Editor's choice (2)

The RTE News Editor was in a quandary. Two stories, but which one to broadcast as a lead on the flagship News at One programme.

The first story concerned dramatic revelations at the Mahon Tribunal that could have far reaching consequences for our country and could even bring down the Government.

The second story concerned a minor development in a bank robbery that occurred nearly four years ago in another country.

The editor opted for the second story.

(See here for previous editor’s choice.)

Copy to:

News at One

Declan Lynch – A dangerously stupid individual

Sunday Independent journalist Declan Lynch is a dangerously stupid individual. I don’t make this serious charge from a personal point of view; I’ve never met the man. All I know about him is that he is a journalist and, I believe, a playwright.

I make the charge on the basis that he actually wrote and takes full responsibility for the article that appeared under his name in last Sunday’s newspaper.

In the article Lynch strongly defends the activities of Bertie Ahern and the corrupt Haughey. He believes it is ridiculous that Irish people should demand high standards from their politicians.

He describes those who do demand high standards from our politicians as;

Frothing-at-the-mouth pundits, pious people who blather platitudes about standards in public life, people who live in a very small world totally obsessed with the doings of the Fianna Fail family, self important people who appear on the panel and in the audience of Questions & Answers, people who have a warped sense of morality.

Lynch claims that although at some deep intuitive level Irish people know very well that politicians are dodgy they do not think that this is important.

He goes on to make the incredibly stupid claim that while there is always ‘something of the night’ about politics, we should tolerate that situation because it has no bearing on how our children are looked after or how serious illness is treated.

In case there is any doubt about my interpretation of what this man is saying let me quote his words verbatim.

“We understand quite well that in politics at any level, there is always “something of the night”. Which we would not tolerate for a moment if, say, these people were looking after our children, or treating us for some serious illness. But of course they are not looking after our children, or treating us for some serious illness. They are in politics.”

Lynch’s understanding of the relationship between political power and society is so infantile that it renders him incapable of seeing that the Health Service Executive is a monster created by political incompetence and corruption. He cannot see how that incompetence and corruption has a direct and devastating impact on countless thousands of Irish citizens.

Clearly, this ignorant man has never suffered the trauma of receiving a phone call telling him that his cancer tests were misdiagnosed and that his chances of survival were now very much reduced.

Clearly, this ignorant man has never had to arrange the funeral of a loved one who died because they couldn’t afford to buy into a two tier health system.

Clearly, this ignorant man has never buried a young son or daughter who died from Cystic Fibrosis ten years before their time because of a lack of the most basic isolation facilities.

Clearly, this ignorant man has never experienced the horror of seeing a loved one die on a hospital trolley while family members desperately pleaded for help.

Safe within his world of delusion Mr. Lynch probably believes that there is no connection between political power and white collar crime.

He probably believes that the massive damage done to people’s lives and the environment by widespread planning corruption has nothing to do with politicians or political decisions.

He probably believes that the theft of countless millions from customers by Irish financial institutions is normal and legitimate business activity. He probably believes this because, effectively, it’s the view held by most politicians.

He probably believes that it is normal for law enforcement authorities to do nothing when a prominent businessman is found guilty by the highest court in the land of insider trading involving sums of up to €50 million. He probably doesn’t think it the least bit odd that not a single Government minister has the courage to stand up and say that there’s something seriously wrong here.

Apparently he thinks that robbing millions through tax evasion, operating offshore accounts, robbing large amounts from State funds, accepting large wads of cash from ‘friends’ and businessmen while holding senior ministerial positions, appointing friends to State boards and not bothering too much about paying taxes are all activities that have no consequences for the greater good of society and should therefore be tolerated.

If this man held such views as an ordinary citizen he could be described as just a stupid individual. The fact that he holds such views but also has access to a major media outlet makes him a dangerously stupid individual.

Copy to:

Declan Lynch

Government in hiding

What emerged at the Mahon Tribunal yesterday would cause a major political crisis in a functional democracy. In Ireland, not a single Government Minister or representative, to my knowledge, featured on the national airwaves to tell the people what was going on. All we got was wall to wall talk between journalists.

