Journalism is all too often a poor fit when tackling car dominance

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: “…the absence of cars and people which can act as a deterrent has made some anti-social behaviour more visible” said RTE reporter Cathy Halloran at the start of an item on the pedestrianisation of the town of Ennis in Co Clare. This is stated as fact, when there’s no facts to back it up.

There’s only retailers against the pedestrianisation making a mix of unsubstantiated and ridiculous claims about what the pedestrianisation has meant for the town — “messing”, “fighting” and people not using the bins provided.

So, RTE captured some of this on camera? No, the imagery instead was of people of all ages getting about when the streets were not filled with cars. With such ridiculous claims, it’s harder to take possible less ridiculous claims among them seriously.

These kind of stories basically amount a some people are upset that they cannot drive narrow streets. In the RTE.ie website version of the coverage, RTE reported that “streets have been closed off for much of the day to facilitate social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic”. We don’t call Grafton Street in Dublin or Shop Street in Galway “closed” — it’s about cars without saying it.

Closing off car access no longer makes a great nation news story, so, the story focuses on “messing” etc. If there was on-going serious criminal issues, you’d expect maybe a reference to the Gardai.

There’s a lot of teenagers and adults bored out of their minds with the lockdown and little to do at the moment. So, there might be a bit of extra anti-social behaviour — but it’s unlikely that’s much different from towns without pedestrianisation.

The media are poor at questioning the claims made by opponents to such measures as pedestrianisation or cycle paths etc. Sometimes it’s because of biases or other times just because journalists have to file stories. Or because journalism is set up to balance any issue out by just saying one side said X and the other side said Y — this kind of journalism is fails when it doesn’t question any claims made.

It’s something that those who are in the thick of it in Ennis who support the pedestrianisation (including the main business groups) know all too well now. But for others it’s a word of warning: Opposition is normal and expect at least some of the media to parrot claims made by opponents. Journalism is all too often a poor fit for making progress on making our towns and cities a little less car dependent.

Cian Ginty
I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Also, the RTÉ story is about a change in the status quo – we’ve had car dependency and car facilitation for several decades and that’s sadly the status quo. Ennis is trying to change this. The status quo of unfettered car access (while in my opinion ridiculous, dangerous, polluting and anti-social) is what journalists often see as ‘normal’ and proposals for change being ‘new’ as the story to report…

  2. I actually think the article is quite balanced. The second half of the article lets proponents of the pedestrianisation have their say.

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