TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Is it time the bell tolled for one of RTÉ’S longest running programmes?
It has long been one of the most watched programmes on RTÉ. It’s been raised in the Oireachtas, lampooned by comics, ridiculed, defended and derided. It’s a part of the soundtrack of our lives. It is, of course, The Angelus, broadcast nightly on RTÉ One, or as it’s better known to many households, The Bongs. This latter nickname probably best reflects the attitude of most of us to this peculiarly Irish phenomenon. We don’t tend to think too much about it except to occasionally remark upon the images that run with The Bongs each evening: the chalk artist plying his trade on the pavement in College Green in Dublin or the Zambian pondering the eternal verities in her office building.
In the light of criticism of media coverage of the recent Eucharistic Congress perhaps it is time we thought a little bit more about The Angelus and religious programming on RTÉ. Some commentators criticised the station for having a biased approach to the Congress. They decried comparisons to the 1932 event and criticised RTÉ for filming empty seats in Croke Park during the closing Mass.
I’m not sure how easy it is to film pilgrims and priests without showing the empty seats beside them, and I would have thought that comparing the way devotional practices have changed in the eight decades since the 1932 congress is a valid historical exercise. Indeed, the coverage I saw on RTÉ was balanced and respectful. Which is more than can be said of the Pope’s message to those gathered in Croke Park, yet one more example of the Vatican abrogating its responsibility for the cover-up of clerical child sex abuse.
What’s needed is informed and considered debate about religion on the airwaves, and programmes of religious interest should have a place in the schedules. Given the majority of those professing a religion in this country are Catholics, it stands to reason that programmes of interest to them should make up the bulk of this output. Yet continuing to broadcast The Angelus does not show an objective approach to religious programming from RTÉ.
All programmes on RTÉ should be subject to commercial or public-service criteria. The decision to broadcast The Angelus on radio was instigated in 1950 by the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, and Leon Ó Broin, the Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. It was a decision which was made in a different era. RTÉ should be a neutral observer of the relationship between religion and the State. It can’t be so while it continues to broadcast The Angelus.