Thursday, April 18, 2013

There is No Free Press Without Regulation

Greybeards and seanfhondóirí who remember the ‘nineties can’t help but to have been a little bemused by the alliance formed by Eamon Dunphy and Pat Kelly on Pat Kenny’s radio show the other day. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has issued a code of conduct for broadcasters in Ireland. In response, Pat and Eamon teamed up to pretty much pour scorn on the whole idea before Michael O’Keeffe, chairman of the BAI, who didn’t really land a glove in his own proposals’ defence over twenty minutes.

What made the mouths of those greybeards grin beneath their grizzled whiskers was the memory of an article Eamon Dunphy wrote about Pat Kenny on the back page of the Sunday Independent in the early-to-mid ‘nineties, when Dunphy was the Designated Boot Boy of that particular organ. Unfortunately, the article can’t be quoted here as research shows this blog is sometimes read by children but take An Spailpín’s word for it – by the time Dunphy was finished kicking the stuffing out of Plank (sic) Kenny, there wasn’t enough of poor Pat left to put in a teaspoon and send back to his people.

Dunphy’s profile of Pat Kenny was utterly vicious. A stomping the like of which you rarely see. Appropriate to Pol Pot, maybe, or Stalin or Hitler. But not to TV show host who wore a jumper on his chat show.

And now here they were, kicked and kicker as bosom buddies, defending the right of the broadcasters to make their own decisions without interference from the dastardly BAI. Proof that principles come and go, but show business goes on forever.

It was a pity that Michael O’Keeffe wasn’t a bit more ready for them. He came across like a substitute teacher from whom naughty children have detected the smell of fear, and are determined to reduce to tears in the time allotted to them.

O’Keeffe should have pointed out that neither Kenny nor Dunphy are against regulation, per se. It’s just that they themselves are the ones who wanted to do the regulating, rather than someone else. Scholars will remember the ancient world had the same attitude to slavery; people had no objection in principle, as long as it was not they themselves who were the actual slaves.

Kenny and Dunphy found the proposed BAI regulations too constrictive. The found the forbidding of TV or radio show host to express his or her own opinion terrible, one of them remarking that such a regulation would put George Hook out of a job.

Like this would somehow be a bad thing.

And O’Keeffe took all this on the chin. What he could have said, of course, is that there are two words that prove that the broadcasters do indeed need a regulatory authority over them – The Frontline, and see what Pat Kenny made of them apples.

Not much, probably, but the facts are clear. Sean Gallagher had one foot in the Áras at half-nine on that Monday night, by midnight his head was cut clean off. No head has rolled. Not one.

The Chairman of the RTÉ Board is married to the most powerful spindoctor in the country. They say it doesn’t matter, because they never talk about work at home.

[And may An Spailpín take a moment to repeat again that the house does not belong to me. It belongs to my wife. A complete different person. Sure I barely know the woman, I don’t know why you people in the Revenue keep busting my nuts over it].

And so on, and on, and on. Of course it’s necessary for journalists to hold politicians to account, but journalists are also part of that same dance in the public square. Journalists have to be held to account too.

The BAI proposals aren’t perfect. They may not even be good. But that they are necessary in as clubby a society as Ireland’s is beyond all shadow of a doubt.