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Tilting the playing field very slightly: Varadkar and the ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ agenda at RTÉ March 15, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

By now most will have read the comments Leo Vardkar made about RTÉ, and I’ll get to them in a moment. But let’s start with his less than opportune timing as regards this remark:

He also said RTÉ was “encouraging people to break the law” by giving access to campaigners urging people not to pay the household tax. He claimed RTÉ would not give access to groups advocating that people refuse to pay the television licence fee.

Well perhaps they would if there was a campaign of mass non-payment on the TV license.

But what if instead of ‘law-breakers’ being the problem, the truth is the law itself is broken?

According to The Journal.ie

THE HIGH COURT has granted leave for a challenge to be made against the household charge because the necessary legislation and the statutory instruments are in the English language only – and have yet to be published in Irish.

Sloppy stuff, whatever way one cuts it, and of a piece with the news that this Government lost an Oireachtas Finance Committee vote last night. That’s the sort of thing that simply shouldn’t happen, not if they had their eye on the ball. Interesting that three FG representatives, including two Senators and that incorrigible contrarian TD Peter Matthews, broke ranks.

And file under ‘not only but also’ this news:

Also last night, Opposition TDs sought an adjournment of the Dail because no Government Minister or TD was present during a debate on mortgages.

The absence of a single TD from either Government party is believed to be unprecedented in recent decades.

Careless careless stuff and unlikely to burnish the credentials of a government which has more than enough problems facing it in the weeks, months and years ahead.

But the central point Varadkar made, that those who campaign against a law (even to the extent of urging the breaking of a law) are therefore per se illegitimate and the news media should have nowt to do with them is telling.

Funny that only yesterday morning we had this post about the immense comfort with which Fine Gael appears to be in government. For Vincent Browne had an entertaining column in the Irish Times yesterday, about more of the comments made by Varadkar about RTÉ. As also reported in the IT:

A SENIOR Fine Gael Minister has claimed that RTÉ has a bias towards political parties that are centre-left and have liberal views.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said the national broadcaster’s tendency to favour such parties might be innocent and unintentional but it was there nonetheless.

“It is also there in its domestic coverage. There is a bias towards centre-left parties and liberal views.”
Okay. And as evidence for this ‘bias’ he points to the following:

Mr Varadkar told The Irish Times this bias was most obvious in the station’s coverage of American politics. “I do not carry any candle for the Republican Party and will not be supporting them. But with RTÉ, this is when it is most obvious. Republicans are bad and Democrats are good.

You know you’re in trouble when Pat Rabbitte sounds reasonable, and on this he does…

Mr Varadkar’s Labour Party ministerial colleague Pat Rabbitte responded to the comments by saying: “I am not quite sure what might sound liberal and left-wing to Leo.”

Anyhow, Browne’s take on this is that:

I cannot imagine with what spectacles Leo watches RTÉ, which, through my spectacles, is suffused with a right-wing perspective, but the idea that there is a uniform agenda pursued by RTÉ is crazy. That’s not needed anyway; the right-wing reflex comes naturally.


For people with the perspective of Leo Varadkar, for whom incidentally I have a lot of regard, this ideology stuff is just bonkers. But Leo is chock full of ideology himself and it is likely he shares with most programme-makers in RTÉ a settled ideological position on the Irish financial crisis.

But in a way that’s perhaps missing the point. Yes, Varadkar’s ideological, and yes, the reflex in RTÉ and elsewhere is to conform with the orthodoxy, which it very largely has – and indeed has shaped that orthodoxy too, comes naturally. But I think this is to mistake his – Varadkar’s intent here. He knows as well as anyone that RTÉ is about as far from an hotbed of socioeconomic radicalism as one is able to find – unless he’s genuinely unable to see beyond the confines of his own ideological position.

What he’s doing is using the position that Fine Gael has clambered to to tilt the media and societal playing field very gently in their favour. But by doing this he puts RTÉ and the rest of the media on notice that this is a different government, that it has a clear enough right of centre ideology (and of course he causes discomfit to his coalition partners).

