Tuesday 20 August 2019

Turning mass media into a weapon of war

Pat Kenny
Pat Kenny

Eilis O'Hanlon

Astronomer Carl Sagan speculated that the first radio waves any alien civilisation would ever hear from earth would be Hitler's opening address to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"It's a bit of a troubling thought," noted presenter Vlad Smishkewych with some understatement on Lyric FM's The Astrolabe, "that we might be represented in the outer edges of this universe by what might be one of the darkest moments in human history."

Though whether the little green men would be any more encouraged by the broadcasts they're picking up now is a moot point. Violent fanaticism was not unique to the 1930s.

On Thursday's Today With Sean O'Rourke, security expert Maura Conway, of Dublin City University, explained the online radicalisation techniques being perfected by jihadists.

In one recent month alone, Islamic State produced more than 900 videos in a number of different languages. Her conclusion, based on research into the internet activities of 227 convicted terrorists, was that the world wide web is an "enabler" of extremism rather than a core component of how it operates; but it's hard to be reassured when considering how easily the tools of enlightenment can be corrupted into weapons of mass murder.

There was then a reminder of the incongruity of modern radio, as O'Rourke ended the interview with the words: "We'll be talking to (chef and food writer) Tracey Coyne about nourishing winter warmers after the break…"

Today FM's Last Word was focusing on a much more crucial question arising out of the current uncertainty, namely: "Is it safe to holiday in the Middle East?" Because jihad is all very well, but those tans won't top up themselves.

No doubt that's unfair. Normal life shouldn't stop just because of terrorism; but it's surely the epitome of a 21st century problem to be worrying about one's summer holiday in the midst of the escalating conflict in Syria.

One travel writer interviewed said people were telling her they didn't even want to visit Greece any more as they "don't want to see people arriving in overloaded boats".

The Pat Kenny Show, for its part, was taking to the streets to talk to those affected by homelessness in Dublin, including one young man who threw away a promising football career because of drugs. He didn't blame anyone but himself, and even now seems to have a positive attitude, which, in the circumstances, is a huge credit to his character. He ended by wishing Pat all the best. Pat, in turn, sounded humbled by what he saw.

Finally, it's a sure sign that Christmas is near when Irish broadcasters start banging on about Handel's Messiah.

Monday's Arts Tonight rehashed the story of how Dublin hosted the premiere of the now famous oratorio. On Tuesday, Arena followed it up with a report on Project Messiah, which gave volunteers a chance to learn the work for performance. National pride is fine and dandy, but couldn't we get through Christmas just once without being reminded that Handel owes us big time?

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