Sean O'Rourke: Mary Coughlan's biggest fan

I see the gombeen traitor and former Taniste Mary Coughlan is thinking of making a comeback in politics.

She was interviewed by Sean O’Rourke last Wednesday and as always she was blaming everybody for her and her government’s incompetence in leading the country over the cliff of disaster.

The global economic crisis, European Commission, ECB, the banks, media and coalition partners were all to blame but not, apparently, Ms. incompetence herself or Mr., I’m not drunk, Cowen.

Of course she was never going to be asked the hard questions by an adoring Sean O’Rourke who set the tone of the interview from the very beginning.

Your father was one of the most wonderful gentlemen ever to grace the corridors of Leinster House.

Now perhaps her father was a ‘wonderful gentleman’ but O’Rourke’s admiring tone left listeners in no doubt as to how he was going to conduct the interview.

And so it was.

When Coughlan described the criminal Haughey as ‘the great Charles Haughey’, O’Rourke made no challenge.

When she refused to talk about the lies Bertie Ahern told to the Planning Tribunal, O’Rourke meekly submitted and moved on.

When she stated, as part of her excuse for Fianna Fail’s political failure, that the party was new to coalition O’Rourke accepted the lie without question.

Irish media should fight for the right to express an opinion

A statement was read out on Newstalk yesterday (18 June) accepting that broadcaster George Hook had expressed a personal opinion and was therefore in breach of Rule 22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs.

This came about as a result of a complaint submitted by me to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) on 29 Jan last.

Rule 22 specifically forbids broadcasters from expressing a personal opinion:

A presenter and/or a reporter on a current affairs programme shall not express his or her own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated.

The actual opinion expressed by Mr. Hook is of little importance.

What is of huge importance is to witness the implementation of a draconian, anti-democratic law specifically designed to repress what, in functional democracies, is the norm – the free expression of opinion.

Of even greater importance is the disturbing reality that this oppressive law was introduced and is being enforced with hardly a whimper from the media.

Before commenting further on the media reaction I am going to express my opinion as why this law has been introduced.

It was not introduced to protect the sensitive ears of Irish citizens from the personal opinions of broadcasters such as George Hook. It was not introduced to protect listeners from being led astray by broadcasters and it was not introduced as a result of any public demand.

It was introduced to stop outright or at least have a severe chilling effect on the media questioning of powerful people and in particular powerful politicians.

The legislation is, I believe, principally aimed at RTE because of its powerful position in the media and because of its vulnerability to political manipulation.

Imagine the following scenario:

A major scandal has erupted involving a government minister and he is preparing to appear on Prime Time to face robust questioning on the issue.

Before the broadcast begins the minister has a quick word in the producer’s ear.

I want to advise you and would ask you to remind the presenter that she is, by law, strictly forbidden from expressing her own opinion on this matter.

The producer has no choice, it’s his job to ensure presenters are aware of all laws governing what they can and cannot say on air.

The very act of warning the presenter would inevitably create a chilling coat of ice across the entire interview.

In other words, the law would be doing what it was intended to do – protecting powerful people from overly critical journalists.

Democracies do not become corrupt overnight. The rot usually sets in over a long period of time. A media law here, a government withdrawal of funding there, a seemingly innocuous power granted to a regulatory authority.

Before long the frog is well and truly cooked.

And it seems, like the frog, the Irish media is quite happy to tolerate the increasingly oppressive heat being turned up under its rights of free expression.

The media could, at any time, force politicians to withdraw this oppressive legislation. All they need do is organise a campaign of disobedience.

Radio and TV presenters could simply announce that they were going to express a personal opinion and invite politicians and the BAI to do their worst.

I have no doubt that such a campaign would very quickly see this anti-democratic law repealed.

George Hook could then return to what he does best – freely expressing strong personal opinions on a vast range of issues and entertaining the nation as he does so.

