Leo Varadkar is using public money in a covert propaganda campaign to promote his government’s image. A general election is likely within the next year and he has deployed a 15 strong Strategic Communications Unit to produce good news stories about his government.
In a shocking development, these stories are not even marked as government advertising but are designed to appear as part of the normal news cycle.
An email from Mediaforce – one of the companies used by the Strategic Communications unit – stated that “Part of our deal is that we don’t have any moniker such as advertorial or special feature — it simply runs as normal editorial.”
A double-page spread in the Roscommon Herald last week published sponsored content under the banner of news. It mentioned Maura Hopkins and Frank Feighan, the Fine Gael senators but did not mention Denis Naughten, the local independent minister.
Last month, €8,600 was spent on promoting articles on the government’s education policy in the Irish Independent.
The use of state money to promote content which is not clearly marked as advertising is an ominous form of manipulation.
Fine Gael are aware that many local newspapers are strapped for cash and that government money can be used to get favourable reporting.
When an election comes around, it is normal practice for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to pay for advertising in the local press on a promise that they will get extra favourable coverage.
Varadkar has taken this practice one step further and is now using public money for his own propaganda.
Faced with a growing scandal, he has ordered a ‘review’ of how the Strategic Communications Unit works. But in another sleight of hand, he has appointed the top civil servant who helped set up the unit to review it.
No public money should be used for propaganda. This means disbanding the Strategic Communications Unit.