I’ve just come from watching RTÉ’s The Week in Politics so I have media bias on my mind. Last week Harry McGee reported a survey which showed that Sinn Féin was at the bottom in terms of RTÉ appearances – although that wasn’t the focus of Harry’s attention. He was on about Pat Rabbitte’s claim that RTÉ was ‘a recruiting sergeant’ for the water protestors and Sinn Féin. Pat had the backing of the leadership of the Labour Party in so doing.
On The Week in Politics he was singing the same old song: RTÉ was constantly negative in its reporting of the water charges and there were ‘elements’ manipulating these protestors. (See what Pat did there? Fired a blunderbuss at the water protestors themselves and at RTÉ at the same time. You can tell he comes from good Worker Party stock, cantcha?) What’s more, while Pat conceded that the handling of the water ‘issue’ by the government had been ‘initially cack-handed’, the people representing Irish water when they appeared on RTÉ were ‘brow-beaten’, ignoring how the ‘ultra-left and Sinn Féin’ were engaging in opportunism over the whole thing. Presenter Aine Lawlor suggested Pat was on an SOS mission – Save Our Seats. Oh no, Pat said. He was only concerned that RTÉ drill ‘deeper than the froth’ on this issue and earn the €150 million of public money it gets.
But of course Pat is on an SOS mission. The Labour Party could face annihilation at the next election, although it’s gained a few percentage points in the most recent poll. But when the facts show that of the parties in the Dail, Sinn Féin appearances on RTÉ are ahead of Lucinda Creighton’s new party Renua but behind all other parties, you’d think Pat R would think twice before slagging off RTÉ. Uh-uh. The whole idea is to link the government with unbalanced and unfair treatment on RTÉ, as distinct from such a bias link being formed in the public mind between Sinn Féin and RTÉ.
In terms of not just appearances on RTÉ but the kind of interviews that are done with Sinn Féin representatives when they do appear, it’s the Shinners who have grounds for complaint, not Labour. But if Pat Rabbitte can do enough fat-faced fuming, the public just might forget that and see the government as the victims. It’s unsurprising that Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley, earlier in the programme, wondered if there weren’t those with a nostalgia for the Stalinist days at RTÉ. And unsurprising that Aine Lawlor quickly cut him off with “No, we’re not going there!”.