Tuesday 27 September 2016

Being afraid isn't always a bad thing...

Elis O'Hanlon

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Terry Prone: Telling it straight on Today FM
Terry Prone: Telling it straight on Today FM

On BBC Radio Four's Something Understood last Sunday, broadcaster Marie-Louise Muir explored the last words of Seamus Heaney, sent to his wife by text message shortly before the poet went in for surgery: Noli Timere ("do not be afraid").

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Heaney died minutes later on his way to the operating theatre. Muir used the now famous quotation as a springboard to examine the different ways in which people find the inner strength to cope with an often terrifying world.

But what if apprehension at the terrors of the unknown isn't such a bad thing? What The Papers Say, the iconic ITV show that now also runs on Radio Four, focussed the same day on the so-called "politics of fear", which tends to be regarded with distaste in a media entranced by mawkish peddlers of pipe dreams.

Janan Ganesh, of the Financial Times, had a different take on it. Playing on people's fears, he said, "not only works, it's right. Fear is a respectable emotion that's hard wired into us as a design feature, not a glitch, we are meant to feel it". The politics of hope, by contrast, "has a spurious respectability that reeks of snake oil… it allies good intentions with good outcomes and treats the status quo as a base line that can only be improved on", when in reality things can get worse, and often do.

Communications queen Terry Prone would surely agree. On Neil Delamere's Sunday Best on Today FM, she refused to play the standard prissy game of condemning the politics of fear, noting: "Irish people love to hear bad stuff about the people they're preparing not to vote for."

Delamere didn't sound sure how to respond, but he should just be grateful that he had guests prepared to say unpopular things when radio increasingly resembles a dinner party at which nice middle -class metrosexual liberals get to congratulate other nice middle-class metrosexual liberals on the causes they hold dear. That must be lovely for them both, but what's in this love-in for listeners? Good radio is built on conflict.

That's why the interview with Micheal Martin on Thursday's Today With Sean O'Rourke, in which the Fianna Fail leader courted the Twitterati by using "right wing" as a term of insult, made such compelling listening, regardless of one's opinion of the man or his own politics.

O'Rourke naturally wanted to concentrate on the shape of any future FF-led government, considering that Martin has ruled out coalition either with Fine Gael or Sinn Fein. Martin found this emphasis on post-election deals insulting to an electorate which had not yet voted, chiding the media: "You never talk about issues".

O'Rourke was even blunter: "You're in fantasy land."

To reiterate, this isn't about who's right or wrong; O'Rourke will have equally combative encounters with politicians on all sides between now and the election.

It's about making challenging radio programmes that people want to hear. If this was a sign of things to come, the next few weeks until polling day should be huge fun.

Sunday Independent

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