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Wednesday 30 July 2014

Eoghan Harris: Kenny must win the kulturkampf with RTE prejudice

Published 27/02/2011|05:00

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Enda Kenny has won the General Election battle but may lose the long war. He must now make a deal with a Labour Party whose main task will be to protect the Croke Park deal, with the help of RTE. The guffaws on radio yesterday morning are not good news for the 1.3 million workers in the private sector.

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Kenny must now prepare for a Kulturkampf with RTE, that useful German word which covers any ideological struggle short of shooting. The biggest kulturkampf fought on this island was the battle for minds and hearts during the 30-year armed struggle of the Provo IRA. The most important weapon in this war was Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. This prevented the Provos from using RTE to make the propaganda at which they proved so polished once Section 31 was lifted.

In the Eighties RTE was the scene of increasingly bitter ideological battles between two factions of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland (FWUI). On one side were producers like me who believed in the value of Section 31. The other side was led by producers who opposed it, including Alex White.

Let me pause to clear up a confusion. Far from the Workers Party backing Section 31, Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte supported the opposite position. This laid down the political friendship between all three, which saw Alex White go to the last Seanad after a deal between Labour and Sinn Fein.

In 1987 I resigned from the FWUI following the failure of a meeting of radio producers to support a resolution condemning Enniskillen, presumably because they saw it as a surrender to the pro-Section 31 faction in the FWUI. Three years later I was gently but firmly squeezed out of RTE, following my participation in the Mary Robinson campaign.

The battles about Section 31 left behind a legacy of prejudice against me and my politics which persist to this day. Although I was active in the peace process (supplying soundbites to David Trimble like " Northern Ireland was a cold house for Catholics"), I have rarely been seen or heard on RTE News and Current Affairs programmes since 1990 -- a situation which does not apply to the Programmes Division of television.

If I am not banned, then the News Division hasn't a clue how to balance a programme. For example, for nearly four years now I have been the chief spokesperson in the Seanad calling for public sector reform. But I was never asked to contribute to programmes such as The Week in Politics, which discussed public sector reform in that period.

Likewise, I was not asked to evaluate the recent leaders' debates. Yet few have as much expertise in this field. Over the years I have worked either as a media adviser or as a speechwriter for politicians as diverse as Proinsias De Rossa, Mary Robinson, John Bruton and David Trimble. Could it be that my expertise itself is a problem? Is it intellectual insecurity? Or the likelihood that I would contradict the reflex RTE consensus that long dismissed Enda Kenny as a lightweight?

Luckily, Newstalk 106 is not subject, as the ads say, to the State spin. So listeners to Ivan Yates's sharp Breakfast Show got the benefit of my robust reasons why Kenny won the debate.

Download the podcast and, while you might not concur with my conclusions, you will have to admit that it was an original evaluation, only rivalled by that of John Boland in the Irish Independent.

The bottom line is that I believe I have been marginalised by RTE News and Current Affairs. I believe that Ed Mulhall, who heads the area, can hardly be unaware of this. And if he is aware of it, but argues that I am not being invited on broadcasting grounds, then I would reply as follows:

Mulhall, hardly a household name himself from his time in the trenches, should show some respect for a real broadcaster. Because I have credentials, both as a political adviser and as a producer. I was central to Mary Robinson's media campaign and I won a Jacobs Award twice for current affairs.

My story has a moral for Fine Gael. Like me, Enda Kenny is a victim of Montrose's metropolitan prejudices. The canteen culture of RTE is a consensus against centrists, conservatives and those who do not subscribe to some soft form of republican socialism.

Former Fine Gael governments funked facing down RTE. Their reward was to be subjected to a special form of bias I call soft spinning -- a subject to which I shall return relentlessly in coming weeks. Here the damage was done to Fine Gael, not by hard news shows, but by comedy shows like Halls Pictorial.

Enda Kenny, if he enters a Rainbow with Labour, also risks being labelled as the bad Blueshirt every time Fine Gael takes a tough decision.

Two years of this and Fine Gael will have lost the trust of the coping class. So Kenny has a ferocious fight on his hands.

Fine Gael must find a way to win the kulturkampf. The most transparent way to do this is expose RTE to evaluation by the open market. And as recession bites I believe the public will be ready for real reform of RTE.

I believe RTE should be sold off or broken up. I believe TG4 should become the public service broadcaster. I believe the licence fee should be used to create a level playing field between commercial broadcasters.

Meantime, I want to ask Tom Savage, chairman of the RTE Authority, three rhetorical questions in relation to the recent General Election. Why were there so many whiners about Enda Kenny on the panel shows? Why were original thinkers like John Waters neither heard nor seen? When will RTE remove me from the blacklist?

Sunday Independent

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