Sometimes, no matter what you do as a journalist, you can’t get it right.
Take the Middle East, probably the most sensitive situation in the world, and certainly one of the most volatile. It doesn’t matter what way you report what happens there, you will always be accused of bias, often by both sides and often about the very same story.
There is no doubt that certain journalists in Ireland are biased; what is amazing is that some of them can be biased and still retain their objectivity. In a world where Fox News and Sky News are referred to as some sort of benchmark, Ireland is particularly well-served on the TV front.
RTE has the cast of Prime Time and its myriad news programmes, whilst Ursula Halligan does trojan work in producing anything at all, given TV3’s resources. What she does have is Vincent Browne- a combination of Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Paxman and Old Man Steptoe, Browne may not be the slickest broadcaster going, but he is certainly unique in terms of his journalistic skills and his ability to cause a row.
He makes no secret of the fact that he his own opinions about how the country should be run, but there are no prisoners taken when he lets fly on TV3- everyone gets it in the neck, right or left, even the poor souls brought on to read out the tweets.
Over on RTE, Seán O’Rourke is turning into one of the most feared interviewers in Irish politics, adding a Brownesque righteous indignation to his undoubted intelligence. Though RTE are often accused of a Fianna Fáil bias, Seán doesn’t let go of any bone too easily, regardless of what party is holding it.
There is a tendency to interrupt Sinn Féin and independent candidates (sometimes even by guests- witness the odious Terry Prone grilling Mick Wallce on TV3) but even that is dissipating. The strong performances by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and the dawning realisation that the electorate is serious about its support for independent candidates has put paid to any notion that journalists can be dismissive towards them.
Between them, the TV posse have created some marvelous moments in this election- Conor Lenihan’s alpha-male moment on Vin B, the meltdown of Joan Burton’s manners on the same show, and Donogh Diamond’s excellent chairing of the finance spokespeople’s debate on RTE. Diamond irritates the hell out of me, but he is a talented professional and once that debate got going he wisely stepped back and let it develop.
Our print journalists aren’t as impressive; it’s harder to hide your bias when there is no-one to call you out on it, as an interview subject or a panel guest can. Opinion masquerading as fact has long been a preferred tactic, particularly at Independent newspapers, and for hysterical knicker-wetting, look no further than the “Irish” Star and its editor, the indescribably irritating Ger Colleran. There is much to admire about our neighbours across the water, but their journalism- particularly the political kind- is not one of them, and it’s in the DNA of papers like the Star.
On any given night on the telly however, we are spoiled for choice. For that we should be grateful- not just for the array of talent at our disposal, but alos for the fact that this type of programming gets made at all.
It’s much easier to buy in some rubbish from the US or let one or two commentators have their say. Our neighbours across the water have Paxman, Jon Snow and…Adam Boulton. Go figure.