Sat in the back of a car winding though the Wicklow mountains last evening, RTE news was on the radio. The sports round up is no more than a few sentences at the end of the bulletin, a result here, a development there. Yesterday, it carried a startling snippet, the correspondent reported that in rugby French side Bayonne had signed All Blacks’ winger Joe Rokocoko who had been capped sixty-six times for New Zealand.
For a moment, I thought I had imagined the item. Being one of the few (if not the only) supporters of Aviron Bayonnais in the country, it seemed, at best, very unlikely that RTE would carry news of a Basque rugby club. (Attending Bayonne’s match against Connacht in Galway last October, I was the only non-French person wearing the pale blue and white jersey of the men from the Stade Jean Dauger). Why would the Irish national broadcaster include in its sports bulletin the news that a French rugby club (and hardly the most famous of French teams) has signed a player from New Zealand?
It seemed odd, perhaps a slow day for sports news when the visit of the US President was filling every other minute.
Driving along at 6.30 this evening, the time came around again for the sports news. A quick round up of the day’s action and impending fixtures, and then a couple of sentences that the French club Toulon had decided not to renew the contract of Welsh player Gavin Henson. Why did it merit inclusion in the RTE news? Toulon have had a poor season, finishing eighth in the Top 14 and failing to qualify for the European Cup, despite their star players, so why were they included amongst news on an Irish cycle race, an anticipation of an Irish soccer international, and a looking forward to a rugby final between two Irish provinces?
Is there someone in RTE radio with a passion for French rugby? Do RTE subscribe to some rugby news agency and feel they have to use an item each day in order to justify the expenditure? Are there real cognoscenti amongst the listenership who suddenly pay attention when these nuggets are broadcast? It seems odd.
Who takes the decisions about what we hear? Maybe those who place the advertising shape what is broadcast. Middle aged middle class men are predominant amongst those who would recognize the name of Rokocoko and who would identify Toulon as the club not only of Henson, but also Jonny Wilkinson and Felipe Contepomi.
But what about the other items? Who decides we have minute coverage of US elections, including all the primaries, but pay virtually no attention to considerably more relevant elections in France and Germany? Who decides disasters in one place merit a news team, while similar events elsewhere receive passing mention? Who decides who will be depicted as the good guys and who the bad?
Delighted at news that Joe Rokocoko will be running out onto the pitch as 15,000 Basques sing La Pena Baiona, the club anthem, it is worrying that selection of the news in such an arbitrary and eccentric fashion might shape our view of the world.