Earlier this afternoon I caught part of a discussion on Liveline, the phone-in show on RTÉ, Ireland’s public broadcaster. There was an Irish woman called Susan, who was married to a Greek person. She was outlining her view, in the most trenchant and animated fashion, on the Syriza government, and the situation in Greece more generally, in light of yesterday’s seismic No vote in the referendum on whether to accept the Troika proposals of more austerity without debt write-downs.
There were three other people engaged in the discussion, Trevor Hogan the former rugby international, and Eamonn Walsh, the former Dublin South West TD for Labour, both of whom were sympathetic to the No vote and the position of the Syriza government, and another woman, whose name I did not catch, who also appeared sympathetic.
One of the considerations to the fore was the idea that Ireland ought to contribute in some shape or form to assistance for people in Greece. Today’s headline in the Irish Daily Mail is that the Greek No vote is going to cost Ireland -or perhaps Ireland’s taxpayers, I can’t recall the exact headline- €1bn. Susan’s point, such as it was, was that there was already enough money in Greece to pay for all debts, but that the country was so endemically corrupt, so mired in a culture of bribes and tax evasion, that any assistance provided by other countries was ultimately a case of the Greeks hoodwinking everyone else.
In this regard, Syriza, after 5 months in power, had done nothing. It could, she claimed, clamp down on the corruption of public officials, but it had not done so. It had in fact caused the tax take to fall. What was more, Trevor Hogan and Eamonn Walsh, in advocating some kind of solidarity from Ireland, were in fact making the problem worse. When Eamonn Walsh said that half of Greek households were dependent on a single pension, she told him this was rubbish, and that he was, in fact, lying. Where is your source for that, she insisted.
When someone is put under pressure and accused of lying, especially on a live broadcast, the natural impulse is to be guarded with a response, especially when you do not have the figures to hand. And Eamonn Walsh was unable to cite the source. But here -thanks to Twitter- is one such source of the claim: ‘According to a study last year by an employer’s association, pensions are now the main – and often only – source of income for just under 49% of Greek families, compared to 36% who rely mainly on salaries.‘
Another thing that Susan claimed was that the re-opening of ERT, the public broadcaster closed down under the previous New Democracy-PASOK coalition government, was, given the extreme straits of Greek public finances, comparable to the purchase of a flat screen TV. Flat screen TVs are, of course, a symbol of unwarranted luxury associated with the undeserving poor. As comrade Sheamus Sweeney notes: “Why is the purchase of a flat screen TV still being used as an example of feckless largesse? THERE IS NO OTHER TYPE OF TV! Unless you’re some weird hipster with more money than sense and the entire collection of Moonlighting on VHS?” (Sheamus has allowed me to quote him on this on condition that I do not call him a prick. I am happy to refrain from doing so for the purposes of the quote.)
Joe Duffy, the presenter, had nothing to say about the suggestion that public broadcasting was a luxury for feckless fraudsters.
Here, Susan was mounting an attack on the idea of public broadcasting altogether. As the Irish Times Greece correspondent Damian Mac Con Uladh reported on Saturday, there was an overwhelming media campaign conducted in favour of a Yes vote in the referendum, with little coverage granted in general to the No campaign, and a ‘barrage of doomsday ads’, according to the New York Times, which noted that it was only ERT, the public broadcaster, that had given significant coverage to the No campaign. Despite the overwhelming media mobilisation for a Yes, the OXI vote won, and resoundingly so.
Duffy was quick to emphasise on Friday’s programme, which also related to Greece, that “nobody wants austerity”, which is a strange way to characterise the stated position of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the IMF, the Eurogroup Finance Ministers, the overwhelming majority of so-called “centre-right” and “centre-left” parties throughout Europe, to say nothing of the likes of Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, assorted ratings agencies, the business press, most European newspapers, and so on, and on.
Though all these entities and groupings have consistently made public demands for the stripping away of public services and the introduction of regressive tax measures that amount to an attack on the living standards of the vast majority and a net transfer of wealth to the richest in European society, Duffy maintained on several occasions on Friday’s programme that none of them really want it. He has a far more benevolent view of these people than they have of themselves.
Whilst Duffy had proven himself capable of defending the interests of pro-austerity constituencies far more than they themselves might even request on Friday, he was incapable of playing even the meekest of devil’s advocates against the tirade of the caller –whose “we have to look after our own” rationale for denying solidarity to Greece finds echoes in sentiments expressed by right-wing nationalists both in Ireland, and, in the shape of Golden Dawn vis-à-vis migrant populations, in Greece itself- even as she launched an attack on his own raison d’etre as a broadcaster.
Were Duffy’s stances out of keeping with the RTÉ coverage more generally, that would be bad enough. But the entirety of the panel on the Marian Finucane show yesterday favoured a Yes vote in the elections. And what this tells us, plainly so, is that RTÉ’s news and current affairs coverage, whatever claims it makes for itself, whatever its fine words about balance, bias and objectivity, operates in keeping with a right-wing ideological agenda.
As another friend observed, in light of the RTÉ coverage, if ever RTE comes under an existential threat from a hostile government, and tries to rally the public to its cause, it will find itself abandoned like Niemoller’s everyman- having abandoned the public itself.