Sunday 11 December 2016

Getting the balance right - and wrong

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

Kevin Myers
Kevin Myers

The 'Gift Grub' sketch on Tuesday's Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM depicted a flustered Joe Duffy struggling to chair an impartial debate on Australia being invited to enter this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

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With campaigners on both sides of the same-sex marriage referendum eager to take offence at any perceived advantage being given to their opponents, it was a clever and funny parody of the difficulties faced by broadcasters in the run-up to Friday's vote.

That dilemma was neatly illustrated on Tuesday's Today With Sean O'Rourke in two reports from political correspondent Brian O'Connell.

The report from Mallow, where a majority said they were voting No, came in at three minutes and five seconds; the one from Cork city, where a majority said they were voting Yes, at three minutes and 12 seconds. One could make a case that those extra seven seconds amounted to disgraceful bias on behalf of RTE radio, but the stopwatches were clearly being deployed with military precision to offset any such criticism.

The real Joe Duffy had an even tougher job, chairing a three-day marathon phone-in on the same-sex marriage referendum on Liveline. He tiptoed his way skilfully through that potential minefield, though the best line definitely went to priest Fr Iggy O'Donovan who, despite being a Yes voter, summed up the crabby tone of the Yes campaign with the comment that "there's nothing more illiberal than an illiberal liberal".

There was an example of that on Thursday, as Kevin Myers was subject to a slew of vicious comments on social media merely for arguing during a debate on Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show that there was too much unnecessary tinkering with the Constitution in order to pass laws that could simply be legislated for instead.

Myers was "emphatically in favour" of gay marriage, but that wasn't enough for many who preferred to crudely misrepresent his views rather than engage civilly with them.

Pat Kenny had a good referendum campaign anyway, as did the always estimable Jonathan Healy of Lunchtime.

The same couldn't be said for Breakfast's Chris Donoghue. On Wednesday, he embarked on a belligerent interrogation of the Iona Institute's David Quinn that made for uncomfortable listening.

There's an argument to be made that all those who hold divisive views should be challenged combatively in this way; but in practice, they're not. Just compare Ivan Yates's encounter earlier in the same show with the father of a gay daughter, who was urging listeners to vote Yes. It was the softest of soft interviews. Few would have wanted to hear this man being badgered for his beliefs either, but it certainly didn't amount to anything resembling balance.

In welcome contrast to all that rancour, an enthralling edition of Monday's Arts Tonight on RTE Radio 1 paid tribute to the late Irish writer Dermot Healy. Peter Fallon of Gallery Press summed him up best: "He was like no one else".What more needs to be said?

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