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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cowen’s Late Late Wexford “fun”

There’s an old saying that it started on the late late show. True the programme that gave us P Flynn’s self destruction, the Terry Keane outing, the Annie Murphy scrap and so many others down through the years has finally run into the buffers. Today’s Sunday Tribune reports that prior to An Taoiseach Brian Cowen agreeing to an interview from Wexford Opera House in September this year he insisted on knowing the questions, the guests and ensuring that no ambush from the audience would be allowed.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the extent of contacts over a 2 month period prior to the show preceding the Taoiseach’s appearance. Late Late researchers went to extraordinary lengths to assure the Taoiseach that the interview would be of the soft focus variety. In the words of an email sent to his department in an attempt to entice him on air after the economy was drifting leaderless it would be "fun". Given that immediately prior to the show the cabinet had spent the month of August on their hols one wonder show much more soft you can need? And in light of these facts what does that make of one FF Oireachtas member who this week claims that RTE is too left wing in its coverage of current affairs? That sounds like someone who hasn’t moved on since the 1960’s when RTE authorities were regularly sacked because of “conduct unbecoming”. For anyone interested in how FF believes RTE should behave watch “Scannail” later this week which deals with “The Spike” a drama censored by then Minister Gerry Collins about 30 years ago.

The reality of relationship between the broadcast media and the government is a lot more complex than that but for some people it has yet to move on. According to one insider in local radio an FF supporting independent on his local radio station refuses straight interviews on air favouring the presenter instead to read the questions he has himself composed prior to the interview and supplied to the station. RTE relies on the Minister for Communications to approve a license fee increase and to intervene to regulate sports events as free to air. Compared to how in the past Blair attacked the BBC (under the same commercial pressures) over the Iraq dossier, RTE has never fundamentally undermined the government on an issue of national importance. Reading the tribune today I see why.

There relationship between media and politics should be one of balanced tension. One acting as the guard dog on the other, not the media as the lap dog for the bulldog. Political and commercial decisions have often taken priority over the public’s right to know. The environment created thus has given us the politician as a celebrity, personality and ultimately some sort of hyper sensitive species. It provides the milieu where Senator Jim Walsh is given time to pontificate about Podge & Rodge unchallenged at a time when jobs are being lost, OAP’s and school children feeling the brunt of his cuts. What’s the bet a Christmas TV special featuring Brian Cowen or Mary Coughlan as a guest? As Bunny Carr used to say “Stop the lights”

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