Lines blurred online as Second Captains return

“So Dionysus says to George Best…”- Ken Early broadens a few minds at the Irish Times.

“Our gardening leave ended a couple of days ago and being in the constant company of four other men has become extremely tiresome.”

With those words, Eoin McDevitt announced the end of the exile of some of Ireland’s most popular sports broadcasters. The Second Captains (“the artists formally (sic) known as the Off the Ball 5″), have announced their new weekly show to be streamed and podcasted by the Irish Times.

It’s an intriguing development. Those who attended the recent Dublin Freelance Forum will have heard me speak on the subject of multimedia, and Ken Early will now be both writing and broadcasting for the Irish Times as it experiments further with its digital future.

If it’s successful, it won’t be long before the cameras are rolled into the studio and we have our first major online TV show in Ireland.

But the statement from the Irish Times is not as balls-out positive about this brave new media landscape as one might expect, and the closing line suggests that the paper of record isn’t exactly going all-in in its attempt to corner the online multimedia market.

Over the next few weeks we have the Heineken and Amlin Cup finals in Dublin, the Champions League final at Wembley, and the first match between England and the Republic of Ireland for nearly 20 years. Second Captains will be covering all of them alongside the Irish Times sports team.

This month, the only place to hear the Second Captains is with

This month? Hardly jumping into the abyss now, is it?

And maybe rightly so.

If we cast our minds back to the Second Captains’ departure from Newstalk a few months back, we’ll find a hard-headed business decision by the broadcaster at the heart of it.

Various reports suggest that the Second Captains wanted to eat into George Hook’s remarkably popular and spectacularly scattergun evening show. The station looked at the numbers, and ultimately decided to let substitue the Captains, rather than sling their Hook.

At a commercial broadcaster, the bottom line ultimately steers such decisions, and Hook draws in more dollars. It’s that simple.

Like them or not, the Second Captains have evolved into an outstanding broadcasting team that changed the face of sports radio in Ireland forever.

But whether that can be translated into advertising or sponsorship revenue is what counts – and what remains to be seen. Either way, it’ll take more than one month.

Whatever happens, it’s a bold move by both parties that is to be applauded – instead of moaning about not being able to make money online, the Irish TImes is putting its money where its mouth is, even if it’s not going for broke.

And by moving online, the Second Captains will retain control of both their brand and their broadcasts, rather than risking it all on another commercial radio station where the same limitations would apply.

Game on.


Rabbitte caught as Gallagher wags the dog

The last we've heard of Seanie? Don't bet on it.

So Pat Rabbitte said no.

There will be no public enquiry into “tweetgate”, and I doubt Gallagher is too disappointed.

He’s in a golden situation, whatever happens. He has been wronged, and he’s making as much hay as he can out of it.

Because this has little to do with RTE, or social media, or democracy, and everything to do with Sean Gallagher’s public political rehabilitation.

It is ironic that Denis O’Brien-owned organs like Newstalk and Independent Newspapers can be so lamenting of journalistic standards at RTE, all the while failing to apply them  themselves- before and after the fact.

In the first instance, there’s a good case to be made for the fact that Gallagher never should have gotten as far as he did.

Despite the prevailing anti-FF political climate, Dev’s border bagman was allowed to reinvent himself with ease as a community and social worker who had but a passing affiliation with the Galway tent.

Not only do we now know this to be true, we knew it at the time – but somehow, the silent acquiescence of the media allowed him to get away with it, almost all the way to the park.

Contrast this with the invasive analysis of the other candidates, in particular Martin McGuinness. Dana Rosemary Scallon had transatlantic family matters dragged up and Mary Davis was battered from pillar to post, as McGuinness had skeletons thrown at him from every conceivable closet.

But in the end Gallagher was placed in a farmyard with a cheque in his fist, very much a member of the inner circle of Fianna Fáil. The voters extracted their revenge, swiftly and mercilessly.

Since then, very little has been heard of him, but now Gallagher is back, having timed his return carefully.

With the wind of the BAI judgement in his sails, he is once again untouchable.

Once again, the lie is played out that the tweet sank him. It didn’t. The word ‘envelope’ and his proximity to the party that destroyed the country did.

Which leads us to the most worrying aspect – the hollow accusations of bias being bandied about, not least at RTE.

O’Brein’s minions would do well to remember that those in glass houses are ill advised to start getting careless with the rocks.

One only need to look at the first three pages of yesterday’s Sunday Independent to get a comprehensive view of the hysterical, anti-nationalist, anti-liberal agenda of the paper.

Turn on Newstalk for five minutes and you’ll hear a watered-down version of the same thing.

To accuse RTE of anything near that level of bias is beyond hypocritical.

RTE should not be biased. In as much as possible (and there are theoretical discussions that suggest that no-one is capable of full impartiality), RTE should strive to be as fair and as balanced as they possibly can, leaving the viewers, listeners and voters to make up their own mind.

