Comment & Analysis: The other day this website covered ‘Dark PR’, a new book by Grant Ennis — I stopped short of including how Ennis’s focus on framing could be applied to Ireland, but this week The Irish Times gives us a brilliant example of framing by the media in Ireland.
Framing can be blunt and more subtle. Ireland’s most high-profile motoring advocate Conor Faughnan used to (or maybe still does?) brilliantly frame cycling advocates as thinking “two wheels good, four wheels bad”. Simplistic and it sticks. As they say, the truth is somewhere in the middle, but that’s an example of blunt framing.
Academic research on news media output extensively looks at framing by reporters, editors and columnists. Too many journalists on the other hand like to pretend framing does not exist.
I’ll freely admit that IrishCycle.com looks at and reports on issues through certain frames, including that inactivity is bad, clean air is good, more mobility options good, cars dominating so much that our children’s freedom is affected is bad, better use of public space is good, poor land use is bad, etc etc and — importantly — we should follow the evidence around these transport-related issues and the solutions to them.
IrishCycle.com agrees with the national and local Government policy position that priority should be given to walking, cycling and public transport. It’s how all media outlets should be thinking and we in the media should try to hold the Government to account on related issues. Including climate action relating to transport.
Now, none of that is to say that the media should never report on things that affect car drivers. But this is where framing is important. This brings us to The Irish Times article on an increase in parking charges.
The standfirst of the article reads: “On-street parking will be more expensive than many indoor multi-storey facilities” and the first paragraph reads: “Charges for parking on some Dublin’s city centre streets are set to hit €4 an hour, bringing them on par with, or above rates for multi-storey carparks in the city.”
This is a type of framing. And it’s worth saying framing can be good/bad/neutral. It’s setting the news in context that on-street changes will match or be above the rate of parking in car parks.
But that’s the issue: Why on earth would parking charges in premium on-street spaces be cheaper than in car parks?
In an article on car parking charges, we’re then treated to six paragraphs on the draft Dublin City Centre Transport Plan and a list of other projects which have been implemented to give priority to sustainable transport — because covering increased parking charges alone isn’t clear enough framing.
Why is this framing important? Because newspapers like The Irish Times try not to go as far as the likes of the Daily Mail etc with clear contextualise or even more blunt editorialisation — in other words The Irish Times won’t come out with a “war on cars” style headline.
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In these paragraphs we get a string of impacts on motorists — “most radical restriction on private traffic”, “cars would be banned”, “follows a ban on cars from College Green…”, “…would see far greater restrictions on private traffic..”, “..with the intention of eliminating the two out of every three cars that are using the city as a through route..”, “Private traffic would also be stopped turning left” etc.
These are measures to give space and priority to sustainable transport — they can be reported as such or the framing can focus mostly on the impact on cars.
Readers are told that one of the measures will allow for cycle lanes. Yeah, sure, let’s forget about more bus priority, space for pedestrians, space for more than just movement and space for greenery. Or that the City Centre Pathfinder project, with the aim to reduce emissions, is dependent on a strong City Centre Transport Plan.
Bus gates — a clear bus priority measure — are repeatedly mentioned in this article and other recent Irish Times articles using double quotation marks (“bus gates”) even though the term has been used for decades in terms of the city centre traffic measures.
There’s nothing factually wrong with the article. It’s just the power of framing.