TG4

Culture Wars In Ireland And Britain

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

Hot on the heels of my post discussing the urgent need for the reform of public service broadcasting in Ireland comes news of a veritable revolt by journalists within RTÉ’s normally quiescent ranks as reported by the Irish Times:

“Almost 50 staff members in RTÉ have written to Director General, Mr. Noel Curran, to express their concern at the “lack of coverage” of Irish language issues in English-language news and current affairs programmes on RTÉ.

The correspondence specifically mentions the manner in which RTÉ News covered the resignation of Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Language Commissioner last December. Ó Cuirreáin, who announced he was stepping down from his role due to a failure to provide adequate services for Irish language speakers, became the first ombudsman since the foundation of the State to resign in protest against government policy.

On the day of his announcement before an Oireachtas committee, RTÉ’s main news bulletins on television covered the resignation with thirty seconds of pictures, accompanied by a voice over from the newsreader.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said the contents of the letter were still being considered by Mr. Curran but pointed to the Director General’s comments on the recent findings of an RTÉ working group on the Irish language which acknowledged the need to improve RTÉ’s services in Irish and set out several policy recommendations with regard to Irish-language broadcasting.”

Given the opaque internal workings of RTÉ (“the Donnybrook Kremlin”) this very public expression of unhappiness by its journalistic staff is surprising to say the least. So we have a choice before us. Either RTÉ becomes an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster leaving English language broadcasting to the private sector (as I argue here, negating the need for a separate TG4) or its assets and funding is split between it and TG4 into two new broadcasting entities. One operating entirely through the medium of English and one entirely through the medium of Irish (which of course is essentially what we have already). The present half-way house is no longer sustainable or justifiable. A rising population of Irish-speaking citizens have every right to demand the same services from the state as their English-speaker peers.

Or perhaps people here agree with the views expressed by the British tabloid TV presenter Noel Edmonds who recently attacked the BBC for providing programming to Scottish-speaking communities in Scotland and Welsh-speaking communities in Wales? From WalesOnline:

“Veteran broadcaster Noel Edmonds has criticised the BBC for spending too much money on the Welsh language.

In an interview, Edmonds said the BBC was “sleepwalking to destruction”, as he explained his hope to buy the corporation along with a consortium of wealthy investors.

He declined to disclose how the schedules might look if he got his way – but pointed to the sums presently spent on the World Service and Welsh-language programming.

“There are 50,000 people speaking Gaelic. Welsh language has been declining over 10 years and the BBC spends £48m on that.”

Edmonds argued only an injection of outside influence could make the broadcaster “relevant to the internet age” and admitted that he did not presently pay for it via the licence fee.”

Perhaps Noel Edmonds is unaware that the Scottish- and Welsh-speaking citizens of Britain also pay their taxes and TV licence fee and are therefore entitled to the same publicly-funded services as their English-speaking compatriots? Or perhaps he is simply of the view that the English language and culture is superior to the several others that share the island of Britain and should therefore take precedence over the rest? Unfortunately there are too many on this island nation who share Edmonds’ view in our own perennial “culture war”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sorley Domhnall and several others for the links]

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Irish TV And Cinema? Some Hope

TG4 - Súil Eile

TG4 – Súil Eile

I was going through my collection of Blu-ray and DVD movies and box-sets over the weekend, not to mention several hundred hours of digital content on my main HTPC, and it suddenly struck me that less than 1% of the total was actually Irish-made. I have a huge catalogue of films and TV shows from (in descending order) the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, Korea, Australia, France, Denmark, Germany and Russia but the number of productions from Ireland is infinitesimal. Six documentaries or drama-docs from TG4 (including “1916 Seachtar na Casca” and “Bóthar na Saoirse”), two comedy-dramas from TG4 (“Rásaí na Gaillimhe 1” and “2”, plus “An Crisis”) and one comedy from RTÉ (the early 2000s’ “Paths to Freedom”). And that is pretty much it. Out of some three thousand hours of cinematic and television entertainment less than twenty hours are actually Irish-made productions for Irish audiences.

In part this is attributable to the availability of domestic productions for the home entertainment market in Ireland which is astonishingly low. Only a handful of the more popular shows are released on DVD and the vast majority of those are from RTÉ which gobbles up most of the licence fee to feed itself. Unsurprisingly they are usually at the lower end of the market, reflecting the culture of Irish television in general. TG4 releases hardly any of its far superior and more Irish-orientated shows on DVD no doubt due to costs. Though why it has not entered the digital market via downloads or streaming on the lines of Amazon or Netflicks is beyond me. It simply makes no sense – but then very little about public service broadcasting in Ireland does.

All of which leads me to the observation most commonly made by Continental visitors to our island nation: in terms of language and cultural references the Irish are indistinguishable from the Americans or British. In fact they seem little more than the mongrel off-spring of both. Given that Irish television and cinema has historically provided almost no output to balance that of the United States and Britain this is hardly surprising. If I were French, German or Spanish one would expect French, German or Spanish entertainment productions to dominate my home library. Even if one were to accept arguments about economies of scale there seems little doubt that the same would hold true if I were Danish, Swedish or Finnish, nations not dissimilar in size to Ireland.