But this could have minor but not irrelevant effects, perhaps a yet further winnowing of interview panels with representatives of oppositional viewpoints. Potentially certain decisions taken on programming or editorial content. It wouldn’t be censorship but would perhaps be a process where voices presenting alternatives to the orthodoxy are even less in evidence.

And it’s notable, isn’t it, that for an example he has to bring up the treatment of the US Democrats and Republicans to evidence anything approaching bias. Because the orthodoxy here is now so embedded that it’s probably impossible to find evidence of a bias against it in contemporary Irish mainstream media.

Name, if you can, one channel that demurs on the financial approaches adopted by this state. Or try to find a daily or Sunday newspaper that does likewise. And it’s not just the financial approaches but a raft of other issues. Perhaps, perhaps, at a stretch there’s mild dissent on issues of social liberal issues. But FG itself is fractured on those lines so that, in a way, doesn’t count. And even within that orthodoxy is there a major newspaper, that supports the Labour Party, or Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil unequivocally? Of course not. The Irish media has no left/right divide. Indeed that should be a cause of concern from more than a left wing perspective. One of the worst features of the past decade and a half was a sort of right of centre group think on the economy (admittedly aided and abetted by an EU and IMF that raised next to no warning signals). Everyone was right of centre, or centre right, or as with the LP and lowering tax rates at 2007, acted as if they were.

And to be honest the line that this is simply a reflection of the society, or the political make up, doesn’t quite cut it any longer. Not when one could argue that the centre left/left/further left comprises about 33 per cent or so, and perhaps a little bit more.

But such things will not move one L. Varadkar. Though the sudden outbreak of chaos around the government, as described above, might make his words seem that less forceful. No bad thing, that.


1. sonofstan - March 15, 2012

Sloppy stuff

You can add the failure to produce an Irish language version of the enabling legislation for the Household Charge to that. 🙂


2. tomasoflatharta - March 15, 2012

Reblogged this on Tomás Ó Flatharta and commented:
Perhaps we are over-optimistic, – and the little voice should always say “optimism of the will, pessimism of the spirit” – we think that was Antonio Gramsci’s advice to activists – but it looks like the Kenny- Gilmore government is on the slide downwards towards a Cowen-Gormley meltdown – let’s hope!


WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2012

Ta, tomas…


3. TheOtherRiverR(h)ine - March 15, 2012

“He also said RTÉ was “encouraging people to break the law” by giving access to campaigners urging people not to pay the household tax. He claimed RTÉ would not give access to groups advocating that people refuse to pay the television licence fee.”

Isn’t it the duty of a broadcaster, particularly a state owned one, to report facts. Namely in this case that there is a significant number who are opposed to this measure.

Vlad sounds like someone who’d be in favour of Section 31.


gfmurphy101 - March 15, 2012

Well they do say if you scratch a libertarian right winger, underneath you’ll find a fascist, !!


Jack Jameson - March 15, 2012

If Leo Varadkar wants to stop law-breakers appearing on TV, will Fine Gael/Labour be blocking all coverage by RTÉ of the Arab Spring and unlawfulSyrian protests against the government in Damascus?


WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2012

That’s why he’d be better avoiding that line completely. Not all laws, even when lawful, are right.


4. WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2012

Meant to say, had a real ‘duh’ moment after posting this when it struck me that of course he’d do this – and the mention of the US reference is the giveaway. It’s straight from the Republican playbook of putting liberals and leftists on the defensive by making liberal, and in this instance ‘left-wing’ too, terms with a negative cachet.


Mark P - March 15, 2012

I’m all in favour of making liberal a term with a negative cachet!

The notion that RTE, or indeed any mainstream media outlet in this country, has a “left wing bias” is astoundingly stupid. The idea that much of our media has a right wing liberal as opposed to right wing conservative stance is less obviously so.


EWI - March 16, 2012

Absolutely. And I don’t believe for a moment Vladakhar’s protestations that he and quite a number of young turks in FG have no love for the US Republicans.


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