Mooney gets serious


RADIO REVIEW:FOR ALL the guises Derek Mooney has adopted in his career, from nature broadcaster to gameshow host, he is not famed as a crusading journalist.

The closest he gets to social activism on his show ( Mooney,RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) tends to be running gently frothed campaigns, such as his current petition to “save the wave”, the supposedly endangered Irish practice of saluting complete strangers. Otherwise, hot-button topics such as psychic detectives and pet obesity tend to dominate proceedings.

So hearing Mooney last week conduct an extended interview with Peter Tatchell, the veteran human- and gay-rights activist, came as something of a jolt, akin to Marty Whelan discussing manufactured media consensus with Noam Chomsky. But once one got over the incongruity of the setting, it was an absorbing and even revealing encounter.

Tatchell has often been characterised as a strident single-issue campaigner for homosexual equality – even Mooney said this was his original perception – but, over the course of a talk recorded in the 60-year-old activist’s London home, a more rounded portrait arose. He spoke of being “curiously questioning” as a teenage schoolboy in Australia, campaigning against the death penalty long before he came to terms with his sexuality. He told of his frequently harrowing exploits since then, most notably his attempted citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe, which led to a severe beating by the Zimbabwean leader’s henchmen. But he felt the risks of his vocation, including 500 death threats, were nothing beside the suffering of those enduring human-rights abuses.

Aside from a portentous introduction about “the power of one”, Mooney kept an unusually low profile throughout. But he rightly pressed Tatchell, who has previously outed public figures who were secretly gay, on whether “people were entitled to a private life”. Tatchell responded that he had targeted only bishops and MPs who were hypocrites by being “homophobic in public and gay in private”. Overall, Tatchell came across as being as thoughtful and self-effacing as he was driven. His accomplishments were modest, he said, but “I do my bit, as do thousands of others, and all the little bits add up.” In his own way, Mooney was doing his bit by giving Tatchell a platform.

When one outraged listener texted to ask how much licence-fee money had been “wasted” on the interview, the presenter’s reply was emphatic. “Not a red cent,” he said, annoyed. “I was on holiday in London and I interviewed him when I was there. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.” Mooney may come across as an overeager mainstream broadcaster, but he had made clear his admiration for Tatchell, the quintessential outlier. Amazingly, the texter apologised. On such tiny triumphs are great crusades won.

Monday’s edition of Today with Pat Kenny(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) provided a reminder that protesting against injustice is rarely an easy option. Kenny spoke with Sinéad Ní Ghairbhith, who had staged a fleeting one-woman demonstration for Tibetan rights when the Chinese vice-president, Xi Jinping, visited the Cliffs of Moher on Sunday. The protester, who had previously worked with Tibetan refugees as well as living in the Chinese-ruled nation, recounted how she got within 10 metres of the Chinese leader before being intercepted by gardaí, who, she claimed, smashed her placard, twisted her arm, grabbed her by the shoulders and detained her.

“I had no idea I would not be allowed stand there, in my own country,” said Ní Ghairbhith, who also said that one garda told her they were under orders not to allow any protesters, even those just bearing signs, to get near Xi. “Is that not a complete violation of a basic human right?” she asked.

Kenny concurred but also pointed out the flipside: had the policing been less aggressive, he said, Ní Ghairbhith’s lone gesture would have probably gone unremarked. Instead she was on national radio, highlighting an issue studiously avoided by the visiting Chinese dignitaries and, for the most part, their official hosts.

Acts of dissent are not confined to campaigns for great social or political causes, of course. Talking to Sean Rocks on Tuesday’s Arena(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the American author Shalom Auslander explained how his new novel, about a man who discovers an elderly Anne Frank in the attic of his rural New York home, was an attempt to shed the baggage of his “unfortunately Jewish” upbringing. Auslander said, somewhat unconvincingly, that he did not care what reaction his story caused in others. Instead, the book was an act of personal rebellion against the strict Orthodox Judaism of his youth: optimism was near impossible in the shadow of a God characterised by the writer as “Tony Soprano in a bad mood”, hence the novel’s title, Hope: A Tragedy.

Auslander’s provocative presence gave a welcome pep to the show, with Rocks sounding as if he was enjoying himself. But the writer also conveyed a strong sense of purpose, seeking to explore if hope could survive under the tragic weight of history. Taking a stand is always a serious business.

Radio moment of the week

Its irreverent verbiage aside, perhaps the greatest appeal of Off the Ball(Newstalk, weekdays) is how the show avoids the cliche-ridden waffle of most sports programmes at all costs. Having discussed the merits of Wednesday’s Champions League tie between Basel and Bayern Munich with football correspondent Ken Early, host Eoin McDevitt asked his laconic colleague about the night’s other match. “Well, that’s Marseille against Inter.” Brief silence. “You’ve not got anything else to say about it?” asked McDevitt. “Not right now,” deadpanned Early.