Ryan Tabloidy? Tubridy veers close to scaremongering

Radio: The presenter’s discussion on internet safety stokes deep parental fears

Ryan Tubridy:  on the dangers of social media to young people, he would have been better taking a more grown-up approach.  Photograph: RTÉ

Ryan Tubridy: on the dangers of social media to young people, he would have been better taking a more grown-up approach. Photograph: RTÉ

 

Throughout his career, Ryan Tubridy has never really acted his age. Even as a young broadcaster, Tubridy seemed older than his years, or at least more fuddy-duddy. So it’s a bit odd to hear him advocate the joys of not growing up too soon.

“I’ve always believed adulthood begins at about 27,” he says on Monday’s programme (the Ryan Tubridy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), in response a report that suggests adolescence only ends at age 24.

“Up until then, have the craic,” he adds, “the craic” being the acme of human happiness in the Tubridy worldview.

But it’s not only twentysomethings that Tubridy counsels against maturing before their time. On Tuesday, he talks about the wisdom of children and teens owning smartphones and tablets. The appalling case of Matthew Horan, the Dublin man who coerced young girls into sending him pornographic selfies via social media apps, prompts Tubridy to highlight the broader issue of “child safety and the internet”. 

He notes that the case is widely covered in the tabloid press, but cautions against underestimating wider warnings because of “snobbishness” towards the tabloids.

“It’s a serious threat, it’s a clear and present danger,” Tubridy says, setting the tone of his monologue.

His strong feelings are only natural. In stark terms, Tubridy outlines how Horan “duped and blackmailed” his young victims, even after they threatened suicide.

“We should be conscious of the fact that we have been reporting on children who have been dying of suicide in this country because of this scourge,” he says, with palpable emotion. Moreover, the dangers of children encountering such menaces through their mobile devices are compounded by parental ignorance. It is, in Tubridy’s opinion, “time to confront a demon that’s among us”.

It’s stirring stuff, speaking to fears all parents have about what their children are doing online. 

But the tone is also a bit, well, tabloid-y. Tubridy, to be fair, is aware of coming across as unduly sensationalist. Though “people are really worried”, he says this isn’t a “scare”, merely “a warning call”.

Worried parents

Yet, after remarking that Horan used apps such as Snapchat and Instagram to snare his victims, he says, “how often do you hear that [the app names] in your kitchen, thinking they’re just having the chats with their friends”. Not alarmist at all, particularly when he muses the issue is so broad that “I don’t know about the value of an expert on this one”. 

Tubridy’s talk about “this Narnia of chaos” undoubtedly hits a nerve with his audience. He is flooded with texts from worried parents. Some are terrified that children are vulnerable to grooming by paedophiles, others call for a ban on mobile devices for under-16s, all fret about the impact of social media on the young. And there are some disturbing tales. Continuing the discussion on Wednesday, Tubridy hears from Karen, whose 13-year-old daughter got a request from a 40-year-old man to follow her Instagram account, which would make anyone’s skin crawl. 

But, for the most part, the discussion centres around the anxiety and peer pressure that children experience thanks to the omnipresence of mobile devices in their lives. That’s the substance of Tubridy’s interview with Isobel Hynes, a 14-year-old secondary school student, whose project for the BT Young Scientist exhibition suggested that the majority of young teens were suffering from “internet addiction”. Tellingly, the reassuringly well-adjusted Hynes is the only girl in her class who doesn’t own a smartphone. 

In terms of garnering impact, it’s a smart piece of radio, as the huge audience reaction testifies. It’s certainly more arresting than much of his other content, such as his generic interview with football interpreter Manuela Spinelli and his RTÉ log-rolling for TV show Dancing With The Stars.

The clearly impassioned presenter helps underline the effect on children’s psychological states, learning abilities and social interactions. Tubridy rightly says that parents need to exercise more oversight on their offspring’s online activities. But in pegging the wider issue to a terrifying case of child abuse, Tubridy’s discussion veers close to heated scaremongering. He would have been better taking a more grown-up approach.

Contrary to popular wisdom

Not for the first time, listening to Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays) while eating runs the risk of ruining the eponymous meal. But for once, on Monday, it’s not because of sickening news or indigestible rants by presenter Paul Williams. Rather, in an interview with TV medical journalist Michael Mosley, co-host Shane Coleman hears the heretical view that, contrary to popular wisdom, breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day.

“That was a slogan dreamt up by a breakfast cereal company, so it doesn’t stand up to incredibly robust science,” says Mosley.

It’s a diverting but informative item, containing other heresies such as questioning porridge’s status as the ultimate morning food, wrecking many a well-laid breakfast plan in the process. The piece also emphasises the atmosphere of matey good humour that prevails on the morning show, which adds further to the mismatched buddy-movie appeal of the co-hosts’ partnership. Even when the anchors are reacting to bad news, such as Williams’s suitably grim analysis on Monday of the latest gangland murder in Dublin, there is a sense that light relief is never far away. 

Sure enough, a breezy discussion soon follows on a proposal to ban energy drinks for under-16s. Dietitian Orla Walsh talks about the harm caused by highly-caffeinated drinks.

“They can be lethal,” Walsh says. “I can testify to that.” Williams says cheerily. “I’ve been at weddings where I’ve drunk vodka and Red Bull and I’ve been wired.” So much for wisdom coming with age.

Radio Moment of the Week: Clarke’s classical gas

Lyric FM has long moved on from a narrowly classical remit, but its adventurous evening shows are now in stark contrast to its daytime middlebrow orchestral offerings. Take Bernard Clarke’s stewardship of The Blue Of The Night (Mon-Thu). Pleasingly highbrow and avant-garde in his tastes and deadpan in his delivery, Clarke isn’t afraid to upset purists with his selection on Monday. He opens the show promising works by Gorecki, Janacek and Beethoven.

“Then a little later,” he adds, “some of the greats from the past – Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Led Zeppelin. You know, the good stuff.” Sure enough, Clarke is as good as his word. Does classic rock count as classical?

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