Is balance important in the news?

Mary Rafftery has a nicely argued piece on RTE’s consumer block buster Rip-Off Republic. She believes it is playing in a half way zone between bona fide current affairs and satire, and that the programme’s considerable polemical content is not subject to the forms counter balance that RTE normally provides.

RTÉ’s factual programming, particularly in the news-current affairs area, is rigorously presented to a universally acclaimed high standard. Once again, scrupulous attention is paid to the matter of balance. Comedy and satire, on the other hand, are almost by definition not subject to the same rigours, aside perhaps from the desirability that there be no sacred cows. Indeed, to impose on satirical programmes a current affairs concept of balance would be to kill them stone dead.

There is no doubt that it is the satirical element of Rip-off Republic that has made it such a stunning success. The savage lampooning of Fianna Fáil Ministers, principally Martin Cullen, on last Monday’s programme was delicious to watch. To be able to transform something as dry as vehicle registration tax into a source of huge enjoyment is a remarkable achievement.

It’s certainly worth reading the entire article. Her point about the mixing of satire and factual reporting is particularly important. But the article also raises an equally important question. Is it always necessary to have balance in all news/current affairs output? When considered honestly, most stories aren’t balanced either in their facts or their wider import.

The programme has clearly created a buzz in the Republic. With the question over it’s satirical content to one side it’s the kind of buzz that’s reminiscent of the early days of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, or, Margaret Thatcher’s least favourite ITV documentary, World in Action.

  • Denny Boy

    During our hols we stopped off at the Brian Boru pub in Phibsboro (Bertie’s home turf). Would you believe that a chap has to PAY to park his car in their carpark?!

    Nowhere in the wide world have I encountered this before. Satire? It’s beyond satire….

  • John Doheny

    It is a long while since I read such a furore about a light entertainment show. The Irish government should take its oil. Mary Rafftery is quite wrong in her analysis that the government has played no role in fuelling inflation. Independent reports from the Central Bank, ESRI and others have all drawn attention to this fact. Her assertion that these taxes have to raised to fund the health service is true but carefully avoids the follow-on conclusion that it is precisely the inefficient way in which they run these services that cranks up the costs and therfore taxes.

    Similarly, if the government was able to keep capital infrastucture costs within budget then these additional tax hikes would not be necesssary but again international benchmarking shows the exorbitant and unjutified costs of delivering infrastructure within the Republic.

    No mention either of the infamous ‘groceries order’ which has according to the competition authority resulted in much higher prices to the consumer. Eddie Hobbs attention on this ‘nappy tax’ and ministers’ reaction to it are indicative of a sensitivity founded on guilt.

    RGDATA and others are well placed to put the other side of the argument Mary R. which they fund out of the considerable supernormal profits they earn within a cartel market with limited competition.

  • Dandyman

    The trouble with the obsession with keeping a ‘balance’ in news & current affairs is that everything eventually becomes a stalemate. I used to really enjoy watching Prime Time on RTE,and they still do worthwhile investigation features, but lately I feel it is just a programme which broadcasts ‘debate’ for sheer entertainment value. I also suspect that politicians in Ireland are way too well briefed on the questions that are put to them on these programmes, as they are always suspiciously well-prepared and every discussion winds up in two people arguing over each other quoting figures out of thin air and clouding every issue.

    There was a conflict of interests scenario a couple of years back where it emerged that some of the top presenters in the news & current affairs dept. in RTE were also acting in a private capacity as ‘media consultants’ to the very public figures (mostly politicians) that they would frequently be interviewing on the Six o’Clock news, having previously coached the interviewees on how to skilfully evade answering tough interview questions on news programmes!! Only in Ireland…

    Regarding Eddie Hobbs..The trouble with the whole notion of rip-off republic is that Irish people are really docile suckers when it comes down to it. They are willing to pay any kind of money for any product or service these days, they just shrug their shoulders and go, ‘Oh well, that’s the cost of living I suppose’. It’s absolutely pathetic.

    I spent 2 weeks in NZ a few years back. A few days into my stay there, the main brewing company announced it was shutting down one of its South Island brewing plants and consolidating their operations in another brewery on the North Island in an attempot to cut costs (i.e. increase profits). The public were up in arms and protested that not only would that have been a hammer blow to the local economy, but that the reason that a particular beer was so popular in NZ was that it was brewed, according to the company, using water from a particular spring in the S.I. which, according to the marketing blurb, gave it ‘its unique refreshing taste etc.etc’.

    What happened? The entire beer-drinking public immediately boycotted not only the beer I’m referring to (can’t remember the name), but all of said company’s alcoholic products. You would literally walk into a pub and see five or six taps on the bar with plastic cups tapoed around them. The publicans sided with their customers and refused to sell the products, even if a few dissenters asked for it.

    Within 5 days the company had no choice but to reverse its decision. Unfortunately you will never see ROI consumers flexing their muscles and standing up to corporations in such a manner.

    We prefer to just bend over and take it, and then have a good bitch & moan about it in the pub.

  • Mick

    “Only in Ireland…”

    Oh, I doubt that very much!

    It has occured to me that the rudeness with which some presenters treat their political subjects could be an attempt to compensate for the lack of ‘search’ in their questions (and I’m not thinking primarily of Irish broadcasters).

    The over riding need to find balance in all stories (and judging by the media research both the Beeb and RTE is extreme adept and finding a sound quatitative balance) must be frustrating for any red blooded male or female journo.

    But a flame show, however spectacular, hardly compensates for lack of substance in the questions and the story arising.

  • fair_deal

    I saw an episode of this at the weekend. I found it thoroughly enjoyable TV interestingly it had a very basic format but the quality of the content overcame that. It gained my attention and kept my attention. I can see why FF is jumping up and down about it.

    On the balance issue news programmes need balance but comment/polemical programmes have their role in TV as long as a balance is maintained in the overall programming.

    Maybe the Unionist parties should lobby the BBC NI to show it? Maybe Love Ulster should distribute copies to the middle classes 😉

  • martin Tyrone

    Denny boy,

    you think the car park charge was bad—the use of public toilets charge has increased from 20c to 50c in the past 2 years–inflation 150% I dont think so somehow.

    Even the public telephones are geared to rip off rates down there–just try using one sometime-you just about getting saying hello for 50c before it starts beeping for more coins.

    EDDIE HOBBS–monday night at 9.30pm RTE1–will be to Mary Harney-what Jeanne de la Motte-valois was to Marie Antoinnette.

    Marie Antoinette—let them eat cake
    Mary Harney——–let them shop around

  • fmk

    in these post michael moore days, balance is assumed to come from the rest of the media, and is not required within any individual programme / film / book / whatever

  • Henry94

    From TCM

    Ireland ranked top of international qualify-of-life table

    An international firm that compiles information and analysis for the business sector is claiming that Irish people have the highest quality of life in the world.

    Reports this morning said the Economist Intelligence Unit had put Ireland at the top of its league table of 180 countries when it came to quality of life.

    This is despite complaints from Irish citizens about the astronomical cost of housing and childcare, the poor state of the health service, traffic gridlock and rip-off prices.

    This morning’s reports said the EIU’s calculations were based on a number of indicators including political freedom, family and community life, climate and gender equality.

  • Dandyman

    “RTÉ has a much broader responsibility than just providing us with bread and circuses. It needs to address this as a matter of urgency”.

    …or else what?