2015: A media mix of highs and lows

Brendan O’Regan shares his viewing experiences from the past year

So, what media stuff stands out as significant in the year just passing? 

Well, I thought I’d accentuate the positive, for starters anyway. I was delighted to see the new programme Leap of Faith being added to the Friday night schedules on RTÉ Radio 1. 

Presented by Michael Comyn in a relaxed style, it acts as a companion show to Comyn’s Sunday Spirit on the digital channel RTÉ Radio 1 Extra. Stories have more time to breathe on the latter programme as it’s twice the length at an hour long, and sometimes on the Sunday morning show we get extended versions of interviews already broadcast on the Friday night, like the recent one with comedian Frank Kelly. We also get to hear more of Comyn’s eclectic choice of music on the Sunday morning.

Sunday morning is getting quite crowded with good shows. Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster is always worth a listen, and at over an hour long with no ad breaks it gets through quite a few items in depth. While it does take a whole-Ireland view at times, there’s always some interesting Northern Ireland voices, from all communities. 

I particularly liked, for example, the item on Unionist leader Jim Molyneux back in January, outlining his positive interactions with Catholics during World War II.  


On BBC 1, in the 10am slot, we get two excellent shows at different times of the year – early in the year there’s The Big Questions, an audience based show, with a front row of heavy hitters, and in the autumn Sunday Morning Live, more of a magazine type show, but with serious topical discussions. The Middle-East crisis in all its forms has figured large in recent times and again we got a variety of insightful perspectives that can be missing from discussions on the home channels. 

Shane Coleman’s Sunday Show on Newstalk tends to be my first port of call among the Sunday morning chat shows down south, and it was probably a wise move when recently they moved it back to a 10am start, thus getting in first and probably hoping to hang on to the audience when Marian Finucane in particular starts at 11am. I do like however to switch over, at least for her review of the newspapers.

Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level had a short Sunday run in the autumn, and there were many items of interest, like the discussions on young people and religion, but I wasn’t taken with the lunchtime slot, or the related cookery segment. The music was welcome though, especially the spiritual songs of Meabh Carlin and Hannah McCauley.

There were some striking documentaries during the year as well, and a few stand out. More recently Mary McAleese and the Man Who Saved Europe (RTÉ) told the impressive story of St Columbanus, covering the history and the relevance for today in an engaging manner. Then there was Kill the Christians on BBC 2 back in April, an impressive look at largely neglected state of the Christian populations of the Middle-East. Also in April Gallipoli – Ireland’s Forgotten Heroes was an excellent piece of work, with David Davin-Power telling the personal stories of his own family and others relating to the Crimean War.

Nationwide continues to impress with relaxing informative programmes, and religious stories often get a look-in – I remember in particular the inspiring show on the Divine Mercy Conference back in February and its coverage in March of the Seinn musical initiative for young people of Limerick diocese. 

I have mixed feelings about the new channel UTV Ireland, launched at the start of the year. I’m not enamoured of their news show Ireland Live, mainly because there’s enough news on other channels, but I find it most useful for catching up on dramas from the ITV stable, like the thriller Undeniable, back in January or the creepy supernatural story Midwinter of the Spirit in October.  On the drama front I’ve also enjoyed the BBC series River, a most unpredictable police thriller, but found RTÉ’s crime drama Clean Break rather stilted, though the Wexford scenery was used to great effect – the star of the show! I’ve drifted in and out of TV3’s Red Rock and find it appealing in a low key kind of way, while BBC once again impressed with The Ark, an imaginative dramatisation of the Noah story, with David Threlfall effective in the title role.

Apart from UTV Ireland, another promising newcomer on the block has been Radio Maria Ireland which has a varied output and is accessible on the internet and by phone. It is growing in strength and its podcast section on radiomaria.ie is well worth checking out. 

Sarah Carey’s Talking Point, now on Newstalk on Saturday mornings, is often refreshing. Back in November for example the show featured one of the better discussions of denominational education. I regretted the demise of the Marc Coleman Show on Newstalk early in the year – I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about some aspects of it, but you could be sure that both sides of controversial issues would get a fair crack of the whip. The show was sorely missed during the same-sex marriage referendum.

I frequently draw attention to media bias especially when it comes to the controversial social issues, and this was at its most blatant, unjust and undemocratic during that marriage referendum. With notable exceptions, those in favour got easy interviews, those against were grilled. 

Anyone with a personal story that favoured the ‘Yes’ side was given extensive coverage, stories that suggested a different narrative were barely allowed to breathe. Newstalk’s Breakfast Show was the most blatant offender of all – to me it felt like they were in campaigning rather than journalistic mode. 

As the ‘No’ side seemed to be gaining ground in the week prior to voting I remember how desperate some presenters became and how aggressive the questioning got in the run up to voting day. 

After the referendum, Ray D’Arcy explicitly declared a celebration on his radio show and Vincent Browne presented a travesty of a results show from a gay bar. Recently the BAI rejected a complaint against this show on the grounds that it wasn’t a current affairs show and therefore didn’t come under the rules for fairness and impartiality in current affairs. That was handy. 

At the time of writing the BAI has rejected all complaints about coverage of the referendum, which gives them a big credibility issue that needs to be redressed.

They did, however, in recent weeks decide against the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1) because of bias on the issue of abortion. It was high time, and other similar judgements may follow, if the BAI is to be consistent. 

For example, back in October the same programme featured three substantial interviews, all against the Eighth Amendment which protects mother and unborn child equally. 

The incredible bias shown on this issue in the aftermath of the recent Belfast High Court judgement, especially on Newstalk, again, suggests that things are going to get rough on this issue in the New Year, as the usual prophets of equality, inclusion and human rights continue to be very selective and are allowed to get away with it in the media, most of the time.

Brace yourselves and be vigilant!