The same cannot be demanded of privately-owned media – but what can be demanded is a clear distinction between what is news, and what is ideologically-driven comment.

For instance: the interview with Pat McGuirk – the man was delighted to ask a question on Frontline until the Sindo told him otherwise – by Jody Corcoran was not news. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on RTE, from beginning to end, and this should have been made clear. Any attempt to portray it as anything else is disingenuous and misleading.

(Add to this the fact that everyone in the PR/media business knows that you don’t just show up and ask whatever you like on TV shows. Producers and researchers are very careful about what it is they let through for all sorts of reasons- ironically, appearing to be impartial is one of the primary ones. Gallagher’s claims to be surprised at this fact lack credibility).

The same with Newstalk. At least I know George Hook is a blueshirt, and that he brings on the dimwitted squawking buffoon that is Michael Graham every week to himself appear moderate. I can take that into account, and god knows George says it often enough.

What I cannot take is Jonathan Healy saying “surely RTE must now face a public enquiry” when there is nothing surely about it.

It’s opinion masquerading as news, and the distinction should be an awful lot clearer.

As for Gallagher? Ironically, given that it was his association with them that destroyed his campaign, his FF handlers are now welcoming him back inside the tent.

Why? He is probably the only man who could save the party.  He may have been denied the Aras, but – with a little help from Denis’s uncritical minions – Kildare Street might still be he his.

The Ten Commandments of Irish Journalism

And lo, the Lords did not answer their e-mails, or return the phone calls, leaving the faithful to draw their own conclusions.

These commandments have been handed down to me on my two tablets (an iPad and a Samsung) and hold as true now as they did in the days of Moses (and Dev):

Denis O'Brien addresses editorial staff

1. Thou shalt honour The Editors that commission you above all else. Nor shall you have other gods before the Editor, unless it happens to be another Editor that offers you a tenner more for your thousand-word rant attacking the unemployed.

2. Thou shalt, as far as possible, portray as craven immigrants, those on social welfare, public servants and travellers.
But never fellow journalists, as we are all untouchable and never do anything wrong. Ever.

3. Thou shalt not take the names of your Gods in vain- holding editors, publications and other journalists to account is neither desired nor acceptable. Let’s face it, you could be working for them tomorrow.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, and that your best bet for getting published on it is to attack Sinn Féin or RTE as viciously as possible.

5. Honour your father and mother. This is best done by writing under a pseudonym so the neighbours won’t be able to identify you as their progeny.

6. Thou shalt not kill a story for lack of evidence – if the facts don’t bear it out, make some up. Most people won’t check, but if they do just ignore them and after a while your version will magically become the truth.

7. Thou shalt commit as much adultery as possible by writing for eveyone who asks you, and many who don’t. You can’t eat loyalty.

8. Thou shalt not steal – but if you must nick an idea or a quote, try not to get caught.  Under no circumstances should you ever credit other media as a source. Ever. This is not negotiable.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour. Save that for the foreigners, or the lads in the next parish.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house. Instead, thou shalt describe it as “a handyman’s dream” or whatever the estate agent or PR fop tells you to.

Thou shalt also remember that news is just a vehicle for advertising, and everything can be sold for a good price.

Except your stories, for which no-one is willing to pay more than a handful of peanuts for.

Finding the right target in Enda’s blame game

Let me say this to you all:

You are not responsible for the crisis.

That didn’t last long, did it?

Yesterday Enda did another of his patented u-turns (don’t worry, they’re all part of his five-point plan) and blamed the Irish people for going “mad” on cheap credit.

How can he possibly blame us, the plain people of Ireland?

Surely the fault lies with the bankers, right?


Nothing will be learned from this financial crisis unless we learn why it happened, who was to blame, and how to stop it happening in the future.

The bankers and reckless lenders are obvious targets, but we had failed long before we ever got on the playing field.

The responsibility for the crisis lies almost exclusively with those tasked with regulating and monitoring the affairs of the state- the politicians.

Let us remember that it wasn’t just Fianna Fáil that were responsible either- the free-market zealots of the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and the Labour Party (don’t be fooled by the name) were equally to blame.

Even when in opposition, they nodded like donkeys as Aherne, McCreevy and Cowen stripped away the protection the plain people of Ireland were entitled to.

So Enda is hardly going to sit up there in the middle of his Davos dancing monkey act and admit that he was partially to blame now, is he?

It is absolutely true that people borrowed wildly and that banks lent recklessly, and some would say who could blame them. Both were trying to live the dream of a lifestyle and profits beyond their wildest dreams.

But how could they do this? Because, ever since the first sod was turned at the IFSC, every single piece of legislation or regulation preventing them from taking excessive risks with borrowed money was removed by the politicians.