The facts are this: public service broadcasting in Ireland as embodied by RTÉ has failed and failed miserably. It is simply a bad Irish joke. This is widely acknowledged throughout the country where, ironically, most people now recognise that the best TV output stems from TG4, the Irish language TV channel. Even militant hardcore Anglophones critics have agreed that it outperforms every one of its rivals, public or private, and is about the nearest Ireland has to an “Irish BBC”. Yet it receives less than 5% of the television licence fee and a nominal government grant (95% of the TV licence goes to RTÉ which is begrudgingly obligated to produces a handful of shows for TG4).

Funnily enough it seems that I am not the only one who was thinking along these lines. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“Could Irish language movies and songs ever compete in the global entertainment market? Some 70 per cent of Hollywood’s box office revenue now comes from dubbed and subtitled versions of its movies sold in international markets, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In pop music, Psy’s Gangnam Style represents the first wave of non-English international mega-hits that will sweep in as the commercial pop culture of countries such as Korea, India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to develop.

Currently, most Irish language films and pop songs are not making a major domestic, let alone international impact. So how about establishing a €2 million annual competition to select and film the best Irish language movie script, and to record the best Irish language pop song?

Imagine the film got €1.8 million, with the remaining €200,000 spent on recording and making a video for the song, and on the administration of the competition.

The competition could be open to international screenwriters and song-writers, with the proviso that all production money be spent in Ireland – meaning an annual investment of at least €1.8 million into the Irish media industry.

The Irish Film Board (IFB) used to maintain that it was unrealistic to try competing in Irish against major Hollywood films, but in an increasingly globalised world, things are changing. Ned Dowd, a Hollywood producer responsible for films such as The Wonder Boys and Last of the Mohicans , points to the success of his film Apocalypto , directed by Mel Gibson, which despite being in Mayan earned $121 million dollars (admittedly on a budget of $40 million). Gibson’s earlier film The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic and earned $611 million. “It’s all about story, universal themes,” Dowd has said. “The language is secondary.”

This whole notion is speculative and aspirational, but if it were to succeed even partially it could prove a key element in keeping the language vibrant for the next generation. Young people are now accustomed to cartoons and soap operas in Irish, but films and pop music are almost exclusively in English. Demand for Irish songs exists, witnessed by the viral success of the Coláiste Lurgan cover versions that emerge each summer.

It seems there’s also an appetite from abroad to help the language. Seven years after broadcasting the No Béarla TV programme, in which I travelled around the country speaking only Irish, I am still regularly approached by Irish-American cultural groups and impassioned individuals, keen to know how they can help the language.

…the benefits of targeted funding can be seen in the Danish media market. “In Denmark the public service broadcaster puts €1 million a year into feature-film production on top of the Danish Film Institute’s €60 million – and that’s a country the size of Ireland.””

The doling out of severely limited funds between RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the idiosyncratic Sound and Vision Fund (controlled by that quango par excellence, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) is beyond a scandal. Whether the monies are raised through the licence fee or general taxation millions upon millions of euros are being wasted on projects that are almost guaranteed to have little commercial or popular impact. Most simply appear and disappear without the general public being even aware of their existence. Millions more is going on duplicated staffing and administration expenses. Offices filled with paper-shufflers and seat-warmers. It is this scatter-gun approach to Irish television and film production that has made our nation a cultural vacuum.

If we intend to be serious about our language and our culture, if we intend to be serious about establishing a viable TV and cinema production industry for our domestic market, then it is time to close down the vanity projects and political patronage system of yesteryear. A start should be made by leaving English language broadcasting in Ireland to the private market with all the necessary (and presently missing!) statutory safeguards on quality, standards and ownership in place. Let TV3 and 3e, or the new “ITV Ireland” promised by UTV, provide English language television services along with the dozens of American, British and Canadian channels already available to Irish viewers via cable and satellite. RTÉ should become an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster (and restricted to Irish language advertising in order to level the playing field with its private rivals who survive on English language advertising and sponsorship). After all what is public service television and radio supposed to do but provide what private enterprise will not? TG4 should be rolled back into RTÉ which should be restricted to two TV and three radio channels, as well as internet services. Bord Scannán na hÉireann should be replaced by a cinema production arm of RTÉ, the equivalent of BBC Films or Film4 in Britain, with an obligation to produce a minimum of four Irish language cinematic release a year. Legislation should be introduced to facilitate the showing of these movies in cinemas across Ireland upon release, similar to regulations in force elsewhere in Europe. RTÉ should also take up the old role of Gael Linn, producing and fostering Irish language music for cultural or commercial purposes.

As for the TV licence fee or its replacement, scrap both and instead implement direct government funding via an independent oversight body appointed by the Oireachtas. Given the size of Ireland’s national economy, comparing overseas’ public service broadcasters and the country’s needs a new RTÉ budget of 400 million euros per annum is more than adequate (with 45 million earmarked for Scannáin RTÉ). And if you are wondering where that money is going to come from how much do you think the government already spends on direct funding for RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann and the Sound and Vision Fund under the BAI, not to mention the millions that goes to the likes of Gael Linn Records and other Irish language organisations? Believe me there is a mass of money dispersed throughout a dozen state-funded organisations and quangos that could be easily pooled to contribute towards the core budget of a new RTÉ.