Morning Ireland – Journalist Brian Dowling. No public representative

Today with Pat Kenny – Journalist Fergal Keane and Michael Clifford. Defence Minister, Willie O’Dea was on talking about Irish troops going to Chad and was only briefly asked about the tribunal.

News at One – Journalist John Kilraine – No public representative.

Drivetime – Journalists Fergal Keane, Brian Dowling, Harry McGee, Justine McCarthy, Terry Prone and Noel Whelan – No public representative.

Six One News – Journalist John Kilraine and Brian Dowling – No public representative.

Nine News – Journalist Brian Dowling – No public representative.

Primetime – Journalists Michael Clifford and Sam Smyth – No public representative.

The Late Debate – Journalists Fionn Sheehan and Fergal Keane. At last, in the middle of the night, two lightweight politicians, Fianna Fail TD Frank Fahy and Fine Gael Senator Eugene O’Regan.

Perhaps they’ll come out of hiding over the weekend.

Eurovision Turkeys

Q. What’s the difference between the possible participation of Dustin the Turkey in this year’s Eurovision and last year’s entry penned by John Waters?

A. John Waters was serious, expected to win but came last. Dustin is not a real turkey, accepts his entry is a joke but just might win.

Best News Broadcaster – In Cashel

The Cashel planning scam was further analysed on Today with Pat Kenny last Wednesday (Previous posts here and here).

Philip Boucher Hayes, head of RTEs Investigative Unit, spoke to Cashel Town Clerk, Seamus Maher about the Council’s threat of using a Compulsory Purchase Order to force the nuns to sell their property cheaply.

Maher: Looking at it from the point of view of the need to acquire land for our various purposes it’s a method that could be used; it wasn’t used in this case

Hayes: But the threat of it was used

Maher: Well, it was mentioned, I suppose in that sense I wouldn’t call it a threat

Hayes: But the letter does say ‘If necessary the council will consider the acquisition of this portion of the property by way of Compulsory Purchase Order’, that’s a threat.

Maher: I suppose, if necessary, it’s a mild one, I mean nobody was putting their backs to the wall

Hayes: Is it a bit of a sharp practice, raising the prospect of CPO and acquiring land, holding on to it for a while, watch it inflate in price and then sell it off at a profit

Maher: I suppose when you’re in negotiation for something you will do your best for the town or the local authority or business or whatever you’re involved in and I wouldn’t have seen it as malpractice or underhand dealing or whatever I mean there’s more things going on really which are much more serious than that

In another development the Council has removed preservation orders on 16 very old trees on the property so that the developer can knock them down.

Belated congratulations to Philip Boucher Hayes, head of RTEs impressive Investigative Unit. Philip won the Best News Broadcaster of the Year last November.

Sean O'Rourke – Great radio

I’ve always felt that RTEs Sean O’Rourke doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.

He’s always well briefed on his subject and has a uniquely forceful and penetrating technique of interviewing.

He’s also always scrupulously balanced as evidenced by his excellent interview with Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd on yesterday’s News at One (2nd item).

He put O’Dowd through the wringer over the allegations concerning Ahern’s tax affairs. Great radio.

Tree emissions damage cars

I love the headline on the RTE News website (News highlights column)

“Tree emissions damage cars.”

It’s a clever play on the old journalistic adage about what makes news: ‘Dog bites man/Man bites dog’.

The story concerns Dublin residents suing the council for damage caused to their cars by sap falling from trees.

Nasty net, nasty bloggers

Irish Times columnist John Waters does not approve of the internet,

“There’s nothing in it that’s nice and uplifting” he says. It hasn’t lived up to its expectations and as we go forward we will see the more insidious and dangerous side of it, he says

(Morning Ireland, 3rd item).

Waters is especially scathing on the subject of blogging.

Nothing but content-less spice, vitriolic poison, aggression and hate that poses a danger to vulnerable, isolated young people.

These views are not at all surprising coming from a man who doesn’t actually understand what the internet is.

