Thursday 19 September 2019

Sound and fury signifying nothing

Jair Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro

Eilis O'Hanlon

There are no pictures on radio, but the BBC has become adept down the years at painting images in the mind with words and sound instead.

The same, alas, could not be said about last Sunday's edition of BBC Radio 4's Profile. The subject was new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose father was apparently a makeshift dentist in the Amazon jungle - "not a qualified dentist, as I understand it, but the old string on the door thing". This was accompanied with the sound effect of a slamming door and a man yelping in pain. A later military coup in Bolsonaro's youth was complemented by the sound of marching feet. It was sound effects for beginners really, which was a shame, as it distracted somewhat from a useful, if predictably sniffy, profile of a political figure little known outside Brazil.

A different president was on broadcasters' minds last Wednesday after the US mid-term elections. Caitriona Perry, RTE's former Washington correspondent, offered a refreshingly balanced view on Morning Ireland, noting that the results of the previous day's polls were a "qualified win for both" Democrats and Republicans.

That was probably a disappointment for most Irish commentators, who'd spent the days running up to the elections gleefully anticipating not just a "blue wave" for Donald Trump's Democratic opponents, but a "blue tsunami". The era of "hyper-partisanship" in American politics that Caitriona Perry lamented is far from unknown on this side of the Atlantic either.

Do Irish listeners really care that much about what happens in Washington anyway? Both The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1 led with the midterms, but then quickly moved on to domestic news. It was surely the right editorial decision. Listeners have had an overload of American politics these past few years. The last thing they need is more pundits pretending to be experts on a subject about which, in truth, they know very little.

Regrettably, there was no escape from politics on Monday's The Ryan Tubridy Show either, where that day's guest was explaining what he and his colleagues would be doing later on: "We'll probably be looking at the question of the Brexit issue on the south and on the Border up north."

Was it the Taoiseach? The UK prime minister? EU negotiator Michel Barnier? No, it was U2 bassist Adam Clayton, talking about that evening's gig by the band at Dublin's 3Arena. What's simultaneously hilarious and depressing is that everyone colludes in this nonsense by taking these sermons from pop stars seriously.

Clayton went on to declare: "When we played in Belfast a couple of days ago... everyone was very much behind our stance." Everyone? How thoroughly Orwellian. Tubridy, naturally, didn't get around to probing such an odd statement. He was too busy asking the tough questions, like: "How do you feel about being on home turf and getting ready to rock and roll?" This must be why he gets the big bucks.

Sunday Independent

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