RTE News aired a short piece on Kildare North yesterday, around ten minutes, whizzing through the different candidates and issues, before two separate analysts trotted out the exact same predictions. It was the standard low-intensity affair you’d expect of a broadcaster having to make 40 of the same kind of video in a few weeks, with the candidates allowed to only give brief sentences to make themselves stand out, that you can probably well imagine before you even hear them.
But the video caused a bit of a ruckus in my Kildare North related Twitter feed last night, as RTE decided not to use any of the interview they recorded with Sinn Fein candidate Reada Cronin, aside from a brief audio-less glimpse of her in Maynooth Town square.
Now, Cronin wasn’t alone in this. The Greens Maebh Ní Fhallúin, AAA-PBP’s Ashling Merriman and Independents Michael Beirne, Gerard Dunne and Elizabeth O’Sullivan did not, apparently, get the chance to offer a soundbite either. But none of them are councillors, and none of them can legitimately claim to be serious contenders. While many disagree with me, I think that Cronin is.
Now, Sinn Fein have a constant problem with the media, insofar as they can’t stop complaining about it, especially RTE. Look up the hashtag #RTEbias and watch the litany of Sinn Fein affiliated accounts popping up, that have a tendency to ignore coverage of their party members when it happens, get very worked up when they aren’t invited on, and then get very annoyed when their candidates are asked awkward questions they can’t easily answer. I take a very dim view of all this, and consider it to be one of the most undignified aspects of too much of the Sinn Fein party membership, that makes them seem more petulant than abused.
But while it is important not to exaggerate what happened yesterday – Cronin’s section of the piece, like every other candidate interview, would have been a five second clip that, from what I have seen of her, would have been along the lines of “This government has done too much harm to the people of Kildare North, cuts, housing, etc – her absence is a very significant one. So, what happened?
Was the team behind the piece working under a very tight running time, and just forced to cut candidates? Possible, since others didn’t get a chance to speak either, and maybe Cronin was just the unlucky one. Was her absence part of some check and balance with the overall “equal coverage” guidelines, designed to make up for an overlooked government or Fianna Fail candidate somewhere else? Maybe, but seems like a bit of a reach, we’re talking a few seconds here. Was it just a simple oversight, the result of a presumably pressured editing room team who, as mentioned, have had to pop out 40 of these in just over three weeks? Wouldn’t be the most irrational explanation, since they must be doing two a day. Did someone look at the likely winners according to past voting records, betting odds and numerous constituency analysis’ in other media and decide Cronin wasn’t worth including? This would be silly if true, but I can imagine someone using that kind of logic in a newsroom.
But the explanation I do find hard to believe is one of nefarious anti-Sinn Fein intent. Who do Sinn Fein think is giving that order? Why would no one in the RTE workforce speak out if it was true, even anonymously? Why would they not limit the time given to Fianna Fail or left-wing Independents as well? If we’re going by Occam’s Razor, always a good metric, it just doesn’t add up. It’s comforting to think you’re a victim of evil forces, but I think that’s more the effects of echo chamber groupthink than anything else. More likely its one or a combination of the things I mentioned above.
Sinn Fein rarely do themselves favors with the state broadcaster of course. Internally, RTE has noted the above average amount of “representations” they get from Sinn Fein despite evidence to the contrary (as usual with an Indo article, grain of salt required for anything not directly quoted) and some of their on-air personalities have had to deal with harassment – and yeah, that’s what it is – from the same direction. We all remember the Presidential election incident between one Martin McGuinness and Miriam O’Callaghan, right? I’ll grant the possibility that Sinn Fein’s actions in that regard might irritate members of RTE’s news teams, and that can result in some form of response – though hardly one so petty as cutting a few seconds of bland party line waffling.
All that being said, Cronin has grounds for being upset at the state broadcaster here, for once. It won’t affect my decision on her candidacy pro or anti of course, and I doubt it would for any significant number of voters, if any at all. But candidates deserve, in such things, the chance to make a statement, even the briefest of ones, and RTE is doing the campaign process no favours by such actions, conscious or unconscious. Maybe we can do Cllr Cronin a favour, and watch one of her campaign videos.