Why this story matters:
Some believe that it is a testimony to the ruling politicians' blatant approach to using public money in order to shape media coverage.
Government-sponsored content, like any other paid-for articles in the media, must be clearly identified as such. It should be crystal clear to everyone whether the article they are reading is impartial editorial or advertising.
However, it is not only the civil service that must be absolutely transparent -- it is also imperative that news organizations uphold their standards.
The government is often accused of communicating poorly with the public. The Strategic Communications Unit -- the brainchild of the Taoiseach (Irish PM) -- was set up, with a very large budget, in an effort to improve this.
Yet, as Irish Times pointed out, “this controversy arises not because the government was communicating strategically, but because it was -- in certain instances at least -- communicating politically”.
Details from the story:
- Articles promoting Project Ireland 2040, a new national development plan, appeared in a number of regional newspapers. The Strategic Communications Unit directed newspapers to publish the materials they provided without identifying them as an advertorial (paid content).
- Some featured pictures of Fine Gael (government majority party) politicians, who were not directly involved in the development plan.
- A campaign promoting Project Ireland 2040 would cost about 1.5 million euros.
- Opposition parties have accused the government of using public money to promote their party, bandying words like “spin” and “propaganda” around as official complaints have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Standards in Public Office Commission.
- Leo Varadkar, Irish PM, ordered a review of the unit, including the commissioning and copy-approving process of the Project 2040 advertorial campaign
- Sinn Féin, a leading Irish left-wing party, has called for the Strategic Communications Unit to be disbanded.