Monday, February 27, 2006

McDowell and control of the media

In his column in today's Irish Times - a strong response to Michael McDowell’s recent lecture on the role ofthe media - John Waters states that “there is no duty imposed on the media to educate public opinion; no duty to uphold the constitutional rights of the citizen to protection of privacy andreputation; no duty to protect freedom of expression.”

If this statement applies to RTE, what is the function of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland, for which every household in the country is levied with an arbitrary tax, known as the licence fee?

Later in the column, Waters differentiates between the BBC and RTE on the basis that RTE supplements its licence fee income with advertising revenue“garnered from a marketplace in which the national broadcaster competes with privately-owned media.”

Is this intended to justify RTE participating in a “race to the bottom” in pursuit of ratings and the advertising revenues which such ratings attract?

The reality is that RTE is the “broadcaster of record” in this country. We, the public who fund it through our licence fees, have a right to expect very high standards from RTE e.g. no hidden agendas, no political bias, well researched analysis and balanced presentation. If RTE doesn’t believe that this is its role, can I have my licence fee back, please?

In his farewell address, US President Eisenhower warned that“we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

That warning might well apply to the media today.

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