Waters tells us that up to 70% of traffic on the net is pornography and asks the question:

“How seriously would we take a TV station or newspaper with such a high content of pornography?”

Obviously, he thinks the internet is a single unit phenomenon controlled by an editor with a strong interest in pornography.

The obvious question follows; should John Waters be seen as a serious and well informed journalist?

Corruption? Not in Ireland

The manner in which the Today with Pat Kenny Show (Friday) handled the latest serious developments at the Mahon Tribunal is also a good indication of how blind we are to what we are.

Again, it was all journalists talking to each other. No Government minister to defend or explain to the people of Ireland what was going to happen as a result of the very serious allegations made by the Prime Minister and others.

The matter wasn’t even mentioned until the 53rd minute when we had yet another report from a journalist.

My point is that if Ireland was a functional democracy this story would have eclipsed all others for days and within days there would have been serious developments for the politicians who made the allegations or for the tribunal itself.

But apart from the reports from Dublin Castle all we got was yet another analysis by a cabal of journalists. There was, however, a very interesting and telling exchange during this debate which demonstrated just how far removed many Irish people are, including journalists, from admitting that Ireland is a corrupt state.

The discussion had turned to the situation in South Africa and the possible consequences for South Africa after the election of Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress. Zuma is seen by many as a dodgy character and could soon be in court on corruption charges.

Pat Kenny referred to Zuma as a Dell Boy character and expressed the view that he would bring his country into disrepute and make the leadership a laughing stock.

Michael O’Regan of the Irish Times who had earlier expressed sympathy for Bertie Ahern and the difficult time he was having spoke of Zuma in an altogether different tone.

“I find him quite sinister, the fact alone that he’s facing corruption charges in the New Year I would have thought precluded him from any kind of public office. He’s quite dangerous, I would have thought.”

When RTE journalist, Katie Hannon, made the obvious connection between Zuma and Ahern O’Regan defended the Taoiseach by claiming he wasn’t facing corruption charges. Hannon replied that neither was Zuma, as yet.

The very fact that a young country like South Africa actually puts corrupt politicians on trial in a proper court of law means that they are light years ahead in their understanding and acceptance of what corruption actually is.

Many Irish people, including journalists like Michael O’Regan, exist in a world of denial where corruption is an activity that only occurs in other countries.

Pathe News memories

RTE broadcast a very interesting Budget Day programme last Wednesday. The programme took a look at some of the more controversial budgets from the past.

Included was, what is now; a very funny and cuttingly sarcastic 1930s broadcast by the BBC Pathe News service. Against a backdrop of dramatic music and a very posh accent the announcer reports on the imposition by Ireland of tariffs on English imports.

According to Wikepedia the Pathe News service ended in 1956 but I remember it as a regular feature in the cinema from the late 1950s and into the 60s.

As I remember it the evening began with a short film then a break for advertisements and Pathe News followed by the main feature film.

The cinema was divided into three levels of ‘luxury’. Nearest to the screen was the ‘flea pit’, just a series of long wooden benches with an admission price of 6p (Old money).

The middle area had upholstered seats and cost 10p but the top, which I think had some double seats, was the ultimate for those who could afford the outrageous price of one shilling (12p).

This area was ideal for couples more interested in a bit of courtin’ rather than watching the daring deeds of Batman and Robin or the Lone Ranger.

Here’s a transcription of the BBC report but for a full appreciation I would recommend listening to the piece (8th minute).

“In many ways the Irish peasants sharing their cottage with the pig, living on potatoes, are freer than the English artisan.

The Irish outlook is always less material. Characteristically, when De Valera told the farmers that because he had stopped payment of the English annuities Britain had raised a tariff against their produce, they cheered

He had given them back their cherished grievance, England as the villain of the piece. England was the chief market for Irish produce, without English custom they might starve

But what was that against the fact that De Valera had revived the old hostility between two countries which had seemed in danger of drifting towards peace.

The Irishman is little interested in what the rest of the world calls progress. Offer him the material things of life and you may leave him unmoved. Appeal to his imagination, his soul, his sense of injustice and he is your man.”