Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Just how tactless can TV3 be? Answer: very.

with 11 comments

This evening TV3 exclusively revealed that Brian Lenihan, Minister for Finance, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his pancreas.

lenihanSadly TV3 don’t see fit to allowing their videos be embedded elsewhere, but the piece they did – it’s the first 7 minutes out of a 7’30” news bulletin – can be seen here.

It’s difficult to know where to start with a piece like this. TV3 say – and, to be honest, it’s a commendable choice – that although they became aware of the news on Christmas Eve, they chose not to reveal it due to the sensitive timing of the news.

There are, however, a few serious problems with the piece. I’ll start with the meekest one and work upward.

Ursula Halligan, completely aside from the merits of the piece in question, is quite possibly the worst reporter I’ve seen ever. She stumbles, leaves dead air, and struggles to grasp words so badly that sometimes she make Bertie Ahern look like Dickens. Her interviews are inane, bland, and ask so few questions that the subject could admit to serial murder and still come out smelling of roses, such is Halligan’s inability to string up a subject. Bring back Miriam, all is forgiven.

The striking absence from Halligan’s report is not only that Lenihan, the Department, or the Government have declined to comment on the matter, but that Halligan doesn’t see fit to mention this. All in the sake of getting the scoop to beat all scoops. Why would you say “We asked the Department of Finance for a comment, but were told it’d be inappropriate for them to comment on a personal issue” in a piece when it de-sexifies the piece? Lenihan (in a statement) has said he has no plans to speak to the media until the New Year. Clearly that’s a public domain fact. But try telling that to TV3.

It’s tough to imagine how TV3 could have had any less tact in handling this subject. ‘Is it too early to talk about the political impact of this?’, wonders Colette Fitzpatrick live on air, when most viewers are going “Jaysus, I hate him for the pay cuts, but that’s terrible”. Yes, Colette, it is too early to ask who’s getting his job. Frankly it’s too early to talk about the issue at all.

“How do you get pancreatic cancer?” she asks later. Jesus, Colette, it’s not like he got it as a Christmas present. The respondent, Prof John Crown, is hardly any better, essentially implying that because the symptoms of pancreatic cancer tend to strike when it’s too late to do much about it, when it’s diagnosed there’s little that can be done to assist recovery. While TV3 tried their best to demarcate the Lenihan content from the medical analysis, the line was so thinly-drawn as to be blown away the second that Prof Crown drew breath.

Following the interview, the piece featured a retrospective on Lenihan’s 18 months as Minister for Finance. There is very little to justify this. The video reel didn’t need to say anything about the end of Lenihan’s tenure out loud for the implications to ring clear. To do this is galling enough – in essence the reel is an obituary – but given that TV3 had two days to put together the reel, it means that at some point in the last 48 hours, someone – anyone – with editorial authority could have put their heads in and thought, ‘maybe we shouldn’t run an obituary piece’. Again, tactless and horrible.

I don’t think one can be so quick as to condemn the reporters involved – all they can do is get the story and give it to the news editors to use it as they see fit – save for Halligan, who when presented with acres of dead air in which she could have explained that everyone else had declined to comment, rather than choosing to give off the impression that the story was so fresh that they simply didn’t have time to ask.

The kicker is that whatever about his public responsibility or profile, this isn’t really news. Brian Lenihan and his family are the ones to whom this matters most; it’s not as if he’s been incapacitated for some time and that should a bank fail on Monday morning (especially when everyone’s forgetting that Monday’s not a bank holiday) he won’t be around to act. It’s just simply a matter of extreme insensitivity to deny the man with the country’s toughest job a bit of space to come to terms with a debilitating condition, and even if the piece wasn’t as tabloid and grotesque as it ultimately was, there’s simply no forgiving that.

To think they wonder why the mainstream media is falling apart.

Edit: Elsewhere, Suzy Byrne contemplates the impact for ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ between politics and the media.

This post was edited to correct the spelling of Ursula Halligan’s surname.

Written by Gav

December 26th, 2009 at 9:29 pm

11 Responses to 'Just how tactless can TV3 be? Answer: very.'

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  1. It was tasteless and tactless, or at least lacking the sort of tact one would expect.

    The grim on-site reporter, the over excited presenter filling in the missing details of the diagnosis, and the ‘expert’ giving all the background padding information on the condition.

