Friday 13 December 2019

Same story but different result

Patrick Kielty. Photo: Getty Images
Patrick Kielty. Photo: Getty Images

Eilis O'Hanlon

'What's the difference between President Higgins and Chelsea FC?" asked Cathal Mac Coille on Wednesday's Morning Ireland. "They were both at big occasions last night, but the results were rather different."

"Were they different?" asked Des Cahill tentatively, as baffled as the rest of us. "They both won, I thought. Anyway ... " That last word being the verbal equivalent of diplomatically looking the other way when a chap falls over his own feet. Cathal's clearly more of a rugger mugger.

They were less solicitous on Newstalk Breakfast, where Duncan Stewart was threatening to walk out unless he was given 10 minutes to express his concerns about climate change. In the event, they gave him 17 minutes, because it was a priceless piece of radio as the environmentalist – apparently tone deaf to how bad this was all sounding, despite spending years working in the media – dug himself deeper into a hole. If he does plan to launch himself into political life, Stewart would be well-advised to work on his presentation skills.

They'll be playing this interview for years to come as an example of How It Should Not Be Done (for guests) and How It Should Be Done (for broadcasters). It was another reminder of why Newstalk consistently steals a march on its rival on RTE. Morning Ireland may still be the most popular radio programme in the land, but it feels increasingly stale and moribund, whatever the patina of comprehensiveness and authority it assumes. Breakfast has a more zeitgeisty edge, and the presenters are not afraid to express an opinion. Pretending to be above vulgar opinion is yesterday's game. Listeners can "read" the signals and deconstruct presenters' thoughts, so modern radio might as well run with it.

That doesn't mean having everything presented by shock jocks, but it means having the courage to give presenters the freedom to be more themselves. George Hook made no bones of his opinion on developments in the Oscar Pistorius trial last week, for example, but his coverage was every bit as comprehensive and fair to the evidence as that on Drivetime. It would also have been interesting to hear a more iconoclastic view of the President's state visit to Britain last week rather than the deferential, quasi-regal tone that was adopted on Irish radio. There are only so many times you can be told an event is "historic" without getting an urge to scream.

Relief was on hand in the shape of comic Patrick Kielty on Today FM's Last Word, coming live from London for the week that was in it. "It's almost like Kennedy coming to Ireland in the Sixties," he observed sardonically of the visit. "Has anyone noticed?" wondered Matt Cooper. "Not so much," admitted Kielty. He also expressed pleasure that Sinn Fein was taking part in the event, recalling his own attendance at a launch of an Ulster tourist initiative at St James' Palace (the Queen's house) some time ago, at which Martin McGuinness put in an appearance. "Normally," as he quipped, "the kind of things that were being launched by people like Martin ended up in John Major's garden..."

Finally, with an absence of strong intelligent female voices on Irish radio, an honourable mention for journalist Brenda Power, who was feisty and articulate on Liveline in defence of her view that the Traveller lifestyle benefits feckless men and punishes women and children. Of course, no so-called feminists came to her defence as Power withstood a volley of hysterical accusations and insults; but sure, what's new?

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