Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

I have two daughters aged nine and nearly seven.  And I think they’re gorgeous.

That’s all the validation I need – my own Mammy-eyes, which would view my children as gorgeous no matter what they looked like.

I don’t need to enter them in pageants for strangers to assess them and decide whether or not my two measure up to some one else’s notion of beautiful.

It seems, however, that one woman is of the opinion that there are enough parents in Ireland who disagree with me for her to make a few bob. This woman, Jorja Gudge, is hoping to bring a beauty pageant for girls under the age of 18 to Ireland next month.

Entitled ‘Miss Princess Ireland’ this pageant is slated to take place on April 30th in Dublin. According to Ms Gudge,

‘There will be three rounds which are; Sportswear this is any sporting wear (with a glitz touch). It  could be dance wear, swimwear, football, gymnastics etc… any sport at all.’

Leaving aside the fact that I don’t think dancing is a sport, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of young girls parading in sports wear – whether or not said sportswear has a ‘glitz touch’.  Virtually all sportswear is form-fitting and skimpy.  I don’t think it’s appropriate for little girls to be dressed in bikinis or leotards and paraded in front of strangers who will then grade them on how beautiful they are.

Wearing form-fitting sportswear for actually playing sport is, of course, a completely different matter.  I am happy to acknowledge that not all  sports outfits that are form-fitting, but I’d be willing to bet that any child turning up in a tracksuit won’t win a prize.

Next up in this pageant is what Ms Gudge calls ‘wow’ wear/ outfit of choice. This can be ‘anything at all – fashion wear, occasion wear, fancy dress or theme wear.’

This is a bit vague, but I’d guess that the idea is to dress your girl in her most eye-catching gúna and hope she catches the eyes of the judges.

Last of all will be formal wear. Formal wear for children sounds innocuous enough – it makes me think of lovely summery flower girl dresses from Monsoon, but I don’t think that’s what Ms Gudge means. I googled ‘Beauty Pageants for Children’ and got lots of very disturbing images of little girls in flouncy, tacky, meringue-y, dresses that were obviously styled along the lines of ball gowns for women.

‘Also make up, hair pieces, tans etc are all permitted as this is a glitz pageant, but I will leave the decision to you on which level of glitz you decide to use,’ the organiser tells me.

Again, this is disturbing, because it implicitly tells children that they are not good enough or acceptable just the way they are. Why on earth would anyone want to use make-up, hair pieces or tans on their children in an attempt to win an ‘American-style crowns, sashes and tiaras’? What does that do to the self-esteem of participants?

When they grow up, how will these girls view themselves? Their sense of themselves, surely, will be very extrinsic? Surely, their confidence – instead of being bolstered will be damaged? And what is the use of telling a child that their worth is based purely on how they look – or how they can make themselves look by the addition of chemicals and synthetic hair-pieces?

I’m also disturbed by the fact that people attending will also be able to bring their video cameras, although they will only be permitted to video their own children. I do wonder, however, how the organiser hopes to police that one.

I don’t think that these kind of pageants do the children who take part any favours at all. I don’t think they learn any positive lessons from them – and I think they are more about satisfying the desires and dreams of their parents (usually their mothers) than anything else.

I am hoping that the parents of Ireland will avoid this pageant – and ones like it – and spare their children the damage that could potentially be done to them.

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Radio producer Helen Mc Cormack offers a producer’s view of the lack of women on the air…

Veronica Walsh is absolutely correct when she points out in her Antiroom post that there is a large gender imbalance when it comes to discussion panels on current affairs programmes.

What are the reasons for this? Let’s not be so simplistic as to presume that radio producers have a bias against women and are determined not to have them on. In fact, my experience in the commercial radio sector is that the majority of people working in radio production teams are women.

I’m not here to make excuses for the lack of female voices but as someone who has worked as a radio producer at both a national and a local level, I would like to make a few points before we go screaming up and down and calling for heads to roll.

