News Analysis

Friday 22 August 2014

Jody Corcoran:RTE has let itself and us down by running for cover on Savita

Published 18/11/2012 | 05:00

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Why pay a licence fee to a broadcaster that does not properly report such a crucial national issue? asks J

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What is going on at RTE? From his introduction to a debate on abortion, tacked on at the end of The Late Late Show on Friday, it was clear that Ryan Tubridy had been advised by the lawyers to keep a tight rein on this one.

But the country has been transfixed by the death of Savita Halappanavar; the circumstances, still far from fully known, have given rise to the most profound issues, upon which everybody will hold an opinion.

Beyond mere opinion, valuable though that is, there are the facts, which will remain unknown for up to three months.

Into the vacuum, where RTE should be, a husband's grief has been taken by the hand, agendas are being pursued, and given chase to, and Ireland is being thrashed on an international scale.

The manner in which the details, so far presented, have come to light sit a little uneasily. Did a consultant really tell an anxious husband, in a voice which, in print, seems so callous: "This is a Catholic country"?

As the week progressed, the tone was softened: "The consultant said that she was very sorry but an abortion was not possible," Savita's husband, Praveen, has said.

"The consultant was very apologetic when she gave her reasons for not allowing one. She said it was because 'this is a Catholic country'," he said. More than anything else, it was this comment, as alleged – we must await the official reports – which has lit a flare around the world.

In the rush to judgement, an old stereotype has been played to, and so protests have taken place in Dublin, London and outside our embassy in Delhi, the second most populous city in India, where 20,000 women a year are reported to die on an abortion table.

In the absence of all of the facts, this much we do know: incredibly, Ireland stands accused of murder.

The Indian ambassador to Ireland looks concerned, as well he might, although he chose his words carefully last week, as did our envoy to Mauritius, when questions were being asked here about the rule of law there, and a blind eye turned to police brutality.

Meanwhile, the Government is struggling to contain the disparate demands for action within the Coalition, a full 20 years after the Supreme Court handed down an open-ended judgement.

SEE SOAPBOX, BACK PAGE AND PAGES 26 & 27

This is the issue – abortion – which may tear apart what were strange ideological bedfellows anyway, as it has torn apart the nation four times already and has been primed to do so again, at a time when we are already on our knees.

Behind the headline issue, the complexities could not be more profound, the consequences could not be more serious and the people could not be more in need of that most basic requirement – information – the lifeblood of any properly functioning democracy, before a decision is taken.

At this remove, it seems, the medical profession collectively must tell us what they need and the political profession must see to it that they get it, by legislation if necessary.

From the moment the story broke on Wednesday, it was inevitable that it would come down to this.

But, on RTE that night, they gave us the "network premiere" of Inception, a film of the subconscious, which was first shown on Sky almost a year ago. The following night, we awaited Prime Time, the flagship already holed below the waterline thanks to the Mission to Prey affair – however, the broadcaster rolled out a film in the can.

At important moments of national interest, such as this, when we want to know what has happened, when we need to know what to make of it, our response has always been to turn to RTE, the public service broadcaster.

In the absence of the airing of Prime Time last week, the commercial station TV3 filled the void and, particularly, the broadcaster Vincent Browne, who was responsible for presenting two excellent programmes which have illuminated some of the issues arising from the Savita Halappanavar tragedy.

In fact, it would not be going too far to suggest that Tonight with Vincent Browne was the only television programme to attempt and, by and large succeed, in providing a service to the public last week – and all without the benefit of a licence fee.

Sunday Independent

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