More bang for your buck, the elimination of waste and duplication, removing corruption and patronage, introducing public oversight and accountability, levelling the playing field between public and private broadcasters, servicing Ireland’s indigenous language and culture and presenting it to the world, establishing a thriving domestic television and movie industry, employing tens of thousands of Irish people in Irish jobs, generating tax revenue through targeted government investment…? Ok, admittedly all of this is far too sensible. Which is why it will never happen.

Irish TV? We Should Be So Lucky!

RTÉ vs. TG4

RTÉ vs. TG4

So, essentially a big fuck you to the Irish-speaking citizens and communities of Ireland from former Trotskyite rebel-without-a-cause Pat Rabbitte, the minister of communications, as he dismiss out of hand any rise in the tragic-comic budget of TG4, Ireland’s only Irish language television broadcaster. Meanwhile RTÉ, Ireland’s publicly-funded English language television broadcaster, will continue to turn out its increasingly hard to swallow diet of trashy British and American imports while its main independent rival, British-owned TV3/3e, will sink ever further into the stinking gutter of sewer-pipe television. All this of course on the back of news that the existing (and notoriously inefficient) TV licence fee is to be replaced by a mandatory Broadcasting Charge on all households which at least has the merit of not pissing away 20 million euros a year in paying off the “administration charges” imposed by An Post. Of course it seems the vast majority of the money will go into propping up that self-entitled palace of elitism in Donnybrook with perhaps a chunk carved off to feed the rapacious appetites of the hedge-fund managers in London that own much of tabloid channels TV3 and 3e.

Of course no one thought to ask the bleedin’ obvious question. Why the hell is the nation-state of Ireland funding a public broadcasting television and radio network in English when that is already amply provided for by the private sector both at home and from overseas? Surely a public broadcast service exists to provide what no one else will? In the case of Ireland, national television and radio channels in the indigenous language of the island-nation of Ireland.

The simple truth is that TG4 should not exist because RTÉ should already be what TG4 is!

You want cost savings, you want more bang for your buck, you want to provide home-grown public service broadcasting, you want to serve and enlarge the Irish-speaking population of the country? Then do the obvious thing, stop pissing about, and transform RTÉ from an English language broadcaster to an Irish language broadcaster.

Leave English language broadcasting to the private sector, make sure there are regulations in place to secure domestic ownership and levels of quality (which are virtually non-existent at the moment), and then let them get on with it.

Ah stop. I’m speaking too much sense so that will never happen. The so-called experts would never permit it. Sure where would we be without all those ancient BBC and ITV shows rebroadcast on RTÉ? Not to mention the television psychics of TV3?

Sometimes I really do despise this state I live in. The state we all live in.

RTÉ – Reform Or Die

RTÉ vs. TG4

RTÉ vs. TG4

Here’s an interesting snippet from the ever-vigilant NAMA Wine Lake. Guess which TV station was the only television broadcaster in Ireland to make a profit in 2011? Not the country’s official “national” broadcaster RTÉ, which ran up losses totalling some €70 million, despite broadcasting little beyond a diet of cheap overseas programming (with €351 million in revenue for 2011 one wonders where all that money went…? Actually one doesn’t since one know’s perfectly well where a large chunk of it went). And certainly not the British-owned tabloid channel TV3 whose dubious strategy for success has centred on becoming an über-trash “ITV Ireland“. It lost nearly €7 million euros in 2011, no doubt irritating quite a few hedge-fund managers back in London. In fact the only TV company to produce anything resembling a gain was none other than “minority” TV station, TG4, which generated €109,000 from an operating budget of €32 million.

Not much you say? Paltry, even? Perhaps. But it wasn’t a €70 million euro loss. A loss equal to one-third of a full year’s TV licence fee payments (or more than double TG4′s total annual budget).

One might argue that if it wasn’t for the vested interests in RTÉ and elsewhere the Irish state would have turned over English language broadcasting in the country to the private sector decades ago. And the politicians might even have done things right and established real regulations guaranteeing responsible ownership and quality of output for non-public broadcasters. We might then have allowed the “national” broadcaster to be what it should always have been – an Irish language broadcaster. This would have created the space for private broadcasters and overseas media providers to fulfil the market need for English language television and radio in Ireland while the public sector provided what the market wouldn’t – TV and radio programming in Irish.

An RTÉ network with two television channels and three radio stations and a state-funded (but independently administrated) budget of €300 million would not only be value for money but actually serve the purpose and spirit of public service broadcasting. Instead what we have now is a mess: a dog’s dinner of a mess that stinks to high heaven. A bloated whale of incestuous back-rubbing represented by RTÉ (which is increasingly indistinguishable from either the BBC or ITV in terms of actual shows broadcast), two foreign-owned, entirely-for-profit trash TV channels, TV3 and 3e, that pump out visual excrement with impunity, and TG4 which almost single-handedly is propping up indigenous television-production in Ireland, particularly in the independent sector, and actually attempting to fulfil its public service mandate.

