Autumn brings in changes

Brendan O’Regan considers offerings for the new season

Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since I last wrote in these pages, and there have been significant changes in the media landscape.

July was blackened by the passing of the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill and significant media bias continued to the end. In particular I’d note three consecutive editions of The Week in Politics (RTÉ 1, Sundays), where only speakers who supported the legislation featured on the panels. There was balance in the filmed reports, but over the three weeks the panels comprised nine speakers to none, in favour of the new law. New law, new low!

August saw the broadcast of Vincent Browne’s programme Challenging God. TV3 had been flagging it a year earlier and I had wondered what happened to it. Strange how they waited nearly a year to broadcast. It certainly had a dated feel to – e.g. lots of references to the Eucharistic Congress, no mention of Pope Francis. But the main problem wasn’t the delay but Browne’s handling of the show – hectoring contributors and being dismissive too much of the time. What a waste, when he did have some interesting guests and some serious issues to tease out.

And what of the supposedly big changes in morning radio? Did you turn your dial as Newstalk recommended? Do you even have a ‘dial’ anymore? I’m glad that there are now two substantial shows in mid-morning. I find myself button popping as I flit between Today With Sean O’Rourke and the new Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, which is very like Pat Kenny’s old show on RTE, only longer. I prefer Sean O’Rourke’s approach – more substance, more balance and less irritation factor, but Kenny did get off to a good start with two fine interviews –with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Mickey Harte. Ultimately it boils down to the quality of the guests.

Earlier in the morning I shall be listening most of the time to RTÉ 1’s Morning Ireland as I’m not enamoured with the return of Ivan Yates to Newstalk’s Breakfast Show. I can’t stand the inane and opinionated banter between Chris Donoghue and himself. The show may last three hours but without the ads and fluff there might just be an hour of solid news and current affairs.

With the autumn evenings darkening there’s been a few good adult dramas – I liked What Remains, a thriller on BBC in September. A recently retired detective doggedly pursued the case of a woman’s body found in the attic of a creepy house. Apart from being a tense thriller with a brooding air of menace, there was something nicely reflective about it – sympathy for the young woman who had been treated so badly by her neighbours, and for the detective trying to cope with the loneliness or retirement.

ITVs best drama so far this season ran for three Thursday nights in September. The Guilty concerned lots of family secrets around the death of a child, and though the subject matter was disturbing there was a genuine humanity about it that kept me watching. Tamsin Greig was convincing as the policewoman trying to solve a crime and coping with her son being diagnosed with autism.

I thought RTÉ 2’s Under the Dome might be the new ‘Lost’ but even with talents like Stephen King and Steven Spielberg on board it was very disappointing. The plot had potential – a giant dome traps the citizens of a small US town – but the dialogue in particular was dull and clichéd, and crucially it lacked any sense of humour.

RTÉ1’s Beyond Belief (Monday nights) got off to an enjoyable start with an in-depth discussion of conscience, chaired in a welcome laid back manner by Mick Peelo. I thought it could have been better balanced – Fr Kevin Doran represented what might be called the orthodox Catholic view, Ann Ferris TD, Patricia Coyle and Fr Tony Flannery were pretty much singing off the same liberal hymn sheet, while Eoin Daly of UCD concentrated on conscience and the law.

That papal interview caused quite a media stir, with conservatives explaining what he was really saying or not saying and liberals developing unrealistic expectations. Either way, Pope Francis’ words need reading in full rather than through media filtering, and for sure they are surprising and challenging. Interesting times ahead.


Pick of the Week

Beyond Belief

RTÉ Mon Oct 7, 11.15 pm

Mick Peelo and a panel of experts discuss issues from a moral, ethical and religious perspective.


Unreported World

Channel 4 Thurs (night) Oct 10, 3.05am

Afghanistan – women hiding from violent husbands or from families who have tried to kill them for refusing to take part in arranged marriages.


The God Slot

RTE Radio 1 Fri Oct 11, 10 pm

Topical religious and ethical issues. Recently returned for a new series.