Beltany Stone Circle – Co. Donegal Megalith Trail, Part 1


Stop one in Co. Donegal. I read that this place was linked with Ballynoe before arriving. There are many similarities, but this place is hugely different.


Like Ballynoe, there is a tunnel on the way in. This time wider and with more variety of trees along with the hawthorn and gorse.


The ruins of a round, stone structure sits off the main path. From there, there are two parallel paths to take; one to the stones, another into a forest. My curiosity, of course, took me into the forest.

It had been a long drive from Co. Down, it had given me a lot of time to relax, listen to music and to think. On entering the pathway, all my thoughts faded. It was as if I was entering a different world.



The forest was made up of fir and pine trees. It was a beautiful place to wander around in. Natural pathways sloped downhill. I was surprised by the amount of quartz-like stone around. With Newgrange fresh in my head, I wondered if they had got there naturally. There were many other rocks. Thin, slate-like pieces leaned against the bases of trees, presumably washed up there.
The forest was guarded by a stone wall, hawthorn trees, sycamore trees and elm trees. An oak grove could be seen in a field nearby.

There was something quirky and unnatural about the place. On many occasions I felt like I was being watched. There was evidence of humans everywhere. I found horseshoe prints in the dirt. Why would horses be in such a crowded forest? I followed out of the trees into a field. There was a stone in the field that looked like a gravestone from the back.


When I re-entered the forest, I found a deposit of strangely shiny rocks. They were slim and light. They looked as if they had been sprayed with silver paint. I turned one over and the other side was burnt. This forest was giving me more than I had the expertise for.

I walked back through towards the exit. Sheep’s wool was on many of the lower branches and the feathers of wood pigeons were on the ground. I found a few smashed bird eggs too.

Towards the exit a fire had been built. Two wheels and some pine sticks had been used as fuel. The word “DIVER” had been sprayed on two of the trees with silver paint, as well as a silver cock (of course!). I wondered if that was how the stones got their colour. Blue rope was tied about two and a half metres up one of the trees.

I left the forest and headed through the gate to the circle. I sat at one of the rocks, gathered my thoughts, and wrote some notes.


The circle is huge. It sits on top of a hill in an open field. The views around it are spectacular. I can see mountains in the distance, but I don’t know what they are. Compared to Down and Louth, this place feels foreign to me.

Further investigation revealed one of the hills nearby is Croaghan Hill, thought to be the resting place of  the warrior Itha of the followers of Parthanón. Itha died at the battle of Mag Itha, a magical battle between the followers of Parthanón and the Fomorians.

The Fomorians came to Ireland following the flood and the followers of Parthanón came after. The Fomorians seem to represent chaotic forces, where the followers of Parthanón represent civilisation and agriculture.

Parthanón and his followers all died of plague in a single week after the battle. The Fomorians survived and continued to be represented throughout Irish mythology. They are closely linked with the Tuatha Dé Dannan, with whom they fight regularly.



The sign at the entrance says there are 64 stones. It also describes a stone head that was found at the circles. The head reminded me of the Tandragee Man, an idol to Nuada, a king of the Tuatha Dé Dannan.



Most of the stones are tilted outwards from the circle. My initial thought was that they would be easy to lean against to see a ceremony taking place in the centre. Two huge stones sit at the entrance. They are slightly off so as to create a clear entry for something.


There is evidence of a fire having been burnt in the centre of the circle recently, probably in celebration of Bealtaine, the festival the stones are named after. Bealtaine (meaning bright fire) is a celebration of the summer. A cup-marked stone is supposed to line up with the sun in early May, when the festival is celebrated. One of the rituals involved in the festival of Bealtaine is to walk your livestock around a fire, or between two fires, to protect them from disease.


Return of the Fairies – Co. Louth Megalith Tour Part 3



A few miles outside Carlingford is a brown sign that points to a “Deserted Village” and “Court Tomb”.  To describe it as a village seems inaccurate. It is more like a collection of homesteads, eight to nine buildings in total.


