Monday 5 December 2016

Radio: A gold medal for these silly season stories

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates winning the Men's 200 Metre final at Olympic Stadium at the Rio Olympic Games
Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates winning the Men's 200 Metre final at Olympic Stadium at the Rio Olympic Games

The Pat Hickey case continues to rumble on, with saturation coverage across talk radio. Just for a few examples: Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am) heard about proposed terms of reference for the official inquiry into the matter; the same station's Liveline (Mon-Fri 1.45pm) talked to family members of Olympians about problems they had securing tickets.

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On Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri 6.30am), our own Kevin Doyle - filling in as co-anchor - discussed breaking developments with Indo colleague Cathal McMahon. On and on it went, as relentless and gripping as a Usain Bolt surge down the home-straight.

This sort of news is a godsend to all media, particularly in these dog days of late summer, when the serious business of state is on pause. (And more importantly, that new season of Narcos still hasn't come to Netflix.)

The great thing about these stories is that they feed our psychological need for drama, scandal, colourful/outlandish deeds and personalities. And finally, some sort of moral lesson, a sense that someone is getting their comeuppance or a wrong is being righted.

But on top of that, it's not very serious. Therefore it's not hideously depressing and upsetting like so many news stories.

Yes, I accept that laws may have been broken and prison time handed down. There are allegations of corruption and malfeasance and shoddy dealing and all that.

Ultimately, though, we're mostly talking here about tickets to a sporting event, purportedly going somewhere they shouldn't have gone. And in a world of ISIS and famine and melting ice-caps and God knows what else, that is small beans. It's so trivial, relatively, that it's essentially meaningless.

So we can get worked up about the Hickey story, knowing nobody has died or been tortured or anything. There's no real evil here, only idiocy, arrogance and avarice.

Though, it must be said, there is a lot of that. In fact, the Olympics movement, no more than Fifa, is riddled with it.

On a thorough, and thoroughly excellent, Talking Point (Newstalk, Sat 9am), Sarah Carey examined the Hickey case, Brazilian policing and jurisprudence, the economics of hosting an Olympic Games, and more besides.

She kept it simple: bring on the experts - David Walsh, Kenneth Egan and Prof James Cooper among them - ask the right questions and let them off.

I was especially taken with the contribution of economist Andrew Zimbalist, who dissected, in a cool, forensic way, how absolutely demented (I'm paraphrasing a little) any city or country must be to agree to host this bloated carnival of grotesquerie.

It makes literally no economic sense; host cities take decades to make back the money paid out, and some will never do that.

LA and Barcelona are about the only ones not to incur enormous debt from the Olympics.

It all basically boils down to a powerful local construction industry persuading politicians to bring in the Games. The end result is a mind-blowingly massive transfer of money from public purse to private.

However, good news: the Olympics mob are finding it ever more difficult to get a host city.

Maybe they should try North Korea/Pyongyang…which neatly brings us to The Ray D'Arcy Show (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 3pm).

Substitute host Kathryn Thomas heard from Sean Mooney, of Finglas Village Renewal Partnership, who have written to officials about possibly twinning the Dublin suburb with one of Kim Jong-Un's communist paradise cities.

Surreal, eye-opening, inadvertently amusing - another perfect silly season story.

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