Yet more lack of balance on RTE

The people joined debates this week

I was looking forward to Vincent Browne’s new monthly show The People’s Debate which started on TV 3 last Wednesday night.

The format was promising though not hugely original – no panel but about 200 in the studio audience, supposedly representative of ‘The People’. We got a brand new walking Vincent strolling the studio trying to cope with people on all sides of him, sort of like a mini Coliseum. And the comparison doesn’t end there. There was no blood spilt, or Christians thrown to lions (probably coming up in a later episode) but it was quite fractious, more like ‘The People’s Argy Bargy’.

Though nobody was formally opposing or proposing there was a motion – that the Government deserved the confidence of the people. Anyone supporting the Government however was given a roasting, and as for anyone supporting Fianna Fáil, well, the sly mockery was reserved for them. I’m no great supporter of either camp but I always have sympathy for those being unfairly isolated in a debate.

There was way too much of people shouting each other down, interrupting and laughing at others just because of their views. I thought the host was too inclined to push his own views – he came in with calls of “that’s not true” and “that’s not fair” – though he did ease off from his usual irascible manner.

I thought the show was too long, at two hours, for what it was, with not enough variety of topic. And it was also irritating the way there was an ad break immediately after the introduction, though I’d say Browne wasn’t happy with that either.

There were plenty of politicians in the audience but mostly those running for the local and European elections June and getting their unfamiliar faces out there. However it has to be said that most contributions were earnest, and there was a lot of justified frustration with the government, though not half enough ideas about how to improve the future. So, all in all it was a programme with potential, but here’s my advice – have a smaller audience, have less budding politicians, less shouting and mocking laughter and more fresh ideas.

 A similar format is used by The Big Questions, BBC 1 Sunday mornings, though this shows focuses on religious and ethical issues. There’s a smaller audience, with the experts and activists in the front row and the general public tiered behind. This makes it easier for presenter Nicky Campbell (pictured) to facilitate the discussion, which is often of a high standard. Last Sunday the topics included whether it was a moral duty to stand up to Russia in relation to Ukraine. No one wanted war but some thought force could be a last resort. Others thought the West had no moral authority because of previous events like the invasion of Iraq and drone attacks. One man feared an ‘apocalyptic scenario’, another pointed out how we were hooked on ‘Russian gas and Russian cash’. A politician finished on a passionate plea for support for international law and a de-escalation of rhetoric.

They also discussed whether children could be damaged by fundamentalist religions, which was a lively discussion. A young evangelical woman and a conservative young Muslim man, both quite articulate, outlined their views under pressure, but they were isolated in the same way as the party people in the Browne show. Other religious believers along with humanists were not keen on what they saw as the fundamentalist approach, especially in relation to hell and gay issues.

Speaking of which, on Tuesday of last week RTÉ Radio 1’s Late Debate had another trade-mark love-in on LGBT issues. The discussion on the bullying of LGBT young people was informative and the stories of the two teen guests and what they had to put up with was rightly disturbing and enlightening, though I wondered about the many youngsters bullied for other reasons, whose plight receives little attention – doesn’t suit certain agendas. The main problem arose when they moved on to discuss the section of the Employment Equality Act that allows schools to protect their ethos. Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times joined with a representative of the INTO in slating these provisions and there were no contrary views. Presenter Audrey Carville (pictured) failed to redress the imbalance by any sort of robust questioning. And she finished by calling it “a great discussion”!


Pick of the Week


RTÉ 1 Sat March 15, 6.35  pm

(2009) Animated movie, very entertaining with a great tribute to marriage in the opening sequence.

RTÉ 1 St Patrick’s Day 11.00 am

Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary celebrates mass for St Patrick's Day from Westport.


EWTN Tues March 18, 5.30 pm
Discussing the insights into love and marriage found in Jane Austen’s novels and how they can help young people.