When media coverage means seeing is believing

Since the Rubberbandits introduced the nation to the thoughts of Jean Baudrillard the other night the level of debate has surely risen a few notches, particularly when it comes to our awareness of what is and isn’t real. Or maybe we’ve just been conditioned to think that way (see what I mean?). For instance, forget whether anyone can hear a tree falling in an empty forest: if an Irish team doesn’t win on Irish television has it really claimed victory?

When media coverage means seeing is believing

Item: the Ireland-New Zealand rugby games, and specifically the coverage of that first game in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. Even more specifically, the fact it was broadcast on eir rather than RTÉ.

It seems ironic that for an organisation suspected by devotees of other sports as being a bastion of rugby-ness above all things, RTÉ didn’t have the rights to the historic first win for Ireland over the All Blacks a fortnight ago.

The IRFU’s media deals are, of course, its own business, and are conducted with a view to the long and medium term benefit rather than the immediate future.

You’d wonder, though, if the impact of that historic win was weakened in some way by being slightly distant for much of the population. The game being held in the American midwest didn’t help, first of all, but being shown on a niche TV channel rather than the free-to-air state broadcaster was more significant.What strikes this observer in particular is the lack of discussion of the latter factor. The comparison between the ongoing excoriation of the GAA for a deal with Sky and the relatively calm acceptance of the arrangement which first saw European Cup rugby vanish from RTÉ’s screens, and then overseas international friendlies, seems a telling one in this regard, and shows neither the excoriators nor the accepters in a good light.

The comparisons don’t have to end there, either. Those with an eye to history will of course point to the fact that the last time an Irish rugby team beat the All Blacks the coverage was sketchy at best, just a few minutes of grainy coverage making it through to that night’s news. A harried graduate student in communications or media might tease a nice thesis out of comparing the coverage and appreciation of that Munster win in 1978 with the 2016 victory (it’s okay, you can thank me in the acknowledgements). Anyone wondering if this is a prelude to a further and lengthier discussion on pay-TV v free-to-air, your suspicions have a solid base: this is something to which I intend to return.

Another example of ‘did this happen if there are only trace elements of it on social media’ popped up a few days ago in the middle of Science Week. Irish comedian and broadcaster Dara Ó Briain hosted a public event in the National Concert Hall featuring Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody, with a friend of this column saying he was bombarded by a third party’s texts relaying the Kilkenny man’s one-liners as they popped up in real time.

Unfortunately, Science Foundation Ireland, the organisers of the interview, confirmed no recording of the chat was made, so it disappears into the ether as a near-mythical event which leaves no spoor to follow.

The flip side of this line of thinking - that validation offered by a witnessing smartphone user isn’t necessary in the first place — may be difficult to absorb for younger readers. But there was a time when Facebook wasn’t the primary means of personal verification.

Recent events in America have shown the danger of reliance on that particular outlet.

Greg Norman’s numbers game

You’re not surprised I mentioned the election last week. Surely not?

I only raise it here though to remind you of a fantastic story which seeped out in recent days, that of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull getting to talk to US President-elect Donald Trump... because golfer Greg Norman gave him Trump’s phone number.

This has a special resonance for your average sports hack because we live on our phone numbers.

Every week some poor colleague or other texts: ‘Do you have a number for ——?’, and you always forward it if you do. Why? Because within a day or two, you’ll be scattering out a variation of that text yourself.

Still, the notion that Malcolm Turnbull WhatsApped Greg Norman with a matey request for that galah Trump’s digits — I envisage Turnbull’s text coming with an Alf from Home and Away accent for some reason — leaves you shaking your head.

For all the modern comms and sophisticated back channels, I find irresistible the scenario where Turnbull and co are sitting around baffled until someone says, ‘Hey, I know! Didn’t Norman play a few rounds with that clown?’

Let’s take All Black idolatry down a peg

Hopefully some of the slavish idolatry thrown at the New Zealand rugby team will take a similar knock with their recent defeat.

Idolatry isn’t an exaggeration: a friend swears he heard a GAA coach shouting “sweep the sheds” at his charges this year.

This reference to humility — an express delivery from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious — is just one of the ‘All Black lessons’ accorded the status of the Third Secret of Fatima and recycled by snake-oil salesmen as the key to success in sports.

Nonsense? Of course. Unfortunately there seems to be an unquenchable appetite among the gullible not just for this guff, but for the guffmeisters who peddle it.

Guards of honour out in force for charity

Many people find this a difficult time of the year given the lack of quality GAA games on offer, but others find it tricky for far more serious reasons.

If the former are of a mind to help the latter, then there’s a game next Friday which may pique their interest.

The Limerick Garda division takes on the Kerry Garda division in a charity game for the Conor Harrington Fund and the Children’s Leukaemia Association.

I understand that the rules of eligibility may be slightly relaxed to allow players who, strictly speaking, are not Gardai, or even non-strictly speaking, but that’s an attraction rather than a disincentive.

The game is on in Newcastle West and throws in at 3pm this Friday the 26th. Worthy of your support if you can make it at all.

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