The entrance way reminds me of Ballynoe. A trail through the gorse opens up onto a huge hillside with a mound on the top.  Sheep roam between the abandoned buildings. Hawthorn trees grow at random points. Gifts left on the trees link the site with the fairies.


The fairly folk, or Síde (from which the term Banshee comes), were known to live in mounds and to defend them ferociously. The hawthorn and blackthorn trees are signs of their presence.


There is a chamber towards the highest homestead on the hill. A stone, clearly different from the stones of the buildings, is placed at the entrance. The tone of the rock and the deliberate placement played in my imagination. Perhaps the stone was there to prevent evil spirits from entering or leaving the chamber, as is done with quartz.


The court tomb sits in a field of its own nearby.


I stopped at a rock nearby to make some notes. It is a distinctive rock, with views over Carlingford Lough to the Mournes and across the Irish Sea. Scotland is just about visible. Geocachers should look out for this stone. A horse slept among the gorse in the distance.


It was a steep ascent from here to the top. I found a throne made of stones along the way. This had by far the best view over the land itself. And, of course, show me a throne, and I’ll sit on it!


Not far from the throne was a family of horses. Two black and white adults and two younger horses; one black and brown male and one smaller, white female. I stopped and talked to them. I let them sniff my hand and they let me stroke their noses. The two adults were very friendly, the younger horses were a bit more timid. The small, white horse would not come near at all. The young brown and white one stood near and chewed on a gate post. A group of hill climbers were approaching in the distance, so I said my goodbyes and left.


The ridge was only a short climb from this point. There was a triangulation station and a view onto the next mountain. It was eerie. A cloud passed along the top making it look like a pathway to Mordor. To the other direction were more stunning views across the lough and the Mournes.


The homesteads were mostly hidden by gorse at this height. I walked back down the hills reflecting on the gorse. This really is the time of year for it. It crops up all over these sites. At the Kempe Stones near Ards the gorse has almost covered the stones completely. It’s lovely to look at and gives off a beautiful scent, but it’s spiky to touch and easily ignitable. When we were children, we would pick the yellow flowers. My granny would use them to dye eggs. We’d then throw the eggs down the hill until they were all smashed up to celebrate Easter.

A few days after my visit I got a call from a man who works at the visitors’ centre in Carlingford. I wanted to talk to him about the souterrains found at King John’s Castle. He said the souterrains were found in 2008, but, until recently, there had been trouble sourcing funding to properly excavate. The souterrains are expected to open to the public in 2018.


We talk about the “Deserted Village”.  He agreed it was more like a collection of homesteads. He told me he had been visiting that area for years and only within the last couple of years had he seen people leaving gifts on the tree.

Perhaps it is not a site linked with the Síde, or perhaps it had been forgotten. Perhaps the pre-Christian ways of Ireland are returning. People are rebelling against destructive foreign churches, and against the religion of the state which offers little meaning to life. The fairies are reemerging.

Saints and Demons at Brigid’s Shrine – Co. Louth Megalith Tour Part 2


The main reason I was in Co. Louth was for Tommy McGovern’s gig at the Spirit Store in Dundalk. I’ll wait until Tommy hits the big time and sell the story to NME. The plan was to see the gig, then find somewhere to park up and sleep in the van. Earlier that day I had decided to sleep at St. Brigid’s Shrine.

After the gig a few of us went back to Tommy’s. It took me well out of the way of the shrine, so I settled on staying somewhere closer to Carlingford.

Tommy’s friend asked me to take him home, thinking I was heading back up north. When he found out that wasn’t the way I was going he couldn’t apologise enough. I didn’t care. I like to drive strange roads at night. I dropped him off and he pointed me in the direction of Carlingford.

At the bottom of his road was an archway that I hadn’t noticed on the drive in. Across the road from that was some sort of visitors’ centre. I turned my car towards the archway and the words ‘St Brigid’s Shrine’ were illuminated by the headlights. I knew it wasn’t chance me finding this place. I drove through the archway and saw various statues dedicated to Jesus and Mary.

