Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scary stories that really aren't so scary

I LOVE how the media often peddles hysteria in the guise of news. Take this story in the Independent today about funnel-web spiders 'invading' Sydney, Australia.

An ugly little arachnid indeed. The "feared" spider's bite can "kill you in the space of two hours" and its fangs can pierce soft shoes and finger nails, we are told. Holy shit! Can they find out where you live too?! Has the Aussie army been deployed?! Jobs or no jobs, at least the only wild animals we have to worry about here are rats, pigeons and village drunkards.

But, hang on a minute, wait till you get to the last second last paragraph: "Thirteen people, including seven children, have died from funnel-web bites over the past 100 years, but none since 1981, when an antidote was developed."

What? Thirteen people in 100 hundred years? For a "feared" spider, it seems pretty rubbish at its job - it might want to move into a different area of expertise. I'd say fluffy kittens have done better.

Oh, but seven of those were children. Right, and how many kids have been killed by influenza in the last hundred years? Or cancer? Or typhus? Or skateboards? Or Goddamn jellybeans?!

Statistically, 13 deaths in 100 years is irrelevant. I have a greater chance of slipping on a banana peel and careering into a tank driven by Josef Stalin than running into this limp-dick spider. Bah.

But it made a good headline, right?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adams and Toibin - two cases of the double standards in the Irish media

IT IS sometimes easy to forget that the media not only reports on reality but often sets the national agenda as well. As narratives play out, heroes and villains are created and crucified, and rarely in an impartial fashion.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the recent hammering of the Catholic church over child sex abuse. Rightly, the media has demanded answers at every turn and called for the resignations of those involved in the cover-up. Few people would argue with holding the church to account over its shameful record on child protection, and so here the media has fulfilled its proper function.

But apparently when it comes to Gerry Adams things are different. Despite covering up for a child rapist who later went on to work with youth groups, Adams has been given a free pass by our media. As Ruth Dudley and Kevin Myers pointed out in the last few days, an astonishing level of deference has been shown to Adams for essentially the same failures as the church's.

But why?

Is it simply more satisfying to attack the church? Or is left-wing nationalism more deserving of our sympathy than the archaic structures of Catholicism? Or, in fact, is the media simply afraid to go after a man with past links to the IRA?


Whatever the reason, the smugness with which our media light fires under some groups while opening the back door for others is nauseating.

During the infamous events in Listowel, we saw a similarly baffling exercise in double standards. A local priest was heavily criticised for providing a character reference for a man on trial for sexual assault and then shaking his hand after he was convicted. This caused outrage. The priest stepped down.

But as our reporters furiously typed expressions of indignation on their keyboards, did they ever stop to think of Colm Tóibín? Last October, Mr. Tóibín provided a character reference for fellow writer Desmond Hogan, who was found guilty of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy with special needs.

There was negative comment on the matter from Cari, an agency for victims of sexual abuse, but there was none of the media outrage we saw in Listowel. Be it because of his literary achievements or his sexuality, Tóibín, like Adams, more or less escaped scrutiny.

So what does this tell us about our media?

Well, that you should make sure you are on the right side of Mountrose and Liffey House before you go crossing the line of acceptable conduct of course.

Oh, and that it's about as impartial as Ian Paisley refereeing Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II in a bare-knuckle boxing match.