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.

Nothing to do with me!!

Let’s cut through all the waffle surrounding the removal of John Crown from last Friday’s Late Late Show. (All emphasis mine)

It was censorship, at least by proxy.

The censorship originated from a Government source and was successful because, generally speaking, RTE does not have the courage to stand up to politicians.

State censorship of free speech is a serious threat to democracy so all those connected to this event will strongly deny any involvement, blame somebody else or put themselves in a neutral position.

Pat Kenny said.

“The decision was made at a higher level than the team of the Late Late Show production.”

So, Pat can say: Nothing to do with me.

Bertie Ahern said; “No phone calls were made to my knowledge

So, Ahern can say: Nothing to do with me.

Mary Harney said she personally had no knowledge that Prof. Crown was to appear on the programme.

So, Harney can say: Nothing to do with me.

The Director General (Sub. Req’d) of RTE has emphatically denied that the panel change was made after a phone call to him by Ms Harney.

So, the DG can say: Nothing to do with me.

The Managing Director of RTÉ Television, Noel Curran said there was absolutely no political interference in the decision to change the panel of guests.

Mr. Curran said he made the decision to change the panel to achieve a more balanced range of views and said no-one had contacted him prior to his action.

So, we know who made the decision and most importantly, we know he made the decision on his own without contact with anyone.

Finally, the most unaccountable, the most important and certainly the most useful player in the whole episode – An anonymous Government spokesman – This is what he said;

He did tell the programme team that he was of the view that the proposed panel was unbalanced

(An anonymous, unaccountable civil servant can phone the national broadcaster and express his, apparently, personal views about who should or should not partake in a crucial television debate – and he’s taken seriously?).

He did not request that Prof. Crown be removed. (Why would he need to be so crude, the contact was the message not what was said)

So, while the anonymous and unaccountable Government spokesman, operating at a safe distance from Harney and Ahern, was telling the show’s production team that he thought the panel was unbalanced, the Director General of RTE was, coincidently and without contact with anybody, coming to the exact same conclusion.

Oh, by the way, politicians will be deciding today whether to approve an RTE application for a €2 licence fee increase.


Bertie Ahern on RTEs News at One today (First item)

“Sometimes I feel I have some power, most of the time I feel that I have limited power but I can tell you one thing that I’ve never had is the ability to direct anything in RTE. I’ve never had that in 30 years, if I had things would be very different but I can assure I don’t have it.”

If he had the power to direct things in RTE – “Things would be very different????”

What does that mean?

Well, of course, we belive you, Pat

Pat Kenny made a robust defence of his boss Cathal Goan, Director General of RTE, over the controversy surrounding the axing of Prof John Crown from last Friday’s Late Late Show. (Pat’s emphasis)

“The Director General Cathal Goan did not get any calls from the minister or the minister’s representatives or PR companies or anything.

I have known Cathal Goan for more years than the two of us care to remember, I worked with him originally on Today at Five, he was one of the creators of that programme and worked with him many times over the years and I know him to be a man of the highest integrity.

I cannot stress that more, he’s a man of the highest integrity and if such a phone call had been made to him, which it wasn’t, he would have no hesitation in telling that caller, politely generally or otherwise if necessary where to get off, that’s the kind of man you’re dealing with.”

Well, of course, we believe you, Pat. However, your finishing comments didn’t do much for your credibility.

“The rest of this matter is obviously internal RTE business and it will be dissected and parsed and hopefully will not embarrass us again in any manner as we’ve seen over the last couple of days.”

Avoid embarrassment? Was that not the very reason the Government allegedly acted to have Prof. Crown silenced?

Brute censorship

This article/letter/editorial? (The online version of the Irish Independent is a disaster) in Sunday’s Irish Independent sums up well the controversy surrounding the banning of Prof. John Crown from last Friday’s Late Late Show.

It was a case of brute censorship only possible in a democracy that has become so weak that it barely warrants the name.

Sunday November 11 2007

Censorship comes in many forms, some subtle and some blunt. RTE’s decision to ban John Crown, a hospital consultant, from last Friday night’s Late Late Show was censorship of the bluntest kind. Crown, like many of his colleagues, has strong views on the health service and on the performance of Health Minister Mary Harney.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Crown is willing to engage in public debate. RTE, however, decided that his views could not be accommodated on the Late Late Show. According to a statement from the national broadcaster, a “decision was taken to reconfigure (the) panel to represent as broad a spectrum of positions and opinions as possible”, and so Crown was dropped.

Instead of a debate that might have shed some light on the problems afflicting the health service, RTE served up a bland and discordant concoction that was neither informative nor entertaining.

What was RTE afraid of? That the views of one panellist among four would so distort the national debate on health care that some unknown peril would unfold? That Pat Kenny, the station’s most experienced and highly-paid broadcaster, would not be able to do his job when faced with the might of Dr Crown?

In its statement, RTE also said that it “would like to strongly state that this decision was taken internally within RTE”. That, we assume, is meant to be reassuring: the state broadcaster feels it necessary to tell the people that it did not take instructions from the Government before taking a decision that, quite possibly, spared the Government embarrassment.

We do not need to be reminded that RTE belongs to the people and not to the Government of the day, but clearly RTE needs to remind itself from time to time. By stating “strongly” that this decision was taken internally, RTE leaves open the question of what other editorial decisions have not been taken internally.

The broadcaster has a duty to the public to provide high quality news and entertainment and in return it receives a substantial hand-out from the people — €182.8m last year, collected as a tax on anyone who owns a television. It has a duty to provide balance, but not to the point that it denudes debate. It should also trust the editorial judgment and broadcast skill of Pat Kenny and his team.

The decision to exclude Crown cannot be justified on editorial grounds, and to argue that balance must be introduced into every debate is deeply flawed. If balance requires that both sides be represented, then it only requires one side to refuse to participate for debate to be silenced.

On Friday night, both the minister and the Health Service Executive refused to participate on the show. That is their choice to make, but it must not mean that the views of a respected and vocal consultant cannot be heard because of their refusal. Should all debate on politics cease if the Government decides to boycott the airwaves? Does RTE feel the need to balance a comedian with a straight man? It is an arid argument, and it is one that puts RTE in a very poor light.

RTE’s must never be allowed to forget that its duty is to the people of this Republic. It has no remit to protect the interests of Government or to spare the blushes of a minister. The Late Late Show has a venerable place in Irish television history and is renowned for its controversy as much as it is for its blandness. It can be awful and it can be very, very good, but it must not be censored on spurious grounds of political balance.

The RTE statement claimed that it wanted as broad a spectrum as possible, and yet it does not believe that John Crown has a valid voice on that spectrum. Its decision to exclude him was wrong and smacks of panic.

The result is censorship, applied on the broadcaster by the broadcaster. Cathal Goan, the director general of RTE, should apologise publicly and to John Crown personally.

Skin and hair flying

The skin and hair was really flying on today’s (Tuesday) Liveline.

The discussion concerned a drug that’s legal here but illegal in other countries. Two contributors hung up, that must be some sort of record, and Joe himself lost it, calling one of them a liar.

Great live radio.

The Flynn deal

The Director General of RTE has assured us that no deal was done with Beverly Flynn. Bertie Ahern has also claimed that no deal was done. I don’t believe either of them.

Given the way things are done in this country it is likely that some sort of deal was agreed. Next Monday, when the case comes up again in court, we will know the extent of the deal.

If there is any secrecy whatsoever regarding the amount Flynn has ‘agreed’ to pay then it will be obvious that RTE did a complete cave in under political pressure.