RTÉ woes… May 30, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, The Left.
Pat Leahy has a really interesting piece on RTÉ, and he outlines how even now in the second decade of the 21st century it has a reach that other media can only envy. Two particular facts comes to the fore:
Look at it this way: in last year’s general election, 2.2 million people cast their votes. The Prime Time lead-ers’ debate attracted just short of a million viewers. In 2010, in the British general election, 30 million people voted, but the BBC’s leaders’ debate attracted just over eight million viewers.
RTE’s reach in Ireland is vastly more than the BBC’s in Britain. Half a million people regularly watch the 9 o’clock news.
This really is a stunning footprint (proportionately). On a somewhat personal note I don’t have cable any longer – it was cut accidentally by a builder and I’ve never bothered to get it reconnected and depend upon RTÉ player and suchlike either to see a programme while being broadcast or afterwards. I’ve got to admit I like the sense of detachment – as well as the lowered blood pressure by not having it broadcast into the house at regular hours.
Anyhow, consider too the Presidential debate – though one suspects that precisely what many politicians are considering. That was handled appalling badly. There there was a perfect storm where the station’s need to appear on top of new media, incisive, arguably overly provocative and so on combined and in a way that the latter overwhelmed the programme. One suspects that had the tweet been removed from the fray this would still have been a watershed moment in the campaign and not to the benefit of the then leading candidate, but it wouldn’t have left RTÉ so exposed.
Leahy also, rightly, points to a reality that isn’t expressed often enough in all this. He notes that Pat Rabbitte isn’t overly keen to see ‘RTÉ suffer lasting damage’ from the Fr. Reynolds programme. But he notes that:
Rabbitte – like most of his ministerial colleagues, sources suggest – wants to see RTE taken down a peg or too. They want to see it have a little less power. Some of them want to see it have a lot less power. That view will only intensify, the more unpopular the present government becomes.
For many of us this may appear laughable given how closely RTÉ has echoed the orthodoxy. But it is true that as an oppositional pole RTÉ can provide a counter narrative – albeit one that, to use a short-hand, is more similar to the S. Ross world view than any we might identify with. And consider this too. As was put to me recently, Fine Gael loath Ross regarding him as an apostate. That’s a small and specific example, but it demonstrates quite well why they, and indeed the LP, are keen if at all possible to push back RTÉ as much as is possible. A bloodied RTÉ would suit them quite well.
As Leahy concludes:
The evidence of the new director general Noel Curran, as well as interviews he has given, suggests that he understands the need to be contrite and to change the way RTE has done things on some programmes. But he shouldn’t be fooled by the constant refrains of politicians that they don’t want RTE’s journalism compromised or damaged. Actually, that’s exactly what a lot of them would like – a reduction in RTE’s power.
Will that happen? Perhaps not entirely openly, but indirectly there’s many ways that that could be accomplished from giving extra support to competing organisations to certain deregulations. This raises interesting questions. I’m always leery about the weakening of any state organisation or subsidiary, and despite the cosy centre right (and sometimes right of centre) consensus at Montrose, it has its part to play. But, that requires a very very clear-headed analysis both of what RTÉ is, what it potentially could be – and the gap between the two. And what the broader media area is becoming.