Opinion: Media “virtually” tricked by Perry StreetCatherine Wylie | 3 Comments »
It’s a scene none of us ever imagined we’d see – the Minister for Social Development gleefully having his picture taken on a deeply depressing recession hit street pretending everything was just fine…whilst the journalists watched on fondly.
It has been two weeks since the “virtual street” scheme launched on Perry Street in Dungannon to much praise, wonderment, silliness and downright embarrassing coverage in both local and regional media. Not one commentator or reporter thought to question the ridiculousness of spending almost £20,000 on covering up the reality of a doomed and broken street.
Instead, it seemed as though our journalists had gone goofy for the day and naively bought into this photo opportunity for Nelson McCausland, Mayor Cllr Kenneth Reid and a selection of Dungannon Council’s most eager posers.
According to the Tyrone Courier, Perry Street now has a guitar shop, a book shop, a fruit and veg outlet and an art gallery amongst its virtual buildings.
Except, it doesn’t have any of those businesses. It has graphics which cost the taxpayer £10,000 and it has been used as a tool by a Stormont minister to further The Hill’s insistence that we live in a normal society and everything is hunky dory. What use has a “virtual building”? The answer is quite obviously “none”.
It may look nice, but looks can be deceptive. What advantage will this new-fangled idea have to the people of Dungannon? To make up the significant costs, Dungannon Regeneration Scheme added £8703 to the £10,000 sum from the Department for Social Development. The town’s residents can probably think of other ways they’d like this cash to be spent, instead of blowing it all on aesthetic nonsense which has no guarantees of boosting the economy.
Okay, granted, it was newsworthy due to it being a novel idea and a first for Northern Ireland. But it was nothing less than shocking that no media outlet expressed even a hint of scepticism or any evidence of having really probed those responsible on the merits of the idea.
The Tyrone Courier reported that “several new shop fronts have been visually created to provide a sense of reality and create the impression that the properties are actually occupied”.
A sense of reality? I don’t think so. It is nothing more than an attempt to disguise the reality of what is a very sad situation in a street that was once buzzing with shoppers. The reality is that the street is (or was, depending on what you think of fake window scenes) derelict and an eyesore, but more importantly, it is a textbook example of what the recession has done to local businesses in Northern Ireland. It is not something to be celebrated.
There is a real uncomfortable sense of tricking or duping the public here, and instead of suggesting this, the media have complied with those responsible by giving them a journalistic round of PR applause.
In supporting this scheme and posing for a photo, advocates of Dungannon’s “virtual street” are giving themselves a pat on the back as though they have improved their ailing town’s prospects and done something truly great.
They haven’t though. They’ve just covered up reality with flashy screens, something Northern Ireland politicians are very good at.