Listen to the first 30 seconds of this political podcast, one of a daily series produced by The Irish Times since the election campaign began two weeks ago.
Notice anything wrong?
Having worked for The Irish Times as a foreign correspondent some years ago and now writing periodically for various sections of the newspaper, I was keen to hear their daily insights on the elections.
After listening to some of the political podcasts during the first days of the campaign (there is only one week left before voting this Saturday), I became increasingly irritated that the all- important opening sound-bites featured three male politicians.
One is Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, the present Government, and the other, Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, which supports it. The third may be Michael Healy-Rae, independent parliamentary representative for Kerry. The woman speaking is Regina Doherty.
To my mind, aside from the issue of gender balance, unintentional or not, the arch message being sent out repeatedly to thousands of listeners every single day by a well-respected national newspaper was – at the very least – subliminal.
That message was that Leo Varadkar and Michael Martin were the only important people in this watershed of an election, and by association, that only their political parties mattered (the quote from Healy-Rae pales into irrelevance as banal idiocy).
My frustration rising, I went into action. I found out who the persons were behind the podcasts, including The Irish Times arts and culture editor, Hugh Linehan, who hosts them (quite well I think, with a fine balance of wit and insight, and spot-on with his ‘shitshow’ comment on the Ivan Yates & Co. Virgin Media disastrous debate earlier this week).
Writing to them, several times on all digital platform, I pointed out what I considered to be ‘misleading’ aspects of the opening soundbites, saying gender balance alone surely meant Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald, or Róisín Shortall, joint leader of the Social Democrats, should be quoted alongside the men.
Not to mention that fact that, reflecting obvious political reality, Mary Lou McDonald should be quoted simply due to the resurgence of Sinn Fein, which is now hovering around and at times above Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in some election polls, and may well play a pivotal role in the next government as majority leader or as minority coalition partner.
(Keep in mind, as Varadkar and Martin are the first voices listeners hear, perhaps the only ones if they tune out quickly, it’s almost a ringing endorsement for the two men and their political parties.)
Full credit to The Irish Times. They listened to my argument for fairness, I received an email several days ago, thanking me for my input and saying they would change the sound-bite intro.
This is the new sound-bite –
Hear the difference?
Aside from not easily understanding what the young child is saying, I’m delighted Mary Lou McDonald has now been given her rightful place.
Thank you Irish Times. For listening.
POSTSCRIPT – Since writing the above post, a poll published by The Irish Times (today, Tuesday) has revealed that Sinn Fein is the most popular political party in Ireland, overtaking both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. In addition, RTE, the national state-sponsored TV broadcaster, has reversed its decision not allowing Mary Lou McDonald to speak at its so-called ‘Leaders’ Debate tonight.’ Instead of just two political party heads, there will now be three.