The Anatomy of a #Liveline Segment : #TescoStrike

Usually it is against my better judgement to listen to Joe Duffy’s Liveline, especially when it covers issues I really care about.  For a show that no doubt would insist that it is “fair and balanced”, it is generally anything but.

Yet as I pointed out in an earlier article, just because we consider sections of the media to be “corporate-controlled”, this does not mean we should always refrain from listening to them, as they are every bit as much “players in the game” as any politician or other major public figure whose behaviour we wish to examine.

To this end I’d like to introduce what will be an occasionally-recurring series here on FPP : “The Anatomy of a Liveline Segment” where we will critique his coverage of a particular item in the news.  For this first instalment, we finally get to mention the ongoing strike at Tesco.

First, some background.  Joan Collins TD explained things from the workers’ perspective in the Dáil :

“Tesco is one of the few employers in the retail sector that still has thousands of decent jobs, where workers can earn enough to live. And now this is under attack.

It has those jobs because workers organised – research shows in the retail sector that those in unions earn around 30% more than those who are not.

That is why Tesco is looking to break the union, so that it can make big profits off the back of cheaper labour and join the race to the bottom in retail.”

Of course the giant retail chain were to have their own say, pouring doubt over the union’s claims and deferring to an old chestnut which the Government uses as a cop out to avoid direct involvement in industrial disputes :

“It is surprising that Mandate are balloting for industrial action in a small number of stores. Most unusually the union is rejecting a Labour Court Recommendation which it had sought and sets out a clear and generous resolution.”

When it comes to the Labour Court, while it’s proclamation is known as a “recommendation”, when it comes to how it is used in the “court of public opinion”, more often than not it is portrayed as an ultimatum akin to “like it or lump it”.

So let’s see how Joe handled Tuesday’s segment.  He was off that day and in his stead was Damian O’Reilly, but this doesn’t absolve Duffy of responsibility for the content…his name is regularly repeated throughout the show whether he is there or not.

Here is how the segment progressed (click here to listen in full) :

  • First we are introduced to Des, who is described as a “well-known, well-respected businessman”.  He owns a butcher’s shop located beside Tesco Greystones and claims his business is adversely affected by the picketing union workers.  He says that on Friday and Saturday over the weekend his taking were down between “70 and 80 percent”.  Damien then mentions another business owner from the same complex who was “too upset to come on air”.
  • Eventually over 4 minutes into the segment we get to hear from a representative of the workers, namely Keith Pollard, an Industrial Officer with Mandate Trade Union.  His first point is that their fight is not with shop owners like Des, and that the strikers’ intention is to picket the front of the Tesco itself, not the wider shopping complex, yet the company management will not allow it so they must go outside.
  • Despite the fact that Pollard has offered an explanation, O’Reilly repeatedly asks him why the workers aren’t doing more to avoid affecting the small businesses.  For me, given that they can’t picket indoors, this effectively means Damien is asking him to call off the dispute altogether?  Also, throughout the segment, O’Reilly’s number to describe the effect on Des’ business jumps from 70 to 80 to even 90 percent.
  • This exchange goes back and forth through the first half of the overall segment.  Des is worried for his business, Keith say the workers would move if they could, Damien makes it looks as though the workers are somehow being unreasonable. Nobody seems able to move forward from this position and they waste a lot of time repeating themselves.
  • What about Tesco?  Damien tries to absolve himself in the early stages –  “We’ve invited them on, they’re more than welcome to come on.”  Sixteen minutes into the segment, he reads out a statement from them (“in fairness”, as he puts it) – basically they claim that the workers were asked to move outside in the interest of the “safety and comfort of customers”.
  • We are joined suddenly by “Graham Nolan” (I can only assume he is a “random member of the public”), who also makes it out as though it is only up to the strikers to resolve the issue.  “Why don’t they have it clearly written on their placards that they are just picketing Tesco?” he asks (paraphrase)
  • Then they take a break.  When they come back, Des, Keith and Graham are gone.  Now we have three new callers.
  • First up is Barry, another random caller.  He is sympathetic to the picketers and claims they are friendly and that the onus is on Tesco not the workers.  Damien replies “You have a good point but the problem is in this instance….” before repeating the point about the (probably well over 100% by now) drop in takings for the small businesses.
  • Next we have Theresa, who is actually a picketer.  She makes an excellent point that perhaps it’s not them stopping anyone from entering the shops, maybe instead it’s the shoppers’ own conscience.
  • Finally we have Paula Hannon, an elderly lady (apparently) who claims she was somehow prevented from entering the centre.  “A terrible experience”, “they were walking, blocking me”, and she was subject to “intimidation”.  Personally, I believe she felt intimidated, though I’m not altogether sure that was anywhere near the intention of the picketers as she suggests.
  • Then O’Reilly reads another statement from Tesco, which miraculously supports Paula’s claims of intimidation.

This post has gone way longer than it probably should, but I will finish with a few thoughts.

If the show’s intention really was to be “fair and balanced”, it wouldn’t have focused solely on the collateral effect on local business.  No decent person wants to see anybody lose out in situations like this, but what about the workers?  Are they not also collateral victims?

There are two sides in every industrial dispute.  Tesco initiated this situation by proposing to exchange an existing agreement.  The workers did not agree, yet Tesco still claim they will press ahead, now using a “Labour Court Recommendation” as some kind of endorsement.  It is still up to the workers to accept, which they clearly haven’t.  Now they should be talking to each other, and any effect on the wider community, be it business owners or shoppers, is a direct consequence of this failure to meet.

As far as I am concerned, if they refuse to send a representative onto the programme, Tesco shouldn’t be allowed to have statements read out.  Remember – the segment was divided in two, so their rep wouldn’t have to go up directly against the union one.  By providing statements to be read unchallenged they are showing themselves to be cowards in my view.

While this segment of the programme did allow representatives on both sides of the issue to have their say, it has to be said that the general tone of the presentation was extremely weighted in favour of Tesco.   Not that this was much of a surprise, but we feel it’s important to call them out on it whenever possible.

You can expect more “Anatomy of a Liveline Segment” posts in the future.  Probably need at least a week to recover from this one though! JLP