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24 August 2006 Edition

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Media View by John O'Brien

News manipulation

RTÉ radio listeners had a welcome opportunity during the week to hear a senior spokesperson for Hezbollah describe the organisation's perspective on the recent Israeli invasion and the war Hezbollah fought against it.

He described in detail the organisation's response to the ceasefire, its determination not to be provoked by events such as the recent Israeli breach of the ceasefire, and its continuing support for the process of national dialogue in Lebanon.

All of this seems to have been too much for RTÉ bosses. When RTÉ television broadcast a (presumably) edited, report by Tony Connolly on the interview, the only clip heard was a statement that the disarming of Hezbollah was an internal Lebanese matter to be resolved as part of the national dialogue and had nothing to do with the UN, Israel or anyone else. It wasn't stated as a threat, but in the context of a very positive and peace-nuanced interview.

But the reference was isolated by RTÉ and was used to justify a report that called into question Hezbollah's commitment to the ceasefire.

Such is the way that RTÉ - and other news organisations - manipulate the news to suit their own agenda. The comments were made, but without the full context it's impossible to evaluate them. And Connolly's personal reportage did nothing to place them in a proper context.

Equally, the decision of the British Crown Prosecution Service to charge half of the "terrorist" suspects they arrested in relation to John Reid's push for personal publicity over the "threat" to air travel was reported factually without reference to the doubts that have been raised about these charges, or why after more than a week in custody half of the arrested people still cannot be charged at all.

It appears that those charged will probably not come to trial for perhaps two years, by which time everyone will have forgotten about them - except for their own community.

We Irish, who have had direct experience of miscarriages of justice like the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases, could be expected to have a more sceptical attitude to assertions from British Special Branch and prosecution officials. But scepticism in RTÉ is reserved for the public phoning in. It doesn't make the news bulletins, and Gareth O'Connor's references to "alleged" offences are gradually being phased out.

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Education has dominated the domestic news front this week, with the publication of exam results and entry points for college courses.

First of all, of course, we had the usual hypocritical tut-tutting at the hype that surrounds the process from the very newspapers, like the Irish Times and Irish Independent, that generate the same hype year in, year out.

But if that didn't make you bring up your breakfast, the dismay displayed about the relatively poor grades in maths was positively ludicrous.

The Minister, however, must surely take the biscuit for her suggestion that the solution to this problem should be to make foundation level maths valid for college entry instead of the compulsory requirement of a pass maths at leaving level.

The real answer - that a way should be found to improve the teaching of maths and the ability of students to grasp the subject - did not see the horizon.

The whole nonsense provoked a good letter from the head of Conradh na Gaeilge, Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh, who suggested that compulsory maths should be dropped completely, just as Fine Gael is proposing to drop "compulsory" Irish. This, Mac Cárthaigh asserted, would allow students to love maths, as it's a well-known fact that Irish people can't abide compulsion.

Meanwhile, there was no serious discussion of what abilities we need the new workforce to acquire, or what qualifications they need therefore to be able to acquire these abilities. It seems that we've concentrated so much on the mechanics of the education system that our journalists have nothing left to say about its content.

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And finally, but by no means last: as time ticks away to the November 24 deadline in the North, there is next to no discussion at all about what is likely to happen, what the governments should be doing now or what they should do in November when the DUP say NO.

Instead, we had that stalwart GAA supporter (according to himself), Brendan O'Connor, bemoaning the Antrim Board for letting the Hunger Strike committee use Casement Park for a rally.

With smoke coming from his ears, O'Connor used his Sunday Independent column to demand dire action from GAA headquarters to stop this "ongoing campaign to install the dead Hunger Strikers in the pantheon of national heroes." He was not impressed by critical comments from the GAA president, and declared that "what happened in Belfast last Sunday is unacceptable."

So there!

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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