TV & Radio

Message lost in over-the-top coverage of life issues

Maria Steen featured on The Pat Kenny Tonight Show.

There were so many instances of classic media bias.  It started with The Pat Kenny Tonight Show on TV 3, Wednesday of last week, when the topic was the Eighth Amendment, a debate prompted by last weekend’s meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly. 

First off there was a soft interview with a pro-choice woman who had a termination in Liverpool for a baby with a life-limiting condition – thus the debate was immediately put on an emotional, personal story basis. 

This was not balanced by a personal story giving an opposing perspective, so straight away those proposing pro-life arguments were at an immediate disadvantage.  

Then, when the first pro-life person made an argument, Kenny referred to her as “kind of absolutist”, not quite a term of endearment.  Thankfully she made the point about the lives saved by the Eighth, a matter generally ignored by the media. 

Kenny did get that point but then referred back to the previous woman’s position – “there was never going to be a life” – another loaded comment that defies biology – there already was a life! 

A pro-choice campaigner who wanted easier access to abortion for ‘pregnant people’ spoke of women being ‘forced’ to go abroad for abortions, but this went unchallenged. 

Kenny understood the danger of women carrying babies with “foetal abnormalities” being pressurised into abortions, and did refer to the “child in the womb”, but in introducing Maria Steen of the Iona Institute fed into the dominant media narrative by asking if she wasn’t “trying to push a boulder uphill” on this issue. 


Steen expressed her unease at a referendum to vote away the rights of a vulnerable minority and re-iterated Kenny’s statement that the Eighth Amendment gave equality to mother and child, asking reasonably and rhetorically “What’s wrong with that?”

Clare Daly TD maintained that women here have a “constitutional right” to an abortion in another jurisdiction, bizarre interpretation of the law I think – surely the travel clause just gives a freedom, ensuring that  the Eighth doesn’t stop women from travelling. 

When she made her point about “bodily autonomy” Steen reminded her that there was a separate body involved – that of the baby. Daly regarded the baby at the early stages of gestation as just a “clump of cells”, and not deserving of “equality of esteem” with “a sentient fully grown woman”. And where does that leave young female born babies and children, or even fully grown women with dementia? 

Steen rightly challenged Kenny on his use of the term ‘absolute’ in relation to her own position and that of the earlier woman in the audience, getting him to accept that he was absolutist when it came to killing born children. Even more so she took issue took issue at Kenny’s use, in a question, of the word ‘property’ in relation to the unborn child. 

The media bias got worse. On Friday morning, the latest The Irish Times opinion poll on the issue was discussed on Newstalk’s Breakfast Show, when we had a reaction from Ailbhe Smith, a prominent pro-choice campaigner – why no-one from the pro-life side?  

Later on The Pat Kenny Show (also Newstalk), and the only person on the show to discuss it was another prominent pro-choice campaigner Ivana Bacik. In the same show, we heard from Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell TD, also strongly in favour of repealing the Eighth. She was invited to speak on the issue by Kenny just as they were running out of time, but Jack Chambers (FF), also in studio and known to be pro-life, wasn’t.

Unsavoury facts

Later in the morning that story was blown away by the latest heart-breaking developments in the Tuam babies controversy – with unsavoury facts on the News programmes and touching personal stories on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1). 

Some of the reaction was way over the top – I heard suggestions last weekend of “mass murders” (Newstalk’s Down To Business), “concentration camps” (RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday With Clare Byrne) and “infanticide” (on the Citizens’ Assembly live streaming). And this was despite official causes of death having been published in 2014. Children’s Minister, Katherine Zappone rightly expressed her upset about the finding of these baby bodies, including some bodies of unborn children – yet she campaigns for easier access to abortion, which will lead to more of these bodies … and will these aborted babies be given the respect, the naming and the burials that they deserve? 


Pick of the week

Songs of Praise
BBC 1, Sunday, March 12, 5pm
For Lent, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, discusses the subject of forgiveness, with music to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and a performance Sir James Galway. 

An Misean sa tSín
TG4 Monday, March 13, 7.30pm
The often forgotten story of Irish missionaries in China between 1920 and 1954 – times of political chaos, famine, floods and war. 

Mass For St Patrick’s Day
RTÉ 1, St Patrick’s Day, 11am  
From Newman University Church, St. Stephens Green, Dublin with Principal Celebrant Archbishop Charles Brown, Papal Nuncio to Ireland.