Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Editorial control in RTE

One of the side effects of the recent banking crisis has been to expose most clearly the innate tabloid nature of “talk” radio and the virtually complete absence of editorial control at RTE radio, the taxpayer funded and supposedly “public service” national broadcaster.

It’s like the feeding frenzy one sees on UK tv when a politician is wounded and the wolf-pack descends on his/her home baying for blood. “Will you resign today?” any wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter demands of a career politician with perhaps 20-30 years service. Blood-lust and seeking to make a headline replace any human consideration for the plight of the target (or his/her family) who may well be guilty of no more than a minor indiscretion or misdemeanour.

Hardly a programme passes without the presenter calling for the heads of the bankers (or, lately, the odd bishop) – the streets should be echoing to the sound of the tumbrils rattling to the guillotine, most suitably located in College Green, perhaps?

Nowhere is this more evident than on RTE Radio 1 where, from 7am (Morning Ireland) to 7pm (Drivetime) one can expect an “expert” opinion to be voiced on every programme (except, perhaps Ronan Collins from 12-1).

No politician, economist, broker or fellow media “talking head” guest can feature on an RTE “news” programme without being asked why the heads haven’t rolled in the big banks.

Much of the commentary is shallow and populist in nature (Shane Ross-type) and adds little or nothing to the public understanding of the complex and diverse origins of the problem, the multiplicity of players involved (including our own Govt) or the absence of certainty of success for any particular course of action.
It does, however, serve to stoke the fires of resentment in the general public and thus feed the beast that is talk radio – generating phone-calls, emails & texts to fill the broadcasters void and make their lives that much easier. Joe Duffy is probably the best example of how easy it is to feed off public anger, fanned by colleagues on other programmes. I hope Joe sends a very good “Xmas Box” to other presenters by way of thanks for their ongoing help.

Editorial Control (or rather its absence) in RTE

This brings me to the sensitive topic of editorial control and how one might implement something meaningful in an organisation whose culture doesn’t even understand, never mind tolerate, the concept.

As my current gripe relates to coverage of the banking crisis, it brought to mind the mandatory “health warnings” attached to all radio ads for financial products e.g. “values may go down as well as up”, “XX is regulated by.., etc”.
What if RTE was also required to attach a “health warning” to programmes, advising listeners of the limitations of what they may now be about to hear.

For example the Derek Mooney programme might be prefaced by the following health warning:

“Listeners are advised that Derek Mooney is not an expert on agriculture, banking, commerce, driving, education, food, green issues, health services, holiday travel, international events, insurance, justice system, loan arrangements, medical matters, noxious waste, opulence, politics, quandaries of any kind, relationships, religion, sex, stock markets, transport, tourism, urban renewal, voluntary agencies, welfare, x-rated topics, youth matters, zeitgeists of any kind or, indeed, a wide range of other topics.”

Pretty soon it should become obvious to RTE that such a warning would be
(a) very long and
(b) detrimental to any remaining vestige of credibility of the presenter.

RTE would inevitably be faced with two choices, perhaps opting to adopt both:
(a) limit the topic list for Mooney and enforce it and/or
(b) force Mooney to undergo a wide-ranging education programme.

Many RTE programmes could be much improved by such a regime.

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