independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Eoghan Harris: Criticising RTE will only get you ignored

When RTE does distinctive shows, such as Sean O Mordha's farming films or Miriam O'Callaghan's outside broadcast on Obama's visit to Offaly, I praise them at length. Conversely, when it performs poorly, or is partisan, I criticise it robustly.

But RTE requires only praise. Criticism will only get you ignored, even when we identify issues as of public importance. How else to explain the coverage -- or rather non coverage -- of the Denis O'Brien and Katie Taylor stories? Twice in the past two weeks RTE has failed to cover Vincent Browne's cogent criticisms of Denis O'Brien's media holdings in his weekly column in the Irish Times -- although Browne's second article was the most- read piece in that paper.

RTE has no real footage of Katie Taylor's early career. Failure to create or conserve footage of historical importance is something I can speak about, because I can personally testify that RTE has a rotten record when it comes to wiping crucial tapes.

Sean O Riada is the major victim of the tape wipers. In fact the only footage of him playing the harpsichord with Cor Cuil Aodha was shot by myself and the Feach team. Its rarity is revealed by the fact that it is used over and over again.

Likewise, only fragments survive of Niall Toibin's two satirical series in the Seventies If the Cap Fits and Time Now Mr T, which I helped write. Both of them were packed with satirical political subtexts which are now lost to future cultural historians.

Let me give one example. Mine Bean Ui Chribin, who died recently, featured in one famous Toibin sketch when she was a robust force in religious politics. Toibin played her delivering a talk on Catholic sex education, partly in Irish, using a porcelain bull and cow as props.

At the climax of the sketch she bumped the noses of the bull and cow together, saying "Tarbh dana, Bo dana" and suddenly produced a porcelain calf. This was to send up the kind of Catholic sex education which glossed over the important mechanics of sexual intercourse in the alleged interests of innocence.

But as former a RTE producer I try to be constructive and creative in my criticisms. Last week, on the principle of 'show' rather than 'tell', I pointed out the merits of a programme comparing Katie Taylor's career to that of Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary featured in Chariots of Fire.

My column, like myself, has long been ignored by RTE current affairs.

But in a small country where this paper is read by almost a million people, this merely makes sure that neither the general public nor this paper forgets Montrose's attitude.

The reasons I am persona non grata on RTE current affairs are not remote. I have repeatedly criticised RTE News and Current Affairs because I believe it recruits from a narrow social class, is infested by political correctness, seems soft on Sinn Fein and lacks diversity and creativity.

Both Gallaghergate and the Fr Reynold's affair

reinforced my criticisms. But the failure to follow Katie Taylor's career from the start raises a more rooted problem. I refer to the political and social groupthink which grips RTE current affairs.

When I joined RTE in 1966 the station was packed with producers and reporters from a wide range of backgrounds. But today it has no mavericks like me. Mavericks who would find Taylor's Pentecostal Protestantism as interesting as her boxing.

Can you imagine any RTE reporter saying: "Hey lads and lassies, there's this woman boxer in Bray who's a born-again Christian and keeps winning the world championship. How about sending a camera to her next fight and asking her if her faith has any bearing on how she uses her fists?" Such a reporter would be ridiculed by PC colleagues.

RTE reporters found Taylor's beliefs weird until the country gave them a reality check.

People who challenge the consensus are no longer recruited by RTE. Consequently Montrose is full of politically correct conformists who are not willing to contradict the canteen culture which clogs their creativity. Rather than react positively to constructive criticism, RTE responds by pretending critics like me do not exist. Our commercial rivals do not seem to suffer this fate.

And then there are the panel shows. Charlie Bird's panel last Sunday had three media heavies who failed to note that our two lead stories -- on the Olympic reception fiasco and on John Joe Nevin's problem with the publicans of Mullingar -- were rock solid. So much so they set the news agenda for other media for much of the following week.

No panellist on Charlie Bird's media show mentio-ned my criticism of RTE's abysmal failure to send ca- meras to follow Katie Tayl-or's career, even after she won five European champ- ionships. Or my revelation that RTE had no real foota-ge of Katie Taylor's fights.

Last Sunday we did not get the credit we deserved for setting the news agenda with two solid leads. The impression was left that our Olympic reception story -- which blamed the officials and not Peter Taylor -- had been negated by the Sunday Times, and that our Nevin story was somewhat negative. But a few hours later Al Morris, a Taylor family friend, in a call to Charlie Bird's media show, confirmed that Peter Taylor had not blocked the reception as the Sunday Times had claimed. So why didn't the three media savvy members of the panel praise the Sunday Independent for getting it right and criticise the Sunday Times for getting it wrong?

Terry Prone floated the notion that we were somehow negative in reporting John Joe Nevin's anger about his relations being refused bar service in Mullingar. But as the week went on it became clear that this story too stood up strongly.

Compare that with Newstalk's Sunday Show, hosted by Fergus Finlay. A panellist criticised the Sunday Independent for allegedly implying there was poor Irish crowd support for Nevin's final fight because he was a traveller.

Finlay swiftly cut in to say the Sunday Independent was quoting criticism by top coach Billy Walsh.

That is why I now listen to Newstalk live and let RTE current affairs shows stew on Realplayer until I can bear to hear it.

Sunday Independent

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