Fionnan Sheahan: An 'Independent' and 'enlightened' journalist

During the pro government love-in on the Marian Finucane Show last Sunday Fionnan Sheahan, political editor of ‘Independent’ Newspapers did, like so many other establishment journalists, allow that the great unwashed do have a right to protest.

But, his generous concession to the masses came with a dire warning.

It would be a shame if recent events such as we saw here would tarnish everybody who decides to take to the streets.

The pro government panel all muttered in solemn agreement. And I’m sure I could hear a distant murmur from the listening peasantry recognizing the wisdom and charity of this fine Irish ‘Independent’ journalist.

Somebody said to be recently, the great seer went on:

It takes a lot to get Paddy out on the streets but when he gets out there you can’t get him off again.

The pro government panel all dutifully laughed at the humorous wisdom of this great national philosopher.

I see outside Leinster House on a weekly basis groups of people from all parts of the country coming up taking up their protests and you have to say, more power to them and it’s only right and proper that they be allowed to do that.

This generous and unsought sentiment, I must admit, brought me to the edge of tears – ‘it’s only right and proper that they be allowed to do that.’

My God, I thought, the Irish peasantry is so lucky to have such an enlightened journalist recognise their democratic rights.

And, it must be remembered, this weekly engagement with the peasantry outside Leinster House probably occurs when the journalist is on his way to meet the Great Leader and his hard working fellow politicians as they beaver away protecting the democratic rights of the sadly, ignorant and unappreciative masses.

It’s no easy thing to mix in such exalted circles while at the same time retaining an understanding of the coarser feelings of the common citizenry.

I think our problem here is, you’re seeing fringe elements now attaching themselves to legitimate people.

The pro government panel all murmured in agreement at this warning to the ‘legitimate’ people of Ireland – whoever they are.

And, to be fair to this most unbiased of journalists, he does clearly take ownership of his views when he states ‘I think our problem is.

The ‘our’ he speaks of is, of course, those on the pro government panel, the government and wider body politic (excluding certain sinister elements, naturally) and his bosses at ‘Independent’ Newspapers.

Paisley's death tips RTE over the edge of obsession

Did you wake up Saturday morning worrying about how the UK Orange Order was coping with the prospect of an independent Scotland?

No, neither did I but RTE insisted on informing us that a UK Orange Order parade was taking place in Edinburgh in support of the NO vote.

How many Irish citizens even know, or care, that a UK Orange Order exists?

It’s all part of RTEs chronic obsession with all things Northern Ireland.

When Paisley died Friday morning, RTE went into meltdown. Even though they’ve been preparing for his death for years they still panicked.

At 1250, regular transmissions on radio one were suspended. They simply couldn’t wait another ten minutes for the scheduled news broadcast.

It’s been pretty much RTE Paisley radio since then.

The entire One O’Clock news, Liveline, Drivetime. Six One News, Nine News – all effectively dedications in honour of a man whose greatest talent was his ability to fill others with such hatred that they willingly went out and brutally murdered fellow humans in the name of his particular god and country.

The RTE Paisley show continued on the Marian Finucane Show Saturday morning with at least one scheduled item cancelled in order to tell the nation, yet again, what a great man the bigot was.

No prizes will be awarded for guessing the content of RTEs This Week programme later today.

So what about Paisley’s home country, how did the UK media react to his passing?

Channel 4: No mention whatsoever in the headlines. May have been mentioned later but clearly the event was not seen as earthshaking.

ITV: Paisley’s death was the third item on the evening news.

BBC 4: His death was the fourth, and last, item on the headlines.

Albert Reynolds and Norma Smurfit's new shoes

During a discussion on Albert Reynolds’ legacy columnist Brenda Power told an interesting story (RTE, last item).

In the late 1980s, when the country was in deep recession, then Finance Minister Reynolds was was preparing to introduce his first budget.

His wife, Kathleen, suggested that he introduce a means test for Children’s Allowance as a result of an encounter she had with the enormously wealthy Norma Smurfit while buying shoes in Brown Thomas.

Are you treating yourself Norma?

No, the taxpayer is treating me. I save my children’s allowance every year and buy one decent pair of shoes.

The shoes cost £300, the same price as the average industrial wage of the time.

Reynolds did consider introducing the means test but in the end decided not to.

After all, Norma was a member of the ruling elite, she had her ‘entitlements’ just like the rest of the Golden Circle.

The response to the story by RTEs Sean O’Rourke was also predictable.

In fairness to Norma Smurfit I suspect she gave a multiple of that amount to various good causes that she has been supportive of down through the years.

There are two possible reasons for O’Rourke’s comment:

One: He/RTE are so afraid of litigation or of being seen to be biased they have to balance out every story no matter how trivial.

Two: He/RTE operate so closely with the ruling elite mindset that they instinctively defend against every negative attack, no matter how trivial.

I suspect the latter is the truth.

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

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