TV CRITICISM

 

Sir, - In a recent review of a programme broadcast by RTE, Nuala O Faolain (March 30th) castigates "the dull filming, the jumpy editing and the unmatched sound on cutaway questions" - all valid points for a television critic to make. But she goes on to suggest this may mean that there isn't anyone in Montrose "even remotely interested in standards", and that "RTE has a real problem with job for life tiredness".

There is a huge leap of logic, here, impressive in its boldness, deftly weaving connections between the faults of a particular 30 minutes of television output to a deep institutional malaise afflicting 2,000 media workers. This is truly bringing synecdoche, the art of substituting a part for the whole, to new heights. Is it now open season for those who want to criticise a single article in a newspaper (or, in my case, just two sentences) to extrapolate to the paper's corporate energy levels, general editorial standards and the work conditions of its employees? In the column beside, Nuala's was an extremely positive review of another RTE programme (Michael Harding's Poor house), but there wasn't any extrapolation, this time to RTE's corporate brilliance, energy and creativity. Would the real RTE please stand up?

The little journalistic habit of taking a quick, unreasoned side swipe at another media organisation raises two troubling issues. Firstly, does it show fairness to fellow workers in the communications sector to set up facile and unargued links, in a few sweeping sentences, between one offending programme and their very conditions of employment? Is it demonstrably true that offering employees security of tenure, is a sure formula for institutional tiredness? Is, this true of all organisations, or just RTE? Is it true of The Irish Times? If it is, shouldn't we all therefore adopt openly the right wing policy of further casualising work and reducing job security, as a deliberate mechanism for warding off the great weariness that comes with the permanent job?

Secondly, there has been an argument across Europe since the early 1980s, sometimes clearly and explicitly - articulated, but more usually pushed with all the linguistic weapons of tabloid journalism, promoting a political change which would make way for private broadcasters at the expense of public broadcasting systems. Part of that ideological thrust has been to promote the stereotype of the public company as always and inevitably inefficient, bureaucratic, overstaffed, arteriosclerotic - in effect, "tired" - in contrast with the assumed vibrancy of the private company.

It is entirely appropriate that RTE programmes, and the work pressures that underlie their production, should be the focus of rigorous analysis in the press, all 200 hours of its weekly output on television as well as its enormous audio output through five radio channels. In fact, it was, belief in the value of robust criticism that, motivated the recent RTE initiative in consulting its viewers and listeners in its review of programming policy. But let us be in no doubt that the slow drip of unargued (and unchallenged) assumptions about low standards and jobs for life tiredness, apart from being highly insulting to a very industrious workforce will, resonate with similarly unexamined stock charges in the tabloid press, to produce a stalagmite effect in public consciousness at a time when policy decisions about the future of broadcasting have to be made. - Yours, etc.,

Chairperson,

RTE Authority,

Radio Telefis Eireann, Dublin 4.