COI Gazette – 14th October 2016

Academic study indicates Irish journalists trust religious leaders least of all

Professor Kevin Rafter

Professor Kevin Rafter

The least trust of Irish journalists is in religious leaders, a new study by Dublin City University’s Professor Kevin Rafter and research student Stephen Dunne has indicated, with 56% of those surveyed indicating “little or no trust” in the group, a DCU statement has indicated.

The most trust – 80% – was found in the judiciary and courts.

The new study contains valuable information on journalists in Ireland at a time of considerable change and challenge in the media sector.

The study, The Irish Journalist Today, is part of a wider international research project, Worlds of Journalism, founded in 2007 to assess the state of journalism internationally.

On this occasion, 70 countries – including the Republic of Ireland for the first time – have participated in the project.




The results of the new study by Dublin City University’s Professor Kevin Rafter and research student Stephen Dunne into the current state of journalism in the Republic of Ireland suggest that Irish Church leaders need to engage in a quite fundamental review of how they conduct themselves, while research quoted last month in The Guardian newspaper suggests that journalists, at least in the UK, need to do precisely the same thing (report, page 1).

Kevin Rafter is Professor of Political Communication at Dublin City University. He has authored histories of Fine Gael, Democratic Left and Sinn Féin and also over 50 research articles and book chapters on subjects related to media and politics in Ireland. A former political journalist with The Irish Times, The Sunday Times and the Sunday Tribune, he has also presented the This Week radio programme on RTÉ. Stephen Dunne is a PhD candidate at Dublin City University where he is researching media ethics and the role of press regulation. He has worked as a news journalist with several local and national newspapers in Ireland. Both men clearly have the right credentials for their work itself to be trusted.

In his comments to the Gazette, quoted in our report, Professor Rafter indicated that the low level of trust on the part of Irish journalists in religious leaders may be the result of “the various scandals and controversies of recent years”. This would indeed seem to be very probably true and the question naturally arises as to how greater trust can be restored, whether it be journalists’ trust of religious leaders or the general public’s trust of journalists.

The Guardian article, by Peter Preston, was headlined: “Trust in the media is the first casualty of a post-factual war”, arguing that as politics polarises, the mainstream media is being abandoned while partisan journalism is gaining favour. He wrote that the Gallup organisation in the US had released its annual poll, this time showing that trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to its lowest level in polling history, with only 32% saying they had a great deal or fair amount of such confidence. Mr Preston also referred to a study of Fox News by Bruce Bartlett in the New York Times, who explained why Fox News viewers scored low on general news knowledge on the grounds that “Fox had become so influential among conservatives that many refused to believe any news or opinion that wasn’t vetted by the network”, adding: “Those who inhabit this world live in a kind of bubble sometimes called ‘epistemic closure’, where they won’t believe many things taken for granted by people who get news from other sources.”

Such studies, observations and surveys in the Republic of Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US surely alert one to the fact that something is going awry. Perhaps the Internet age has made news more ‘disposable’, as people quickly move on to the next story or pick up on the latest trending item. Yet, we need good journalism just as we need good Church leadership.

Trust needs to be earned and it is easily lost. Certainly, in personal relationships, once trust is lost a relationship can be fatally wounded. For journalists, to earn the trust that should be theirs it is vital to be scrupulously honest and fair in matters both great and small, and for Church leaders to earn such trust the same naturally applies. It is on such consistency that trust is gradually built. The words of Jesus at Luke 16: 10 are apt to quote in this connection: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Utter honesty is the basis of the utter trust for which every profession and calling longs.


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Letter to the Editor

LGBT Christians in the Church

THE REVD STEPHEN NEILL (Gazette,16th September) believes that “It is no longer possible to participate in a charade that seeks to give equal weight to the arguments pro and con the full inclusion of LGBT Christians within our Church.”

It may indeed be true that for some people ‘shared conversations’ are really ‘charade conversations’ but he tilts the playing field so that he thinks he no longer has to listen and devalues the views of people like me, likening us to racists.

Yet I think he would acknowledge my integrity, as I do his.

So why do we disagree? He makes two category errors. First, he assumes that same-sex marriage is a human right. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled otherwise. This is not “a justice issue”.

Secondly, his Apartheid analogy is flawed. Apartheid mandated two different laws according to skin colour: the white man could marry the white woman, the black man could not. By contrast, traditional marriage mandates only one law for all – both gay and straight. Each person may marry someone of the opposite sex.

Of course the gay man may not want to marry a woman – but that is a different question. Apartheid imposed an objective legal difference between black and white people.

With homosexuality, the difference is entirely subjective. Indeed, a closer analogy might
be that ‘Apartheid marriage’ and ‘same-sex marriage’ should both be rejected as both require marriage to be redefined.

And if marriage can be redefined once, it can be redefined many times. Does “full inclusion of LGBT Christians” require bisexual men to be allowed a partner of each sex? And many sexual minority groups want to be next in line. What about two brothers? Or five polyamorists?

Does Mr Neill’s “inclusion” have any boundaries? If it does, he will be likened to a racist by those he excludes. If it does not, the Church will follow society into sexual confusion. Either way, he must tell us what he believes.

Dermot O’Callaghan Hillsborough, Co. Down


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