‘Balanced coverage’ isn’t too much to expect

‘Balanced coverage’ isn’t too much to expect Ivan Yates of Newstalk FM's Hard Shoulder

Ironically, after celebrating St Patrick abroad and at home, Government figures lost no time in getting down to making it easier to end the lives of unborn children.

The issue figured intensively in the media most of the week and I wasn’t too pleased with RTÉ’s idea of balanced coverage. It felt at times too much like Repeal Radio. On Tuesday’s Morning Ireland there was, first of all, an unchallenged pro-repeal pitch from Mary Lou McDonald TD (Sinn Féin), though eventually the presenter tried to haul her back to political territory.

Later in the show there was a highly emotional item featuring a woman who had gone abroad for a termination in the case of “potential fatal foetal abnormality”. There were understandable tears followed by inputs from pro-repeal campaigner Siobhán Donoghue and Dr Peter Boylan, increasingly shown to be a campaigner, though often presented as just an expert.

Conveniently this fed into that evening’s Dáil debate on the referendum legislation, though the debate has moved way beyond dealing with such “hard cases”.

To be fair, the following morning there was a comparable item (though less anti-repeal than the other was pro-repeal) featuring Clíona Johnston and Tracy Harkin, who had allowed their babies with life limiting conditions to come to full term – one had died after 17 minutes, one was still alive after 10 years!

It was more calm and joyful than Tuesday’s item and maybe there’s a lesson in that. It also featured a pro-life obstetrician, Dr John Monaghan, who, in 40 years practice, had never seen a situation where a termination was essential because of a life-threatening condition.  But really, to be fully fair, it would have been better to have both items together on the same day.

Thursday’s News at One (RTÉ Radio 1) gave considerable coverage to the launch of the Together for Yes Campaign (with Dr Peter Boylan again), and then on that evening’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1) the same launch was given even more extensive and uncritical coverage (with Peter Boylan again!), this time followed by a fairly challenging interview with Dr Brendan Crowley from the Medical Alliance for the Eighth, which launched that afternoon.

Dr Crowley stressed that abortion was not healthcare, and was the opposite of what health professionals were trained to do.

The News at One on Friday dealt with the use of abortion pills and it felt like a promo for those products and for repeal, with contributions from a woman who had taken the pills (she stressed she was an ordinary mother, making sandwiches for her local GAA club!). Then there was a representative from an abortion pill provider, and then another from the Irish Family Planning Association. It was unchallenging, and the brief inclusion of a pro-life doctor for 30 seconds of an eight-minute item, didn’t offset the gross imbalance.


Meanwhile, over on Newstalk, on Friday’s Hard Shoulder, Ivan Yates had an informal chat with David Davin-Power, formerly of RTÉ. The abortion referendum came up and Davin-Power reckoned it would be a ‘big mistake’ to equate this one with the marriage referendum. He thought voting ‘yes’ this time would have a “significant downside” and people would be more reluctant. He referenced a poll that showed more women than men against even holding a referendum and believed that young voters were not a “monolithic” group.

Yates thought the referendum would probably pass, but Davin-Power thought it could narrowly fail – this time the main parties were conflicted.

The other big religious story of the week was confirmation of the visit to Ireland next August of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF). Great news all round, but on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) on Wednesday one caller was very critical of what he saw as the negativity of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP)  – “forever complaining”, he said, though he did compliment Fr John Collins from that group who had welcomed the “wonderful occasion” on the News at One earlier. ACP had an issue with attitudes to LGBT families, in the light of controversies over preparatory materials for WMOF.

On last Thursday’s Pat Kenny Show Michael Kelly, editor of this newspaper, gave a balanced outline of the issues surrounding the visit – no axe-grinding here!

Listening to the coverage, I’d be a bit concerned about heightened and perhaps unrealistic expectations for the visit, with consequent disappointment – but let’s see.


Pick of the week
Countdown to Calvary
RTÉ 1, Easter Sunday, April 1, 8 pm

Actor Hugh Bonneville offers a revolutionary new telling of the story of Jesus in Holy Week. See Page 14.

Last Prayer? The Christians in The Middle East
RTÉ 1, Tuesday, April 3, 11.25 pm

Documentary giving insight into the lives of Christian minorities in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

Late Late Movie: The Letters
RTÉ 1, Friday, April 6, 11.55 pm

(2015) A drama that explores the life of Mother Theresa (Juliet Stevenson) through letters she wrote to her long-time friend and spiritual advisor, Fr Celeste van Exem.

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