Copy to:
George Hook/Newstalk
BAI

Bryan Dobson: RTE replies

RTE have replied to my complaint regarding the Bryan Dobson ‘idiot’ incident.

Good Evening,

Your complaint regarding Wednesday’s Six One News has been forwarded to me as Managing Editor of Television News.

Let me start by saying that we take all complaints very seriously, and that you were not alone in contacting us. Your complaint has been discussed with the editorial team and with Bryan Dobson.

As you know, Bryan Dobson was interviewing the Economist Ronan Lyons outside Government for the programme when a number of protesters walked into shot behind him during live transmission and began moving about.

The studio team believed the result was very distracting and made the interview difficult to follow for the audience.

RTÉ is also obliged to consider the welfare of the guest/correspondent and cameraman in situations like this.

A decision was taken to conclude the interview earlier than planned and Bryan Dobson communicated this.

He then made an off the cuff remark caused by the frustration of having to cut the interview short.

Bryan’s remark was solely about the interruption to the live broadcast and was not in any way a reference to the subject of the protest, or the right of people generally to protest.

RTÉ was not in any way trying to muzzle protest by pulling out of the broadcast early.

Bryan’s Dobson’s comment came in the heat of the moment but RTÉ accepts it would be better if the remark had not been made.

Best regards, and many thanks for viewing our programmes.

I’m not entirely happy with this reply and will therefore forward my complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for further consideration.

My reply to RTE

Dear …

Your comments on the Bryan Dobson incident were interesting but, unfortunately, did not address the substance of my complaint.

My submission focused entirely on the belief that Bryan Dobson was in breach of sections 21 and 22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs which specifically debars Irish broadcasters from expressing a personal opinion on air.

I will forward my complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for further consideration.

Thank You

Anthony Sheridan

Joe Duffy avoids using the 'p' word

A caller to Liveline after the publication of the Mahon Tribunal Report.

Joe, if there was sworn testimony under oath and it was untruthful, what does that imply?

Joe Duffy: Ok, well the Tribunal doesn’t make the leap. They just say the evidence was untruthful, they don’t accept Mr. Ahern’s narrative of how he came by the money but they don’t offer an alternative narrative.

Phew, that was a close one, nearly forced to use the ‘P’ word.

RTE: An untruth is not necessarily a lie

Exchange between Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and an RTE presenter after the publication of the Mahon Tribunal Report.

Phil Hogan: The Mahon Tribunal has not used the word ‘corrupt’ in relations to Mr. Ahern but it uses the word ‘lies’ on a number of occasions without using the exact words.

RTE presenter: Well hold on a second now. That’s a very specific word, it says it doesn’t believe him, it says it doesn’t accept his evidence, it says some things were untrue; it does not use the word ‘lies’.

In the real world untruths are lies. In real democracies media outlets accept this fact as normal and report accordingly.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of RTE current affairs, where a deep fear of litigation determines all decisions, an untruth is not necessarily a lie.

Driven mad in search of RTEs Drivetime

My mission was simple.

I wanted to listen back to an item from RTEs Drivetime programme of May 16th last.

But from bitter experience I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it was going to be Mission Impossible.

In preparation, I locked all the doors, switched off the phone and tied myself to the chair in front of my computer.

I accessed the RTE Radio One website and went to the Radio Player where I was presented with a choice of stations. I clicked on RTE Radio One.

I’m given RTE Radio One live. I pause this unasked for distraction and click on the A-Z list.

I’m presented with an arbitrary list of programmes from a range of different RTE stations. Remember this is the Radio One Player.

I Click ‘D’ on the programme alphabet list hoping to gain immediate access to Drivetime May 16th.

Yes, I know, I’m chronically optimistic.

I’m presented with a list of programmes. The first eight are from 2FM and 2XM. Remember, I’m looking for a programme on Radio One.

Finally, I see Drivetime, May 17th. The programme is bracketed by Derek Mooney’s Dawn Chorus broadcast of May 6th and Driving Home for Christmas with Maxi broadcast December 24th 2011.

