The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Media Matters

Under The Spotlight: Conversations With 17 leading Irish Journalists, By Roger Greene. Publisher Liffey Press Dublin.
ISBN 1-904148-82-4

Book Review

Anthony McIntyre • Fortnight, May 2006

It is too clichéd to make the assertion that for once it is good to see those with a fondness for pushing others under the sometimes unwanted glare of the camera sitting in the hot seat themselves. Under The Spotlight by Roger Greene, in which he interviews 17 'leading Irish journalists', is not some device designed to allow those whom journalists frequently annoy vicariously get their own back on the scribes.

As a presenter of a Sunday morning radio show, Media Matters on Dublin Newstalk 106, Greene interviewed the journalists and had them transcribed. The end product is a highly entertaining book. Often, this type of endeavour finds itself subject to a certain measure of criticism and ridicule on the grounds of it being an intellectually lazy means of establishing a reputation as an author. There is also the problem in making the switchover from radio to print. What may be electrifying in the form of the spoken word specifically crafted for broadcasting may lose its surge or shock effect when viewed on the page. Pitch, tone, inflection are all absent and the reader, unlike the listener, has no means of knowing if a question, for example, was asked rhetorically. Exclamation marks do not always make the point. Such deficiencies, however, if present in Under The Spotlight fail to disturb the oblivion of the reader.

For anybody interested in how journalism functions in a number of areas, Roger Greene provides them with a valuable handbook which is free from the barren language of the technocrat. An idealistic cub reporter can find as many uses in its 217 pages as a hard nosed cynical old hack. The matters that motivate some journalists, ranging from idealism to career furtherance, are all here. The role of journalists within society is debated; how journalists should handle the issue of sources, the impact of reporting from war zones, challenging power and corruption. Thrown in for good measure, not to mention titillation, are some of the inevitable resentments and clashes that arise between journalists. Conor Brady who featured amongst the 17 and Vincent Browne who did not, seem to have drawn the ire of some of their colleagues.

Not specifically mentioned in relation to Browne — although it should have been — was how both he and Danny Morrison jointly let off the first salvo against Kevin Myers when Myers wandered into the now infamous 'bastard' territory. Why Browne would think being called a bastard by Myers was somehow more threatening than being labelled a legitimate target by Morrison will rankle with many readers.

Amongst those featuring in the book were Conor Brady, Frank Connolly, John Waters, Eamon Dunphy, Fergal Keane and Lara Marlowe. It is easy to see why Conor Brady was at the helm of the Irish Times. Professionalism and an eye for detail combined with a sense of maintaining the confidence of the public in journalism, all reinforce the view of Brady as a very steadying captain able to navigate a course through the choppiest of waters and maintain the vessel in upright condition. Eamon Dunphy on the other hand is like the ship's cat, all over the place with a devil may care attitude to boot. Dunphy, who is undoubtedly pick of the bunch puts this down to the difference between being a journalist and a columnist. The latter has freedom and little responsibility. A former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain who has never given up his dislike of the 'ruling class', Dunphy's profile will not suffer in the slightest from his collaboration with Greene.

Frank Connolly stated that he has a view that 'journalists have a responsibility to highlight the needs and wants of the people who are dispossessed or the people who don't have power.' This was to be applied to those with power in politics or business. An admirable trait in any journalist but one where the integrity of which must always be safeguarded against the temptation to refrain speaking truthfully about power. Speaking truth to power has to be rooted in an acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of powers and the multiplicity of micro powers that serve to regulate our lives. Frank Connolly before the collapse of the Centre for Public Enquiry of which he was executive director, ran the risk of challenging only those powers that sat to the opposite end of the ideological spectrum inhabited by himself.

Fergal Keane bluntly admitted that he was an alcoholic. Having read his excellent Seasons of Blood about the Rwandan genocide, it would be demeaning to offer a man of his integrity sympathy. He merits only respect.

In any work of this nature there will always be the question of who was left out. Journalists who could have featured in its pages would be Vincent Browne, Kevin Myers, Frank Millar, Suzanne Breen, Ed Moloney and Stephen Collins. Some of these would have addressed in incisive fashion one major deficiency within Irish journalism; its reporting of the peace process. Perhaps Roger Greene will consider a sequel. On the strength of the first it will be well worth waiting for.

























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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

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