August 22, 2023
From Irish Marxism

It’s the subject that dominated the news for weeks in June and July and has now returned.  The RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy is not coming back to the state’s radio station.  The broadcaster’s most prominent and highly paid TV and radio presenter has eventually exited following the revelation that his salary was under-reported in the RTÉ accounts by €120,000 between 2017 and 2019 and €150,000 between 2020 and 2021.

A combination of RTÉ management’s concern to impose cuts on the rest of the workforce while keeping the appearance of Tubridy’s payments at under €500,000 a year, and some decidedly dodgy accounting treatment, has led to widespread complaints that RTÉ has been less than transparent and truthful.  And to top it off, the controversy also exposed the existence of previously unknown ‘barter accounts’ used to butter up corporate clients, including €5,000 spent on flip-flops for a party, and €4,200 for membership of an exclusive club in London. 

It has been feeding time at the zoo as the Irish media, including RTÉ itself, has reported endlessly over the convoluted unwinding of the story, with Oireachtas committees interrogation of most of the significant actors screened live on TV, and with some pubs streaming it live. Government Ministers have shaken their heads and commissioned a number of investigations and reports.  The talk is of RTÉ having betrayed its audience – the Irish people. How could they do it?

So, the light entertainment switches to lots of bloviating by politicians competing to show how clueless they are, and other media commentators showing inordinate zeal in going after Tubridy, giving plenty of evidence of jealousy and excessive professional disdain.  However, from the clueless to the haughtily disdainful, they all agree on what really matters – that RTÉ must win back the trust of its audience.  To which, the only serious response by socialists should be – oh no it shouldn’t!

RTÉ is the Irish State’s media arm, and abides by what is its own ‘Overton window’, the range of ideas that are considered acceptable for representation and, by default, those that lie outside this narrow range, that are too ‘extreme’, and which therefore must be disparaged when not being ignored entirely.  As the state broadcaster this range reflects the nature of the state, its character, and the particular complexion of its Irish variety.  Its coverage of the war in Ukraine is not significantly different from that of the BBC.  Since the British state makes no secret of its vanguard role in the proxy war against Russia, and the Irish state is supposed to be neutral, this might seem a greater condemnation of the Irish state, although this is not the case, which we will come to in a later post.

To sum it up, socialists do not want the general or specific views of the Irish state to be taken by the Irish working class as either unbiased, objective or truthful.  Above all we want workers not to trust the presentation of the world and its events from the point of view of the Irish capitalist state, by firstly recognising that this is what is actually involved.  That RTE lied about its ‘star personalities’ while attacking the pay and conditions of its workers should not be seen as some anomaly to be corrected but revealing of its true character.

Unfortunately, this is not the view of those elected representative of the Left who think of themselves as Marxists.  Their view is very different:

‘In a world dominated by social media companies owned by billionaires, genuine public service broadcasting is more important than ever. But instead of being a valued public broadcaster, RTÉ has been undermined by underfunding by successive governments and by the deeply corrosive effects of advertising and sponsorships.’ 

People before Profit quote approvingly the words of Harry Browne, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at TU Dublin, who attended their press event, saying: “Ireland needs strong public service media. At last, this policy document points a way beyond the politics of scandal and outrage, towards a positive vision for RTÉ and other public oriented media.’  Attached to this is People before Profit’s support for the propaganda arm of the Irish state in the form of a report.

This starts by saying that ‘People are rightly disgusted at what has happened at RTÉ. It is a microcosm of the unjust class society we live in, where the highest paid and richest people are treated as the ‘talent’, while everybody else struggles to get by on low pay and precarious employment.’ 

Yes, it’s a microcosm of the unjust class society we live in, but its particular role is to spread the word that any injustices can be remedied, and by the state itself, including RTÉ, which has, for example, exposed abuse by the Catholic Church. This Left, by putting forward its support for ‘public service broadcasting’ with reforms, shows that it is part of this consensus.

Where this leaves this Left and the view of Marxists, which they claim to be, that the capitalist state must be smashed, is anyone’s guess. Like their perpetual demands for nationalisation and expansion of the role of the state in almost every area in order to deal with whatever problems capitalism throws up, the glaring contradiction of strengthening the state and the illusions in it, while claiming you’re going to destroy it, doesn’t seem to add up.

We’ll examine exactly what they propose in the next post.