Even though I’m looking for Drivetime May 16th; like a drowning man clutching at straws, I click on May 17th but nothing happens.

There’s no ‘back’ button that I can see so I exit everything and start all over again.

This time I’m in and listening to Drivetime May 17th – Hallelujah.

But then I remember, it’s May 16th I’m looking for and there’s no sign of it anywhere so I use the search facility.

This doesn’t work and because there’s no ‘back’ facility I again have to exit and start all over again.

I get as far as the search facility but, again, it doesn’t work.

This completes the options available to me on the Radio Player.

I try a different route. I return to the Radio One site and click on ‘Find a programme’. I click on ‘D’ on the alphabet programme list and, as a passionate pagan, say a prayer to the Mighty Zeus.

Worryingly, I see that Derek Mooney’s Dawn Chorus and Maxi’s Driving Home for Christmas have followed me but I’m comforted to see that Drivetime is also there.

I click on that and, lo and behold, I’m into the Drivetime home page. Surely I’ll find Drivetime May 16th here.

I click on archives expecting to find, well, er archives.

Instead I’m presented with another arbitrary list of completely off the wall links.

For example;

Dublin’s working prams expo

Dublin’s political awards 2011

Diesel sludge in Monaghan

Fire safety at Halloween

Then I spot the following notice.

To access the audio for all of the Drivetime programmes, go to the Drivetime Audio Archive.

So I click on ‘Drivetime Audio Archive’ thinking, this is it, this must be it, please Mighty Zeus, let this be it.

But no, it’s not. Instead I’m presented with the RTE News Search engine and a calendar dated April 2009.

I scroll through the months and years until I reach the magical date – May 16th 2012 and click.

And what do I find? Do I find the Drivetime programme broadcast just two days ago? No, I get a link to just one item from that Drivetime broadcast but not the programme itself.

After disposing of the hair I’ve torn from my head I click on this link shouting at the computer – surely,surely, SURELY THIS MUST BE IT – CLICK.

Fuck, it’s not. After a good hour of searching, after pulling out all my remaining hair, after kicking the cat down the stairs, after making an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist I’m presented with a standard RTE News page informing me that Mattie McGrath wants the RTE board chairman to resign.

But no Drivetime programme.

The item I wanted to listen back to from May 16th is gone forever, gone away into the depths of dark space at the speed of light, never to return.

And it’s not just the Drivetime website, it’s every website on RTE.

They’re all complete disaster zones with just one purpose – to drive anyone foolish enough to try and access them into a state of complete insanity.

I simply refuse to believe that these websites, and in particular the archive sections, have been created by professionals.

I strongly suspect that RTE, probably as a cost cutting measure, have employed a group of fickle minded Transition Year teenagers to do the job.

My psychiatrist tells me, with a comforting arm around my shoulder.

It’s best to believe that Anthony, for the good of your health.

Copy to:
Drivetime (Wherever in the Cosmos it may be)

Catholic militant; Senator Mullen, lectures RTE on ethical standards

The obnoxious militant Catholic Senator Ronan Mullen was on Today with Pat Kenny (4th April) lecturing RTE for its treatment of Fr. Reynolds.

When I listen to this individual pontificating on morality, ethics and accountability I keep in mind that he’s a dedicated defender of the Catholic Church, an organisation responsible for the child abuse holocaust and the almost equal horror of actively working to help its criminal priests from being brought to justice.

Apparently, Mullen is pleased with RTEs new journalism guidelines.

I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen. If this is allowed to permeate the culture of the entire organisation and isn’t just a manual that is reached for when something goes wrong then I think we’re heading for better standards.

Better standards in RTE, he means, not the Catholic Church.

On RTE journalists:

I’d be more concerned about the lack of taking personal responsibility. I didn’t like the ruling out of sackings by RTE when this broke first.

What I would like to see is the people who are directly involved indicate that personally they regret what had happened; there’s still a little bit of hiding behind the institution.

