Elements of media bias

I finally caught up with TG4’s series Pobal ag Guílast Sunday night. A review of Ireland’s relationship with religion, it started well with coverage of last year’s Eucharistic Congress but unfortunately it then fell back on lazy film making, stereotypes and clichés. And so there were lots of black and white clips of former Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid, grainy footage of ‘the old days’ with black and white pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick and shots of the moving statue days. Of those interviewed most I’d say were well over 40. Message: the Catholic Church is dying, it’s a thing of the murky past, for the most part only older people are interested and they’re just about hanging on, without enthusiasm. Did someone deny there’s media bias when it comes to religion?

The problem, as it is so painfully often, was one of balance – this was part of the story, but I didn’t find the counterbalance – the awareness of the enthusiasm and youthfulness seen regularly in the Church e.g. the World Youth Days, the new religious movements, the joyous youth retreats, the huge interest in gospel music, the youth events of the Eucharistic congress, initiatives like the street outreach Night Fever, the packed faith gatherings of the various dioceses, the Emmanuel choral initiative for schools, the conferences of enthusiastic young religion teachers? In some quarters of the media these manifestations don’t fit the dominant narrative and are therefore largely ignored, whether consciously or not.

Then I wondered if I was being fair, if this was an untypical episode, so I found the previous one on the TG4 web player (a largely undiscovered treasure). It was a little better – e.g. the youth space at the congress was covered but not for long, and it was mentioned twice that it was ‘a small number’ of young people. An enthusiastic young priest was interviewed but once again the dominant voices were those who were liberal and negative or unsympathetic to the mainstream Church – e.g. author Peadar Kirby thought Pope John Paul II was “awful” in the Phoenix Park and “terrible” in Maynooth. In fact there was too much looking back on times gone by.

Meanwhile, news coverage of the HIQA report on the death of Savita Halappanavar was significant. When it was reported on the Nine Newslast Wednesday night there wasn’t a mention of ‘abortion’ or even ‘termination’. It was the same when Health Minister James Reilly was interviewed on This Week(RTÉ Radio 1) last Sunday. No, it was all about poor medical care, to put it mildly. I got such a strong feeling of the country having been hoodwinked into abortion legislation by pro-choice groups and their media allies.

Another strange thing happened during the week – the killing of a cat on RTÉ 1’s drama Love/Hatecaused more controversy and outrage than all the graphic violence done to human beings during the series. So much so that the cat made a brief guest appearance on last Friday’s Late Late Show. I kid you not! Probably more traumatised by the Late than the Hate.

Now, lest I be accused of hostility to the media, I must say I enjoyed Call the Midwife, a BBC drama about nurses working with nuns in post war Britain, but now running on RTÉ 1 Sunday afternoons. Like any other episodes I’ve seen last week’s was a genuinely human and touching story – there was a genuine warmth towards nurses, nuns and patients, with a nice combination of tearful and comic moments.

There were also some touching moments, especially as Emily O’Reilly remembered her father, on The Meaning of Life, also on RTÉ 1 last Sunday. She came across as genuine and thoughtful, and though agnostic on religious matters (she said ‘I have no idea’ several times and said she veered more towards non-belief) she was open to change in the future. She admired Jesus as a ‘very real and immensely humane individual’, prayed informally on occasion, made a ‘half-hearted stab’ at bringing her children up as Catholics while sending them to a Church of Ireland school (in both cases, she admitted, because it was ‘handy’), didn’t believe in an afterlife, but in answer to Gay Byrne’s usual last question about what she’d say if she did land at the pearly gates, said she’d ask God how it was all working out.









Pick of the Week



Channel 4 Mon Oct 21, 7.55 pm

4thought.tv returns and asks: Can restorative justice work?


 Joy of Music

EWTN Wed Oct 23, 11.30 am

Classical music performances from Canadian Brass and Diane Bish at the monastery of Melk, Austria.


Unreported World

Channel 4 Fri Oct 25, 7.30 pm

Highlighting the inhumane conditions endured by the thousands in Mexico's psychiatric institutions