No matter where you turn the dial it’s been hard to escape covidmania on Irish airwaves. From looping reminders to get vaccinated to blanket news coverage on a pandemic approaching its second anniversary.

We’ve been stuck in a Wuhan state of mind for sometime now with no signs of abatement as our media kite flies on mandatory vaccination and curfew extended into Spring.

With such uniformity one has to ask, has the generous flow of state subsidies created to prop up the financially wounded industry earlier on in the pandemic contributed to the collapse in heterodoxy?

A pre-existing grant scheme to assist film and radio,Sound & Vision is operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to safeguard the creation of Irish content. Used for financially assisting various media projects it expanded into the realm of news coverage with the advent of the pandemic.

With the money originating from the Department of the Environment, over €5 million in grants has been given to radio stations such as 98FM, Dublin’s Q102 and Newstalk to tide these stations over financially amid the crisis.

Alongside this the scheme aims to support specific programming designed to promote public health policies. Among the projects commissioned by the scheme were ‘A Heroes Aid’ highlighting the role of healthcare workers on RedFM as well as ‘Family Matters’ on MidWest Radio documenting the lived experiences of people amid the pandemic.

These moves in the world of radio parallels recent announcements by the Department of Arts to place selected artists on a type of basic income to sustain the flummoxed industry.

The Burkean has previously reported on titles like the Irish Times claiming up to €3 million in wage subsidies.

Market forces are a harsh mistress in Irish media with razor thin margins being pushed to their limits and beyond with the arrival of covid. The state by accident or design has moved into becoming the dominant role in the arena due to its controls over the pursestrings when it comes to grant giving.

This consolidation has occurred not just within the world of radio but in print as well where many news outlets have availed of wage subsidy schemes and government advertising money.

In the pre-covid years various politicians had toyed with the idea of state funding for print journalism likely with one eye on influencing content creation and editorial lines. With the crisis their wish has been granted.

In fiscal terms it is not viable for the pandemic to end for some radio outlets. Their constant pushing for lockdowns are as much out of necessity as concern due to the addiction many have gotten to state subsidies during the period.

If and when this pandemic ends Irish people will awaken to a world where the media and state are one and the same, fused together by grants and sly working relationships.

The need for genuine independent media increases more and more if ever we want to reach a point where the Irish are willing to switch the dial.

Posted by Ciaran Brennan

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