Media spin and the search for facts

Abortion was back in the spotlight this week

I was both disturbed and surprised by A Silent Killer: Savita’s Story (TV3, Monday of last week). The events were tragic but I thought it was the fairest, most thorough treatment I’ve seen.

I’m not a big fan of dramatic reconstructions, but overall I thought they were helpful in this case and there was no tendency towards melodrama. I like the fact that many new voices were included, and of course the programme makers had the advantage of the various reports into the tragic story of Savita, her husband Praveen and their baby.

The story was a catalogue of communication errors, system failures, hospital guidelines breached, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, oversights and overworked medical staff. And what was clear was how, as Dr Trevor Hayes put it, the media put their own spin while waiting for the facts.

Indian doctor Hema Divakar of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India was taken aback by a media reaction that sparked before the facts were known.

Along with other contributors like Dr Muiris Houston of The Irish Times she pointed out how high Ireland’s maternal care was, instancing Ireland’s maternal mortality rates of eight per 100,000 births versus India’s 212.

We saw that story-breaking The Irish Times headline that linked the events to Ireland’s abortion laws, forming part of a cynical campaign to use the Savita case as a weapon to change abortion law in Ireland.

Harry Browne of the School of Media in DIT pointed out how the case, and indeed the resultant abortion legislation, had “very very little” to do with the actual circumstances of the Savita case. Disturbing on so many levels.

Channel 4’s Dispatches (Monday) revealed more disturbing information, this on how some English hospitals are disposing of ‘foetal remains’ by incinerating them with the hospital waste, a process that’s even used at times to power the hospitals! There’s something that deserves to be called ‘disgusting’.

Presenter Amanda Holden (of Britain’s Got Talent fame) did really well in a new type of programme for her – all the more poignant as she had lost a baby to miscarriage and had one stillborn. And at the end she noted that, following this investigation, the NHS had decided to ban this practice.

Another documentary, Secrets of the Vatican (Channel 4, Tuesday) also made for disturbing viewing. It wasn’t quite as fair-minded as the TV 3 programme – for example ascribing the hypocrisy of individual priests to the Church itself – though it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

The thesis of the show was that Pope Benedict was a brilliant theologian, a kind man who tried to get to grip with dysfunction in the Vatican, but a weak Pope in terms of governance and one who was finally overwhelmed by it all: the ‘Vatileaks’, the clerical child abuse scandal, the goings on at the Vatican bank, rumours of active homosexuals in the Vatican and finally a dossier from a group of cardinals he had tasked with investigating issues of concern.

There was a sense of cautious optimism about Pope Francis, and it was clear that the new Pope was setting a new tone, as the narrator put it, and carrying out a serious reform programme in the governance structures of the Church.

There were contributions from many journalists, English and Italian, but also from mainstream Church figures. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor though was concerned that the moral voice of the Church and the papacy was being damaged.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga likened the Pope’s “who am I to judge?” comment in relation to homosexuality (quoted incompletely, as usual) to Jesus’ non-condemnatory attitude.

Finally, on a lighter note, the comedy Rev returned to BBC 2 Monday of last week.  It was quite funny, as Tom Hollander’s Rev. Adam got involved with a local imam to fundraise for a local playground, a plot line peppered with lots of Muslim-Christian jokes.

At times it’s quite serious about religious issues (declining church attendance and closure of churches figured large last week) and yet the comedy can be nearly as broad as what you’d find in Father Ted – for example, the enthusiastic parishioner that hero worships the Rev.

 Unfortunately the show is marred by some unnecessary ‘strong language’ and last week the funny scene where the pompous archdeacon has to help the Rev’s wife in labour was more than a tad tasteless.