I have worked in current affairs and lifestyle programmes and have found it much easier to get women on lifestyle programmes. When I started as a researcher on Orla Barry’s morning show on Newstalk, Orla was particular about not having female only panels and would encourage us to have a good gender balance but there was never a problem getting women. Then I did the Breakfast show (in the Claire Byrne and Ger Gilroy days) before moving on to produce Tom McGurk on 4FM. With both Breakfast and McGurk, men were in the majority and we were making a concentrated effort to get women on at all. Now, producing Gareth O’Callaghan on Saturday mornings, I am finding, once again, it is incredibly easy to get women on. There have been several occasions when all the guests were female.

So why is this? I don’t have an immediate answer. Is it because current affairs programmes are using politicians, political correspondents, economists etc and within these groups themselves women are underrepresented? It’s 4pm and a political story is breaking and I have a show going to air at 5 and a worried presenter demanding to know who will cover the story. Who are my options as regards senior political correspondents? I can mentally count sixteen people, five of whom are women. So right from the start the odds are that a man will be the one to make it to air because honestly, I’m going to take the first person who agrees to do it.

Perhaps at this point, eyes are being rolled by women who are thinking “Try harder! Search out new voices, don’t just go for the old reliables!” Fair point. But I don’t have a massive staff. There’s me producing and a researcher. Two hours to fill every day with just the two of us (eventually, it was just me.) It’s the same for pretty much every commercial station out there. The Right Hook has, I think, a producer and two researchers and with two and a half hours to fill every day that’s not a lot. It takes an hour to go through all the papers / news sites etc before meeting to plan the show and divide out segments. Then you’re ringing around and people aren’t getting back to you. You have research to do, briefs to write, your presenter arrives in and may want to scrap a piece or something breaks and you’re back to the drawing board. You’re trying to get audio of the events of the day, pin down guests, get answers from Press Officers. You do find some new voices – I’m very proud to say we were the first show to put the excellent Andrea Pappin on the air! – but it takes a lot of time and effort that producers often don’t have.

To return to my point about it being easier to get women on lifestyle programmes – is this because the topics often have a female slant? It is more likely because they are conducive to family life in that they can give you a day’s notice whereas current affairs is more likely to be, at best, a few hours. Are men in general more confident in their ability to go on air and ‘wing it’ without doing copious amount of research? I have to say I generally found that they were. It’s not necessarily the right way to look at things but at the same time very often that’s what is required on a fast paced news programme. I know that on McGurk on 4, we found it far more difficult getting women to come on the panel. Not all women but we couldn’t use the same ones over and over again. I know our researcher used to literally have nightmares about not finding a woman in time for the Friday panel! Men used to get in touch with the programme regularly to offer themselves as guests or panellists (I’m excluding people who wanted to promote a product or event here) but women very rarely did so.

When Margaret Ward (one of the fabulous women who always said ‘yes’ to coming on the programme!) set up Women On Air, I was delighted to get involved because I thought it was a great way to encourage women to put themselves out there and for me as a producer to meet those women. I hope that many of those women go on air and knock socks off but for a really visible (or audible!) change to be made, women need to become more prominent throughout society. Veronica asked if current affairs programs discriminate against women. My answer to that would be no, they don’t discriminate. I really believe that the problem is deeper than that. When there is equality in boardrooms, in government, in lecture halls then there will be equality on air. But if we were to follow through on Veronica’s suggestion that “we demand some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world”, I think, sadly, that current affairs producers would find it nigh on impossible to do their job.

Helen McCormack is a Freelance Journalist and Radio Producer who has worked in several radio stations including Newstalk, 4FM and Q102. She blogs at http://helenmccormacksblog.wordpress.com/ and is on Twitter: @HelenMcCormack

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The longlist for the 2011 Orange prize for Fiction was announced this morning; the full list is here:

It’s particularly interesting to see that nine of the twenty novels are debuts, compared with seven in 2010; not an insignificant rise. Whether calculated or not (and I’m sure the judges would assert not), the increase in focus on first-timers seems part of an overall move to raise the profile of new novelists. This year has seen a Waterstone’s promotion centered around eleven new authors, and the BBC’s Culture Show ran a ‘Twelve of the Best New Novelists’ programme to tie in with World Book Night earlier this month. Much has been written about what this amounts to; realistically, we won’t know the answer to that for another six months or so, when a real sense of sales patterns for these new authors becomes more visible.