    They gave the minister and his family 48 hours grace? How good of them.

    No public benefit, no regard for the people involved, there simply was no need for it.

    Unnecessary, ill-timed, tasteless and ghoulish.


    26 Dec 09 at 10:35 pm

  2. Well said Gav – I wonder could we get a Facebook based boycott going on this? It was a pure nasty piece of so called journalism!


    26 Dec 09 at 11:14 pm

  3. halligan is always terrible so what?
    she always reverential too.

    crowne gave a very positive view of pancreatic cancer, as far as it goes

    im guessing his known for over two weeks now

    steve white

    27 Dec 09 at 2:11 am

  4. You Said it right Gav. It was really bad piece of media discussion.

  5. I was saddened to hear from TV3 on St. Stephen’s Day of Minister Lenihan’s illness. They informed me that they were going to report that he had pancreas cancer and asked me to speak about this disease. I was not asked and would have refused to discuss the specifics of the Minister’s health, or the health of any other individual. Pancreas cancer however is an important public health issue in this country, and kills 400 of our fellow citizens annually. Tragically, recent data suggest that the majority do not have access to appropriate treatment. Others who depend on our waiting list afflicted public hospital system have dreadfully delayed diagnoses.
    I wish the Minister the very best in his treatment. I also hope that the increased public attention to this illness forces our politicians to address those deficiencies, which are the real pancreas cancer scandal in Ireland.

    John Crown

    28 Dec 09 at 6:34 pm

  6. While I agree with most of the post I don’t think we can heap the blame for this on Prof John Crown. While the report should never have been made we have to realize he is a world renowned Cancer specialist and his views on the matter will be sought. Did TV3 inform Prof Crown of the news blackout on this one? Did they inform him of the fact that they “gave him 48 hours to tell his family”? TV3 news and Andrew Hanlon are to blame here.

    laura Daly

    28 Dec 09 at 9:46 pm

  7. I have no doubt that the fight against, or awareness of, the disease would be just as well served in a couple of weeks time, after the minister had the opportunity to speak out himself on this most private and personal of matters.

    Even with the very best of intentions of anyone involved in the broadcast, the timing was horrendous.


    28 Dec 09 at 9:58 pm

  8. “Lenihan, the Department, or the Government have declined to comment on the matter, but that Halligan doesn’t see fit to mention this”

    Halligan mentioned specifically in her piece that the Department issued a statement. She even read it out, quoting them that they wouldn’t be commenting until the new year.

    I have issues with TV3’s approach (though I maintain it should have been reported), but there has been a lot of misinformation spouted about their coverage.

    Alan R

    28 Dec 09 at 10:04 pm

  9. Don’t forget the Irish Sun’s response, which defended TV3’s beanspilling, stating that “citizens have the right to know if their finance minister is incapacitated for office” (in a less eloquent tone).

    Regarding this, the public don’t need to know about his condition until the Dáil return.

    FF not worth a shite now.

    colin sweetman

    28 Dec 09 at 11:10 pm

  10. Fame kills cancer now? Shame the side-effect is stress on a family and the odd privacy violation.

    Damien Mulley

    28 Dec 09 at 11:44 pm

  11. For the life of me, I can’t see what value this supposed scoop has for TV3 News. Their news bulletin is on before the RTe 6.1 broadcast and yet most people are content to wait until 6.1 because TV3 will only rush through any news they have. TV3 too often reminds me of the presentational style of much of the regional news in the US, first, live and local is what matters not actual content itself.

    TV3 could easily have gone with this story today for example, allowing themselves plenty of time to work out a reasoned and decent way of covering of it. Instead it was a straight-forward rush job, the mindset that creates is that it’s all about being first instead of being good. “Look at me I’m first with the news”.. indeed Ursula and you’ve delivered it to us broken in your rush to be first with it. I had heard mutterings before about Ursula’s contrived way of doing things during the 2004 elections. This only serves to underline that she hasn’t gained any real credibility since then.

    And it’s not like Brian Lenihan is suddenly unable to do his job at the Department of Finance or that it would impossible for an orderly hand-over to take place, should that prove necessary.

    Daniel Sullivan

    29 Dec 09 at 7:56 pm

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