You wouldn't believe it
Once again Prime Time Investigates almost makes the licence worth paying. However, Would You Believe disappoints and The Late Late Show is as dull as ever
RTÉ One's Would You Believe series on Sunday nights features some of the best Irish documentary television. ‘The Stolen Years' focused that remarkable Kildare woman, Eilish Enright, who was wrongly imprisoned for incest but survived and recovered her family. ‘Mums the word' told the story of brothers Conor and Daragh who were successfully and happily reared by a lesbian couple. But last Sunday (10 December), the slot was given over to an Islamic imam who alleged, without any credible evidence at all, that the feared Muslim Brotherhood were active in Ireland and the Islamic establishment here was protecting them.
For RTÉ to screen such a programme it should have ensured that the most careful evidence was available to back up the extraordinary and alarmist claims of the preacher. In the event, only a single snippet on the programme could be said to back these claims – interviews with two teenage Muslims outside the Clonskeagh mosque who said, when prompted, they would support suicide bombers in Israel because of what was done there to the Palestinians.
The effect on those who paid any attention to the unsubstantiated claims of the imam and the general tenor of the programme could be to react with hostility to Muslims here generally because of a perceived threat they pose to Ireland, whereas there was no evidence at all this was so. How, suddenly, did Would You Believe become journalistically the television equivalent of the Sunday Independent?
The Late Late Show of the previous Friday (8 December) was not even the journalistic equivalent of the Sunday Independent. Not that it was journalistically irresponsible but rather inconsequential.
Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, was a guest and if the programme had been properly produced he could have been the pivot of a riveting argument about deism. A discussion he had some weeks ago with David Quinn of the Irish Independent on Ryan Tubridy's radio programme was lively and informative. The Late Late discussion with the UCD philosopher Gerard Casey was as dull as only the Late Late nowadays can make any topic.
Shane Ross was on talking about estate agents and that, too, could have been interesting but wasn't, not because of Shane Ross but because nothing was built around the item. He sat facing Pat Kenny, whose back is to the camera most of the time (is this deliberate or just lazy?), with a long string of ugly empty chairs to his left, saying interesting things and nobody taking him up on anything.
The item set up nicely the Prime Time Investigates special on Monday night (11 December). Another superb piece of exposé television, showing how the vested interests in the property business are in league with one another against both the vendors and buyers. The collusion between the estate agents and the mortgage company was the most disturbing revelation of the programme – that the mortgage company would disclose the monies available to the would-be purchaser to the buyer's agent is such a scandalous conflict of interest as to border on the criminal.
But, in truth, did we not suspect this all along? The whole property business seems riddled with scams and scandals to the vast enrichment of a few. And how could it be any different when we have created a property boom where huge fortunes can be made almost overnight on the buying and selling of property, there being no effective regulatory mechanisms to police the conflict of the agents supposedly acting in the public interest? Isn't it inevitable there would be skullduggery?
Prime Time Investigates almost justifies the licence fee. And come to think of it, what is it with the menacing licence-fee inspector advertisements on television? You know the ones, at one time involving Podge and Rodge, when an inspector suddenly comes to the door and demands to see the TV licence? Is there any other public utility in the country that threatens its customers in this way? Indeed is there any other public utility that demands payment not for what it provides but for what its competitors provide (you have to pay RTÉ every year whether you want to watch even a single programme on RTÉ at all or even whether you want to watch any television at all, watching a video is enough).