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9 October 2008 Edition

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Banking fatigue bites deep

IS THERE a cure for Banking Crisis Fatigue and over-exposure to credit-crunch-obsessed media? This week I nearly signed up for Google news alerts on “banking crisis” but was saved by a brief but momentary distraction of the latest YouTube spoof on Sarah Palin.
Who knew elections could be so much fun, even if the fate of the free world is hanging by a hockey stick!
The only other distraction to my economy-fevered mind was BBC 1’s Monday night documentary on The Day the Troubles Began and BBC 4’s The Man Who Got The Bushes Elected.
And a big shout out to the brave programmers at RTÉ who this week took the unprecedented step of allowing a non-RTÉ ‘star’ appear on Who Do You Think You Are?
Ardal O’Hanlon’s unassuming study of his family tree was a breath of fresh air viewed against recent offerings on this programme. Family members at home are still in therapy after the boredom of endless RTE ‘personalities’ (and I don’t use that term positively) in this slot. But back to the crisis...

I AM suffering from a glut of reading, watching and listening to intricate details of what used to be the preserve of The Financial Times and the small but concise business sections of some newspapers, but now the credit crisis is everywhere – not just on CNBC or CNN but even the Sun and the other red tops have jumped in. Papers that used to be filled with celebrity gossip, sports coverage and the tribulations of banal reality TV shows have found a new addiction – bankers.
As the media fall out of love with Big Brother, they have thrown it over for a new form of reality programming loosely called Banking Bail-out by the people who brought you the Sub Prime Mortgage Crisis, an early US pilot. And, like much American media, it now has a host of global clones, not the least of which was Ireland’s own version called Brian and Brian’s Banking Bonanza and is running in any media outlet near you.
Since 1 October, papers have been dominated by the Irish Government’s promise to underwrite the deposits and inter-bank loans of the state’s six largest financial institutions and possibly take a share in banks, teeing up the sequel of So Now You Own Your Bank (watch this space).

WHEN the media pack descends on a story collectively, the shake-out can be fascinating. So when The Irish Times stuffily declared that “Bill allows state to take stake in any financial institutions given aid”, I knew (courtesy of the Star) that they were really saying, “SHOWER OF BANKERS”, or, as the Sun summarised it, “Banks a billion, Bri”.
Other interpretations were the Daily Mirror’s “THE LOAN RANGER”, or the Mail’s “€400bn GAMBLE”. The Irish Independent’s “The €400bn battle”, and Irish Examiner’s €400bn BANKS BAIL-OUT seemed pedestrian by comparison, but when you have a banking crisis it seems that The Irish Times feels justified in having a 12-word headline.
Similarly, you might have thought that Brian Lenihan was just the Finance Minister, but I now know that he is 49, and (thanks to the Sun) I know that he only had two hours’ sleep the night before what the Star called the “greatest meltdown in Irish financial history” and that “analysts queued up to hail Lenihan as a genius” (Sun).
The Mirror told us the decision was “hailed as a masterstroke”, but didn’t actually say hailed by whom. I wonder did Brian Cowen take solace from the Mirror’s declaration that the “beleaguered Taoiseach went from zero to hero”.
What was confusing was which Brian was really calling the shots in this story, as of the six papers that had the story on the front page, three had pictures of Brian Lenihan, particularly liking the Mail’s Photo-shopped portrayal of Lenihan as a Las Vegas blackjack player betting the house. The Mirror had Cowen on his own, while Indo had both, though the Cowen picture was bigger, and the Examiner opted out of the race.
Sinn Féin’s decision to vote in favour of the Credit Institutions Bill was commented on by most of the broadsheets, with particular focus by the Irish Times’s Stephen Collins who wrote: “The fact that the legislation caused such outrage in Britain was probably an unexpected bonus for the party”!
Other commentators like Collins talked about “entering the political mainstream”, which, correct if I am wrong, was the place from where governments across the world deregulated banks while Sinn Féin steadfastly proposed keeping a vibrant state-owned sector to balance out the vagaries of the private. So shouldn’t it be a case of ‘Welcome home, boys!’
For now it seems that only my borrowed box sets of The Wire will save my sanity.

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