There was a car park across the way by the visitors’ centre. I parked there and jumped in the back of the van. It was pitch black. I was feeling anxious. The statues had creeped me out. I put my head down and tried to sleep. An abandoned house was on the other side of the road. I kept imagining someone looking through the windows of my van at me. There was a light and a small weapon hidden near me in the van just in case. It made little difference to the feeling I had of being watched.

I reminded myself why I came here. This was an ancient pre-Christian site of healing, a place of good energy, and sleeping nearby would not be a danger to me. I settled quickly after that thought and got some sleep.

Sunrise and the cold woke me up. I got out for an explore. There was another car in the car park. It had a northern registration. In the daylight I saw stations of the cross on a green next to the visitors’ centre. A woman was at them. I went to the other side of the road where I had seen the statues the night before.


The shrine was beautiful in the daylight. A small stream flowed through it. On one side of the stream were some trees and fallen leaves. On the other was a path and manicured green grass. It was a contrast between nature and the creations of man. There were shrines and statues on the man made side. The remaining stations of the cross had been set on nature’s side. Song birds were all over the place in large variety. Variety in plant and animal life is common at these sites. I threw some seeds down for the birds. I appreciated the tranquillity of the place for a little longer then headed back.

The stones were on the car park end, and this was my destination. I followed the stream past the stations of the cross. The woman I had seen earlier was at a shrine to Jesus. I did not want to disturb her worship. The stream led to the shrine she was at. A plaque sat at the turning of the stream outlining which stones were which and what prayers should be said at each of them.


The stones were easily recognisable. The horseshoe stone is quite small with a horseshoe clearly marked in it. Next is the headstone, marked out with white paint, then the knee stone.


As I approached the other stones, the woman came down from the shrine. We started talking. It was Good Friday, and she told me she was fasting and doing the stations of the cross. We talked about religion and faith. I tried to hide that my faith wasn’t rooted in Catholicism, but I’m sure she knew.

She lived locally, around four miles away on the other side of the border. I told her I wasn’t from the area and had slept here the night before in my van. She was shocked. “Were you not scared?” she asked. I told her I was a bit anxious at first, then I reminded myself what this place was and that had calmed me. She was still shocked. She told me there had been incidents here.

Then she said something that really resonated with me: “The devil is attracted to these sorts of places.”

When I had tried to sleep the night before, the entity watching me through the window felt demonic. In my mind’s eye it had long, greasy hair with faded green skin. It looked like the girl from the exorcist, only bloodier and with the flesh coming off its face so badly that its features were no longer recognisable. It wasn’t knocking, but it had its hand on the window. I did not open the door. The front doors were locked and the back door had the padlock on. I was armed. I allowed the healing properties from the stones outside to seep in and the demon left.

At many similar sites I have visited, there have been broken bottles, empty cans, pill packets and underwear. There have been the remains of scenes that I would rather not write about, things that have left me very unsettled. Demonic entities vary in strength and harmfulness.

The woman and I chatted some more. She told me about the stones. She showed me the hip stone, the eye stone and the back stone and told me the legends behind them.


Brigid had been dragged away by her hips to be married against her will. To make herself less attractive, she plucked out her eye. She used water from the stream to heal her eye and it was restored.

The woman told me how she too had used water from the eye stone to heal ailments in her own eye.

Brigid was around at the time Patrick was Christianising Ireland. No doubt many of these practices were druidic in their origins, along with many other practices and customs associated with her. This was not the time to challenge this woman’s beliefs though. She was very generous with her information and knowledge, and had been a pleasure to talk to.

She gave me books and pamphlets. She was clearly trying to convert me. I took them out of a general interest in religion. She also gave me a St Brigid’s Cross pin. She told me she had been waiting for someone like me who she could help. We spoke about her sons, who had left home and grown away from the church. They had gone into other areas of society. She was grateful that two of them had found good Catholic girls in other parts of the world at least.

She invited me back for breakfast, but I politely declined. It was Good Friday and I wanted meat. I gave her my phone number and told her she could call any time. I then left for Carlingford with much to reflect on.

