The problem with people's problems


RADIO REVIEW:THERE IS an episode of The Simpsonsin which Lisa, the smart one, sees her belief in the irretrievable dim-wittedness of her family confirmed by their choice of television viewing, a reality show called When Surgery Goes Wrong. Oh, how we laughed. Little did we know that the fictional programme’s apparently outlandish subject would become a staple – nay, a triumphant highlight – of one of Ireland’s most popular radio shows.


Several of those who underwent the operation contacted Joe Duffy’s show to say that when they subsequently felt unwell they could not contact Ruscsak, who was supposed to provide aftercare. It was an emotionally charged tale, though the literally stomach-turning subject matter was a tad explicit for post-lunchtime listening.

Last Friday week Ruscsak was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Medical Council, thanks in part to Liveline. Lucia Dowd was one of the afflicted patients who called the show, only for her personal medical files to be forwarded to Liveline’s researchers by Ruscsak. In response, Dowd lodged her complaint with the Medical Council.

“I was so angry and appalled,” she told Duffy. “I just had to do something.” She said it had been a difficult process, “not for the light-hearted”, but the verdict vindicated her perseverance. Duffy pointed out Liveline’s role in drawing attention to the issue but sounded less jubilant than one might have expected. The reason became clear when Duffy revealed that Dowd, who had called herself “Sarah” when she originally phoned in, is his cousin.

There remains the perpetual bugbear that Livelineis, as The Sex Pistols would say, a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. On Tuesday, for instance, Duffy spoke to Lena, a single mother living in the hazardous Priory Hall apartment complex, who feared she would be homeless if she had to leave her flat. It was an upsetting interview, which showed the human side of the scandal, but it had a prurient air, right down to a baby crying in the background. In contrast, Duffy’s relative showed what can be achieved when Liveline’s default sense of injustice is harnessed to concrete acts. Actions, it seems, do speak louder than words.

Voices struggled to be heard at times on Wednesday, as the eviction of Irish Travellers from Dale Farm in Essex unfolded. The most striking feature of Brian O’Connell’s report from the scene for News at One(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) was the drone of helicopters, giving the impression of a battleground. But, amid the chaos, some protagonists maintained their civility, even if it was of a distinctly patriarchal variety. Interviewed by Aoife Kavanagh on Morning Ireland(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Richard Sheridan, president of the site’s residents’ association, variously addressed the presenter as “madam”, “love” and “darling”. Despite his obvious anxiety, Sheridan spoke with the courteous familiarity of a man trying to seal a deal, while Kavanagh gamely overlooked the informalities.

There was rather too much politeness on The Late Show with Niall Boylan(4FM, weekdays) when the host interviewed Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right British National Party. Ostensibly, the item showed Boylan’s commitment to free speech. Griffin had been asked to appear at Trinity College Dublin’s Philosophical Society, but his invite was rescinded because of security concerns, which seemed to outrage Boylan more than the BNP’s aggressively anti-immigrant policies. The debating society, the presenter said, should be ashamed.

Griffin, whose views Boylan characterised as “racist in the eyes of the politically correct”, certainly got an opportunity to air his message.

Asking Griffin why he believed immigrants came to Ireland, Boylan showed his talent for robust grilling: “Is it because we’re a soft touch or because of generous welfare entitlements?” It was not all one-way traffic, as Boylan also spoke to callers who disagreed with Griffin. Still, the host frequently mentioned that texters largely backed the BNP’s policies.

For all Boylan’s rhetoric, his main concern seemed to be raising the temperature on air. This was the second time in a month that Griffin had appeared on the show. “He’s on again, just to really annoy you,” the host said by way of introduction. Far from being a fearless crusade, this was fatuous controversy-seeking, reducing a loaded issue to a ratings hook. By the time it was over, botched surgery seemed an appealing subject.

Radio moment of the week

Surveying the newspapers on Sunday Supplement(Today FM), Sam Smyth ruefully noted several headlines about his sacking from the station. But listeners were denied enlightenment on whether Smyth felt his imminent departure was down to his reports on the dealings of the station’s owner Denis O’Brien.

“I have to tell you that the management of Today FM insists if we discuss any matters related to Denis O’Brien, me and this radio station, they should first be cleared by the chief executive,” Smyth said. “We do not have that clearance, so we cannot discuss them.”

Nothing to worry about there, so.