Ireland is not the only place seeing a media meltdown this summer

RTÉ scandal, BBC crisis and Twitter dysfunction have made it a nightmare season all round

My recurring dream involves a Jack Nicholson version of Ryan Tubridy. Photograph: Alan Betson

I’ve been away for the past few weeks and during that time I started having a recurring dream in which Ryan Tubridy manifests as Jack Nicholson being interrogated by someone who resembles a young Tom Cruise but might be Public Accounts Committee chairman Brian Stanley. It’s hard to tell.

In the dream, Tubridy asks if Stanley wants answers and Stanley says he wants the truth.

“You can’t handle the TRUTH,” says Tubridy/Nicholson, clarifying that he definitely means this to be transcribed in all caps.

“Son, we live in a world that has chatshows and radio programmes and those chatshows and radio programmes have to be fronted by men with egos. Who’s going to do it? You? You, Deputy Kelly?” he continues.


“I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Gay Byrne and you curse the RTÉ canteen. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that my side deal with Renault saved you from Kate Hudson movies and Death in Paradise repeats cluttering up the RTÉ One Friday night schedule. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, stopped history from recording Ray D’Arcy as a Late Late host.”

The trigger for this dialogue-heavy dream remains shrouded in a fog of confusion, because, as mentioned, I’ve been away. Luckily, it seems as if everything in the media has been going fabulously in the interim.

Ah. I suppose there was just the small matter of RTÉ’s institutional self-sabotage courtesy of its hidden payments to Tubridy – a reputational blow inflicted by Dee Forbes, and others, with a rolled-up copy of the Christmas RTÉ Guide – raising the grim question of whether any statements its executives issue from here on can be trusted.

Gifting the Government with an excuse to “pause” its reform of the television licence fee – a process that was not exactly on fast-forward – just as the exchequer is spilling over with surplus money does not seem the smartest choice, but never mind. It’s only existential.

At least other public service broadcasters have been having a chill time of it this summer.

Oh dear. I might have used the word “grim” prematurely. The Sun’s relentless yet selectively reported splashes on the extracurricular activities of (initially unnamed) news presenter Huw Edwards has been a triumph of sorts for the Rupert Murdoch-owned title, representing a direct hit on the BBC.

That the BBC newsroom threw fresh allegations on the fire in the hours after it emerged Edwards had been hospitalised struck some as the height of journalistic integrity. To others, not just friends of Edwards, it seemed closer to above-and-beyond participation in open season.

Of course, the alleged behaviour of a high-profile individual does not have to be criminal for it to merit exposing. The bar is lower than that. And yet news is not produced in laboratory conditions. The perceived motive for publishing a story inevitably colours its reception, as does its timing.

By the middle of last week, the prominence afforded to the sorry business, from which Edwards is unlikely to emerge well, seemed to say more about the media speculation machine than it did about the man himself.

Otherwise, nothing much controversial has been happening in the newspaper world while I’ve been busy swimming frantically away from lifeguards’ radio sets blaring out on-the-hour headlines.

The New York Times, having acquired subscription publication The Athletic in 2022, did go and shut down its sports department – because apparently that’s a thing that can happen now – but not to worry, I’m sure this won’t serve as inspiration for other news publishers seeking to cost cuts.

Twitter, meanwhile, has been having a normal one – a normal one for Twitter. “Rate limit exceeded” was the label it attached to its ingenious new strategy, born of infrastructural fragility, which can be summarised thus: “Hey, why don’t we try to slash our views and engagement? That will delight the advertisers who pay for advertising based on views and engagement.”

The wait continues for a viable social media “public square” alternative to Twitter that prioritises a chronological feed over an algorithmic one and doesn’t incentivise idiocy. Threads or no Threads, nobody should be counting on Mark Zuckerberg to be the hero of the hour. Although obviously if that ludicrous cage fight with Elon Musk ever transpires, it will be mandatory to root for him.

With so much unpleasantness in and around the news, escapist entertainment of the non-cage variety has rarely appealed more. Time for Hollywood to step up to the mark, right? Alas, studio bosses are so intent on exploiting labour in the name of shareholder returns, they have triggered a mass walkout by actors.

Actors! People who would kill their firstborn for a screen credit are now starring on picket lines and picket lines only. These are incredible scenes – unscripted ones, as the writers are also on strike.

I’m beginning to worry that if profit-chasing industry giants don’t step back from their vision of an AI-facilitated hellscape in which they deploy scanned human likenesses at will and in perpetuity, we’ll eventually run out of new US dramas and my mind will stray back to that weird Tubridy/Nicholson dream.

In it, the erstwhile Late Late presenter bangs on the witness stand of what appears to be a Washington military courtroom and insists we want him on air, we need him on air, and that he has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself to people who rise and sleep under the golden age of broadcasting he provides, then question the manner in which he provides it. He would rather the audience just said “thank you” and went on their way.

Then, after a heated exchange about who ordered the €874 chauffeur, he departs the stand, still not quite understanding what it is he has done wrong.

Pencil the comeback monologues in for the autumn.