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Tag Archives: Newstalk

Try this: Put some ice into a glass. Now fill the glass to the brim and watch what happens. The ice floats with some of it showing above the water level. As the ice melts, the water will overflow. Right? No, absolutely wrong! Melting ice will not raise the water level because, “Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid.” — Archimedes of Syracuse.*

Yep, Archimedes. It’s as basic as that. Of course anyone who puts ice in their drink knows about this and anyone who has done Junior Cert. Science knows why.

Now, listen to this podcast of Newstalk Radio’s science programme, Futureproof, broadcast on Sat, 15 July 2017:

Not too far from the beginning there’s a discussion of the effects of global warming on the Arctic. Attention moves to an ice shelf the size of a county which has broken free in the Antarctic. Listen as a university scientist says that the melting of this huge iceberg will cause sea levels to rise. Notice that neither her colleague nor the presenter reacts, never mind corrects.**

The problem is not expert knowledge. The problem is a lack of basic knowledge which if widespread, makes citizen participation in debates about climate change impossible.



** There is debate around the extent to which the more dense seawater will indeed rise when the floating freshwater melts. It will rise by a relatively small amount but even this is complicated by the intrusion of energy and temperature considerations. See here:

Media coverage of Pat Kenny’s transfer from RTE to Newstalk was of two types: celebrity gossip and business news, neither of which pays the slightest attention to how public controversy should be presented by broadcast media. The move prompted not even a mention of content.*

Think about it: the biggest name in Irish broadcast politics moves to a rival organisation and editorial policy will be unaffected by his going or his coming. That should be pretty shocking; it should prompt people in the industry to question their understanding of “rival” – or indeed “competition” or “alternative”.

It is easily forgotten that Newstalk’s purpose was to have been an alternative to RTE. Purveyors of the public consensus or conventional viewpoints moving between stations is a measure of the failure of a basic policy: it is simplistic to believe that broadcasting stations under different ownership will deliver choice in any meaningful sense of the word. If we want challenging, alternative, discursive media – or media nailed to any other praiseworthy communication adjective – we will have to regulate to make it happen. At this stage in the history of media it is pretty silly to continue to believe that competition alone will deliver.

Of course no one ever seriously believed that competition would deliver the range or type of media that is thought desirable; that’s why there are regulations to ensure balance, Irish language content, news, limited advertising etc. etc. The notion that different owners would deliver different political perspectives, or alternative or challenging points of view was entirely unfounded but still formed the basis of a belief that competition would be good for Irish public controversy.

The problem of course is stations staffed by bien pensants, having a shared perspective on the world, will inevitably compete for audience by offering not different content but different formats and personalities. There is a great deal to be said for this detached professional approach but it does lead to sameness and at this stage of its development it is quasi-institutional.**

Public Service Broadcasters in Ireland, like the UK, are subject to regulations in relation to coverage of public controversy and other matters broadly political. If a citizen considers a regulation to have been breached, he/she is entitled to submit a complaint and receive an explanation. The complaint may go to the BAI for determination. Having to explain oneself and be criticised in public is considered sufficient to ensure compliance. A problem, however, is that staging a thorough debate is not an obligation and cannot be a matter of complaint. Bluntly, it’s not something that need overly concern the producers. Now, a dismissive response would be to say that “thorough debate” is too vague to constitute an obligation. Firstly, that’s not true; most citizens have a grasp of what is meant and a list of features could be produced. Secondly, the essential feature of complaint as a compliance mechanism is that it forces people to respond, to say what they were trying to achieve in the programme. In short, if we wanted a debate, we’d make it an obligation.


Have a listen here: Colman at Large 2/1/13 part 2 at about 26 mins.

Not only was the term used but the programme presenter didn’t question it. It is a nasty concept slathered in the familiar balm of “fairness” and it should have been explored. Sean Healy reckons that in Ireland we are relatively strong on redistribution but weak on “horizontal fairness”.

What this boils down to is that no one among the better off is to have their income reduced unless everyone in the same income band is similarly affected, and until this happens, the default position of taking from the poor can continue because it’s “fairer”.

See also:



The Chief Economist with Ulster Bank has retired. He was interviewed this morning on Newstalk and spoke of the role of the economist in public life, emphasising the difficulty of making predictions. He pointed out that most Irish economists predicted a “soft landing” as the property boom ended. The interviewer didn’t refer to the more serious issue. The record of public figures – not just economists – should be judged not on whether they predicted a “soft landing” or a “crash” but on whether they spent years screaming warnings about the flight itself and its daft altitude.

Any sensible, prudent person could see that quite ordinary people as well as property developers and builders were being lured into reckless investment, usually financed by borrowing, by relentless public argument and propaganda carried by uncritical media. We had years of favourable comment: it was a “no-brainer”; everyone should have a “property portfolio”. Of course all those who fell for this were foolish but that doesn’t exonerate those who encouraged, capitalised on or facilitated their foolishness.

Any contributor to public debate who did not over the years see the folly or who did see it and failed to speak out time and again, and those in the media who failed to find and give a platform to sensible contributors should never again be taken seriously.