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There's an elephant in the room at Montrose

THE Irish Eye is a 12-part Brendan Balfe-produced show on RTE 1, all about the origins and history of RTE itself. A fascinating series that illuminates the national broadcaster's present as well as its past, it's filled with choice archive material and interviews with media heavy-hitters, and is only partially marred by distractingly literal soundtrack choices.

Shortly afterwards, to indicate that the station was indeed on the cusp of a new frontier, Balfe played the familiar three-note motif from Star Trek, over which Captain Kirk could be heard intoning "Space, the final frontier!" And later, when discussing political interference in broadcasting and the confiscation of controversial footage into police custody, arguably, I suppose, some kind of "twilight zone", Balfe threw in the music from The Twilight Zone.


Of course, this is me picking holes in what was an otherwise excellent programme. This episode explored the RTE's evolving approach to news values (it often did so, it seems, in response to a rapidly changing situation in Northern Ireland) and its continuous, not always successful, fight to keep editorial independence and objectivity. The one-time RTE stalwart Eoghan Harris was just one of the upfront and entertaining interviewees.

He had been well-placed to recall the battles for dominance being waged by various political ideologues, nationalists, Irish language enthusiasts and commercially-minded populists in the midst of this golden era. He did so with typical honesty, his position on any issue basically being a big "but ... " (this was a lost opportunity for DJ Balfe -- "I like big buts and I cannot lie," Sir Mixalot could have rapped over Harris's truth-saying).

Harris was the only interviewee, for example, to explicitly reference RTE's more recent problems with poor editorial judgment.

During a segment about RTE producer Jack Dowling's struggle to retain editorial independence, Harris noted that Dowling was someone who believed that "sometimes you must stop a show." "I'm sure the Reynolds team and Prime Time Investigates wish they'd thought of that," Harris added pointedly. Dowling's departure, incidentally, was musically punctuated by the Beatles singing "You say goodbye and I say hello!"

In the aftermath of the Father Reynolds affair, RTE has already said "goodbye" to some very seasoned staff and this week it said "hello" to a new MD for News and Current Affairs.

His name is Kevin Bakhurst, he's an exotic import from the BBC and his appointment seems to have been a bit of a curve ball for some in leafy Montrose. It was discussed on Tuesday's News at One by a slightly surprised-sounding Sean O'Rourke. "Interesting times ahead," he said ominously.

The spirit of the event, however, was more accurately evoked earlier in the day on Morning Ireland, as zookeeper Leo Oosterweghel enthusiastically described the introduction of a bull elephant from Chester to Dublin Zoo for mating purposes. They should really get Leo to describe the introduction of Bakhurst to Montrose when the time comes, as I suspect the scenes there will be very similar.

"There are these elephants standing there altogether looking in the distance and then this bull approaches," said Leo.


"And then there's the excitement. There's the vocalisations. They were screaming, trumpeting, grunting ... and then there was this grating ... the touching ... the sniffing. It was magic to watch. We are very hopeful that this is going to work out."

"Is he competing for their attention or are they competing for his?" asked Morning Ireland's Gavin Jennings, clearly looking for some tips.

"There needs to be a level of submission," said Leo. "And what he does ... he's sort of herding ... and they are saying 'We're good! We're good! We're accepting you as the big bull'!"

Will the current affairs department at RTE accept Bakhurst as "the big bull?". Time will tell. Anyway, soon the Reynolds affair won't be the only elephant in the room.