The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has a ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs’. One quote is of particular interest – “a presenter and/or a reporter on a current affairs programme shall not express his or her own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated”.
This came to mind as I listened to presenter Sarah McInerney on Newstalk Breakfast Wednesday of last week. On the topic of religious patronage in education and the so-called ‘Baptism barrier’, McInerney left us in no doubt about her own views on this matter of public controversy and current public debate.
In relation to Government plans to remove the ‘barrier’, she said it was ‘absolutely ridiculous that the Catholic schools are objecting…what they are doing on a daily basis is discrimination’.
She offered no suggestion as to what other grounds of ‘discrimination’ could be used if schools were oversubscribed though implied it should be geographical.
She suggested the Church could run a “much smaller amount of schools”, but three times she urged the Catholic Church to “get out of the schools”. Co-presenter Shane Coleman, when he could get a word in, sought to put a counter view, pointing out for example the anomaly whereby only the Catholic schools are to be restricted in this way.
Interestingly, she returned to the topic the next day, interviewing the Iona Institute’s Maria Steen, who was well able for the robust questioning.
McInerney no longer has her Saturday morning show on Newstalk and that time slot has been taken over by the return of George Hook for a two-hour show Saturday Sit-In. With last Saturday’s first episode we were on familiar territory – Hook spoke to Gwythian Prins, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, about Brexit, and while Prins was critical of how EU fans looked down on pro-Brexit voters as racist and uneducated, he wasn’t above some denigrating comments himself, referring to “remoaners” and “remainiacs”.
Another Hook regular, American comedian Michael Graham, was back with his comic conservative shtick, and he had his own denigrating references to “Euroweenies”, highlighting improvements in the US economy since Trump took over, though he declared he wasn’t much of a Trump fan himself. The format was different – it was just a monologue, and I missed the usual live banter between himself and Hook.
The whole show was pre-recorded (is Newstalk afraid he might say something controversial?) which is a pity, as there is none of the usual interaction with the listeners.
Also back on the airwaves was Nicky Campbell with a new run of The Big Questions (BBC 1, Sunday mornings). It got off to a good start with three diverse topics – threats to free speech in UK universities, whether meat should be taxed on environmental grounds, and whether we in the West misunderstood Buddhism – especially in the light of atrocities committed by Buddhists against the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar.
The first debate featured Claire Fox (author of I Find That Offensive) who was not a fan of ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’, ‘no-platforming’ and what she called “a toxic sense of victimhood”.
She thought universities were places where you should be faced with challenging opinions rather than be saved from them. She thought current panics were likely to chip away at the resilience of young people.
Taking a different view was Dawn Foster of the Guardian, who saw ‘safe spaces’ as places where people could express their views without fear, and she seemed approving of the ‘stringent’ no-platforming policy in place when she was in university, though she claimed it applied only to a small number of speakers.
Both agreed that proposed Government regulation to ensure free speech in colleges wasn’t the way to go. Campbell stressed that the show featured diverse views, and that they have had ‘ghastly people’ whose views were challenged and even undermined.
Finally, there was Archbishop Eamon Martin’s interview on the This Week programme last Sunday, where he called on people to be respectfully active in relation to the protection of unborn children, and the threat posed by moves to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
It was a well-timed intervention as the political establishment gears up to propose the removal of a human right from the Constitution, a move which Archbishop Martin thought was unprecedented.
Pick of the week
A World Without Down’s Syndrome?
RTÉ 1, Monday January 15, 12.05 am
Sally Phillips’ personal documentary on pre-screening for Down’s Syndrome and its consequences.
MARCH FOR LIFE
EWTN, Friday, January 19, 2 pm
Live and complete coverage of the annual March For Life in Washington DC.
The Leap of Faith
RTÉ Radio 1, Friday, January 19, 10.02 pm
Topical religious issue with Michael Comyn.