An academic who specialises in media analysis has told the Banking Inquiry that, overwhelmingly, the Irish media maintained that there was no bubble and that the boom would eventually end in a "soft landing".

Dr Julien Mercille of UCD said there was a clear discrepancy between coverage of the housing bubble before and after it burst.

He said that before 2008, the media tended to largely ignore it and it was only months after it had started deflating that reality had to be faced.

Once the housing market collapsed, the media simply could not ignore its downward trajectory.

The Banking Inquiry is holding its media module this week examining how organisations covered the property boom and the banking crisis.  

Editors from The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner and RTÉ News will give evidence today and tomorrow.

Dr Mercille said that after the crash, the media also presented the Government's crisis resolution policies in a largely favourable manner.  

The media, he said, enthusiastically endorsed the blanket guarantee and declared that it was the 'cheapest bailout in the world'.

NAMA was called 'bold and imaginative' and the 'holy grail' while The Irish Times claimed that it was our 'best bet'.

Dr Mercille also spoke about the large amount of money received from property advertising and he said the Irish media went even further by becoming owners of property websites themselves, acquiring a direct stake in the growing housing bubble.

He cited the example of Independent News & Media which bought PropertyNews.com and the PropertyNews monthly newspaper.  

In 2006, The Irish Times bought the website MyHome.ie for €50 million, along with the website newaddress.ie. 

He said television followed the same pattern as the print press.

During the boom, RTÉ sustained what he called the national obsession with houses by presenting programmes like House Hunters in the Sun, Showhouse, About the House and I'm an Adult, Get Me Out of Here.

He said Prime Time also sustained the housing bubble.

Between 2000 and 2007, 717 shows were aired.

Of those, only ten, or about 1% of the total, had a segment concerned with the housing boom.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said the media organisations would maintain that property advertising did not influence coverage.  

Dr Mercille said it did influence coverage and he said former business editor of the Sunday Independent Shane Ross had said there were explicit threats to move advertising and he said journalists were under pressure from bosses to give good coverage.

It did not have to be explicit pressure, journalists knew very well the rules to play by within institutions.

A media lecturer has told the Inquiry that print and broadcast outlets in Ireland played an immeasurable but almost certainly significant role in the inflation of the property bubble and legitimised the risky behaviour of the financial services sector in the lead-up to the crisis of 2007-08.

Harry Browne of the School of Media at Dublin Institute of Technology said they did so partly by ignoring or marginalising scepticism about these phenomena.

Mr Browne said ownership of media could not tell the whole story.

Even though the Irish Times is owned by a trust, he said it had not been immune to commercial pressures.

RTÉ, he said is owned by the people of Ireland, but its role in broadcasting non-news-and-current-affairs-based 'property porn' in the Tiger years certainly bears scrutiny.

However, he added that the State broadcaster did some of the best work questioning the property bubble, and its journalists broke one of the big banking scandals of the late 1990s, about National Irish Bank's Isle of Man accounts.

He also said that the Sunday Independent, and specifically a non-financial journalist there, broke another, about AIB's allegedly non-resident accounts. 

Fianna Fáil Senator Marc MacSharry asked whether he experienced any editorial interference while working at the Irish Times.  

Mr Browne said he did and it was part of the structure of any organisation.  

He said of course someone in a position of power had suggested he should or shouldn't do something.  

However, he added that while it was a myth that there was a very firm wall between advertising and editorial, he could not say it had impinged very directly on him.  

He said there had been an instance of a journalist, in effect, being gifted property.  

Asked if he meant bricks and mortar, he said yes, in effect.  

Editor accepts paper had insufficient critique

The editor of the Irish Examiner has told the inquiry that he accepts that the newspaper contained an insufficient critique of frequent claims that there would be no crash and that the economic miracle would continue to be an example. 

Tim Vaughan said it was a matter of personal regret but he said that he doubted such coverage would have gone a long way to preventing the crash. 

Mr Vaughan said he believed that overall the newspaper had provided balanced and diverse economic reporting. 

He said if it was guilty of anything, it was that it believed and accepted that institutions like the financial regulator were doing their jobs competently and with due diligence.

He added that if the newspaper had any access to any contrary information, it would have published it, but it would also have had to be true. 

But he said they still have been faced with an alignment of authority in the form of the IMF, the ECB, the European Commission and the International Credit Agencies along with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, the Central Bank and the ESRI, who were all of the view that the country’s economic fundamentals were sound - with the IMF giving Ireland a clean bill of health as late as 2006/2007. 

He said it would have been difficult to envisage how any media organisation could effectively challenge such a formidable consensus.  

Mr Vaughan said he had been editor since 2001. 

He said the owners of the paper, the Crosbie family, had never once interfered and that property advertising did not seek to influence economic policy and did not hinder coverage of the financial crash. 

He said the Examiner published a critical Central Bank report as far back as 1999. 

In 2005, columnist Ryle Dwyer wrote that the property boom could collapse like a tonne of bricks. 

Irish Examiner CEO Tom Murphy said he could not reveal how much property advertising brought in as it was not broken down in their published accounts. 

He said that between 2002 and 2007, property advertising was 7% of total Irish Examiner revenue. 

The property supplement ran to between 48 and 72 pages at its height and was now around half that.

Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell asked if the collapse in property advertising was a factor in the restructuring of the business' holding company Thomas Crosbie Holdings in 2013. 

Mr Murphy said the group was insolvent but the problem was at a group level rather than at a trading level and the collapse in property advertising was unhelpful but not an important cause. 

Mr Murphy said he had met many estate agents and property developers and there was no issue of editorial significance.

Anything that did happen was in the normal cut and thrust of business. 

Mr Vaughan said that with hindsight they would have sought out more contrarian views and more dissenters but the fact was that they were not there. 

He said nobody was knocking on their doors, adding that they had now learned to seek out more views.

Asked about threats from advertisers, Mr Vaughan said they were few and far between and would not come directly, they would usually come through the reporter who would say that they had threatened to pull their spend. 

But he said the newspaper would hold the editorial line.