I find myself naturally drawn to programmes about the media, and if they’re done in dramatic form, well that’s the icing on the cake.
And so it was I checked out the new drama Press (BBC1) last Thursday night. The story revolves around rivalry between two newspapers – a serious paper and a tabloid. And so there are some predictable stereotypes, with the liberalism vs populism narrative, though the writer does make some efforts to transcend the binary polarisation. If anything pushes it above ordinary it’s the strong acting, the fleshed out characters and the variations on a theme.
The tabloid editor (of ‘The Post’) is suitably sleazy and manipulative – in the first episode he takes down a Government minister with some old compromising photos. But he has an interesting backstory and we don’t quite know what his game is. His enigmatic boss (David Suchet of Poirot fame) actually wants to raise the standard of the tabloid’s journalism, while ironically a boss over at ‘The Herald’ wonders if they need to spice up the news to gain ratings.
Various moral dilemmas are suggested – a security services whistleblower hesitatingly acts out of conscience, a young reporter is torn between sensitivity and news demands when dealing with the family of a gay soccer player who has committed suicide and a formerly passionate, now tired, young journalist wearies of her editing job and investigates the suspicious death of a friend. Some of the language is gratuitously crude, but by modern standards (low enough!) ‘adult content’ is reasonably restrained.
One thing that bugs me about the Irish media in particular is that review panels often tend to be of one mind. This was painfully obvious in last Friday’s Hard Shoulder (Newstalk). On the repeal of the Eight Amendment presenter Ivan Yates suggested some surprise that the people voted for “the killing of human life”, and he did ask some challenging questions of regular Newstalk contributors Bill Hughes and Stephanie Regan.
They were both enthusiastic about the repeal, imagining that the killing was somehow evidence of “humanity” and “compassion”. There would have been a better discussion if both weren’t singing from the same secular hymn sheet.
Hughes was particularly negative and expressed his strong dislike for “absolutism”, though I’d suspect he’d be absolutist about murder, rape, child abuse and homophobia. He referred to babies being “dropped” into septic tanks, but wasn’t asked where he thought the bodies of aborted babies would be ending up.
He was judgementally dismissive of those “blindly” attending the papal Mass at Phoenix Park and, asked if he was glad the rain fell that morning, said he was sorry something else didn’t fall, whatever that meant. Yates wasn’t impressed and noticeably demurred.
Unsatisfactory media discourse was one of the topics in a fascinating series on BBC Radio 4 last week – Morality in the 21st Century was presented by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, with the help of prominent thinkers and a group of 6th formers. In last Friday’s episode, ‘Moral Heroes’ , Prof. Michael Sandel from Harvard talked about the tone of debate set by media, where shouting matches were encouraged, with an emphasis on spectacle and sensation. Public debate had become fractured and polarised, and we needed to cultivate ‘civic skills’ so that we could debate with mutual respect.
Sacks was concerned about the culture of fear, resentment and blame being stirred up, with people then taking refuge in what he called ‘magical thinking’, and he identified four varieties – far right, far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism.
He spoke to moderate secular thinker Stephen Pinker, who had hope for the future – there was so much that was better about modern society in terms of health care, education, drop in crime rates, but he mentioned an unusual phenomenon in polling whereby people were often happy with their own lives, but for some reason felt the world was going to hell, presumably due to media reporting.
I was much taken with the contributions of the 6th form students – they were thoughtful and articulate but often hesitant and even apologetic about their views. Specifically they were asked about their moral heroes and there was quite a range– from Madonna to Margaret Thatcher! But most impressively, for some of them it was their parents and grandparents that were their moral heroes, for the way they had overcome various forms of adversity and supported their children.
Pick of the Week
IN CONCERT: HAYDN – THE CREATION
EWTN, Monday, September 17, 6 am
Classic performance of Haydn’s oratorio, with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic and Radio Choir, conducted by John Nelson.
EWTN, Monday, September 17, 11 am
BELLOC – host Fr C. John McCloskey welcomes renowned professor Dr Ralph McInerny to discuss the famous English author Hillarie Belloc.
LEAP OF FAITH
RTÉ Radio 1, Friday, September 21, 10 pm
Return of the topical religious and ethical affairs review.