It may have changed in the last three years or so as normal people were forced to learn about bond yields and sovreign debt, but the plain truth is that most people are not financially literate enough to understand even basic financial products like mortgages and life insurance.

I’ve spent the guts of ten years in the financial services industry, talking to ministers and central bankers and traders and fund managers. I’ve studied finacial instruments trading at university level.

All it has taught me is that the more I learn, the more there is to learn.

Those operating in the markets- even in the personal finance end of them-  are for the most part unsentimental, mathematical and very ambitious.

They will stretch the limit of any rule in search of a profit- that is their creative genius.

But in removing the rules of the game, we allowed them to indulge themselves and us, and we all got hit with the bill.

We even tore up most of our planning laws just so we could allow developers to stack their piles of yen and German pensions on one another in a race to the top, not realising it would all fall down around us.

Sure, lenders and borrowers are to blame, but only to a point; if you give the fox the keys of the henhouse, don’t be surprised if all that’s left are feathers and blood.

What galls most people is that no banker or politician has yet to face the courts in relation to the €100 billion confidence trick played on Irish people.

The sad reason for this is that very little of what was done was illegal- we simply removed those barriers and let them get on with it.

And so to the hide-and-seek champion of Mayo, who did his monkey dance for the great and the good at Davos yesterday, a day after many of them took their chunk of the €1.25 billion Enda so selflessly gave them on our behalf.

And today, ministers gather round to defend him- even Labour ministers – saying that he was either partially or wholly right.

They were joined, predictably, by the Irish Independent and Newstalk, whose overlord Denis O’Brien insisted to the Irish Times that “he (Kenny) should be applauded and not in any way criticised.”

His minions duly obliged, Fionán Sheehan of the Indo playing the role of government representative on Vincent Browne last night, and the Lunchtime program on Newstalk offering an embarrassing plethora of talking heads echoing the Taoiseach’s comments.

The level of stage management of the cabinet response warrants closer questioning- in other words, there is reason to believe that Enda’s comments were no regular political gaffe.

There is reason to believe that what you saw and heard yesterday is the first step in selling the next- and probably the most onerous- austerity budget to the Irish people.

In December, Enda went of the TV to pre-empt a public outcry and in a stilted performance, his hear slicked to his head, he told us we were not responsible. Gullible fools that we were, we bought into the savage cuts – sure weren’t we all in it together?

That won’t work again, and the next targets – the old, the sick, and the young once more, but also the public servants and PAYE workers – won’t be as amenable, so a change of tactics was called for.

So Enda and his cabinet have decided that we are in fact to blame – and in doing so, they are preparing us to take our personal share of the pain that is coming. After all, it’s our fault that we’re in this mess.

What Enda should have said yesterday was “yes, the banks and the borrowers were to blame, but we- the democratically elected politicians, dropped the ball. Lads, the party is over. Europe’s biggest casino will be back, but there will be limits on how much you can gamble with our money in the future”.

Instead, he blamed you and me.

At the same time, the treacherous Fianna Fáil spiv that is Conor Lenihan appeared on the radio, blissfully unaware of the scale of his own hypocrisy.

Part of a dynasty that did its best to destroy our economy, he is now travelling the world touting for foreing direct investment.

For Russia.

Now some people might say that ‘traitor’ is too strong a word in those circumstances.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.

Money talks as Dunphy walks

Eamon Dunphy- silence is not so golden, baby.

One of the high points of the year for me was the Sunday morning when I appeared on Eamon Dunphy’s show back in the spring.

It doesn’t matter how many elections you cover or how many internationals you interview for news agencies or foreign media, you’re no-one till you’ve sat and chewed the fat with Eamon or Marian on a Sunday morning.

Sitting in the chair with the other guests, it felt like I’d finally arrived.

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Dunphy as a journalist and broadcaster, even if I haven’t always agreed with him.

His part-showman, part-shaman polemical style has provoked debate on all manner of subjects over the last thirty or so years, from soccer tactics to the real meaning of the term “gombeen man”.

It was a pleasure to meet him, although I think I embarrassed him when I told him that his columns in the Sunday Independent were partially responsible for me wanting to become a journalist in the first place.

He needn’t be; those columns showed many of us that it wasn’t our thoughts that were the most important thing- it was the fact that we thought at all.

He showed us that an independent mind was worth its weight in gold.

It seems that money was at the root of Dunphy’s decision to leave what was (until today) the best show on Irish radio.

Rumours of a 50% salary cut abound, as do tales of Dunphy having to fork out for the four sets of newspapers his panellists devour before going on air.

But I doubt it was because of the impact on his own pocket that Eamon jumped ship, rather a more sinister approach to journalists and journalism from the bean-counters that control where the money gets spent.

