Now try to concentrate

Notwithstanding the fact that he comes bearing the great gift to popular culture that is The Simpsons, Rupert Murdoch is such an obvious villain that he may distort the arguments about the effects of concentrated ownership on the media. In fact, the academics who study this stuff are by no means agreed on the malign influence of bigger and bigger media companies: some of them, for example, reckon only big multimedia players will be able to rescue journalism from the predicted collapse of print newspapers.
In Ireland the question is far from academic. Tony O'Reilly doesn't impose an obvious political world-view on Independent News and Media (INM) publications – you have only to look at the difference between the British and Irish Independents – but like Rupert Murdoch he fully expects that their contents will not run counter to his other business interests. (Also that they will spell his name right, as 'Sir Anthony…')
Other members of Ireland's corporate aristocracy are notoriously resentful of the easy ride O'Reilly gets – with even non-INM media usually toeing the line. Now one of them, Denis O'Brien, is having a go – or is he simply trying to imitate O'Reilly, and gain the same alleged immunity from media persecution?

Sure, maybe it's a bit rich to hear RTE worrying about the effect on competition of a single organisation like O'Brien's Communicorp controlling, say, two (count 'em) national radio stations, one music-led and one full of current affairs. (Where have we heard that before?) Nonetheless, we should be wary of ceding too much media to O'Brien, who like O'Reilly and Murdoch before him is a considerable newsmaker in his own right, and whose business interests have been closely tied to economic and political matters – including the disposition of public assets – that merit disinterested scrutiny from genuinely independent journalists.

Think of the children
One hesitates to throw around a phrase like 'the new McCarthyism' too readily, not just because it might prompt Kevin Myers to another rousing defence of the much-maligned Wisconsin senator, but because using the history of US anti-communist hysteria as a touchstone probably understates the repressive atmosphere of the 'war on terror' – in which (to cite just the last month's prime examples) British Muslims can get six years each in prison for speaking certain words, and an Indian doctor can be locked up indefinitely in Australia for giving a relative his SIM card, and neither case arouses much negative comment.

But is it just possible that the phrase 'new McCarthyism' could apply to the atmosphere around certain aspects of 'child protection', in which an offence, however nasty and stupid, that didn't even merit a custodial sentence in Holland nonetheless costs a man his career, turns his movements into top-of-the-bulletin news and prompts high-level inquiries? Who really believes that some hypothetical child's interest is really served by such hue and cry?

Meanwhile, the new 'political correctness' also insists – without a shred of hard evidence – that poor old fathers are intolerably oppressed in Irish child-custody cases. How did the many media purveyors of such unproven truisms feel about hearing them in the emails exchanged between Joe O'Reilly and his sister?

In recent weeks in Britain two mothers who had reared their children from birth actually lost custody of them because judges didn't think the youngsters were getting enough time with their fathers. The court actions, which might have provoked outrage in the past, went little remarked-upon in the current atmosphere of 'fathers' rights'. Whatever the merits of these cases, they surely raise fundamental questions about how, and from whom, we should be worrying about protecting our children.