Or is all this common sense way too radical for the conservative elites that lord it up in Television Centre and Leinster House?

Some Quick Posts

Scúp - TG4

Scúp – TG4

First up a review in the Irish Times of the new TG4/BBC co-production, the comedy-drama “Scúp”, penned by Irish author and screenwriter Colin Bateman (the man behind the mid-2000s BBC hit “Murphy’s Law”):

“From reporters having to beg for their salaries to the canny deployment of question marks in headlines to see off libel accusations, Scúp, TG4’s new drama about a Belfast Irish-language weekly paper, hits some amusingly accurate notes in its depiction of a local newsroom.

Given most television portrayals of journalists fall several broadsheets-in-a-row wide of the mark, it’s no surprise that Scúp is the creation of a former journalist.”

Second is a heads-up for Sibéal Davitt’s invitation to experience some Trip-nós at the Culture Box in Templebar, on the 14th of March. And if you’re wondering what Trip-nós is:

“Trip-nós – it’s disco but not as you know it. Experience a completely unique dance experiment mixing Ireland’s indigenous ‘sean-nós’ dance with contemporary disco-inspired moves. Trip-nós is a live performance / workshop mixing sean-nós and contemporary dance with electronic music.

How does it work? It’s simple. First the Trip-Nós gang do their thaaang and then participants must choose which style of dance they would like to ‘represent’. They will then learn four steps or more in their preferred style which will be categorised in numbers 1-4. Finally the two groups must battle it out in an 80’s themed dance-off and… hey presto… Trip-Nós is born! Expect some belters including the epic ‘Inspector Norse’ …yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ bout!

There’s only room for 30 people so register here.”

Tayto as Gaeilge - Cáis agus Oinniún

Tayto as Gaeilge – Cáis agus Oinniún

Now there’s a mashup! Talking of which the Oirish Sun, model Roz Lipsett, Tayto and An Ghaeilge:

“Yesterday Tayto crisps launched a limited edition 1980s-inspired pack ‘as Gaeilge’ to promote the language. Model and Gaeilgeoir ROZ LIPSETT, 27, showcased the retro package.

Here she talks about why her native tongue is so important to her.

I ABSOLUTELY love that I can speak Irish, it’s something I’m very proud of and something I’m very privileged to have.

I went to a regular English-speaking primary school but in sixth class my parents sent to me to Colaiste na Rinne in Waterford, which is a strict Irish-only school. At the time I was horrified at having to leave my friends and move from Dublin to Waterford as a boarder.

But now I know my family did me a huge favour and I’m still friends with loads of the guys I met in An Rinn.

Irish was always my best subject in school. My family are all Gaeilgeoirs so they always spoke Irish at home. They are from Mayo and they have a very proud Irish tradition.

By the time I was leaving An Rinn I was fluent. Now, any opportunity I get, I will start waffling on in Irish, it feels very natural to me and I just really enjoy speaking it”

A quick blast from IFTN:

“TG4’s ‘Lorg na gCos: Súil Siar ar Mise Éire’, which concerns the making of Irish masterpiece ‘Mise Éire’ (an examination of Irish society in the years surrounding the 1916 Rising) has been nominated for a Focal award recognising excellence in archive films.

The documentary, which translates as ‘Finding The Footprints – A Look Back At Mise Éire’ has been recognised in the category for ‘Best Use of Footage in an Arts Production’ at the 10th annual Focal International Awards, set to take place in London on 2 May.”

And a view of Irish from the United States.

TG4 Scoops It Rivals

Scúp - TG4

Scúp – TG4

Three quick posts on TG4, the real public service broadcaster in Ireland, all from IFTN (the Irish Film & Television Network). Colin Bateman is a well-known Irish novelist and dramatist behind such media hits as Divorcing Jack (the book and movie) and the long-running BBC television crime drama Murphy’s Law. He now has a new eight-part drama on TG4, Scúp, his first work produced in the Irish language which has stirred up a considerable media and on-line buzz. I missed the first episode due to work commitments (don’t ask!) but so far the reviewers are impressed. You can watch the opening episode here.

Promo below

In related news another TG4 drama series, An Bronntanas, is in pre-production and is scheduled to start shooting soon. What makes it stand out from the TG4 drama crowd is the starring role of American actor John Finn, who is probably better known as the lead character Lieutenant John Stillman in the hit US police procedural series Cold Case. Finn is a fluent Irish speaker having learned the language in the United States and appeared in a 2005 on-air-promo of the Cold Case series for TG4 that became an early online viral hit.

Finally a reminder that Ireland’s best television channel manages to produce an unrivalled range of domestic programming on a budget of just €32 million (roughly 20% of RTÉ’s annual budget).

Ceol Ar An Imeall

Ceol ar an Imeall, TG4′s indie music show, is back tonight at 23.00 on TG4. Lots of Irish bands performing live in studio plus interviews with a host of international acts. A whole gaggle of performances for Ceol ar an Imeall are available to watch for free here. Enjoy!

