I’m not a reader of the News of the World but I’m told that Bertie Ahern has recently been signed up for his exclusive views on sporting matters. As far as I know he’s got no particular expertise in sport. True he attends matches regularly in Croke Park and Old Trafford and I know he’s knowledgeable on Irish soccer because he frequently reminds us of his great interest in League of Ireland soccer on those radio ads, although I’ve never met him coming out of Ferrycarrig Park. No more than myself he’s never achieved any notable success in sport and while I‘ve given up hoping to make the breakthrough I’m delighted to see that the self styled Iar-Taoiseach persists and has taken advantage of the pending closure of the transfer window as seen in today’s Sunday Times to sign for some team who wear red jerseys and play in a stadium that resembles Old Trafford. Ahern has some achievements, most notably the Good Friday Agreement, but at the back of it all, Few think if Michael Collins who knew something about delivering international treaties had lived would he have confined his middle aged years to sharing his views with the nation about the likely destination of Sam Maguire?
To save you the embarrassment of buying the NOTW and wading past the topless pictures I understand that in today’s paper he’s backing Meath to beat Kerry and make it to the All-Ireland Final. Most interesting his endorsement of the Royals is contextualised with a straight face; “I can’t remember the last time I cheered on Meath”. Pity to see his memory is still giving him trouble! I wonder if his enthusiasm for the Meathmen will see him go as far as place a bet on them given the long odds they carry today and his stated experience in successfully picking winners. In previous 2 horse races he always picked the winner, Haughey, McAleese being just 2 of the names that spring to mind.
The relative ease at which Ahern, a man not noted for outstanding intellectualism nor sporting aplomb, could pick up a column in a paper says a lot about the values in Irish media at the moment. Lets face it few actually believe Ahern has neither the time nor the ability to put together this column. Previous holders of the office of Taoiseach would cringe with embarrassment if a paper had offered them a sporting column on retirement rather than accept it as Ahern did. This column is probably ghost written by some unfortunate just out of DCU’s excellent journalism course and then read to him over the phone while he okays it. Ahern brings nothing to the table other than his name. In a country with a huge affinity to brands he realises it’s a brand that can keep him in clover until another nixer comes around. Media is about money and how circulation can be upped or rival papers trumped. The fact Ahern is “writing” is news and generates interest for the paper whether you buy it or not. Advertisers respond to that. In a recession getting an efficient return from your advertising budget ultimately is sound money management.
But media is now about opinion and not about news. When was the last time the headline was the result of an investigation by a media outlet? When did you see the result of a Freedom of Information Request reported ? Instead we get regular columns by cabinet ministers, soft focus on business people and their decisions.
Time was media was about getting to the truth, now it’s about celebrity politicians and celebrity business people. If many of the enthusiastic journalists that are coming out of college had the employer who was so minded to investigate the bubble in the economy in the last 10 years, I wonder would our slump have been so bad? I smile when I see the business editor in the Sunday Independent waving the big stick at speculators when its own parent INM’s shares are on the floor. With all the conflicting demands on the actual newspaper where is the space for the journalist? To be fair there are some journalists who will plough on and ask questions, Vincent Browne, Eamon Keane, Fintan O’Toole, Matt Cooper and sometimes they infuriate me when they persist in what I consider a pointless line. But that’s their job and that’s my tough luck.
If they don’t do it the alternative is a media packed with Ahern and his ilk peddling nonsense with a nipple count. Was it for this that trees were cut down?