Is it time the bell tolled for one of RTÉ’S long­est run­ning pro­grammes?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FOOD & DRINK -

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.


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