Where is our Cù Chulainn now? – Co. Louth Megalith Tour Part 1



This is the stone that legendary Ulster warrior Cù Chulainn tied himself to as he died. Tricked by Queen Medb into breaking one of his geiss (a religious taboo), he was weakened before his final battle. Cù Chulainn was mortally wounded and tied himself to this stone by his own entrails so that he would die on his feet. His enemies were so afraid of him that they kept their distance even as he was dying. They would only appraoch when a raven landed on his shoulder, signifying his death.

As I stood in the field by this stone three ravens flew directly overhead. I could hear others cawing all around.

Cù Chulainn was our Hercules. He went through all sorts of trials. He defended Ulster when its men were struck down by a curse of labour pains, given to them after the King of Ulster made his wife race a horse while she was pregnant. It makes me think about the men of Ulster now, emasculated in this time just as they were during the Cattle Raid of Cooley, when Cù Chulainn stepped up.

Who stands for Ulster now? The British government does what it wants here, while Sinn Fein and the DUP line their own pockets, complicit in their inaction.

History moves in cycles. Where is our Cù Chulainn now?


A couple approached the stone as I left. They were holding hands. I climbed the fence out of the field and cast my eyes back for one last look at the stone. The couple were leaning up against the stone kissing. Love and life and life and death are all intrinsically linked.

Is Stormont something that should be destroyed to bring new life? Does Ulster need a hero to bring about that death? Would new life elsewhere cause Stormont’s death naturally?

There is certainly instability ahead. No one knows what will happen when Brexit kicks in. If direct rule happens the old power structures, in the form of paramilitaries, are already waiting in the wings to fill any void.

No paramilitary or political party is relevant to me.

I drove into Dundalk after the stones and was struck by the amount of tricolours on lampposts. Gerry Adams has an office here. Despite having just visited the death place of the greatest Celtic hero in Irish mythology, I felt very much like an outsider. I may not like the British government, but that does not make me a green, white and gold flag waver, nor have ever taken communion. I don’t sign up to the Catholic church’s or Sinn Fein’s hijack on Irish identity. I don’t know the rules of hurling, but I know how to swing a bat. The Celts of these islands had more in common with each other than a Roman church or a middle Eastern deity.

It makes me wonder at what point did the Scots stop helping the Irish against the British and start helping the British against the Irish? After all, the Scots are mostly the Irish who invaded Alba and stayed there. The Ulster Scots are those who came back. We were split by Christian churches playing a game of divide and conquer; a game going on to this day with different beneficiaries.



Is the election a cover up?


G8 Summit

There’s something that doesn’t add up about this election business.  Is Sinn Fein hiding something?  They collapsed Stormont before an inquiry into RHI could be called.  Mike Nesbitt was on Twitter begging the Justice Minister, Independent MLA Claire Sugden, to call for the inquiry before the Executive is stepped down.  Why can’t a Sinn Fein Minister do it?  Why didn’t a Sinn Fein Minister do it?

There is a period of seven days following Marty’s resignation for Sinn Fein to stop Stormont collapsing.  This has not happened and is unlikely to happen.  Sinn Fein wants an election.  They told this to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State.  They were gutting the DUP in the media yesterday.  In previous elections neither have really targeted the other.

Curtains could close on Paisley’s old party.  He had the ability to hold them all together.  Members of Paisley’s DUP were likely to be members of his church and lodge too.  Robinson did not have the personality to retain that collective identity.  By the time Foster took the helm the party was too far gone.  Too much corruption, not enough discipline.

Sinn Fein is almost their opposite.  They are the most capable political force in Northern Ireland.  Sinn Fein have bedded themselves into their “communities” much more effectively.  They are the face of their “culture.”  They have taken the “Free Ireland” story.  They organise the Easter parades.  They have appropriated those symbols.

Take unionism as the opposite example.  The Orange Order organises the parades.  The DUP, as a separate political entity, is therefore open to attack to separate these entities.  Divide and conquer.  The old army structures of the IRA make it difficult to divide Sinn Fein.  All they have had to do is bide their time.