Follow Ceol ar an Imeall on Facebook or Twitter.

Angloban Ignorance Posing As Informed Commentary

This is not John Spain. This is a baboon's ass...

This is not John Spain. This is a baboon’s ass…

Oh please, someone save me from the half-arsed opinions of right-wing Anglophone buffoons.

From Niall O’Dowd’s US-based website Irish Central resident “Irish” correspondent John Spain offers this view on today’s devastating Troika-driven budget in Ireland and what we should be cutting from the state’s spending under the headline “Ordinary Irish suffer yet again…” :

“An example would be the costs associated with the pretence that we are reviving the Irish language.

We go on paying teachers to spend hours every day teaching compulsory Irish in schools even though no European languages (or Chinese, or Russian) are taught in Irish junior schools and companies like Google have to import hundreds of workers here as a result to fill jobs in customer support services.

And we go on paying for not only a full Irish language news service but an Irish TV station, even though research shows that the audience is tiny.

I have nothing against Irish.  It is just one example of the many sacred cows in Irish life which cost a fortune and which we can no longer afford.  Long may Irish continue, but it has to stand on its own legs and so do all the other sacred cows we have here, instead of being supported by the taxpayer.”

Are the Irish-speaking communities and citizens of Ireland not “ordinary Irish” too?

1,777,437 million people or 41.4% of the population of Ireland self-identified themselves in the 2011 Census as speaking or understanding Irish (a rise from 1.6 million in 2006). 187,827 people identified themselves as weekly speakers of Irish with another 613,236 stating that they spoke Irish less than weekly (another significant jump from the results in 2006). As taxpayers do we not have the same rights as our English-speaking peers?

In the last major survey on the Irish language, 2009’s “The Irish Language and the Irish People” from NUI Maynooth, 93.1% of the population favoured continued support for the Irish language, with 40.2% supporting the restoration of Irish as the main spoken language of the country.

Does that 93.1% of the population not represent “ordinary Irish” too?

TG4 is the only Irish-language television channel serving the Irish-speaking population of Ireland. Contrast that with thirteen English language television channels broadcasting in Ireland. And that is only the ones licensed by the Irish state. There is another twenty-one English language television channels based outside the state that broadcast on or into the island of Ireland, many carrying localised Irish programming or advertising. So with the English language community in Ireland served by 34 television channels the Irish Central advocates taking away the one television channel that serves the Irish language community?

As for the claims that the station’s audience is tiny. Seriously? Over the last eleven months TG4 has achieved consistently high viewing figures, on one occasion becoming the most watched TV channel in Ireland, and on another two occasions coming a close second to the market-dominating RTÉ 1 (and surpassing both RTÉ 2 and TV3, as well as outside broadcasters like the BBC and ITV). But hey, don’t let a little thing like facts and figures get in the way of an ignorant rant.

Irish-speakers are tax-payers too. And they have the same right to the services of the state as their English-speaking peers. And they demand those legal and constitutional rights whether Anglophone supremacists with their anachronistic British colonial views can stomach it or not.

This is Ireland 2012, not 1912 or 1812.

And this is our nation too.

Two Tech Stories For Gaeilgeoirí

Two tech stories for the Irish-speaking community via the Silicon Republic. The first highlights the addition of the TG4 player to the line-up of on-demand television services provided by the major Irish cable and broadband company UPC.

“On-demand TV now comes as Gaeilge, as TG4’s line-up is added to UPC On Demand, which has now seen more than 10m views six months on from its launch.

TG4 Player now joins on-demand content from the RTÉ Player, TV3’s 3Player and 1,400 hours of series box sets available on UPC On Demand.

… the TG4 Player now brings up to 40 Irish-language documentaries, entertainment, music and lifestyle series to the mix, including flagship drama Ros na Rún, Nuacht TG4, and current affairs programme 7Lá.”

Meanwhile:

“Move over MTV and Vevo… a new Irish-language video app called TG Lurgan has launched to present music videos as Gaeilge. The app has been developed by the makers of the Irish-language social network Abair Leat! which launched earlier this year.

The free app TG Lurgan is now available to download for Android and iOS users from Google Play and the Apple App Store. The app has been developed by the Irish language school Coláiste Lurgan, which is headed up by Michéal Ó Foighil and created Abair Leat!

The new TG Lurgan app features contemporary Irish-language music videos, as well as tutorial videos on learning Irish. It also allows users to create their own playlists.

TG Lurgan is also on the Vimeo platform and recently passed the 1m plays milestone after launching on Vimeo more than two years ago.”

TG Lurgan on Vimeo can be seen here. You can download the app for iPhones from iTunes or from Google Play for Android.

Who Dares To Speak? Morality Versus Venality In Modern Ireland

The Irish “Twin Towers” – The GPO, Dublin, Destroyed By British Occupation Forces, 1916

What other nation in Europe would have such little regard for its history? What other nation in Europe would be so willing, so eager, to destroy the physical embodiments of its identity?

