I don’t know if it was ever true that the summer months were the ‘silly season’ for the media, but this year there were weighty events. What struck me most was how death stalked the land, from the callous killings inflicted by Islamic State terrorists, to murder–suicides, to children being murdered, to a renewed push for the widening of abortion legislation.
The latter manifested itself in a new campaign to repeal Article 40.3.3, the ‘Pro-Life Amendment’. It was ironic to see some champions of equality, child protection and human rights trying to get rid of a measure that enshrines all three of those worthy causes.
Media-wise, I found some elements in Newstalk to be virtually in campaign mode on this – particularly during the week of the Miss Y case controversy, when we got speaker after speaker coming from the pro-choice/pro-abortion/anti-Article 40.3.3 perspective.
You might say this is a matter for the Broadcasting Authority and I think it is, but look what happened when the BAI found against The Mooney Show for being one-sided on the same sex marriage debate. Some media presenters went to the outrage factory and lambasted the BAI for stifling debate, at the same time as they stifled the pro-life and anti-same-sex-marriage viewpoint.
In the past week I was particularly impressed by the variety of topics on last weekend’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster), a two-hour religious and ethical affairs programme presented by Will Leitch. He led with news of the Vatican/Pope Francis taking decisive action against two bishops suspected of involvement in either child abuse or covering up of same.
There was an excellent item on stress among the clergy and the dangers of burnout, featuring an insightful interview with ‘pastoral psychotherapist’ Ruth Dormandy.
I was fascinated by Prof. David Wilkinson, theologian and physicist, who speculated on whether there might be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and what implications this would have for what we think about ourselves and God. He found Christians in general to be relaxed about this – God can create what he wants, God is a God of surprises and extravagance.
The focus was back on the Catholic Church with an item about the controversy over the beatification of Bishop Fulton Sheen. It came across as an unseemly dispute between Church authorities in New York, where Sheen rose to fame as a TV preacher, and Illinois where he came from. There was talk of dismembering him so that each diocese could have relics, but as one contributor pointed out, such a practice jars with modern sensibilities.
There followed an interesting debate on the current crisis in the Middle East, and it was new to me at least to hear Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson discussing something other than Northern Ireland’s own political problems. The presence of Cal Thomas from Fox News and peace campaigner Mairead Maguire ensured a well-rounded debate on a particularly difficult issue, especially about what steps would be most effective against the advance of ISIS.
Meanwhile over on last weekend’s Sunday Morning Live (BBC 1) there was a similar discussion on the morality of bombing ISIS. Later in the show, Cardinal Vincent Nichols gently promoted Catholic teaching on marriage, especially in contrast to cohabitation.
His interview led to a lively, though all-too-short studio debate on the matter, with the Catholic viewpoint ably represented by journalist Melanie McDonagh.
Finally, one of the worst ideas ever for a programme has to be Drunk, presented by Eoghan McDermott, which started Tuesday of last week on RTÉ2, previously known as RTÉ2 (I wonder how much that groundbreaking rebranding cost). Here, licence payers’ money (I presume) was spent getting a group of young adults drunk with a view to seeing what the effects would be, as if we didn’t know.
Despite an element of alcohol education (some useful and scary figures) this came across as something of a glorification of our destructive drink culture and gave the impression that you couldn’t be a normal young person if you weren’t drinking to excess, having one-night stands and checking in for the morning-after pill. The presence of medical personnel was disappointing – it just lent a veneer of respectability to this prurient mess. And as if that wasn’t enough, the show also followed a bunch of drunk young adults in Wexford carrying on in a similar fashion.
The ‘craic’ isn’t always endearing.