Finding a place for religion

Brendan O’Regan seeks evidence of media bias

Naturally I’m interested in the issue of whether there is media bias against religion, and RTÉ has been showing an interest lately as well. It was covered recently on The God Slot (RTÉ Radio 1 Friday nights), and Monday night of last week on Beyond Belief (RTÉ 1).

The latter was a most enjoyable discussion, free of the rancour typical of other discussion forums, and Mick Peelo was in the best of form, asking challenging questions, but in such a relaxed and respectful way that I doubt any of the guests felt threatened or needing to be defensive. I thought an earlier programme in the series was tipped towards the liberal side of the things, but on this occasion a more orthodox viewpoint towards religion in the media was held by three of the five panelists.

Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin took equal place in the panel, as it should be, bishop or not, and was quite relaxed and insightful. Both The Irish Catholic editor Michael Kelly and presenter Mick Peelo found in the past that it was difficult to get Church spokespersons, but we’re seeing a new approach with the recently appointed bishops. Also, there were many favourable comments about new group Catholic Comment who provide lay speakers for media debates.

I thought the most telling comment of the night came from Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, editor of the Cork Independent, talking of the country having been “run by the Catholic Church”. She admitted that she was too young to remember such a time, but said “I know what the narrative has been”. And guess who provides the narrative?

Michael Kelly said he did find bias in the media “sometimes” but was also concerned with “bad reporting of religion” – journalists just not that well informed. PR guru Terry Prone thought it was a “tragedy” that the Church had backed off the media instead of being leaders in the field. Humanist Andrew Devine-Rattigan found that some believers didn’t understand their own faith, but he couldn’t understand where the critics of media attitude to religion were coming from – after all, he said, there was Mass on TV! Archbishop Martin rightly pointed out that the prominent place of religion and Church in Irish society was not reflected in the soaps and fiction programmes, and he thought that Church statements on social issues, or Vincent de Paul critiques of the budget, didn’t get due coverage because they weren’t ‘juicy’ enough.

Two other items struck a chord with me last Thursday – it was about two different issues but in both cases the inhumanity of state bureaucracy was under fire. On Today With Sean O’RourkeJohn Waters lamented the lack of empathy shown in the way children were removed from their Roma families. He said that such events took place regularly in native Irish families but that didn’t get such a high profile. O’Rourke suggested that the Garda and HSE would also be in trouble if they hadn’t acted decisively and the families had absconded with the children. Over on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show journalist Brenda Power was making much the same points as Waters. Accepting the need for doing something when there were suspicions, she suggested that there must have been a more humane way of dealing with the matter without compromising the safety of the children. In all the coverage I couldn’t help feeling that conclusions were being jumped to at an alarming rate. On the News at OneGeoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, cautioned against assumptions and was waiting for reports into what exactly had happened.

Later on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1) an obviously caring pharmacist also felt that the State was being heavy handed and inhumane – he was finding that people were being removed from the medical card lists without either their knowledge or his knowledge, causing real difficulties for him as a pharmacist and even more so for those who had previously held the cards. He wasn’t impressed by the political spin that sought to downplay the effect of such cuts.

There was no shortage of humanity in last Sunday night’s Documentary on One(RTÉ Radio 1). It was a touching little story about the people who write prayers to St Valentine in a special book beside the saint’s relics in Whitefriar St. Comedian Maeve Higgins provided a wry but empathic narration that hit all the right notes. Worth listening back to the podcast!


Pick of the Week


The Meaning Of Life With Gay Byrne

RTÉ 1 Sun Nov 3, 10.35pm

Singer Imelda May tells Gay Byrne about the things, people, events and beliefs that give her life meaning.



Saint Isidoreís – An Rúimh

TG4 Fri Nov 8, 8.30pm

A look at the medieval Irish friary in Rome, St Isodoreís, soon to be launched as an international house of studies.


Sacred Music: The Story of Allegriís Miserere

BBC 4 Fri Nov 8, 8.30pm

The story behind Allegriís Miserere, one of the most popular pieces of sacred music ever written.