Sunday 25 February 2018

Radio: Talk is just noise as the nightmare happens yet again

Georgina Bethany Callander, from Whittle-le-Woods in Lancashire, pictured with her idol Ariana Grande
Georgina Bethany Callander, from Whittle-le-Woods in Lancashire, pictured with her idol Ariana Grande
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I was going to concentrate this column on Simon and Leo's race for Fine Gael leadership. Maybe a bit about Enda Kenny, too, one of those retrospectives running at the weekend.

Or I could have covered a Newstalk documentary, Imagine Equality, which marked the marriage referendum's second anniversary. Or Eoghan Harris's righteous anger about public sector privilege, as heard on Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri, 6.30am).

Of course, as we now know, everything else paled against the Islamic terrorist attack in Manchester. I tuned in on Tuesday morning, not quite awake, and heard "…the latest from Manchester". I blearily thought it was about soccer - another Mourinho tantrum - or maybe a UK election controversy.

If only.

If only we lived in a world where party politics, retirements and sports bust-ups were the main stories. In news, boring and trivial are good. But, as that overused Chinese curse goes: "May you live in interesting times."

It seems these things always follow the same predictable pattern. Atrocity followed by shock, hand-wringing, excuses, competitive mourning on social media, "Pray for (wherever)", conspiracy theories, virtue-signalling, ghoulish poring over every gory detail, and hashtags so wrong-headed and tacky it makes you want to punch someone.

None of this helps, nor does the most important thing, even more than catching those responsible: ensuring it doesn't happen again. That's it, the only thing that matters - stopping this horror. Everything else is the proverbial hill of beans in comparison.

On radio, and all media, the general response to terrorist attacks is: a deluge of reports, analysis, anguished debates about causes and solutions, overreaction, underreaction, point-missing and point-scoring.

The medium does a superb job at these times - unrivalled, really - but you find yourself asking the same question: is this helping? Not in the stupid sense of "this is giving jihadists what they want", but a more literal way. Does this help solve the problem?

Or to rephrase: what's the point of all this coverage? Maybe it's just me, but I found it deeply depressing to listen to anything about Manchester; if not for professional exigencies, I would have switched off.

Mostly because it was horrifying, bewildering and very sad, but also because it's all so familiar. Same shit, different atrocity.

We've been here before, heard this before, seen an attack covered in the same ways. It becomes exhausting, on some psychological or even spiritual level, to go through this stuff over and over, knowing none of that will stop it happening again, and again, and again.

It was everywhere, and from an objective critical perspective, very well-done. We had Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am) with a heartbreaking report from Kate Egan on the little girls attending Ariana Grande's concert, "wearing kitten ears like their idol". Just form that mental picture, if you can stand it.

News at One (Radio 1, Mon-Fri) told us the first victim named: Georgina Callander, a kid devoted to the singer. This should have been the best day of her young life, not the last.

It went on and on; you couldn't avoid the coverage. Nor the feeling of spiritual exhaustion and sense of complete futility.

High Noon (Newstalk, Mon-Fri) had on regular guest, US firebrand Michael Graham. I don't like him - I suspect being disliked is part of his shtick - but he cut to the core perhaps better than anyone: "An Islamic whack-job commits a hideous act of violent murder in the name of his vision of his religion".

What else can you call it? What else can you say? The rest is just noise.

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