Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another New Low for Irish Journalism

Those people who worry about the falling standards of Irish journalism were given further cause for despair by tonight’s RTÉ Nine O’Clock News coverage of the judgement in the Rachel O’Reilly murder case.

After Joe O’Reilly was found guilty of the heinous murder of his wife, RTÉ News took the opportunity to extend the Saturday Nine O’Clock News by fifteen minutes to give full and lurid coverage of the trial and its background, free of the constraints of conventional court reporting. The covered every blow of the murder, clapped the Gardaí as hard as they could on the back, interviewed Rachel O’Reilly’s friends and family, and showed footage of poor Rachel herself in happier days.

This is all very heart-rending stuff, and it’s hard not be involved in it. However, what the public is interested in is not the same as what is in the public interest. As a public service broadcaster, RTÉ should have remained aloof from running with the swine of the tabloid press – what price The Star will lead with a white-on-black “You Murdering Bastard!” headline on Monday? – because RTÉ’s is, supposedly, a higher purpose than grubbing for loot. This is why we are asked for a license fee, so that RTÉ don’t have to go grubbing with The Star and the late night talk shows and that awful woman on Newstalk in the mornings.

RTÉ, for reasons best known to themselves, ignored all that, and dived right in, to go splash, splash, splash while all the while wearing it’s we-are-so-concerned-by-the-depth-of-human-suffering face. In a move of stunning crassness, they even showed the face of one of Rachel O’Reilly’s children. Minors are never identified by the media, either by name or by appearance, in legal cases that involve minors, to try to limit the damage to the minors. The merest intelligence can see the damage suffered by the O’Reilly children is almost beyond repair – RTÉ should at least have had the decency to leave them their privacy.

The worst thing is that I’m not even sure it was deliberate on RTÉ’s part. I think it was just careless and sloppy editing, which, if anything, is probably worse. Don’t these people take any pride in their work at all? Don’t they realise their responsibilities?

I’m sick of the absence of standards in Irish journalism and media. I’m sick of Podge and Rodge being regarded as mainstream entertainment. I’m sick of nobody saying “stop, you’re going too far.” And I’m most of all sick of profound human tragedy being used as the evening’s entertainment. God have mercy on poor Rachel O’Reilly and her family.

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