Beware, dodgy politics is bad for your health
Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy came with the words "Don't Panic" inscribed on the front. Health stories on Irish radio ought to come with a similar warning.
On Wednesday, it was obesity. Top story on Morning Ireland was the news that the Irish were set to become be the fattest people in Europe by 2030. Newstalk's Breakfast was equally alarmed.
What few explored was that this was a report from the World Health Organisation, which has previously issued similarly dire warnings about Aids, Sars, bird flu, swine flu. The whole story is another example of our deference to "experts", no matter how many times they are wrong.
Two things are going on here, surely. The first is the human tendency to think that we're all going to hell in a handcart, when the evidence of history is that the future usually turns out to be better than the past. The second is the pressure on government to give vast amounts of money to quangos so that they can "fix" a problem which they have a vested interest in making out to be worse than it is.
Thank goodness, then, for Radio 4's Today programme, where BBC science editor Tom Fielden acknowledged the concerns around the trend in obesity, whilst quipping of the Wos's use of data that it was "statistically a bit of a work of art".
Radio 4's Media Show hosted an interesting discussion on how political parties had handled journalists during the UK general election campaign. Press conferences are growing few and far between, because politicians don't want to face too many awkward questions. The rapidity and ferocity of social media is making politicians wary of making mistakes.
Andrew Grice of the UK Independent, who has covered all eight elections since 1982, called the campaign the "most stage managed I've witnessed", while Isabel Hardman of the Spectator, covering her first election as a political journalist, noted a curious "lack of confidence" among politicians, as if they don't feel they have what it takes to persuade voters any more, so just hide in rallies instead, surrounded by party activists.
Nine hours before polls opened in Britain, RTE Radio 1's Keelin Shanley headed up to Belfast for a special edition of Late Debate. Guests included analyst and satirist Newton Emerson and comedian Tim McGarry, who quipped that he was "so old that I can remember when Gerry Adams genuinely wasn't in the IRA".
Politics in the North may still be divided on rigid sectarian lines, but at least they can't stop us laughing at them.
Shanley was back on air next night, together with colleagues across Britain and Northern Ireland, to cover the UK election. They did an excellent job, but it's a thankless task, second only to presenting Eurovision on radio, because they must know that most people are glued to their TVs at these times. Or asleep.
Either way, a lot of the team's best work goes unheard. This must be what it's like being on Raidio na Gaeltachta every day of the week.