A look back at the main events of the year in the media
Every year seems to bring its own share of dramatic events but 2013 had more than its fair share.
I still remember getting a text to say that Pope Benedict had resigned and being both incredulous and gob-smacked. Thanks to the speed of information in the various media nowadays it was easy to confirm the news. Once again Benedict had defied the stereotypes and done something really radical. Even the most unsympathetic media commentators in the weeks that followed admitted as much.
The interregnum was marked by much analysing, not all of it insightful, of his time as Pope with much speculation as to who his successor might be. It was fascinating at the time but looking back much of it seems rather unenlightening. The world’s media descended on Rome for the papal election though some voices at home were critical of the amount of staff and resources RTÉ committed to the event (Vincent Browne wryly called it ‘Tridentine TV’).
I remember having to watch the unfolding events in a noisy hotel, straining to hear the big announcement… then ‘Bergoglio’ … who? There was this inoffensive, serious man looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights of Rome. But wow, what a quick melting there was, and what a dramatic few months … seems much longer. The journalists were scrabbling to get a handle on the new man, initially some media dragged up stories, long since contradicted, of him not doing enough to protect his priests during political repression in Argentina.
Since then he has become something of a media darling. I wonder how long that will last. His easygoing informality has appealed widely and provided such wonderful media-friendly images and videos, and yet his words have been challenging to conservative, orthodox and liberal.
In fact trying to put him in any ready-made categories isn’t easy, or even desirable. Over the few months I have found liberal commentators reading too much into his words and orthodox commentators being too quick to explain them away. As we got to the end of the Year of Faith we were immediately catapulted onto a new path by his Apostolic Exhortation, Evagelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, and we could surely do with a dose of that for 2014.
The other big news of the year that dominated my columns in 2013 was on the home front as the Government steamed ahead with the Protection (or more likely Destruction) of Life in Pregnancy Bill. In January we got to see live internet coverage of the Dáil Health Committee hearings, and then had to watch in frustration as the medical advice was ignored by most legislators. To me it felt once again like the illusion of consultation. Tick the box then ignore it. As the months went many in the political classes let us down big time. They boasted of keeping some promises and conveniently ignored the ones they didn’t keep.
As we watched coverage of those final days when the Bill was passed it was obvious that something deeply disturbing was going on – the Dáil sitting through the night, copious amounts of alcohol being consumed, playacting in the Dáil chamber, thousands of people in the streets being largely forgotten by Government and media.
During this debate I don’t think the Irish media covered themselves in glory. There were some useful discussions, but some gross imbalance as well. In particular I recall, how, three weeks in a row the panel on The Week in Politics featured nine speakers for the legislation and none against.
Most imbalanced I thought was Tonight With Vincent Browne, where the presenter’s own views on the matter were way too obvious and coloured the discussions in a most unacceptable way. So often I thought he grilled pro-life representatives but gave an easy time to those on the other side, though admittedly, away from the substantive issue, he did give Fine Gael people a hard time over disciplining their members who had actually kept their election promises!
I was most unimpressed with Browne’s TV 3 series Challenging Godwhich ran months after it was recorded, making it feel very much dated. But worse still Browne was at his rudest to some guests and what might have been a thoroughly enjoyable show was actually a pain. The discussions with Mick Peelo on RTE 1’s Beyond Beliefseries in the autumn were much more enlightening.
There were of course significant changes in the media landscape during the year. Pat Kenny went to Newstalk while Sean O’Rourke took over his morning slot on RTE Radio 1. Now we have two substantial news and current affairs shows every morning and, I suspect like many others, I switch frequently between the shows. Both shows have easily accessible catch up facilities on line so nothing important need be missed. I do miss Coleman at Large, midweek nights on Newstalk, and while Marc Coleman has a new show on Sunday nights, I don’t think Sunday night is the best time for a hard edged current affairs programme. However, the new show continues the tradition of having a wide diversity of voices and it’s one of the few places you can get a thorough and balanced discussion of contentious social issues.
I don’t like Sarah Carey’s show moving from its early Saturday morning slot to lunchtime, (sometimes it used to get me up in the morning … sad life I know), and it now clashes with RTÉ Radio’s Saturday show. I’m not enthusiastic about Ivan Yates return to Newstalk’s Breakfast show. As I’ve sa id before the inane banter between himself and co-host Chris Donohue is a major turn off, and I often do just that.
However, I do thank Newstalk for replaying their main shows again after midnight every night. Apart from the value of the catch up, these have kept me awake and alert on many late night drives and cured bouts of insomnia!
Meanwhile the God Slot (RTÉ Radio 1, Friday nights) continues to build momentum with solid, unpredictable and even groundbreaking shows on current religious topics. One of the most striking episodes was one where we got the nuns’ perspective on the Magdalen homes story, there was a well-balanced debate on euthanasia in October, and in late November an insightful and entertaining special on C.S. Lewis, well worth listening back on the God Slot’swebsite.
Of all the Meaning of Life programmes (RTÉ 1) I most enjoyed the appearance of Imelda May in October – charming and inspiring. Nationwide (RTÉ 1) continues to cover positive stories from around the country, sometimes religious ones, like the recent special on Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.
Nationwidealso did a fine special on the work of Sr Edith Normoyle in South Africa in February and among other fine programmes featuring lots of positive coverage of our missionaries – I especially liked Lifersshown on RTÉ 1 also back in February.
On BBC I enjoyed the discussions on The Big Questions in Spring and Sunday Morning Live more recently – fresh, interesting discussions with a different perspective on faith matters than we get at home.
Drama wise I was disappointed by BBC’s latest effort to revive Father Brown, but they did well with the new Sherlock series, which will return shortly for a long awaited third series, and with their series Call the Midwifewhich presented nuns in a very positive light. I was impressed by a few short series – in particular Broadchurch, Ice Cream Girls and The Guiltyon ITV.
Maybe I should be reviewing Love/Hate RTE 1’s crime drama, which has gained huge popularity/notoriety, but every time I tried it or stumbled on it I found it off-putting, and not just because of the way a certain cat was treated.
Of the one-off documentaries I liked No Time to Die, on RTÉ 1 in April, stands out for me. Focusing on four young children with serious illnesses it was a remarkable story of love, sacrifice and dedication. Also impressive was It’s a Girl, on the topic of gendercide in TG4’s Fiorscealseries in May.
So, plenty to complain about, but more importantly plenty to celebrate, and much to look forward to in 2014!