He means RTE journalists hiding behind the institution, not Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals and popes.

Irish Times religious correspondent Patsy McGarry quickly got the measure of this individual.

Part of the tragedy of the Mission to Prey programme is that it has lent so much ammunition to people like Senator Mullen coming from his very, very narrow perspective.

I would also agree with McGarry’s summing up of RTEs major contribution to exposing child abuse by the Catholic Church.

In the context of what happened to Fr. Reynolds it has a very, very proud history particularly in the area of child abuse. RTEs contribution has been colossal.

Mary Raftery’s documentary, States of Fear, probably one of the most influential documentaries ever broadcast on Irish television which led to the setting up of the Ryan Commission, the Redress Board and the findings of Ryan published in 2009.

Mary Raftery’s Cardinal Secrets programme in 2002 which exposed what Ronan and others had been managing in the Dublin archdiocese.

Copy to:

Senator Mullen
Patsy McGarry

RTE: Scared of its own shadow

Liveline presenter Joe Duffy nearly had a heart attack during the week when a caller made the link between Ahern’s evidence and the fact that it was given under oath.

The tribunal said he was untruthful, it didn’t say he lied.

Phew, that was a close one. Nearly had a ton of lawyers down on my head there Joe probably thought.

Marian Finucane, after coming across a newspaper headline that used the word ‘lies.

They’re calling it lies but the Tribunal referred to untruths.

Phew, nearly had a ton of lawyers down on my head there Marian probably thought.

RTE: Off air but who cares?

There is a problem with the programme link facility on RTE Radio One but RTE staff do not seem too bothered about it.

I accessed in the usual way by clicking ‘Radio’ at the bottom of the page. This leads to a page featuring all RTE stations with a ‘find a programme’ feature that includes a helpful alphabetic code.

I clicked ‘M’ and gained access to a whole range of programmes beginning with the letter ‘M’ on the various stations including Marian Finucane, the website I was looking for.

At this point the system breaks down. When I click on Marian Finucane nothing happens.

I did discover a roundabout way to the Marian Finucane website by using the search engine but it’s awkward and, naively, thinking RTE might be interested in checking out the problem I rang the station.

I really should have known better because RTE is not good at this sort of thing and invariably I come away highly stressed from such experiences.

The first lady I spoke with (both of us navigated the website as we spoke) insisted that the only means of accessing a particular programme was by typing in the URL address.

When I asked why there was a programme link facility she passed me on to another lady.

The second lady, in addition to being uncooperative, was also angry at being interrupted completing what she described as ‘her brief’.

She too advised me to type in the URL for access to the Marian Finucane website slowly reading out the address as if she was addressing a child.

I insisted on focusing on the link problem and eventually she ‘discovered’ that by clicking on the word ‘genre’ left of the alphabetical code the Marian Finucane website became assessable.

She informed me that she wasn’t responsible for maintaining the RTE website and made it abundantly clear that the conversation was over, that she was getting back to her ‘brief’.

The programme link facility is still faulty so unless listeners are prepared to spend time playing around with it or run the gauntlet of impatient and angry RTE staff the facility is, as they say, off air.

Copy to:
RTE

RTE replies

I received the following email from RTE in response to my article on the Fr. Reynolds scandal.

Dear Mr Sheridan

Your email has been forwarded to me with the request that I reply on behalf of RTÉ . There are currently three inquiries taking place into the Prime Time Investigates programme that defamed Fr Reynolds. RTÉ has apologised for the inaccuracy of the programme and paid substantial damages to Fr Reynolds. It would be wrong to anticipate the outcome of those inquiries, but in the meantime the Managing Director of News and Current Affairs and the Editor of Current Affairs have stood down from their positions and the reporter and executive producer have been reassigned.

I do not know what else RTÉ can do until the inquiries report.

Yours sincerely

Peter Feeney
Head of Broadcast Compliance