Why our girls are stars of the global small screen

They may be under-represented on the airwaves here, but Irish female broadcasters have been flying the flag abroad for years. Dave Kenny looks at the women who have made an international impact




FEWER than one in four voices on Irish radio news and current affairs programmes are female, according to research by the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Despite this imbalance at home, however, Irish women continue to be world-beaters in international broadcasting. They have become household names from Georgia USA to Georgia in the former USSR.

Orla Guerin MBE

Guerin is the Grand Dame of Irish journalism, having worked in the business for the past 25 years. The Dubliner started out with RTÉ in 1987 and rose through the ranks to become the station’s Eastern Europe correspondent (1990). For the next four years she reported, with trademark steeliness, on the changing fortunes of the former Soviet bloc. Her peerless radio work netted her a Jacob’s Award in 1992.

In 1992, Guerin left Donnybrook to run as Dick Spring’s anointed Labour “parachute candidate” in that year’s elections. After failing to win a seat, she joined the BBC, where she has been Africa and Middle East correspondent, and broadcasts from Jerusalem, America, Kosovo, the Basque Country and Moscow.

Guerin has won numerous awards including the Press Club’s Broadcaster of the Year (2002). She also got ‘the nod’ from Queen Elizabeth, with an MBE. She is currently stationed in Pakistan.

Liz Bonnin

French-born Bonnin spent her early career dealing with puppets and pop-ettes. The science graduate started out on RTÉ’s Den, paid her dues on Off the Rails, and then landed a job in 2002 as showbiz reporter on Channel 4 morning show RI:SE. She also became a regular presenter on Top of the Pops.

She is now a radiant star in the BBC’s science and nature firmament, presenting shows such as Gadgets, Gadgets, Gadgets and Bang Goes The Theory. In 2010, she joined Autumnwatch and, in January 2011, presented segments of Stargazing Live from Hawaii. Other shows include Egypt’s Lost Cities, Springwatch and Super Smart Animals.

Not bad for someone who was once a member of ill-fated girl band, Chill. Remember them? Didn’t think so.

Karen McCarthy

McCarthy is an author, journalist and documentary-maker. Like Orla Guerin, the Dubliner is not afraid to put her life on the line and reported from Iraq during the war. She has also reported from the even dirtier world of US politics for this newspaper.

McCarthy has also worked for Al Jazeera English in Washington, writing and producing a daily segment for the Riz Khan Show. She divides her time between New York and Ireland.

Amanda Byram

The former model from Castleknock hit our screens in 1999 as co-presenter on TV3’s Ireland AM. She moved to Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast in 2001 and presented Entertainment Tonight on Sky.

Byram relocated to LA where she presented Paradise Hotel, Grand Slam and The Swan.

She is now a regular face on light entertainment shows on British TV. Some might say her finest moment, however, came in 1997 when she featured in Dustin The Turkey and Joe Dolan’s video for ‘Good Looking Woman’.

Fionnuala Sweeney

One of the highest-profile journalists of her generation, Sweeney is an anchorwoman and reporter for CNN International. Born in Belfast, she began her newsreading career on Dublin pirate station, 103FM.

In 1988, she went to work for the fledgling 2FM. Her big break came in 1993 when she hosted the Eurovision Song Contest from Millstreet in Cork.

Her performance impressed CNN bosses and she decamped to the station’s HQ in Atlanta. After a stint in London (where she anchored World One) she returned to Georgia and currently hosts the World Report This Week and fills in on the international desk.

Laura Whitmore

The 28-year-old Bray native has had a meteoric rise since qualifying in journalism from DCU. She started off as a researcher on Newstalk and got her shot at fame in 2008 when she won a competition to become the face of MTV Europe’s news service.

In 2011, she took over presenting I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! NOW! on ITV2. She subsequently hosted the 2012 BRIT Awards Red Carpet and Backstage shows with Keith Lemon.

Whitmore is now a star in her own right and has carried the Olympic torch and launched her own range of clothes. Thankfully, not at the same time.

Maggie O’Kane

Campaigning journalist and documentary-maker Maggie O’Kane is a hack’s hack.

Hugely respected, she is best-known for her work as foreign correspondent with The Guardian and her coverage of the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996).

O’Kane learned her craft at the Institut des Journalistes en Europe in Paris and worked for the Sunday Tribune before moving to RTÉ in the mid-1980s. She then decamped to the trouble spots of Europe in 1989.

In 2003, she was appointed editorial director of GuardianFilms where she makes hard-hitting documentaries.

O Kane’s mantelpiece is heaving with awards: 1992 UK Journalist of the Year; 1993 Amnesty International UK Media Awards; 2002: European Journalist of the Year … the list goes on.

Carole Coleman

RTÉ’s former Washington correspondent made her name in the US during a testy interview with George W Bush in 2004, in which she interrupted the president several times. Here’s a ‘question’ about Iraq: CC: “Mr President, you didn’t find the weapons of mass destruction.”

GWB: “Let me finish. Let me finish. May I finish?”

The White House complained to the Irish Embassy about the interview. RTÉ stood by its correspondent.

Coleman now lives in Maryland and describes herself as “an Irish mother and sometimes reporter/writer”. She also blogs about stories “of use to Irish mothers” in the US. “We don’t have time to read newspapers or websites all day so sometimes it’s nice to have a place to check in for an occasional fix or to rant. Even if you just want to let us know the best place to get imported Irish sausages — that’s news!”


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