Conspiracy: PR Agency Dictate to Irish Media about Lockdown Lies

Since they were founded last Autumn, the ISAG “Zero Covid” group have enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship with the Irish media.

They’ve had several advantages in that endeavour – in the beginning, the Trinity College Press Office, with its extensive folder of press contacts, would send out press releases for them. Later,  they engaged the services of PR consultant Greg Canty, who is a partner with Fuzion PR. Canty told Gript media that his work for ISAG had been pro-bono, and that he is no longer associated with the group.

While ISAG members have had access to a number of media platforms, no host or presenter has been more accommodating of them than Matt Cooper, presenter of the Last Word on Today FM, and the Tonight Show on Virgin Media. A review of the group’s internal communications reveals in excess of thirty appearances with Matt Cooper, either on his radio programme, or television programme, since ISAG was founded. This is, objectively, an extraordinary level of access to the airwaves.

Members of ISAG were appreciative, too: In their internal discussions about the media, Cooper comes in for repeated praise, and there is no doubt that he is viewed as very friendly and supportive of the group.

“Matt tries to look impartial but asks great pro-elimination questions”, one of the groups PR co-ordinators wrote. Ciara O’Doherty, Cooper’s co-host on the Tonight Show, also came in for praise: “Ciara is obviously in favour of elimination”, declared a group member. “Both Stars!”

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ISAG, with the help of Greg Canty, prepared detailed talking points for Zero Covid advocates in the run in to Christmas, to aid in their media messaging. Canty is not a scientist, and it is therefore open to question how many of these professionally crafted messages were actually based in science.

In particular, it is notable that the group were told to constantly re-iterate that they “had a plan” to get the country open by Saint Patrick’s Day. Our previous reporting shows that this message was at variance with their internal scientific deliberations, which made it quite clear that they viewed the St. Patrick’s Day deadline as unrealistic.

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ISAG were also able to dictate terms to RTE: Gript can reveal that a segment about how to have a “Safe Christmas Dinner”, which appeared on Claire Byrne’s TV show in early December, was in fact, an ISAG idea, and was pitched to RTE by ISAG’s Sam McConkey last November. RTE has never disclosed that it was taking advice about what segments to air from ISAG.

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Indeed, Claire Byrne features prominently in praise for the media dispensed in the ISAG chats, along with other RTE presenters. The group has had regular access to the national broadcaster’s airwaves, and has rarely faced tough questioning. Indeed, in the aftermath of Gript’s stories about ISAG this week, representatives of the group were once again on RTE and Virgin Media, where Matt Cooper and his RTE colleagues neglected to ask them any questions about the content of our stories.

Not all media members are as well respected, however, by ISAG. Those journalists who have been mildly critical of lockdown, such as Irish Independent Columnist Sarah Carey and Irish Times journalist Mark Paul, came in for stern criticism from ISAG, internally. Andrew Kunzmann, a leading member, accused both of “losing any remaining credibility” when they opposed, or were believed to be sceptical, of various lockdown measures.

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One consistent favourite, however, is Roisin Shorthall. The Social Democrats leader is considered to be so on-message that she was described in one message as someone who “might as well be an ISAG spokeswoman”. Gript revealed yesterday that ISAG presented the Social Democrats with numbers about which the group was not certain, in a bid to get the Social Democrats to publicly advocate their position. Apparently it worked.

Other journalists fondly referred to by ISAG include Jennifer O’Connell of the Irish Times, and her colleague Roisin Ingle, who are both repeatedly showered with praise in the documents for their perceived adherence to the Zero Covid, pro-lockdown, message. Irish Times historian-in-residence Diarmuid Ferriter is also singled out, and identified as “very much on our side of the fence” after lobbying of him by ISAG.

To some extent, a campaign group talking about its media coverage and identifying friendly journalists is not especially unusual. What is unusual, however, is how remarkably successful this group has been in accessing the Irish airwaves to promote a message that has been hand-crafted by a PR agency, and appears to have a questionable basis in actual science.

This group, it should be remembered, expressly want to make our lockdown more severe, close our borders, and do so almost indefinitely. Remember that, and remember what they think about Matt Cooper, next time you hear them on one of his shows.

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  • Glen Jenvey
    commented 2021-03-19 15:00:50 +0000
    If Irish democracy is destroyed within the next generation, it will not be destroyed by the Russians or the Chinese but by ourselves, by the very means we use to defend it".
  • niall McConnell
    published this page in News 2021-03-01 11:14:08 +0000
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