Comparative Essay: Bus Eireann Strikes have ended

Bus Éireann services return to normal after strike

-vs.-

Bus Eireann get back on the road

This comparative study looks at Irish commercial broadcasters, TV3, and public service broadcasters, RTÉ, and their news reports on April 13th, 2017. Both news report focus on the end of the Bus Eireann bus strikes after 21 days. This study will determine if news media can act as producers of meaning whilst remaining impartial.

Looking at the cultural context at the time of this report, we can see that the strikes had an impact on Irish society. Disruptions across the country are a direct result of the strikes, and this lead to over half of those polled by RTÉ’S Claire Byrne show stating that they do not support the strikes (TheJournal.ie, 2017). The Bus Eireann strike is the third public transport strike in a 12 months period, with Dublin Bus striking in September 2017 and Luas drivers striking in May/June 2017. The contempt for drivers striking is present in the cultural conversation; the discourse is that strikes are disruptive and pointless, and news media may perpetuate this.

News media acts as the fourth estate in society; essentially it acts as the watchdog for the people. As a public service broadcaster, RTÉ works for the citizens of Ireland. TV3 however, is a commercial broadcaster that produces content to attract audiences. By attracting these audiences, TV3 can sell their viewership numbers to advertisers and make a profit. Both broadcasters produce news content, and by extension, they create meaning for audiences who turn to media institutions for answers.

Looking at how each text has been constructed, we can look at the news values (Galtung and Ruge, 1966) of the story. The threshold for this story is certainly high as the story is reported nationally. Both reports state that the country has been affected by the strikes as Bus Eireann services run throughout the county. The story is unambiguous and therefore easily digestible by the receiver. On the surface, the story is “Bus strikes have ended” However, if the receiver wishes to know how the strike ended and if it will happen again, the story continues to report these facts. Both reports personalise this story through the use of interviews. The interviews conducted by RTE show people who are traveling to visit family for the Easter holidays, where as TV3’s report shows the human side of the workers who have striked and now return to work. There is a narrative as this is the newest development in a three week strike story. It is a positive story that the strikes have ended, however there is a negative aspect as the workers have felt that they did not achieve what they intended to achieve. Finally there is an element of fear as one interviewee mentions the possibility of further strikes. Looking at these elements, it is clear that this story meets the criteria of a valid news story. However, it is how this story is reported that is imperative for this study.

While news organisation are obligated to remain impartial or unbiased, they do seem to have their ideologies. TV3 is an organisation that does not recognise unions. However, this story centres around the union lead strike. This disregard for unions is evident in the reports use of editing. When Willie Noone a spokesperson from SIPTU, the Services Industrial Professional and the Technical Union, speaks about the labour court recommendations he is cut off when he begins to speak about the positive outcomes from the report. While the report allows air time for the upset the union members and bus drivers feel surrounding the labour court’s recommendations, it does not seem to recognise any positive results from the strikes. The subtle use of editing here to omit the benefits achieved as a result of the bus strike is important as it highlights the commercial broadcasters bias against unions. Following this cut, the in-studio reporter changes the narrative back to the inconvenience these strikes have caused the country, furthering this anti-union ideology.

In comparison, RTÉ’s agenda towards unions appears to be supportive. The message is focused on the effect the labour court recommendations will have on the “Workers”. Interviews with a member of the public and a business owner show that they are sympathetic towards the workers. When speaking about the strikes, airtime is given to the business owner who states “I hope it’s not wasted”. This is in contrast to TV3 whose report focused on the inconvenience the strikes have caused the country.

The TV3 report’s language when discussing the labour court recommendations produces meaning. The recommendations are described as a “Meaty page document” reporter Zara states. Later in the report, a clip of two workers flipping through pages of the presumed recommendations is narrated by the reporter stating “the recommendations makes for difficult reading”. The language used is negative and suggests the document is complicated. This furthers the agenda that TV3’s report is against the strike, highlighting that the recommendations are not only unwanted by the workers, but the document itself is too difficult for the workers to read. There may also be a suggestion of class division here. The connotations behind the visuals of the workers looking at the recommendations are that these men are uneducated. This further undermines their actions as the report presents the workers as less than those in power.

Looking past the news report, the ending of strike action is a genuine event. It would have taken place regardless of media’s presence. However, the reporting of the event and the on-camera interviews make this a media event. The reporting differs slightly between the two reports. RTÉ’s report begins in the studio; then a correspondent narrates the remainder of the report. In contrast, TV3 report contains three reporters. One in-studio reporter, Geraldine Lynagh, who speaks directly to a second reporter, Zara King, live on air. Zara King is reporting live from Broadstone in Dublin, the location of Bus Eireann’s headquarters. TV3 studios are also based in Dublin, while the third reporter is suggested to be in Cork. A package is shown where a reporter, Paul Byrne is the narrator. The use of multiple reporters in the TV3 report may lead to confusion and a disconnect in the narrative. While RTÉ remains consistent with having one voice leading the receiver through the story.

The interviewees conducted in both reports are important for the value they give to the production of meaning. In RTÉ’s report, commuters in Waterford City are interviewed for their opinions about the return of the buses after the strike. The interviewees appear to be regular people, speak only about the positives about having the buses back. While subsequent interviewees talk about the issues surrounding the labour court’s recommendations and the possibility of future disputes. One driver is identified as a NBRU, National Bus & Rail Union, member. The driver speaks of the dissatisfaction drivers feel towards these recommendations. A bus driver further discusses this in Cork, a business owner in Waterford and a customer in Cork. All those interviewed in the later half of the report speak negatively about the labour court’s recommendations.

