Tuesday 20 March 2018

The day the airwaves turned green - and red

Minister Leo Varadkar is 33 years old, has the patient, pained voice of an unheralded messiah and regularly appears in the temple (RTE) wowing his elders. On Monday, he materialised on the News at One to discuss a few recent miracles -- the closure of a loophole in the penalty points system, and the turning of international monuments green for St Patrick's Day.

He also alleged that RTE had a liberal bias. The latter idea was a bit of a "thing" this week, in the wake of the catchily titled "Tweetgate" and the less catchily titled: "Frontline-producers-allegedly-planted-loaded-questions-with-an-audience-member-gate".

"I understand you've been out saying that there is, within this organisation, RTE, something of a liberal bias?" said Roisin Duffy, one of the Pharisees.

"That's correct," said Varadkar, solemnly. "It's something that's been there I think for a very long time and I don't think it's been properly addressed."


"Clearly RTE would dispute that," said Duffy.

"Well they would," said Varadkar, more sniffily. He mentioned an RTE item about where Mitt Romney got his money which omitted to ask a similar question of Obama.

"You could suggest, Minister, that that's because the Republican nomination was in the news," said Duffy, reasonably.

"It could be but ... "

"Well it is!" interrupted Duffy, a lot less reasonably, giving credence to a later point by Varadkar: "I think RTE is often very defensive when it's even questioned about these issues."

He went on to give a couple more examples of perceived RTE bias, before suggesting the need for deeper investigation of the issue. He even gave a sad laugh when Duffy asked: "What makes you think tweets and texts aren't checked?"

"Forgive them, Thatcher, for they know not what they do!" Varadkar might have said at this point.

Later, on The Last Word, the Minister for Communication Pat Rabbitte washed his hands of Varadkar's allegation, Pontius-Pilate-style. You say "tom-ay-to" and I say" to-mah-to". Well, Varadkar says "politburo" and Rabbitte says "inquisition".

"My own view is that there's a very conservative bias in RTE most of the time," said Rabbitte, who earlier dismissed allegations of bias made by Frontline audience-member Pat McGuirk.

"But there you are, you come to it with your own particular philosophical outlook on life and world view and that must be Leo's world view."

"It is unusual though to have two cabinet ministers both say they believe that there is an intrinsic bias in the public service broadcaster," said Anton Savage.

"Did I say there was an intrinsic bias?" said Rabbitte impatiently.

"Well, you said that you view it to be conservatively biased most of the time."

"I said sometimes," said Rabbitte inaccurately, proving that he himself isn't above a bit of Stalinist revisionism when the mood takes him.

On Tuesday's Liveline, Joe Duffy also tinkered with recent history. Animal rights activist John Carmody passionately questioned the health of circus elephants in Fermoy, which prompted some silly back-and-forth over whether an elephant looked happy in a photo.

Then Duffy said: "But sure a performing animal has just won an Oscar -- Uggie ... in The Artist." Just to be clear, Uggie did not win an Oscar, because he is a dog, but a little later Duffy again said: "Come back to my question of the dog that won the Oscar."

It wasn't entirely clear what his question was. Mine is: have we reached a point where Joe Duffy is so revered no one contradicts him? "Get that Oscar-winning dog on the phone!" I expected him to yell, followed by the nervous sounds of a researcher sourcing a talking terrier.


Amid all the handwringing about hidden liberal agendas, it's worth remembering that it's the liberalisation of Ireland that allows abuse victims to speak freely on national radio.

On Tuesday, Lorraine Mulvey spoke to Ray D'Arcy about years of abuse suffered at the hands of her father, convicted the day before.

She spoke in heart-breaking detail about the abuse and its aftermath. As well-wishers and fellow abuse-survivors texted in, D'Arcy himself was moved to tears. "I have to stop," he said, his voice catching. "I shouldn't be crying." I'd say most people listening were moved.

On many important issues, we're all liberals now.

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