Spin-free news is so hard to come by

Spin-free news is so hard to come by Morven Christie stars in BBC TV’s The A Word.

Was news ever presented free of spin? Maybe it never was but I think the problem is worse now.

These thoughts were prompted by the headlines Tuesday morning of last week. I woke up to Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) news headlines telling me that the Covid restrictions could last for years. It’s a wonder I got up at all. And this was barely news – it was speculation about what a health expert would say to a Dáil committee.

Do they ever consider what effect these grim headlines have on people’s wellbeing? They could just as easily led with the news that the latest figures released showed the lowest number of deaths ‘with Covid-19’ (not necessarily ‘from’ Covid-19) in months. But why ruin a catastrophising headline with facts that might inspire hope? Grrr…

In general, I’m wary of media campaigning on Covid-related issues – the news cycle drives issues for a while then drops them and moves on, regardless of resolution. Some days it’s the care homes, next it’s the Leaving Cert being abandoned, next it’s pressure to get the primary schools back, last weekend it was the one-metre vs two-metre debate, and the masks debate rumbles on – on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) the host regularly pushes the pro-mask line and maybe he’s right, but I’d prefer to see presenters teasing out and exploring issues with a variety of well-informed authorities rather than pursuing the bees in their own bonnets.


In the midst of the flurry last weekend about Dominic Cummings (was the attention warranted on Irish media?), I noticed an interesting item on the Sunday night’s Sky News tickertape banner – under the newsreader if not under the radar. It was to the effect that a mother with a Down Syndrome baby was taking a legal challenge in the UK seeking to overturn their law “allowing disabled children to be aborted until birth”. The frank wording was noteworthy – no dehumanising language here. I’d say a lot of people aren’t aware of the cruelty in this law and maybe not even aware of its existence. Let’s see how much coverage the case gets over here while it makes its way through the courts.

Not unrelated, but much more uplifting for my normally sunny outlook was the latest episode of The A Word, a brilliant drama series now in its third season on BBC1. Centred around the family of an autistic boy, it is warmly human, witty, heart-breaking and engaging. The ensemble acting is excellent, with standout performances from Morven Christie and Lee Ingoldsby as the mother and father, with Max Vento convincing  as Joe, the autistic son.

Christopher Eccleston provides most of the light relief as Joe’s grandfather with a heart of gold and a bull in the china shop approach to relationships. There’s a little bad language, occasional preachiness (though I doubt anyone would fault the messages about disability) and an approach to relationships that wouldn’t always be consistent with the Catholic playbook, though in the broadest sense I find it pro-life, sometimes optimistic but never retreating from the challenging aspects of being family.

There was a mixture of uplift and sadness in a very moving interview on last weekend’s Sunday With Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1). Miriam spoke with Fiona Whelan Prine, Donegal-born wife of singer-songwriter John Prine who died of Covid-19 in April. Miriam handled the interview empathically, asking about “your beautiful John”. Fiona described John as “a very happy family man”. She said one of “the hidden gifts of grieving” was revisiting memories of their time together. She only fully found out years into their marriage that he had “an absolute and firm belief in God and Heaven”. For him, God was Love – it was that simple.

Her description of the last days were sad and touching – she was barely out of quarantine herself when she had to bring him to hospital and wasn’t allowed to go in with him.

He was sedated when she saw him again and he couldn’t communicate when on the ventilator. Yet she talked to him, gave him messages from their sons and played a Gospel song, The Old Rugged Cross, recorded specially by Iris de Ment.  Asked whether John’s Faith helped at the end, she said “I believe in his beliefs” and that if he knew he was going to see his deceased parents and brother again, “then that’s exactly what happened”.

Pick of the Week
Sunday Sequence
BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, May 31, 8.30am

Topical religious and ethical matters with a Northern Ireland flavour.

RTÉ1, Sunday, May 31, 11am

Multi-lingual Eurovision Mass for Pentecost from Charleroi in Belgium, celebrated by Fr Didier Croonenberghs OP, with English commentary by Michael Kelly.

They Might Be Saints – Fr Patrick Peyton
EWTN, Wednesday, June 3, 5pm, Friday, June 5, 7am and 10pm

Michael O’Neill examines the lives of men and women of faith on the path to sainthood and the search for canonisation miracles.