Interestingly, both reports interview the same Cork Business owner, Richard Jacob. In the RTÉ’s report, Jacob calls for politicians in Dublin to consider the country “outside of Dail Eireann”. Jacob echoes this anger towards how the government handled the Bus Eireann strike in both reports. However, TV3 gave context as to why Jacob was interviewed. Jacob who had previously written an open letter to the government accusing them of allowing Cork to die a slow death (Breakingnews.ie, 2017). By interviewing Jacob, there is bias introduced into the broadcast that is not balanced by an equally opposing opinion. Neither broadcast offers a government perspective to counteract Jacobs comments allowing his ideology to become dominant.

Furthering on from Jacob’s comments, An anti-Dublin ideology is apparent in TV3’s report. In the narration, the TV3 reporter mentions “The divide between Dublin and the rest of the country” furthering this segregation of counties. This divide and conquer mentality is creates hostility towards the nation’s capital. By alluding to Dublin’s ignorance of the rest of the countries problems in recent weeks, it perpetuates this discourse and anti-Dublin ideology and by extension, an anti-government message. Aside from Jacob’s comments, RTÉ’s report has no mention of this divide between Dublin and the rest of the country. It may be that as a public service broadcaster for the nation, RTÉ may have a responsibility to report on all citizens equally and does not wish to show bias towards one county over another.

The interviews conducted by TV3 are focused on professionals in the industry rather than the general public. One driver in Cork seems to be on the fence by saying “we need to look at the document more seriously” when the reporter interrupts and asks “is half a loaf better than nothing?” to which the driver responds “no”. This further enforces the upset by workers that the strike did not achieve what they had desired. It appears that TV3 has a bias by placing blame on both the workers who were on strike and the management of Bus Eireann. “The dispute could have been prevented” this suggests a breakdown between management and the workers.

One aspect of the interviews is the accent of those interviewed. TV3’s reporters speak with a seemingly neutral accent. However, those interviewed do have an accent that may be difficult to understand. In particular, those interviewed in Cork have a thick accent native to that area. However, as this report is broadcast nationwide, it may create a barrier between the message and the receiver. RTE have a similar issue with accents from Waterford and Cork natives that may create a problem for the receiver when decoding the message.

RTE’s report does not contain interviews with any officials, and This could be suggestive of their agenda. RTE may want to keep the focus on the dissatisfaction of the workers and the joy of the customers now that services are back. However, TV3 have a number of experts or officials from organisations interviewed. TV3 offer an on-camera statement from Nicola Cooke, Media and PR for Bus Eireann. However, at no point in the report is it stated that Cooke is Bus Eireann’s media and PR manager. Furthermore, when Cooke’s interview is broadcast, we see no identification or title on screen. When lower thirds are utilised later in the report, it is also problematic. A member from SIPTU is interviewed with the graphic identifying him as Willie Noone, SIPTU. When the man speaks he makes reference to his “colleague, Willie Noone”. The broadcast identifies the wrong man and moments later Willie Noone joins the man. However, no correction is made. No further identifying graphics are used. It is possible that the inadvertent misidentification of these men is an attempt to undermine their status as members of SIPTU.

TV3 creates this discourse of fear by asking “Will there be more pickets?”. The broadcast initial establishes the widespread disruption and inconvenience caused by the strikes. While RTE’s report focuses on the relief that the strikes are over, TV3 creates this sense of panic that the people of Ireland may experience more disruption in the coming weeks. This furthers the ideology that strikes are bad and the public support may drop even further as a result.

The key difference between RTE and TV3 reporting of this story is their presentation of the workers, their agenda when describing the strike actions and subsequent results, and their use of interviews. The tactics utilised such as editing and omitting words, mislabeling interviewees, use of graphics all add to the production of meaning. As a result, it is the argument of this paper that news media cannot act as the producers of meaning without being partial while remaining impartial. As stated above, the various techniques and narratives conveyed in both reports appear to produce a preferred meaning. When decoded and analysed RTE’s report is ignorant of the inconvenience the strikes have caused the Irish public while showing that workers are unhappy with the government’s recommendations. In contrast, TV3 focus on the negative impact the strikes has had on the country, while suggesting that the strikes achieved very little and may occur again. While both reports present the facts of the story, they re present these facts to suit their narrative.

 

Videos

RTE.ie. 2017. Bus Éireann services return to normal after strike. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.rte.ie/news/regional/2017/0414/867716-bus-eireann/. [Accessed 08 May 2017].

TV3 News. 2017. Bus Eireann get back on the road. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tv3.ie/news_sub_page.php?video_id=124239&locID=1.2.883. [Accessed 08 May 2017].

References:

BreakingNews. 2017. ‘You are allowing a city to die’ – Cork cafe owner calls on Government to sort bus strike in open letter | BreakingNews.ie . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.breakingnews.ie/discover/you-are-allowing-a-city-to-die-cork-cafe-owner-calls-on-government-to-sort-bus-strike-in-open-letter-785033.html. [Accessed 09 May 2017].

Galtung, J. and Ruge, M.H., 1965. The structure of foreign news: The presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus crises in four Norwegian newspapers. Journal of peace research, 2(1), pp.64-90.

TheJournal. 2017. Over half of people don’t support the Bus Éireann strike. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/bus-eireann-strike-20-3310311-Mar2017/. [Accessed 08 May 2017].

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