (83).

There is then a massive drop-off in coverage towards other parties.

Renua (32) and Social Democrats (18) then follow, ahead of Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (9), The Green Party (5) and The Independent Alliance (2).

From a percentage perspective, The Labour Party received over 4 times the press coverage than it was finally elected for; 21.8% share of coverage versus 4.9% of seats.

Renua received 7.6% of total headlines even though the party did not win any seats.

AAA-PBP was mentioned in 2.1% of headlines even though it won twice the percentage of seats (4.2%).

The Green Party had 1.1% of headlines and won 1.1% of seats.

MENTIONS

When looking at mentions of the parties anywhere in the text, the survey reveals results more in line with the election results – except for a disproportionate amount of coverage towards Renua, Labour and Social Democrats and less towards AAA-PBP and Independent Alliance.

Fine Gael (1175) leads closely followed by Fianna Fáil (1064). Then Sinn Féin (969) and Labour (790) are just behind.

Again, there is a substantial drop-off in coverage towards the remaining parties. Renua (256) are next, closely followed by Social Democrats (233). AAA-PBP (203), The Green Party (155) and finally The Independent Alliance (64) complete the list.

OPENING PARAGRAPH

Regarding mentions of parties in the opening paragraph of text, there is again an emphasis on government parties Fine Gael (493) and Labour (344) followed by Fianna Fáil (384) and Sinn Féin (321).

Again, there is also a disproportionate amount of coverage towards Renua (69) and Social Democrats (60) compared with their election results and those of AAA-PBP (32), Independent Alliance (13) and The Green Party (35).

OUTCOME

According to the Professor Emeritus of The University of Texas, Maxwell McCombs, the influence of the media on agenda-setting in public opinion is great; “agenda-setting effects the transmission of object and attribute salience from the press to the public about issues, political figures and other topics and has significant consequences for people’s attitudes and opinions.”

When the media talk about an object and when members of the public talk and think about an object, some details are emphasized, others are mentioned only in passing.

This could be the reason as to Labour, Renua and Social Democrats objectively greater than appropriate coverage and AAA-PBP and Independent Alliance’s less than objective reflection in the media.


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Céad Mile Failte? Not If You’re Here To Work.

Migrant workers are being exploited in Irish restaurants. Photo Credit snowpea&bokchoi (Flikr)

Migrant workers are being exploited in Irish restaurants. Photo Credit snowpea&bokchoi (Flikr)

The exploitation of migrant workers in Ireland is commonplace. The ability for employers to choose, use and abuse foreign workers can lead to harsh working conditions for some of the most vulnerable people in our society who have come here seeking a better life.

Sergio (not his real name) from Venezuela works as a chef for 28 hours a week in a busy Dublin hotel. As an international student learning English, he is only legally permitted to work for 20 hours a week. ‘I’m rostered to work 4 days a week, but when the kitchen closes, I have to clean up.’ He isn’t paid for the overtime.

Sergio is not alone. Migrant workers make up 35% of the total service industry workforce. On minimum wage, he receives €170 a week. ‘I’d make more money if I worked illegally,’ he says. There are currently up to 20,000 undocumented workers in Ireland today.

In fact, he does work illegally; he has to. Cash in hand doing menial, low paying work, Sergio takes on extra jobs – whatever they are and whenever he can – to stay afloat. On top of attending lectures for 16 hours a week, it leaves him little time to explore the country he came to over a year ago. He hasn’t been outside of Dublin yet.

A 2012 survey of 120 migrant workers in restaurants carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) found that 80% had no contract of employment. 88% have never been visited by a labour inspector. Half worked six or more days a week.

Exploitation of migrant workers is prevalent throughout the country as immigration and residency status is dependent on employers. The threat of removing legal working status forces some migrants to agree to extremely difficult working conditions. It is a fundamental abuse of power.

Workers in the restaurant sector make up a huge proportion of low pay wages. The sector is almost completely non-unionised. Horror stories have emerged recently about the state of the Irish restaurant industry – which annually contributes €6 billion to the economy.

75 hour working weeks, no breaks, no overtime, no Sunday premium pay;  no bank holiday pay, no annual leave, wages as little as two euro an hour and threats of deportation are just some of the complaints received by the MRCI recently. Combined with the lack of knowledge of rights and the language barrier makes migrants even more vulnerable.

Ireland has one of the highest proportions of low pay workers in the EU.  Including take-outs and cafés, the restaurant industry in Ireland has over 6,000 outlets, employing over 40,000 people. It plays a vital role in Ireland’s economic recovery.

With the recession came a downturn in job prospects for those seeking employment, especially for migrant workers. A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Equality Authority in 2009 found that migrant workers with similar skills and experience to Irish nationals were less likely to be called for an interview by employers because of the name given on their CV. Foreign-sounding names were significantly less likely to secure interviews than Irish-sounding names.

Migration is an ever-present fact of the 21st century; be it due to war, famine, persecution or seeking employment. With an estimated one million people born here living elsewhere, Ireland is no stranger to emigration.

The latest figures from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that 17.5% (or one in six) of the Irish population over 15 live abroad today. Ireland tops the list of the 34 countries in the OECD, outranking New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico. The mass exodus or ‘brain drain’ from these shores by its working population needs to be replenished.

However the onset of the recession caused the number of migrants arriving here to work to fall dramatically. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of non-Irish nationals applying for a Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers fell by 50%. Between 2011 and 2012, that number fell by 66%. Only recently has there been a small rise in immigration (including Irish nationals) of 8.4%. Less than one in five of those arriving in Ireland are unemployed. It is a myth that migrants come here to seek benefits.

It is not just employers who treat migrant workers harshly.  Non-EEA workers can only receive benefits from the State if they are legally resident, regardless of whether they have made Pay Related Social Insurance payments. It will also hurt their chances for citizenship if they start claiming benefits. Because of this, many are discouraged from claiming welfare, even if they need it.

Some redress has been attempted by the Government recently. The Employment Permit (Amendment) Act 2014 allows for undocumented workers to take civil action against employers for owed wages and compensation. It’s ‘a huge step forward’, according to Edel McGinley of MRCI, however ‘much more needs to be done’ to stop the exploitation of migrants.