Radio: Cyclists get a rough ride as Pat Kenny revs up his outrage

Review: A harrowing revelation shocks Ray D’Arcy from his normally ironic poise

 

For those of us who still cling to such fuddy-duddy notions as balanced reporting and dispassionate analysis, Wednesday’s discussion of new Dublin traffic plans on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) represents another small slip down a dispiriting slope.

As Kenny talks to the AA’s Conor Faughnan about proposals to ban cars from the city’s north quays in order to make way for cyclists, the conversation is hostile to the idea from the off.

This is unsurprising. We’re hearing the views of an unabashed fan of the internal combustion engine, who misses no opportunity to bemoan the bad behaviour of cyclists. Faughnan, on the other hand, merely works for the Automobile Association.

From the off, Kenny derides the plans, saying he suspects Dublin City Council just wants to annoy private car owners. Rather than critically examining Faughnan’s view of the proposal (“asinine”), Kenny says that a public transport deficit means people have to use their cars to get into town.

All of which may be true – the proposals do appear extreme. But it still seems excessive for a current affairs presenter to actively cue up a guest’s argument.

When it comes to the thorny issue of cyclists’ etiquette, it is Faughnan (a spokesman for a motoring body, remember) who provides the impartiality.

After Kenny complains about cyclists failing to stop at the lights on a certain Dublin street, his guest makes a retort about the number of motorists on their mobile phone. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” comes Kenny’s slightly sniffy reply.

This skewed tone continues in Kenny’s discussion with Ian O’Doherty about cyclists, a group who have apparently become the go-to target whenever easy controversy is required on a Newstalk show. The Irish Independent columnist says that if cyclists want more funding for improved traffic measures, they should pay road tax.

It’s standard liberal-baiting stuff from O’Doherty, from annoyance at cyclists taking “collective umbrage” – aka campaigning for their rights – to saying that a bicycle will “never win an argument” with a car, so people should act accordingly.

The item doesn’t succeed in raising the temperature, with a strange lack of conviction to the whole item. O’Doherty doesn’t think urban cycling is pleasant and admits he doesn’t even drive, which makes him an odd choice as a pundit on this matter. If he was looking for strong opinions, Kenny might have been better talking to himself.

Kenny has not become a full member of the angry brigade, however. If anything, he has become more relaxed. He could hardly stop tittering during his recent knowing discussion with cookery writer Susan Jane White about the Indian ingredient “ghee”, fnarr fnarr.

Nor has Kenny’s formidable talent as a current affairs broadcaster deserted him. On Tuesday he conducts a stimulating interview with Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution on whether secular democracy is compatible with Islam. Hamid thinks it isn’t, at least in the form understood by western societies.

Here Kenny is at his best, pressing his guest on whether theocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia represent the alternative (Hamid prefers the comparatively open systems of Malaysia and Indonesia), while hearing out why this situation has arisen.

The tone is rigorous and ultimately downbeat, but avoids the alarmist rhetoric that prevails when station colleagues such as George Hook address the subject. Cyclists may feel they get a rough ride from Pat Kenny, but in fact he remains the most nuanced presenter on Newstalk.

Variety is the watchword subtlety an optional extra over on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). On Wednesday, D’Arcy carries a lengthy but supremely inconsequential item on whether fish have accents [sic]; has a discussion about the advisability of sixtysomethings using prophylactics during sex; and does a catch-up/puff piece on RTÉ telly’s Operation Transformation. All are marked by the presenter’s curious combination of ingenuous curiosity and world-weary irony.

But the lighthearted atmosphere disappears when D’Arcy speaks to Fran, whose son Ryan took his life while in hospital care in 2014. Tales of suicide have sadly become something of a fixture on Irish radio shows – D’Arcy recently devoted an entire programme to the subject – but the increased frequency of such stories has not diminished their horror.

Fran speaks touchingly about Ryan, using the present tense to describe him. He also details the terrifying descent into depression that saw his son make multiple suicide attempts before he killed himself, despite being under observation in a hospital ward.

As he hears these dreadful experiences, D’Arcy is supportive, helping along his guest whenever he stumbles emotionally. Personally sensitive, he’s also supremely professional.

His poise is shaken, however, when Fran tearfully reveals that he has tried to hang himself since his son’s death. “Ah Jaysus,” the presenter exclaims, his shock obvious.

If it is deeply disturbing to hear someone sharing such personal experiences on national radio, at least D’Arcy shares this unease. “This is important. You have to mind yourself and your family, you’re very vulnerable” D’Arcy says to Fran.

As the host’s voice rises in urgency, Fran sounds almost apologetic: “It won’t happen again,” he tells D’Arcy.

It’s a jolting illustration of the despair caused by suicide, but there’s something uncomfortable about hearing D’Arcy joking around with sex therapist Mary O’Conor only a few minutes later. On radio, at least, there can be too much diversity.

RADIO MOMENT OF THE WEEK: DRUGS DON’T WORK

Newstalk Drive (weekdays) carries a report by the indefatigable Henry McKean about the stubborn heroin problem that has blighted Dublin since the late 1970s. It is by turns illuminating (Tony Geoghegan of the Merchants Quay treatment centre recounts the drug’s history in the capital) and wistfully gritty (a 51-year-old user recalls starting off on the narcotic at a Bob Marley concert). It’s also tragicomic, as with the man who decries addicts shooting up.

“I don’t do drugs,” he says forcefully. “I take tablets.” It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so grim.

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