There are members of Sinn Fein who have murdered and bombed to get them to power.  They have lied in government.  They will do everything they can to stay there.  They are smarter and more united than the DUP.  The media reports from yesterday and this morning gives a sense that Sinn Fein are acting like Mafiosos; politically bumping off the DUP, an old accomplice who outlived their use and who knew too much.

Don’t underestimate a party who has openly killed for power.

Last minute decision to vote in the EU Referendum


“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” is a saying that haunts me. Doing nothing sounds great.  It sounds safe and comfortable.

With only one day left before registration for voting in the EU referendum closed, I was at the electoral office getting signed up. I saw the result as a foregone conclusion and the process being divisive for the whole country. The Tory party is gutting itself with all the infighting, parties of the left have been supportive of the EU with many disagreeing internally. Divide and conquer showing itself on every level. Many of those who support a remain vote are labeling those in disagreement as fascists or racists, while they themselves are being labelled quite often as establishment-loving liberals. Good people, friends of mine, have been making insulting comments. People are turning on those they would have considered political allies before this campaign, people with whom they share the same values.

This is why I didn’t want to get involved, but that saying haunts me.

The referendum poses a massive decision for people, and they are taking it very seriously. A close friend of mine told me, “Sometimes I feel like voting to leave, but I’ll probably stick with staying when I get in the polling booth.” The concerns people have are real and valid. For those on who want to stay there are big problems with uncertainty of how things would be if we were to leave the European Union. I respect why people would want to vote that way. There are many in the UK who live a stable life, who have people who depend on them, and who have a higher stake in keeping things the way they are. For me, a twenty eight year old with a big student debt and the prospect of getting a meaningful job quite difficult, the EU has done very little.

For example with employers rights. The Conservative party may have a bad reputation when it comes it workers, but how much protection has the EU really brought to workers? Mike Ashley was hauled in front of the House of Commons’ Business Committee for a bollocking by MPs about how workers at his company (Sports Direct) have been treated, because he can’t be hauled in front of the courts. His company was acting within the law.  If the EU protected our employment rights so well, why do so many of us have Sports Direct-esque experiences, where we work in degrading conditions for small amounts of pay?

Fracking is still a concern for residents of all parts of the UK and the recent horse meat scandal exposed problems with globalisation in our food supply.  These examples raise questions on how effective the EU really is environmentally and how much we benefit from globalisation.

Another area of misinformation and division is around immigration. The facts are difficult to discern and it’s hard to know who to trust. Why can’t we trust mainstream media when talking about crimes committed as a result of a lack of integration from refugees or migrants, but we can when refugees or migrants are portrayed as victims? I believe the Truth lies not in excluding one of these statements, but in acknowledging both.

Let me first say that I am opposed to borders. I believe that people should have the freedom to move between countries, to trade, work and visit other countries without the need for permission. What we have, however, is not immigration. It is a mass movement of people. The people of countries like Syria and Iraq have been victims of war and economic sanctions brought on by foreign countries for years. Natives of those countries risk their lives by staying and risk their lives by leaving. The gap between the standard of living in their war torn homelands and a relatively stable Europe is so great that it’s not hard to see why people would risk leaving. Neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel are doing little to help refugees forcing them north geographically.  This creates a funnel system, and with huge numbers moving into new areas without any real mechanisms for integration, there will be problems. Ignoring this as a problem will not stop it.

For some migration is a bad thing, for me it’s not. It allows for new ideas to spread around the world, for new technological advancements to be developed, and it offers people individual freedom. Forced mass migration on the other hand does not end well. Mass migration is often followed by war, famine, disease and eventually state collapse. This knowledge on history’s cycles is easily accessible. The rulers of the world already know it, yet they are doing little to stop it. Based on how little percolates into the mainstream about tensions between refugee groups and European natives, I would question the motives of the rulers of Europe entirely.

The European Union is a massive source of centralised power. Like all sources of centralised power, it may have started with the best intentions, but has become corrupt. We have seen how this has happened to other sources of centralised power: MPs fiddling their expenses, child abuse in the Catholic church, and banks rigging financial markets all with little real consequence or accountability. The EU, like these other organisations, is acting in the interests of its leaders and not those who it claims to serve. The defining proof of this, despite what good it claims to do, is austerity.

