Television news failing in its duty to question official lines
Put money from the inflated salaries of presenters into the State broadcaster's newsroom, writes Eamon Delaney
Published 29/08/2010 | 05:00
It's still summer time, technically, and it's not just the politicians who remain on their extended break.
Charlie Bird continues to hold the fort for Marian Finucane, who is not only paid the guts of €500,000 for four hours' broadcasting a week -- and this from a public service broadcaster -- but also has up to two months' holiday, only to return in the autumn and grill politicians and hospital consultants about being overpaid? Nice work, if you can get away with it.
But what a pity that some of that money couldn't be spread around the newsroom and, more importantly, the analysis department. On Thursday, the usually comprehensive nine o'clock news was looking a bit thin as it went through the headlines. First up, we had the report of the crisis in Aer Arann, and the fact that it could go bust.
The official line was that this was due almost entirely to the volcanic ash. But Aer Arann has been struggling for some time now, for reasons that have nothing to do with the ash storm, and has been heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. But none of this was put to the Aer Arann spokesperson and their line was duly accepted by the news.
It was the same with the next item -- that Ulster Bank has revised its forecast for the Irish economy and treasury bills are being snapped up on the markets. Again, the Ulster Bank line was happily accepted and there seemed to be little effort to connect this to the wider picture, and the week's other developments, like Standard and Poor's downgrade and the ongoing black hole that is the Anglo Irish Bank bailout.
RTE reporters are doing their job and fair play to them, but the nine o'clock news is a definitive showpiece programme for the nation and we expect to see important announcements fully explained and tested.
Perhaps we do miss George Lee, after all, with his animated and, yes, at times opinionated perspective on whether what we're hearing is valid, workable or just PR bullshit. And maybe we're also missing the solid Bryan Dobson, whose authoritative body language would tell you pretty quickly if all this Aer Arann stuff was stacking up at all.
What is annoying, by contrast, is that radio's News At One was sticking the boot into Cardinal Sean Brady over the Claudy bombing in 1972 and that IRA priest. Gavin Jenning's incredibly aggressive line -- "are the lives of the Claudy victims worth less than a priest's reputation?" he asked, as if there was a choice -- was in marked contrast to the nodding, straight-faced acceptance of economic announcements on the TV news.
Perhaps they could take some of those vast salaries earned by the holidaying star broadcasters and create a few more in-house experts and interrogators. That way we could be sure we are really getting the full picture.