02 April 2008

RTÉ is waffling a good Story to Death

RTÉ is not a bad broadcaster. Quite the opposite. It brings us a lot of quality programmes and comes in this part of the world second only to the BBC, which does the same, but without the constant interruptions for advertisement.

But being Irish and employing Irish presenters, there is also a lot of waffling on the airwaves of the Emerald Isle.
The people here like a good chat, and this is also reflected in the radio programmes of
RTÉ, and even more so in the various private stations. But there is a fine line between exploring a subject to the very last detail, and waffling it to death with simply too much meaningless chatter.

Such happened today on RTÉ Radio 1, which started at 10 a.m. with the coverage of the resignation speech of Bertie Ahern. Given the fact that everyone seemed to be completely taken by surprise - RTÉ journalists and the great and good of our leading newspapers alike - I wonder if our national broadcaster actually employs a political analyst.
The BBC and all national broadcasters I know in other European countries have analysts, whose job it is to see the greater picture and to make sense of trends, developments and events. Even though most analysts are former journalists, their work is quite different from that of a reporter or even commentator.

Our main national newspapers - including the Sunday papers - have large numbers of regular columnists, but I am still waiting to encounter the work of a true political analyst. So it is perhaps not such a mystery how they all could be surprised by today's events in Dublin. For an analyst it was quite clear that Bertie Ahern had only two choices left:
1) Staying on to the very end and risking to be brought down and torn apart by his opponents,
2) Resigning early, and thus saving at least his political legacy and reputation, while at the same time freeing the government from the burden of his muddled private affairs.

When I wrote my piece yesterday, I expected that I would be right in my analysis, but what I did not expect was that Bertie Ahern would follow my advice within less than 12 hours. Alright, I am not that arrogant to assume that I alone made the Taoiseach see sense and step down. He must have seen the writing on the wall himself for some time and drawn his own conclusions. But a person using an Irish government computer was reading yesterday's piece early this morning...

Well, having been "completely surprised" by the Taoiseach's decision,
RTÉ made up for their lack of preparation by talking about almost nothing else the whole day.
The entire "Today" programme (minus its regular presenter Pat Kenny) was dedicated to the resignation speech, and it was actually the only programme I heard today on Radio 1 that had a good bit of background material ready, explaining very well the discrepancies between various statements made by Bertie Ahern and the facts offered in evidence at the Mahon Tribunal which tell a completely different story. This was a really good introduction, and I recommend the editor and producer for such foresight and excellent information.

But from then on it went downhill fast. Having covered Bertie Ahern's actual speech live and in full, numerous politicians and journalists were brought in to give their opinions. This is fine and quite normal, to a certain extent.
However, Radio 1 went into overdrive and actually killed the good story they had in their hands by waffling it to death. The daily 1 o'clock news started already at 12 noon, and for the whole 100 minutes on air presenter Sean O'Rourke had only one single subject: Bertie Ahern's resignation speech (despite the fact that there was plenty of other important news available from around the globe).

Every politician
RTÉ could get hold of was dragged in and asked the same question, which most of them answered in the same fashion. Boring, boring, boring! And in no way contributing any news or proper comment. Of all the people interviewed only two made a real contribution which was worth having and listening to: Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams gave a very good and fair analysis of the Taoiseach's involvement in the North, and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny made an interesting contribution by calling for new elections. Even though this will not happen in the current situation (and he knows that himself), Kenny has a very good point, as soon none of the three government parties will be led by the people who were their leaders in the last general election in May 2007. This will raise a question of legitimacy, and the next Taoiseach should not ignore the matter. (Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in a similar situation and has lost a lot of his credibility when he decided not to call an election after he took over from Tony Blair.)

To make things worse, the usually very interesting "Liveline" programme with Joe Duffy had also only one theme today: Bertie Ahern. I liked the quick telephone poll they conducted, with about 12,000 people texting in their opinion on the resignation. But the "ordinary people" who rang in with sycophantic praise of the Taoiseach and plenty of entirely irrelevant petty stories related to him were waffling the story stone-dead, without adding a single valuable news aspect.

Thank God for Derek Mooney, whose 3 o'clock show was free of Bertie-waffle. A sigh of relieve was heard around the house. But our joy did not last long. Mooney was truncated to only half an hour, and then "Drive Time" started early and continued the marathon-waffling over Bertie's resignation.
All sorts of totally irrelevant politicians where wheeled in again or interviewed on the phone, and by then I lost my patience and switched over to BBC Radio 4.

I believe that the Bertie-Saga, which seems more like an obituary for a man still alive, continues tonight on
RTÉ television. But since I don't watch TV, I am safe from another pile of waffle.

It has been said about Ireland that it is a country where never anything important happens. And there is a grain of truth in it. So on the very rare days which have unique events to offer, our media are falling over themselves and drown us with blanket coverage and endless waffling on air. Never mind that they were entirely unprepared for the story by 10 a.m. this morning.

Like in most walks of live, in the media less is usually more.

And especially in those media who have no sense for trends and developments, but then jump frantically onto every band wagon that comes along. It is information and analysis the reader and listener wants, not waffling and hype.

The Emerald Islander


Anonymous said...

well i would say that your writing skills have produced results, good job, kj

Anonymous said...

I wonder sometimes whether this blather,trivialising and obfuscation is not deliberate on RTE's part.As soon as a caller or interviewee makes a substantial point the presenter(s) are quick to either change the subject,or just interrupt.I've spent ages trying to follow Mahon with no joy.But the Guardian summed up the whole thing in half a dozen paragraphs!

Anonymous said...

What does the acronym BIFFO really mean ?Dara O Rourke

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