Thursday 18 July 2019

Ascent of a woman spoiled by tokenism

A FRESH VOICE: Colette Fitzpatrick on Newstalk
A FRESH VOICE: Colette Fitzpatrick on Newstalk

Ellis O'Hanlon

It would be unfair to dismiss a show on its first edition, but it would be dishonest to also not admit a certain disappointment with Newstalk's latest addition to the schedule, The Colette Fitzpatrick Show.

The problem isn't with the presenter herself, who is tenacious, rigorous, unflappable; she keeps the debate flowing nicely, and sounded, last Sunday, as if she'd been doing the job for years. The problem was with the editorial content.

Fitzpatrick was very clear in the run-up to this show that she wasn't here merely as the "token woman" in Newstalk's male-dominated line-up, but what did listeners hear? The first half of the show was devoted to equality in the workplace; "gender preconceptions"; how women could strike the right work/home balance; and the need for a universal system of childcare.

That was followed by a report on female health, fitness and diet; an essay by some male on "mansplaining", which not only included the word "patriarchy" but "intersectionality" as well; and a discussion with the present Rose of Tralee on whether beauty pageants imposed unrealistic expectations on women.

Nothing wrong with any of this in isolation. Taken together, however, it seemed like a deliberate pitch to fill some "token woman" airtime, which simply helps cement the notion that female listeners are only interested in a certain narrow range of "women's issues". Why limit your potential audience so starkly so early?

That's what's refreshing about Saturday With Claire Byrne, sadly off air at the moment, or Sarah Carey's Talking Point on Newstalk - or indeed the excellent work by Shona Murray as she sat in for Jonathan Healy on Lunchtime on bank holiday Monday (albeit she was replaced the rest of the week by Paul Kehoe).

They're not there as women, but as broadcasters, and the fear must be that constraining Colette Fitzpatrick in that role will be a self-fulfilling, and ultimately self-defeating, prophecy. No one wants to hear about "intersectionality" at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning.

It was hard not be struck later that same day, when listening to The Marty Squad on RTE Radio 1, by how rapt with devotion the contributors all were as they talked about the afternoon's GAA action.

Sport is not even my thing, but it doesn't matter because the best radio conveys the enthusiasm of the devotee to the most casual listener at home, and that's what Marty Morrissey and his team do brilliantly. One gets the feeling that they could talk about this stuff all night, for the sheer joy of it. Other broadcasters could learn a lot from colleagues in the sports department.

Mornings with Dave Fanning - whose title definitely deserves points for originality, rather than being a variation on the usual formula, The (Insert Name) Show - has something of the same quality. Fanning is the Grand Old Man of Irish radio these days, and his studied nonchalance is oft copied; but you can tell that getting it right still matters to him deeply. He's proof that quality will always out.

Sunday Independent

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