The community campaign to thwart the destruction of the 1916 Battlefield Quarter of Dublin City centre continues, as it has done for the last several years, with no end in sight as it struggles against the unrelenting nihilism of Ireland’s political and business cabals. Now a new documentary from TG4, Iniúchadh – Oidhreacht na Cásca, investigates allegations that Dublin City Council abused its powers to procure the site for the development company Treasury Holdings and more incredibly that an unprecedented secret agreement was signed between Dublin City Council management and the developer Joe O’ Reilly of Chartered Land, an agreement made without the knowledge of the city’s elected councillors.

From the Irish Times:

“Dublin City Council should be the first to investigate allegations of wrongdoing between the council and developers of the historic 1916 site in Moore Street, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has told the Dáil.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Government action following allegations of what she called “backstairs deals” between officials in the council and a developer, to the advantage of that builder.

The allegations were made last night in a TG4 documentary, Iniúchadh – Oidhreacht na Cásca, about the proposed development of the Moore Street area, where the leaders of the 1916 Rising met for the last time and signed the surrender.

Calling for Government action, Ms McDonald described the allegations in the programme as “one of the biggest planning scandals” in the State.

The “vandalism” of the site through the development of a shopping centre could not go ahead without the say so of Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, and she said the matter had been on his desk for months.”

BBC Alba And The Success Of Scottish Language Broadcasting

BBC Alba

The Scotsman newspaper has an in-depth profile of Maggie Cunningham, the new head of BBC Alba, the Scottish language television service. Like Ireland’s TG4, Scotland’s BBC Alba has experienced a marked increase in audience figures over the last year despite its (extremely) limited funding and coverage. As with the Irish language many new Scottish speakers are urban dwellers and in the future the station’s programming will need to better reflect this demographic change.

“Farpaisean Chon-Chaorach is unlikely to trouble Downton Abbey in terms of ratings or audience share, but BBC Alba’s coverage of furry bullets rounding up their bleating foes has succeeded in corralling me as a fan. I came upon the Sheepdog Trials, in its English translation, while randomly stabbing the remote one Sunday evening. And there they were. Man and beast in perfect lock-step, separated by hundreds of yards, but in constant communication through the iPhone of the canine world: a symphony of whistles and the occasional cry of “come by”. Those Cheviots didn’t stand a chance. On screen were collies with the dribbling powers of Ronaldo, and so smart that after snaring the sheep in the pen I half expected them to settle down with the FT and prepare their owners’ tax returns. The programme had a contented, soporific feel with Donald MacSween and Catriona Macphee introducing us to the owners of these four-legged wonders. Yet there was one thing missing from the television coverage: head cams. In these days of miniature cameras why weren’t they fitted to the dog’s head so that the viewer could follow the action eye-to-eye? Surely it would revolutionise the sport and farmers would soon be driving Porsches and wearing Red Bull logos on their smocks.

So when Maggie Cunningham, the new chairwoman of BBC Alba, agreed to an interview it is among the first questions I put to her. Sitting in a booth in the bar of the Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow, the former joint head of programmes at BBC Scotland thinks for a second then replies: “That is a very good idea. I will be sure to tell them about it.” So if Farpaisean Chon-Chaorach looks a little different next season viewers can direct their e-mails of praise this way.

Having contentedly put a big red tick next to “dog cam” on my list of questions, I could then move on to one every journalist is required by law to ask whenever the subject of Gaelic is raised: “Maggie, why, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, are we spending £20 million a year promoting a language spoken by just 55,000 people?”

The idea of yanking the life-support of public cash from Scotland’s Gaelic television channel would clearly not be considered a “very good idea” by Maggie, who says of the question: “It’s boring, that is the first thing I would say, and secondly it’s not for 55,000 people, it is for 500,000 people (BBC Alba’s average weekly viewers) as you can see. We are talking about austerity but we are also talking about identity in lots of different ways and Gaelic is core to Scotland.

“If you look back at our history, it is the only place in the world where Gaelic is an indigenous language. I am very pro language-learning and very pro supporting people coming to live in Scotland and bringing their own indigenous culture, but basically Gaelic is the indigenous culture of Scotland. It is so fundamental to everything we are trying to preserve that nobody would challenge that we preserve Edinburgh Castle or the Wallace Monument or some of our great paintings, so why challenge the importance of keeping a language alive?”

It is four years since BBC Alba was launched and now that it is available on Freeview it is attracting a healthy audience of 500,000 per week, with nine out of ten viewers unable to speak Gaelic but drawn to the channel’s mix of documentaries, the occasional drama and, most popular of all, sport. Yet Cunningham is concerned that viewers will begin to switch off unless the channel can offer more than just 90 minutes of original programming each night. “Why will it be hard to hold on to that audience? Well, unless we can get additional funding we cannot sustain a channel on an hour and a half (of original programmes) every night. I don’t think an hour and a half a day is enough to hold an audience over time. The last four years, it has started well, it has exceeded expectation but once you start exceeding expectations, the expectation gets greater so the audience will keep wanting more. They have been happy to have what they have, but people will want more. I do think that at an hour and a half over a long period, the channel is unsustainable, basically.

