Ten Minutes of The Frontline: A Review

I was watching the Frontline presented by millionaire host Pat Kenny the other night but turned off after ten minutes or so. The words that came to mind were ‘controlled explosion’: the way the British Army in Northern Ireland seal off an area and detonate a device in order to ensure that damage is kept to a minimum, but also, outwardly via news reporting, to convey a sense of mastery, of being in control of the situation.

On the Frontline, the “lot of anger out there” habitually spoken about on news media in what the presenter called “the age of austerity” (it’s an age: there is no political solution to an age) is given a hearing, but always shown, in the final instance, as neatly under control, and subject to the interpretation of designated experts.

“Out there”: anonymous scenes of disaffection, chaos and torture, to quote Mark Eitzel, and “in here”: the unfolding of rational deliberation in an orderly fashion.

The other night its panel comprised the legal correspondent from Denis O’Brien’s Independent News and Media, the economics correspondent from the Irish Times, an established maverick journalist whose opinions are more confused than unorthodox, and an academic who was a prominent public advocate in favour of successive European treaties. 

There was a man on at the beginning who expressed concern that those negotiating arrangements with other parties in Europe for the repayment of the debts acquired by the Irish State did not have the necessary ‘balls’ to do so.

He said that Ireland’s politicians were public sector workers in the main, with no business experience. Instead of the current crop, ‘we’ should be sending the likes of Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and Michael O’Leary to negotiate on ‘our’ behalf. Rather than questioning the assertion that such figures –of impeccable plutocratic and privatising pedigree- would be best placed to perform such a task, the millionaire host suggested that politicians in other member states were drawn from a similar “gene pool”. Perhaps they have now located the gene that causes the public sector.

The rest of what I saw didn’t continue in that particularly bulging vein. Indeed, the aforementioned maverick journalist –Eamon Dunphy, whom I have heard express similar approval of the suitability of Michael O’Leary as a national negotiator- claimed that Ireland was not a democracy. He supported this contention by reference to a leader article published yesterday in the Irish Times that thanked a bond trader for buying up Ireland’s sovereign debt, and claimed that the control exercised by such actors illustrated the absence of democracy in Ireland (say! perhaps he had read the comment I left).

I don’t recall Dunphy’s claim being disputed, at least not in the bit I saw, but the standard modus operandi when such claims are made is to pretend they didn’t happen. There were other dissenting opinions from the audience, the same way there have been for the last few years, but the overall effect of the spectacle is a sensation of the fruitlessness of politics –the politics of elected representatives, the politics of “in here”- and a simultaneous, continuous reminder that this kind of thing -in “the age of austerity”- is the only game in town.

More specifically, the way we are enjoined to think about politics, watching these shows, is in terms of what is possible –for others- within the boundaries already imposed by the facts of massive indebtedness, expropriations in the form of regressive taxation and user fees, and the deadening routine of electoral campaigns. It should also be pointed out that such boundaries are accepted as politically legitimate limits by the main political parties and the trade unions.

But even the realm of what is possible is defined within a strictly national frame: “we” must send “our people” “across to Europe” in order to hammer out “a deal”. The possibilities of agitation and mobilisation at a local level are deemed pointless and even counter-productive, lest the likes of Michael Hasenstab take a dim view of them. What is more, at the same time, it’s expected that Ireland should pull some kind of stunt at the negotiating table without there being any change –wrought from below- in the balance of forces in Irish society.

The prospects of any kind of favourable resolution on these terms for the majority of people in Ireland, as Andy Storey details here, can be summed up as: not bloody likely:

‘the current government is perfectly happy to go along with protecting and promoting those who helped wreck our economy.  And one reason for that is that the intimate links that bind together bankers, politicians and senior civil servants were not, and are not, confined to one political party’

Though presented as a starting point for a way out, the Frontline, with its discourse of resignation and despair, is a lubricant for expropriation. It is not so much public broadcasting as anti-public broadcasting. And I wouldn’t mind only the State will put you in jail if you want to watch TV but don’t want to pay to support it, even as it allows a billionaire tax fugitive like Denis O’Brien to operate his own media empire to cheer on the expropriation.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Ten Minutes of The Frontline: A Review

  1. Geraldine

    All very interesting but any idea at all how the extraordinary Irish men and women trying to live within in the aforementioned pile of shite, can constructively get out of it.I would love just once to read an article with a workable strategy that can be read by a 4 year old outlining a step by step, year by year plan that will give people hope. I am not going to pretend that I have the answers but Ive listened to speakers on various talk shows. Members of the smaller parties who are closer to the actual reality of these cuts and charges and they make more sense to me than anything I’ve heard from Enda and his pals! Economists (who I imagine know more than a secondary school teacher) quote figures for taxing the higher earners that would bring in twice or three times as much as the cuts on the middle and lower earners. It seems to me that this whole unprecedented mess is being treated as a point scoring exercise between the assholes in Dail Eireann and in the meantime the extraordinary Irish men and women are dying on their feet trying to prop them up.Is there no one who will say enough is enough??

  2. Richard

    <p class="MsoNormal">Hi Geraldine,<br><br>Thanks for the comment.<br><br>One of the problems, I think, is the way we pose the questions about where we want to go from here. To cut a very long story very short, the political institutions in Ireland -and those institutions that control the political institutions in Ireland- serve the interests of big business and finance, not everyday people. Institutions that are supposed to be public property, and serve everyone -in health and in education, for instance- are being taken over by corporate plunderers. If all that wasn't apparent before Ireland's economic crash, it ought to be now. However, to a lot of people, it isn't that clear at all. It might be clear when they sit down to think about it and discuss it, but in the daily churn of news reporting and parsing of politicians’ words that aren't meant to mean anything, it gets cast out of people’s minds. </p> <p class="MsoNormal"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">Many if not most people have neither the time nor the space to give these things thought and discuss what they ought to do about them. Being able to think and discuss common matters collectively –and then act upon them- is supposed to be the essence of democratic politics. The fact that people cannot do this is another way in which Ireland is not a democracy. </p> <p class="MsoNormal"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">This makes me a little bit wary of simple documents with step by step, year by year outlines of a way out. I don’t think such a documents are a bad idea, it’s just that I don’t see how anyone is going to pay it any heed unless they have been able to confront and discuss the reality that a) the country is being looted; b) the existing political system is guaranteeing that looting, and that c) this isn’t a process that voting for an alternative is going to halt. </p> <p class="MsoNormal"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">To a lot of people, smaller parties’ proposals may make more economic sense, but they also seem unrealistic, because there’s no mass protest movement to suggest that people will take to the streets in support of a government that implemented policies of raising taxes on corporations and nationalising natural resources (for instance). Also, you have an immensely powerful media apparatus that supports the consensus view of political and financial elites –and most economists, who only know how to prop up the existing order- that there is no alternative to the current path and that anything else will drive the country into even greater ruin.<br> <br> So, I think if we were to talk about how great our simple step-by-step plan is, when we don’t have a mass movement that refuses to recognise the existing order, refuses to pay its debts, and declares that Ireland is not for sale, it would be a bit like telling people you’re going to jump 18 double decker buses when you don’t even have a motorbike. <span style><br></span></p>

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