He has mentioned a “yellow-pack”mentality in Irish journalism, and you don’t have to dig too deep to discover that Irish journalists aren’t exactly living off the fat of the land.

Having worked for so long in Sweden, I was shocked when I discovered exactly how little Irish media outlets are prepared to pay for journalism.

There are a few notable exceptions, but in most cases it is peanuts, something the quality of much of the end product is testimony to.

It’s not that our journalists lack the skill or the interest; it’s quite simply not worth their while to properly research and write an article, or produce a tv or radio program, because no-one in Ireland is willing to pay for their time anymore.

And before you start feeling all high and mighty about it, that includes the consumer.

The Times of London was hammered for putting its content behind a pay wall, mostly by those who refused to understand that free access to information is not the same thing as free information- at some point, someone has to pay.

I still work for Irish media on stories that I think are worthy or otherwise interesting, but thankfully I can afford to be a bit more selective than the average journalist back home.

The low-cost approach, where the owners complain about the price of everything rather than realising that without it their products have no value, is destroying Irish media.

Then there are those who confuse content with journalism.

The internet is awash with people who write, film, photograph and publish, often entirely uncritically; very little of this material is ever fed through a journalistic set of princicples.

As the recent Irish presidential election has shown us, we need people whose job it is to sift through the streams of fact and rumour, hearsay and heresy, and get to the bottom of a story.

Without it, our democracy grinds to a halt and those who can afford it can buy all the silence they want.

No democracy has ever thrived with its media controlled by a single entity, public or private.

Like every aspect of Irish life, what is needed is plurality in the media where people can present their arguments and allow us to make up our own minds about what we think.

In other words, it needs exactly what Eamon Dunphy provided every Sunday morning on his radio show.

What is most worrying is that, in arguing over the price of taxis and newspapers and Dunphy’s salary, Newstalk have lost something a lot more valuable.

And ultimately it is the listeners that will have to pay the price.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

Ivan Yates (r) and Chris Donoghue, with whom I share Breakfast every day.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X.

If you’ve been reading the newspapers the last few weeks, you will of course be aware that Ireland’s current problems were not actually caused by the banks or government ineptitude.

The cause of Ireland’s woes is in fact people on social welfare.

How quickly we forget.

This morning, I was listening to Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue as they wrung another day out the story about the family on welfare that gets €90,000 a year, a shocking sum by any man’s standards.

You’d be forgiven for wondering why anyone in the country bothers working at all, such is the largesse of Ireland’s world-famous welfare state.

So I did what I’m always telling you to do. I went and found out more about the case.

And remarkably, there was more to it than meets the eye. Quelle surprise.

Rather than being a slovenly, chip-munching, Jeremy Kyle-watching, unemployed layabout, the father of this family of four is disabled.

In what most likely represents a saving to the state, his wife receives a carer’s allowance to look after him.

They also act or have acted as guardians for another child (another saving to the state), and one of the four children has special needs.

Add it all up and that means that €47,476 of the ninety grand is directly related to disabilities and special needs.

Keep in mind that that figure of €47,476 does not include the €14,872 they receive for acting as guardians to another child.

I listened to the program on and off for the best part of two hours and didn’t hear this mentioned once.

Now let’s put it all in perspective.

€90,000 for a family of six that hangs around the house doing nothing but smoking dope and procreating is, in all probability, too much money.

Indeed, €90,000 for a family suffering for a series of disabilities and/or special needs may also be too much money.

But on the other hand, paying €62,348 to people with difficulties so that they can support themselves in the home rather than in residential state care could make perfect economic sense.

The point is that we don’t know the circumstances of this family.

We have no idea what the special needs are, or why the father of the family is disabled.

Aside from all this, do we really think that there are hundreds of families all over the country getting €90k a year on social welfare?

Few Irish media organisations have understood the power of social media like Newstalk, and all credit to them. I tweeted the following to Ivan and Chris:

@breakfastnt Just might be worth pointing out that 90k welfare is the exception rather than the rule, or would that ruin your poor-bashing?

In fairness to the hosts, the very next time the story was mentioned Ivan did say that it was an exceptional case (they even retweeted it), but by then the damage may have been done – the following was one of the tweets I saw in relation to the item (the Twitter username and anyone mentioned in the tweet have been redacted):

Lad I knows does be sayin dat a black lad lives near him in 5 bedroom mansion, wears Armani & drives BMW all paid for by de govt

Proof if ever it was needed of the old maxim: “communication is not what is said, but what is heard.”

Whatever our ideology, whatever we think of the banks or the welfare state, we need to be careful of both the language and the arguments we use. Polarising positions does not solve social problems- it just creates an “us against them” mentality.

Nor do extreme examples like this do not make for good case studies, especially given the sparse details around it.

Besides, there are plenty of other wasters more deserving of the attention.

Ivan knows, he used to work with them in Leinster House…