“What we require is more origination (original programming) and maybe different ways of looking at the schedules and more content. How that plays out over the next four years, God knows, but we do need more original content. Ideally by 2017, if the BBC charter gets renewed, I would like to see us having three hours of original content per night, double where we are just now. On the same budget or finding clever ways to enhance the budget. There is no getting away from the fact that people want to watch the telly, and the big challenge is ‘How do we get people to stay watching us?’ They do watch us: 500,000 is good. The challenge is ‘How do we continue to deliver?’”

My other brilliant idea is that BBC Alba develop a new detective series, since the chattering classes are happy to watch murder if it comes with subtitles. We agree that subtitles are no longer the barrier they were in the past. “If you look at the success of The Killing or Montalbano. I’m just back from Sicily and part of the reason I went was Montalbano. If we could do something maybe like Montalbano, it would be universal.”

The channel is already in discussions with Chris Young, the producer of The Inbetweeners, the comedy series which became a monster hit when released on the big screen. “I am not responsible for commissioning, but I know that our guys are talking to Chris Young. He is based in Skye and video-conferences with LA, who are now doing an American version of The Inbetweeners. He doesn’t see the point of flying over all the time. He is very keen on Gaelic. His wife is pretty fluent and he himself is learning. The key is to use talent and also to allow the creativity to come through and not say ‘we need to have a drama and this is what it needs to be’. We want to see what we can do if we put a few creatives together.”

BBC Alba is unique in that it is a partnership between the BBC and another company, MG Alba, and could, in an independent Scotland, be the core around which any new post BBC channel is formed.”

Let us hope that any independent Scottish public broadcasting service makes a better job of serving its nation, and the two linguistic communities that form it, than RTÉ has made of serving the two language communities of Ireland. A job RTÉ did so poorly (and with such obvious anti-Irish bias) that in the end it had to be given to an entirely new broadcaster - TG4!

Big Boost For TG4 Audience Figures

TG4 – Súil Eile

The growing popularity of TG4, the Irish language television station, was underlined by last weekend’s audience figures for the channel. From a report by Hogan’s Stand:

“Saturday’s live coverage of the RaboDirect PRO12 match between Leinster and Munster at the AVIVA stadium pulled in a massive audience for the channel.

Nielsen TAM, the official measure for TV audience in Ireland, reports that 550,000 people tuned into TG4′s live match coverage.

TG4′s audience makes this the most watched RaboDirect PRO12 televised match so far this season on any channel in Ireland.

Saturday’s rugby ratings were followed by another major audience-winner for TG4 with yesterday’s live coverage of the 2012 TG4 Ladies’ Football Finals at Croke Park. Nielsen TAM reports that approximately half a million people tuned into TG4 at some stage during the finals on Sunday with an average audience of 190,000 watching the Senior Final, where Cork overcame neighbours Kerry to win their 7th TG4 Senior title in 8 years.

Approximately one in five of those viewing TV in Ireland during the matches on Saturday and Sunday were watching TG4. TG4 was the second most popular channel in Ireland on Saturday night, beaten narrowly into second place by RTÉ One, while TG4 was the top Irish channel by a distance on Sunday afternoon, securing a viewing share twice the size of its nearest rivals.”

Trash TV Versus Irish TV

TG4 – Súil Eile

Last week I reported on the risible claim by some journo over at the Oirish Independent newspaper that staff with the Irish language radio station Raidió na Gaeltachta were on the same exorbitant salaries as the rest of RTÉ’s employees (RnaG is part of the RTÉ corporation – to its misfortune). The article also claimed that RTÉ’s Irish language news and current affairs output which is supplied to RnaG and TG4, as well as broadcast on RTÉ Nuacht, was to be “amalgamated”. Since TG4 is an entirely separate public broadcaster from RTÉ I was able to point out just what complete and utter nonsense that claim was. And hey! Guess what? From today’s Indo, under the “…and in other news” section:

“Meanwhile, a RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta spokesperson has clarified that staff at the Irish language station are not paid the same as their RTE counterparts, as was reported last week, and are actually paid less. They are on a grade and pay structure unique to any other division in RTE.

It is now understood that a triangular consolidation of Irish language assets, as was reported with respect to the proposed overall RTE reforms, is not to take place. This consolidation would have seen an amalgamation of Radio na Gaeltachta, TG4, and the Nuacht news service.

However, TG4 and RTE are in fact two separate bodies under the 2009 Broadcasting Act, and such an amalgamation would require a change to the act. There is, however, a process under way to amalgamate the RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta news service and the RTE Nuacht news service, as part of an urgent process at RTE to maximise efficiencies and to reduce costs. RTE Nuacht provides Irish-language television news for RTE and TG4.”

As I stated on An Sionnach Fionn more than once, unify TG4 and RnaG as a single public service broadcaster, and turn RTÉ over entirely to English language programming. It’s 99% of the way there already so why keep flogging a dead horse? Let it go the same way as private rivals TV3 and 3e with wall-to-wall Anglo-American trash: quiz shows, reality shows, soft-porn and infomercials. At least with a new Teilifís Raidió na Gaeilge or TRnaG corporation controlling revamped television and radio broadcasters TG4 and RnaG (and hopefully a new, nationally-orientated RG4) we might have something that intelligent adults can engage with, instead of the casual infantilisation of the general public that comes from our current English language broadcasters.

