The Biggest Issues – what happens when talk radio goes awry?

One day I’ll have time to listen to the Afternoon Play Afternoon Drama live on Radio 4 while sitting on a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea in my hand. Until the mortgage is paid off, I have to settle for dipping in and out every week or two.

Last Tuesday’s play – The Biggest Issues – was written by Annie McCartney, recorded and produced in Belfast. [Click on the link to listen.]

Set in a fictitious – yet ever so slightly familiar – Radio Lagan, Sally Stone presents The Biggest Issues show daily. With an appetite for NHS stories, the show “gets a call from a listener complaining that her elderly mother has died of neglect at the local hospital”. The ensuing on air campaign involves the accused doctor and her children, contributors who don’t always know they’re speaking live on the radio, and barely a care for the facts behind the issues portrayed.

Can the presenter, the editor, or even the “boss upstairs” save themselves before further damage is done? Questions of integrity, editorial control, impartiality and most likely a misplaced copy of the editorial guidelines or broadcasting code.

If you ever wonder what would happen if a radio phone-in programme lost its sense of balance and responsibility, this 45 minute play is for you.

Frankly, the parallels with the Nolan Show or Talk Back are too obvious to ignore. In fact, given the language and terminology used in the play, they may have even given some guidance. But I’d be confident that the characters and controls behind those real life programmes are strong enough to avoid any temptation to cross the line in the manner Sally Stone does in The Biggest Issues. (It would have been quite sinister if Wendy Austin had voiced the role of Sally Stone!)

The Biggest Issues is available on iPlayer until 3pm on Tuesday 1 May. Perhaps the play serves as a reminder that reputation and regulation can act to control any ratings chasing urges talk radio and its shock jocks may have.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.