Media spats and skirmishes that made 2016 interesting
Donald Trump picked the most fights, but there was tension aplenty elsewhere
RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes expressed her wish for RTÉ to collaborate with its “frenemies”.
It’s the season of goodwill, and after another tetchy year for the media, the time has come to forget – at least temporarily – about bitter skirmishes, shrug at minor tiffs and abandon grudges carefully nursed through 2016.
But first let’s rehash them all.
Donald Trump v Vanity Fair
A series of stinging assessments of Trump’s immense awfulness had previously graced the pages of Vanity Fair that weren’t occupied by ads for diamonds, but it was a review that pondered the “flaccid, grey innards” of the dumplings at Trump Grill, and suggested it “could be the worst restaurant in America”, that finally lured him onto the pitch.
The magazine, edited by “no talent” Graydon Carter, has “really poor” numbers, Trump declared: “Way down, big trouble, dead!”
It’s an epithet that handily works for a whole range of media outlets, with one tiny alteration: Way down, big trouble, dead?
Facebook v Norway
In September, the hitherto unconsidered relationship between Facebook and Norway sprang into the headlines after Facebook deleted a post by writer Tom Egeland that included the famous “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam War – the nudity of its subject, then nine-year-old Kim Phuc, did not meet its “community standards”.
When Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg and half her cabinet shared the image, those posts, too, were removed. Facebook eventually acknowledged the image’s “historical importance”, because Facebook is not just the arbiter of our social lives and the news, but history too.
Virgin Media v Eir
To more serious matters now – okay, ball-shaped ones – as July saw a deep chasm develop between Virgin Media and Eir over how much Virgin Media should pay Eir for its shiny new toy Eir Sport (the rebranded Setanta Sports, which Eir bought in 2015). Whatever the price was, Virgin wasn’t having any of it, with the result that Virgin’s sliding number of pay-TV customers are now unable to pay extra for the privilege of watching Saturday evening Premier League kick-offs – to the immense frustration of some.
The break-up was painful, too. “Eir Sport is not an integral part of the Virgin Media product offering; it never was and now it never will be,” said Virgin Media Ireland chief executive Tony Hanway. File under “I never loved you anyway”.
Leslie Buckley v Robert Pitt
In a sequence of events that we can safely and accurately label extraordinary, it emerged that Independent News & Media (INM) chairman Leslie Buckley (a business associate of Denis O’Brien) and INM chief executive Robert Pitt clashed earlier this year over the sum that the media company, 29 per cent owned by O’Brien, should pay for Newstalk.
O’Brien’s radio station lingers on the shelf for now, and the upshot is that Pitt’s days at INM are assumed to be numbered, although at a December EGM – rightly overshadowed by protests at the grim treatment of its pensioners – he did manage to put on his best game face.
The Sun v Gary Lineker
The post-Brexit “bad winners” tone of the pro-Brexit organs of the British press can be exemplified by any number of lame front pages, and the Sun’s ill-conceived attack on the footballer turned freelance broadcaster barely scrapes the surface.
To recap: When newspapers questioned the age of child migrants, Lineker tweeted about the “hideously racist and utterly heartless” treatment of young refugees, prompting the Sun to declare that the “leftie luvvie” should be sacked by the BBC. Lineker responded: “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.”
Ah, but that requires empathy.
RTÉ v its frenemies
At her first big public event in September, new director-general Dee Forbes expressed her wish for RTÉ to collaborate with its “frenemies”, by which she meant its media rivals, as funding difficulties and a more competitive market mean RTÉ can no longer afford to do all the stuff it wants to do by itself.
How keen RTÉ’s “frenemies” are on working with RTÉ remains to be seen, however, while Forbes may also have to devote energy in 2017 to what could be termed “the frenemy within”. At Montrose, the new buzz-word, overtaking favourites such as “future-proof” and “heartlands”, is “change”. The evidence from the young people’s programming debacle is that such change will be met by passionate opposition.
Donald Trump v Twitter
We end where we began, with another of the many feuds enjoyed by the US president-elect this year. Twitter, Trump’s social media network of choice, was reportedly omitted from last week’s awkward summit of tech executives because chief executive Jack Dorsey blocked the Trump campaign’s efforts to buy a “custom emoji” for the hashtag #CrookedHillary.
So 2016, then, a year in which high-level political fights can be had over an emoji. The new battlegrounds for hearts and minds are strange indeed.