TG4 And RnaG – Time For A Single Irish Public Broadcasting Service

RTÉ vs. TG4

The Oirish Independent newspaper carries a report announcing “major reforms at RTÉ”, especially in relation to its, er, Irish language output (no sniggering!):

“A consolidation of the Irish language assets of RTE, with an amalgamation of Radio na Gaeltachta, TG4 and the Nuacht news service, is planned as part of the national broadcaster’s cost-cutting drive.

There is also the anomaly of the senior editors and producers in Radio na Gaeltachta and TG4 being paid at the same levels as their much busier counterparts in RTE TV in Dublin, an equality explained by the public-sector origins of RTE, which meant treating all its subsidiary sections or departments in the same way, and with the same pay levels.

But the feeling now is that this outdated structuring must be changed.”

TG4 originally began life as part of the RTÉ corporation (back when the Irish-language station was called TnaG) but it was made a separate public service broadcaster quite some time ago. However RTÉ stills provide a percentage of its programming, including its news service, an anomaly that should have been ended when the television station became statutorily independent. While it may seem sensible in the short term that the disparate news and current affairs teams for TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG) and RTÉ’s own Nuacht service are rolled into one there is a far more ambitious plan that should be implemented.

Several months ago I suggested that Irish language broadcasting in Ireland would be far better served if RnaG was split off from RTÉ and placed under the control of TG4, as its radio arm. As I said then:

“In the area of public service radio broadcasting in Irish TG4 is surely the logical organisation to turn to. Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG), for reasons which mystify most people, remains under the control of RTÉ. As an Irish language radio station its treatment in the RTÉ structure is simply abysmal. Underfunded, under-resourced, poorly ran and structured, it is the (deliberately) forgotten arm of the network.

RnaG must be liberated from the dead hand of Montrose and this can only come through an amalgamation with TG4. A single Irish language television and radio network, with a unified corporate structure and image, would provide the greatest value for money and service to viewers and listeners. What we have now is a mess, a national broadcaster that broadcasts almost exclusively in English controlling an Irish speaking radio station, when an Irish speaking TV station could do the job, and probably double the return in terms of investment and resources. The uniting of TG4 with RnaG would create a mutually supportive, symbiotic organisation with a cross-fertilization of audiences and programming.

It is time we faced up to the facts of where we really are in terms of Ireland’s media organisations. RTÉ is Ireland’s national English language public service broadcaster on television and radio. TG4, with RnaG, must become Ireland’s national Irish language public service broadcaster on television and radio. This is the only way forward that makes sound financial, organisational and broadcasting sense.”

I would also argue, in the interests of media plurality if nothing else, that a separate TG4-RnaG should have its own news and current affairs department, quiet separate from RTÉ’s, with a strong presence in the capital.

As for the rest of the newspaper report, the idea that TG4 or RnaG staff are on the same wages (and benefits) as the English broadcasters and staff in anglophone RTÉ is beyond risible.

A United Ireland – Digitally At Least

Well, better late than never I suppose. From the Hollywood Reporter (ooh-la-la!):

“TV viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to watch digital channels TG4 and RTÉ One and Two from the Republic of Ireland on digital terrestrial TV platform Freeview following Northern Ireland’s transition from analogue to digital TV, the U.K. government said Tuesday.

RTÉ, the Republic of Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language broadcaster TG4 have joined forces to form a not-for-profit venture, which will be responsible for the installation of the new infrastructure.

Delivery of these channels will be supplemented by coverage from Saorview, Ireland’s equivalent of the U.K.’s Freeview service.”

Some more on this:

“[British]Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“I’m delighted that the digital future for TG4, RTÉ One and RTÉ Two in Northern Ireland is now strengthened and secure. Today’s announcement is good news for viewers and continues our delivery on commitments set out in the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement.”

Speaking in Dublin, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, said:

“This announcement means that from Analogue Switch-off on 24 October, over 90% of viewers in Northern Ireland will be able to receive TG4 and the two primary RTÉ channels in digital on the Freeview service or by way of the overspill from the Saorview service.  It is a hugely positive result in terms of practical cooperation resulting from the Good Friday Agreement.”

To ensure the new Freeview service covers as much of the population as possible, the new service will use the modern MPEG4 and DVB-T2 standards which can be received on Freeview HD equipment. Many of the TV sets, set top boxes and digital recorders currently on sale in the UK already meet these requirements, and more information will be made available to the public by Digital UK and broadcasters well in advance of the launch of the service.

Digital switchover completes in Northern Ireland on 24th October 2012. It is intended that the new multiplex will be launched at the same time.  Switchover co-ordination body Digital UK and the Digital Switchover Help Scheme will lead on public communications on the availability of these new services. Both the UK and Irish Governments are committed to providing all possible support to meet the challenging timetable.”

No mention of British television channels being made available in this part of the country as part of this new arrangement, a commitment which is part of the original 1998 Belfast Agreement. But then perhaps the British know which way the wind is blowing. Who needs such arrangements in a Reunited Ireland?