Austerity is a political weapon of the ruling class. It is a method of disempowering the working classes and allowing the wealthy and powerful to consolidate that wealth and power. Austerity is incredibly complex by design. It is not as simple as needing to balance the books. There are many other economic, social and psychological dimensions to it. All that we really need to see is that during times of austerity, the working classes find it difficult to be upwardly socially mobile, while the rich have little impact on their standard of living and have increased their wealth since the most recent financial crisis.

Austerity is a core policy of the EU. In 2012 Francois Hollande was elected President of France under a socialist banner. In his victory speech he said, “Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option.” He was quickly brought into line. The Greeks put up slightly more of a fight when they elected far-left Syriza but were spectacularly crushed when the financial forces of Europe colluded, as former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis described after leaving office.

When we give our power away to bigger organisations it is harder to get it back. We have given away so much already. This is our chance to take some it back. This is our chance to start reclaiming our energy supplies, our food supplies and our water supplies. We’ll bring the power back to Westminster and then we’ll take it from them too.

This is a chance for us to live fulfilling lives, to be able to interact with people instead of bureaucracies or companies, and to have more meaningful relationships from that. I respect the decision of those who have voted to stay in. I respect they have reached that decision as an autonomously thinking human being. They are not my enemies. My enemies are those who perpetuate division for their own benefit through organisations like the EU. Doing nothing sounds safe and comfortable, but that same saying still haunts me.

Modern News: setting an agenda and having the people follow it



It’s hard to deny the media can be used to influence people. The rise of Public Relations and the prominence of advertising in modern times shows this. These areas have been ways for groups and individuals to garner the power of the media to persuade people to make a choice or hold an opinion favourable to those groups.

But what if the media itself is not simply a vehicle to allow a range of views and opinions to be broadcast, but a propaganda tool for a set agenda, that deviates very little from that agenda and influences people along those lines?

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman believe that the media is a powerful propaganda tool, and have devised a model with five key elements, or filters, that interact and reinforce one another: “(1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business and “experts” funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) “flak” as a means of discipling the media; and (5) “anticommunism” as a national religion and control mechanism.” (Chomsky, N. & Herman E. S., 1988, p 2.)

Chomsky and Herman’s insight into the workings of the media was written in 1988 predominantly about the USA, but there are clear parallels with the UK media that can be seen today.

Michael Schudson argues that Chomsky and Herman’s model is rigid and “entirely inconsistent with what most journalists in democratic societies believe they are doing.” Quoting Susan Pharr, Schudson believes that modern media has taken on a more complex role, that of the trickster:

The trickster is by no means simply a megaphone for ruling elites, but neither is it an unbridled critic of power. The trickster is ‘as likely to tweak as to condemn’ and often does both at once. While the media tricksters do not simply reproduce existing power, their overall effect as critics ‘is to disperse, dissipate, or fragment any effort on the part of the audience to agree on a systematic critique of the established order or to forge an alternative construction of reality that calls for profound political and social change’.” (Schudson, M., 2005, p 176-177)

This view of the media as the trickster still serves to reinforce current power structures, by failing to allow the public as a whole to collectively construct narratives to combat those structures. It’s a technique of divide and conquer.

In his analysis of modern media studies, Curran looks at Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci believed that “social order is maintained not just through coercion, but through active consent. In hegemonic societies, this consent is secured through the cultural leadership of the dominant social grouping.” (Curran J., 2006, p 132.)

Curran also writes about Jurgen Habermas in this analysis, a German philosopher and media theorist who believed that “modern media fell under the influence of public relations, advertising, and big business, and offered shallow consumerism, empty political spectacle and pre-packaged convenience thought.” (Curran J., 2006, p 133)

Curran identifies four key areas that have influenced media and cultural studies since the 1980s in Britain: the political ascendancy of market liberalism, the social dynamic of increasing individualism, the rise of women, and intensified globalisation. He argues that Gramsci and Habermas had their theories used and reinterpreted by others throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin wall. This reinterpretation meant that their original work was almost non-existent in media and cultural studies, “a way of settling past debts” to Marxism, and a way to intellectually align the study of media with globalisation and neo-liberalism, a political concept of submitting everything to market forces through deregulation.

