Print journalists need three things.
First, a passion for the truth, second a concern for people and third a reasonable command of language.
For those that haven’t heard, on Wednesday Ireland’s best-selling daily newspaper The Irish Independent printed an article about a Polish lady living in Ireland.
The source of their piece was the Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, which had been running features about life in recessionary Europe.
In the original article, “Magda” spoke about her life in Ireland and the state benefit she has received since losing her job.
The Irish Independent titled its piece “Welcome to ‘good life’ on welfare: how Polish waitress embraced La Dol-ce Vita”.
In the original Polish article, Magda says of being on benefits: “I don’t want to live off the state, that’s why I treat the benefits as an aid, which will help me to start my own business.”
On budgeting, she says:
“Once every two months I pay for electricity, that’s around 100 euro. I cook at home, I don’t go out to restaurants. I go to the market where I can get local products cheaper than in a shop. I look for special offers in Centra – for example 6 rolls for 1.50 euro. … I buy my clothes in Penney’s … but not too many, because I don’t have the need to glam myself up. My latest buys: yoga sweatpants for a euro, trousers for 7 … I buy my shoes in TK Maxx – max 10 euro per pair. In the autumn I get a winter clothing allowance … I look for books in a charity shop. Look: ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ by C.S. Lewis – all three for 2.50 euro.”
The Independent article reads “A Polish waitress living here has sparked fury after she boasted about living the good life on Irish welfare benefits”
Magda’s welfare benefits entitle her to take courses to increase her skills. According to the original article, “Magda can do a basic massage, a Hawaiian one and a hot stone one that she’s learnt at a free course organised by the social welfare office.”
The Independent’s version reads “‘Magda’ (36), not her real name, described her life on the dole in Donegal as a ‘Hawaiian massage’”. It also claims that she “revealed how she had packed in her job so she could spend her days walking along beaches with her partner” and sometimes sleeps till noon.
The original says ““I always start my days in the same way: I go down to the beach to see the sunrise. It sets me up for the rest of the day. I used to sleep until noon, but now I don’t want to waste my life.”
The Independent quotes Labour senator Jimmy Harte, who describes the claims as “outrageous” and adds that he’d “gladly pay for her flight home”.
Thanks to the John Murray Show on RTE, which commissioned an accurate translation of the text, the Irish Independent has been exposed for falsification and misrepresentation.
Its response today was tragic and even comical:
“YESTERDAY’S story about a Polish woman living on welfare payments in Ireland sparked much discussion and controversy.”
It could have been a parody on its opening from yesterday which claimed that the same story had “sparked fury”.
Its only admission of wrongdoing is the acknowledgement that “Some parts of the original interview, on which the story was based, were inaccurately translated.” It then provides a translation of the original, which it describes as “fuller”, as if its version had been missing body rather than fact.
It may seem obvious but to journalists Greg Harkin and Norma Costello it was not: the function of a newspaper is to offer responses to real events rather than elicit reactions to fabricated ones.
Even more obviously perhaps, newspapers are not storybooks. We expect them to tell the truth.
News reporting is retrospective, not prescient. It cannot claim something before it has happened.
If a Polish lady’s claims have “sparked fury” and “ignited a debate about welfare tourism”, we need evidence beyond the comments of an unfortunate local Senator who has been lied to.
Should Greg Harkin and Norma Costello fall victim to unemployment, they may do readers the courtesy of polishing up on their Polish. Perhaps Magda could recommend a good FÁS course, or better, teach them herself.
When interviewed on the radio this morning she spoke perfect English with a slight hint of a Donegal lilt.