Cartoon coverage

Fresh from causing havoc on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, Anjem Choudary – spokesman for al-Ghuraba, the group that mobilsed protesters in London who carried placards threatening suicide bombings and massacres in revenge for the Danish cartoons satirising the prophet Muhammad – appeared on The Eamon Dunphy Breakfast Show on Newstalk 106.

Choudary, formerly a representative for radical Islamic preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed before the latter was banned from Britain for eulogising terrorism (Omar Bakri Mohammed is famous for praising the 9/11 hijackers as the "magnificent 19"), had heckled, interrupted and twisted his way through the Newsnight debate. By doing so, he was no different from many public figures, except for the fact that Jeremy Paxman couldn't reign him in at all and he dominated proceedings utterly. It fell to another member of the panel to ask him to "kindly shut up" towards the end of the show.

How would Eamon Dunphy handle the uncontrollable Choudary? Alas, Eamon Dunphy was not there. The show was presented by stand-in broadcaster Ger Gilroy, whose area of expertise is sport. And unfortunately, Choudry was much better-behaved on Newstalk, and things went disappointingly smoothly.

In general, however, the Dunphy show has handled the controversy over the depictions of Muhammad in a far more interesting way than other current affairs show. It uses the format of long debate to tease out complex ideas and issues, and sometimes, a single discussion can take up pretty much the whole show.

This was the case on Monday 6 February, when John Waters, Robert Fisk, Geoffrey Wheatcroft (a right-wing but reasonable British commentator and journalist) and others took the subject on a meandering and often thought-provoking journey. Almost every facet of the issue was covered, and while things sometimes got a little muddled, the rapport between Dunphy (who was presenting that day) and his guests ebbed and flowed in a way that rarely got boring. Never mind that every voice wasn't represented – good debate doesn't have to be completely balanced to be interesting.

Contrast this with the way Morning Ireland covered the subject the same morning. The report from Helen Donohue over the burning down of the Danish embassy in Beirut kicked off their coverage promisingly, with a recording of an angry mob shouting and roaring – always something which will catch the attention of the half-asleep listener. But things quickly went flat. The interview with Imam Yahya Al-Hussein, Imam of the South Circular Road Mosque in Dublin, and presenter Richard Downes was drab and uniformative. Morning Ireland's strength lies in big-name guests being held to account by aggressive and well-informed inquisition by the likes of Cathal MacCoille. And certainly, MacCoille is a far better at that kind of thing than Eamon Dunphy. But Morning Ireland's restrictive format and public-service duties means that their coverage of complicated issues such as the controversy over the Muhammad cartoons was disappointing.