Curran does believe that there have been some positive effects of globalisation, for example new generations have an increased awareness and better technology to connect around environmental, human rights, peace and world poverty issues, but that globalisation has reduced the democratic power of the people and meant less accountability on governments, military and financial institutions. Global society, he believes, is currently underdeveloped. He also argues that the perception that market liberalism, multiple societal identities and the breaking down of class boundaries has increased social mobility is untrue:

This reorientation ignored a large accumulation of empirical evidence showing that class still strongly influences the distribution of life chances, experience and rewards in contemporary advanced societies.” (Curran J., 2006, p 129-142)

Media Ownership

A study carried out by the Media Reform Coalition in 2014 showed that media ownership in the UK is incredibly concentrated, with three companies controlling nearly 70% of national newspaper circulation and five companies controlling almost 70% of regional newspaper circulation. For radio, a single provider (Sky) provides virtually all of national and regional radio news and the BBC accounts for a majority of television news consumption, while ITV accounts for the majority of non-BBC news consumption, at 75% AND 13% respectively in 2012. (Media Reform Coalition, 2014)

Sources of television news used ‘nowadays’:

Sources of television news used nowadays

With this consideration of the BBC’s dominance of broadcast news in mind, it is worth noting James Curran and Jean Seaton’s view of public service broadcasting: “It is controlled by an unrepresentative elite who foist their cultural values on the public. It is vulnerable to government pressure because it is dependent on state sponsored privileges. It is run by bureaucracies prone to waste and profligacy.” (Curran, J. & Seaton, J., 2010, p 371)

Curran and Seaton go on to discuss the 2003 Communications Act and how the deregulation of the media is seen, particularly by neo-liberals, as a democratisation of the media; the idea that the market controls what media is broadcast and thus consumed is the choice of the individuals consuming that media, not a public institution. Curran and Seaton highlight some arguments written by Keynesian economists Andrew Graham and Gavyn Davies, who argue that in this model “extensive intervention is needed… to cope with a built in tendency for a small number of companies to dominate the broadcasting market.” (Curran & Seaton, 2010, p 372-378)

This is ultimately true when looking at the Media Reform Coalition’s analysis of how the 2003 Communications Act affected the internet. The government at the time suggested that “technological developments had opened the way for new market entrants.” However, as the analysis shows, the only new entrant to have made an impact in the internet news market over the last ten years is the Huffington Post, with the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Guardian showing clear market dominance in that area. (Media Reform Coalition, 2014)

The bottom line of media is advertising…. Everything in media except advertising costs money, whereas advertising brings in the money. This simple fact explains much of the content of the media. Ultimately it is the advertiser, not the audience, who must be pleased.” (Harris & Sanborn, 2014, p122-123.)

Ultimately the reason these structures exist is to reinforce a market driven system. Media organisations will bend to the needs and wills of their advertisers or financiers. Media organisations are quite often large companies, which have no social responsibilities, but instead are legally bound to increase profits for their shareholders. An evident example in the UK was when The Telegraph’s former political editor Peter Oborne resigned earlier this year. Writing for the website OpenDemocracy, Oborne explains in great detail his growing concern with the paper downsizing its team of dedicated journalists, favouring instead a “click culture” in which driving traffic to its website was favoured over its traditions and reputation. The final straw for him was when the Telegraph refused to publish stories that were critical of Telegraph advertiser HSBC. Oborne left the newspaper, but continued to investigate the Telegraph’s suppression of stories which were negative to HSBC and other advertisers. Among the numerous examples, he writes:

From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph. Its account, I have been told by an extremely well informed insider, was extremely valuable. HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend”. HSBC today refused to comment when I asked whether the bank’s decision to stop advertising with the Telegraph was connected in any way with the paper’s investigation into the Jersey accounts.

Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority. It was eventually restored after approximately 12 months. Executives say that Murdoch MacLennan was determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank. “He would express concern about headlines even on minor stories,” says one former Telegraph journalist. “Anything that mentioned money-laundering was just banned, even though the bank was on a final warning from the US authorities. This interference was happening on an industrial scale.”” (Oborne, 2015)

The Telegraph, and other commercial news outlets, are not the only model of media ownership that can have pressure applied to it. Public service broadcasters are just as open to manipulation and coercion.

David Cromwell and David Edwards, founders and co-editors of media analysis website MediaLens, are highly critical of the BBC, claiming that it is riddled with corruption and establishment bias. They claim it is vulnerable from pressure from senior management appointed by government and constant threats at the removal of the BBC licence fee. They go in to extensive detail as to how the BBC enforce a pro-business agenda and have aided in various cover ups and agenda setting surrounding the Iraq war (
Cromwell & Edwards 2006 and Cromwell & Edwards 2009)

On the appointments of Gavyn Davies, who was mentioned above and who was also chief economist at Goldman Sachs with a personal fortune estimated at £150 million, as BBC chairman (2001-04) and Greg Dyke as BBC director general (2000-04), Cromwell and Edwards write:

Both Davies and his director-general Greg Dyke were not just supporters of, but donors to, the Labour Party. Personal links also abounded – Davies’ wife ran Gordon Brown’s office; his children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding. Tony Blair had stayed at Davies’ holiday home. ‘In other words,’ columnist Richard Ingrams noted, ‘it would be harder to find a better example of a Tony crony.’” (Cromwell & Edwards, 2009, p 25)

Cromwell & Edwards are also critical of BBC Trust members, whose members in 2009 consisted mostly of ex-civil servants, business men and women and ex media personnel. “There are no members from trade unions, green pressure groups, development charities, child poverty groups, or other grass root organisation.” (Cromwell & Edwards, 2009: 27)

One of the most important myths that is debunked in their book is that of impartiality across media organisations:

Psychologist Daniel Goleman examined the mechanics of self-deception. According to Goleman, we build our version of reality around key frameworks of understanding, or ‘schemas’, which we then protect from conflicting facts or ideas. The more important a schema is for our sense of identity and security, the less likely we are to accept evidence contradicting it…. [Quoting Goleman:] ‘The ease with which we deny and dissemble- and deny and dissemble to ourselves that we have denied and dissembled – is remarkable.’ Psychologist Donald Spence noted the sophistication of this process: ‘We are tempted to conclude that the avoidance is not random but highly efficient – the person knows just where not to look.’ This tendency to self deception appears to be greatly enhanced when we join as part of a group. This creates a sense of belonging, a ‘we-feeling’, that provides an even greater incentive to reject conflicting truths.”

Concentrated media ownership, the demands of advertisers and the need and ability for power structures to grow, reinforce and protect themselves all provide the motivation and the ability for something so huge to influence the public. The most powerful way to do this is to set an agenda, to set a view of the world that we as media consumers perceive to be reality.

Schudson accepts that there are forces that try to garner the abilities of journalism for propagandistic purpose, but also believes that journalists possess more free thought than Chomsky and Herman give credit for. He writes: “Social, cultural, economic and political forces do in fact structure news production. But they do not produce news out of nothing. They act on ‘something’ in the world. The ‘something’ they work on are events, happenings, occurrences in the world that impress journalists and their audiences with their importance or interest. The forces of journalism does produce some noteworthy events – in press conferences, interviews and so forth. These are directly created by journalists or by other people acting with journalists in mind. Corporations, non-profit organisations, governments and social movements often act with the intention of making news, and so one might say that journalism indirectly manufactures events originating in these groups.” (Schudson, 2005, p 172-173)

Chomsky and Herman argue that “propaganda campaigns,” ie agenda setting, “may be instituted either by the government or by one or more of the top media firms…. The secret of the unidirectionality of the politics of media propaganda campaigns is the multiple filter system: the mass media will allow any stories that are hurtful to large interests to peter out quickly, if they surface at all.” (Chomsky & Herman, 1988: 33)