Media manipulation a real concern in forthcoming presidential election campaign

29 July 2018

Statement by Joe Costello

Former Labour Presidential Director of Elections and representative for Dublin Central, Joe Costello has warned that media manipulation is a real concern in the forthcoming presidential election campaign.

Mr Costello said:

"The silly season appears to be in full swing. With the Dáil in recess the spotlight has shifted to the forthcoming Presidential Election.

"A hitherto unknown senator accused President Higgins of damaging his prospects of obtaining a Presidential nomination by delaying his announcement to run for a second term.  Once the President declared his intentions, the challenger hastily stepped out of the ring.  Other would-be challengers also quickly stepped in and stepped out again after they obtained some media coverage. Clearly the media including our national broadcaster was taken for a ride.

"What has characterised the coverage of the Presidential election to date is the messaging that the present incumbent, Michael D Higgins, is in some way frustrating the democratic process. Secondly, there is a drip-feed of anonymous messaging that President Higgins is vulnerable because of his age, that a secret poll has shown that non-declared contenders could beat him and that President Higgins has unstated questions to answer. This is all insidious messaging intended to damage President Higgins before the formal campaign begins.

"We now know how the media was manipulated in last year’s Presidential campaign in the United States and the Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom in 2016.  We also know that as early as 2011 in Ireland  a bogus tweet was used to undermine the prospects of a candidate in our last Presidential election campaign.

"The media must be on the alert and must be more aware of its ethical responsibilities to ensure that it is not manipulated by clever insidious messaging that can be hugely damaging to the prospects and good name of Presidential candidates."

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

Joe Costello was Director of Elections for Michael D Higgins Presidential Campaign in 2011.