Saturday 17 February 2018

TV review: Bankers' woes is a story worth telling

Newsnight (BBC2) Prime Time (RTE1) 9 News (RTE1)

Talk about bankers dominated TV screens
Talk about bankers dominated TV screens
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It was one of many interviews we heard during the week about the nature of the financial services sector.

"Was what these guys were doing wrong?" the interviewer began.

"It's an open question whether it was illegal," the commentator said. "It's unclear whether the way that the stock market has evolved is in the end illegal... but it's still... distasteful."

The interviewer suggested that the authorities were asleep on the job, to which the commentator replied: "The people who were really asleep on the job were the regulators... who just seemed incapable of being at all active in the financial market. They respond to crises, but they don't prevent them from happening."

Which drew this response from the interviewer: "I don't see what these guys who were fixing the market were doing that was wrong. If it was smiled upon by the regulators, they were just acting as those sort of people have always acted, weren't they?"

"I think that's probably their point of view," the commentator said. "That their behaviour was being condoned by the financial regulators, so how could you possibly accuse them of illegal activity?"

This wasn't Prime Time, there was nothing in it about Anglo, it was BBC2's Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman talking to the celebrated author Michael Lewis about Flash Boys, his new book which catches up with the latest advances in the wizardry of the money-men.

Listening to these spooky echoes of our own story, It was almost touching to think that Paddy was in there somewhere, no better or no worse than the boys on Wall Street. But there was one difference. There was a "however".

"However", Lewis went on, "the New York Attorney-General is about to accuse the relevant parties of illegal activity so we may have a pretty curious situation where people are accused of crimes for doing things that the financial regulators condoned."

Indeed... and I wonder how that will work out?

Knowing the disposition of your average New York attorney, I wonder will the New York Attorney-General take the cue from Paddy here and say, "sure what can we do?".

Sure, we'll keep an eye on it anyway, as we reflect on Michael Lewis' diagnosis of one of the major diseases infecting the money-game, which is the fact that it now attracts the smartest people.

"It used to be nice clubbable men who went to work in the financial sector," he explained. "They didn't require high intellect, and in fact this was an advantage. They could only do so much damage when they weren't that bright. And what's happened now is that instead of the bottom of the class at Oxford and Cambridge going to work in the City, it's the top of the class. And the top of the class is capable of doing unlimited damage..."

Beyond smartness or stupidity there is rambling, roving, walking, hiking, whatever you call it. The mere thought of it is intensely boring to me, and yet when Prime Time followed its Anglo piece with an item on landowners keeping walkers off private land, I was strangely drawn to it.

Something about the lovely scenery was soothing after Anglo, better than those images of Patrick Neary which now haunt us all. And reporter Mark Coughlan was working hard, giving us a man called Joe Walker who was broadly against the walkers – in this setting, that was quite a laugh.

The music matching these fine pictures of Wicklow included a little instrumental excerpt from Dylan's Buckets of Rain – ho ho we don't want rain do we? – from the album Blood On The Tracks – we don't want that either, do we?

But while Coughlan was bringing a little of the avant-garde to Prime Time, RTE News was bringing us a familiar scene. On last Saturday's Nine O'Clock News, the Premier League scorelines were displayed, with the last match correctly listed as 4-0 for Manchester United against Norwich .

But it was not correct to say that this was a latest score when the match had actually finished.

We wouldn't bother mentioning this, were it not for the fact that the newsroom was "rolling out" its new look which cost a reported 25 grand. As my old friend George Byrne used to say, quoting Elvis Costello , there are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder.

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