Concern over media manipulation in forthcoming presidential election

Joe Costello says media have been manipulated in Britain and the US

Concern over media manipulation in forthcoming presidential election

Handout photo of President Michael D Higgins with the Second Brigade Cavalry Squad at Aras an Uachtarain as he prepares to attend Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations in Dublin in 2016 | Image: Maxwells/PA Archive/PA Images

A former Labour presidential director of elections has warned that media manipulation is 'a real concern' in the forthcoming presidential election campaign.

Joe Costello, who is a representative for Dublin Central, has pointed to the US and Britain as examples.

"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."

US and UK

He added: "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."

Businessman Gavin Duffy has confirmed he is seeking a nomination to run for president.

Pieta House founder, Senator Joan Freeman, has also announced her intention to seek a nomination.

Artist Kevin Sharkey is also seeking a nomination, while Sinn Féin has pledged to run a candidate.