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Only One Side of the Story

John Jefferies highlights the imbalance of RTÉ’s analysis of global conflict.

The Republic of Ireland is a neutral country, not formally aligned to any military alliance and a once proud exponent of the non-aligned movement of countries at the UN, which refused to follow the agenda of the ‘Western powers’.

Many have unsuccessfully attempted to remind RTÉ, our publicly-funded broadcaster, of our neutral position. The most recent high-profile attempt was a petition of 10,000 signatures calling for balance in its coverage of the war on Palestine, which was presented to the station late last year.

How these calls for neutrality in the coverage of global affairs have been disregarded is clear from the unceasing procession of ‘experts’ in international military and geopolitical intelligence, whose voices grace RTÉ Radio 1’s news programmes on a daily basis.

First and foremost of them must surely be the ever-present Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) which is invariably introduced as a “London-based think-tank”. The listeners are
never told that the institute is a Whitehall-based foreign policy group founded by the “Iron” Duke of Wellington in 1831, whose present patron is the Duke of Kent, first cousin of Britain’s Queen
Elizabeth. The “services” referred to are the British armed services and while the institute has expanded beyond its original core of former military officers, the link is still a source of pride to it.

Today’s specialists are more likely to be ex-Harvard or Cambridge postgraduates than former military officers.RUSI spokesmen like Shashak Joshi and Michael Stephens are a regular presence on RTÉ radio, giving their take on wars and foreign policy hotspots from the Middle East to Ukraine on programmes including Morning Ireland, through Today with Sean O’Rourke, the News at One and Drivetime.There have been dozens of such interviews over the past few months alone.

The impartiality of bodies like Chatham House and RUSI must be judged in the light of where they get their funding

 

RTÉ also regularly use another British think-tank, Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs, headquartered at the eponymous house at St. James’ Square, almost around the corner from RUSI’s Whitehall HQ. Chatham House was founded after the First World War by the eccentric British bureaucrat Lionel Curtis, best known for his desire to transform the crumbling Empire into a Federated Union of “British” states with its capital in London. The institute gives its name to the Chatham House Rules which are used internationally in intergovernmental and other talks, ostensibly to allow for frank debate, but more often to maintain secrecy.

The impartiality of bodies like Chatham House and RUSI must be judged in the light of where they get their funding from and who is associated with them (of course anyone can join but the members are divided into different categories). Chatham House’s long list of “Major Corporate members” include Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, Lockheed Martin (arms and warplane manufacturers), Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco, Tesco, and the British Army.

On air, for the sake of variety, RTÉ will occasionally interview foreign affairs or military “experts” from other think-tanks but they will almost invariably hold the same pro-“Western” line with perhaps some mild criticism of US, British or EU government policies thrown in to give the impression of impartiality. At times these interviews can descend into farce.

Friday, 20th February last is a case in point. The discussion was on the situation in Ukraine and the basis of argument was claims that the EU had “sleepwalked” into the crisis there. The two “experts” on this occasion were former President of the European Parliament and a founder member of the Progressive Democrats, Pat Cox, and none other than the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, an eccentric descendent of the man who once supposedly put meat between two slices of bread and had his name enter the English language.

RTÉ’s recurring use of such figures and the dearth of any in-depth or impartial look at issues such as the Ukraine crisis and ongoing war in Syria indicates, at best, the underlying amateurism of the organisation. However, the examples of the broadcaster’s blatant refusal to listen to any other point of view other than in the form of ridicule or scorn may indicate that the malaise in the broadcaster’s international coverage has a deeper and more malign intent.

The writer is the Workers’ Party Public Relations Officer

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