For now, though, I’m off to track down the longlisted books here, starting with the newbies. And let’s start the countdown clock on the grumbles about female-only lists being ‘unfair’…

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Veronica Walsh asks if Irish current affairs media programs discriminate against women

So, we know there is a gender imbalance across Irish society. And it was brought home to us in screaming technicolour last week when Joan Burton was publicly humiliated and passed over for the cabinet finance brief that many believe was hers by right. Which got us all thinking and talking… though it’s dying down as an issue now, and we’ll go back to acceptance and same old same old. Before we do – I’d like to share a little exchange that Sara Burke had with Eamon Dunphy on Dunphy’s Sunday morning current affairs show yesterday.

The panel that morning was made up of Eamon, Philip O’Connor, Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, and the lone woman Sara Burke. although I suppose we were lucky to have even her, as it is not unheard of for this show not to feature even one woman on the panel. I’ll set the scene…. some way into the show the conversation turns to the pieces by Diarmaid Ferriter, Mick Clifford and Shane Ross in the Sunday newspapers – all suggesting that Burton was shafted. Eamon agrees and says it appears to be discriminatory – and Sara says she is ‘incensed’ at it etc – only Alan Dukes dismisses it as nonsense (quelle surprise! Oh what is it about him that makes me speak French?!). So, okay, grand… chat chat chat, blah blah blah…. THEN, after Eamon declares that “such discrimination weakens our democracy”, Sara puts it up to him that he himself discriminates against women and only features occasional ‘token women’ on his show. Good woman yourself, Sara!

So, what did he say? Um. I’m not sure. Here’s the exchange verbatim:

Sara Burke: “Eamon, the issue of gender equality isn’t confined to Dáil Éireann, it’s across society, it’s in this studio…”

Eamon Dunphy: “Let me tell you Sara, I go… and have done as a journalist… to inordinate lengths in the teams that I construct as a radio… ‘cause I’m the boss, I run the thing, I’m the editor of the program…  in terms of getting guests, in terms of getting people and promoting women, eh, it is a problem when you go…”

Sara interrupts: “there’s often weeks when there’s no women on your panel and…”

Dunphy cuts her off: “There are weeks when, well, I’ll tell you why…”

Sara cuts him off: “There’s often just the token one, as I am today…”

Dunphy answers: “No, no you’re not. I’ll tell you why… that is… and I’ll be unequivocal about it, the qualification for being in this radio studio on a Sunday morning with me is intelligence. And honesty, probity. I won’t have spoofers, I won’t have token people, and I won’t have spinners in the studio. And in all the times. we’ve got 52 and a half percent more listeners than we had when we started because of that principal, and I think it should apply everywhere… no tokenism at all! We’ll take an ad-break now, and we’ll come back and talk some more….”

(to listen back go here – 31 minutes in….)

The programme returned from an ad break, and he read out a couple of texts then moved on to talk about something else, abandoning the discussion.

But I’d like us to look at it again. Do we agree with Sara? Why do we accept that this is just how it is? What do we think of Dunphy’s reply? What’s he on about? It’s a pity he didn’t expand on his “it is a problem when you go….”. It’s a shame he never addressed the main question of why he appears to discriminate against women on his panel, instead waffling into a defence of his show against the idea he’d allow tokenism, and then escaping to a break and a change of subject.

l searched for data on the panels for the last few months from the programme’s twitter timeline at @thedunphyshow, and lay it out starkly (see list below). There was no woman last week. There was no woman on the double election special panels the week before. In the preceding weeks there was either no woman or one woman on a panel of four men.

So what do you think? Discrimination? Is it any better on other prime time current affairs shows on radio and TV? Is it time we said enough is enough, and demanded some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world?

(Hey! You media producer people struggling to ‘promote women’ as Eamo put it, check out Margaret E. Ward’s list of potential female contributors to Irish media right here🙂

Veronica Walsh is the organiser of the Dublin Current Affairs Group & MD of www.CBTandFeelingGood.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @VCurrentAffairs.


March 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are : Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, Sara Burke and Philip O’ Connor.

March 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Dan O’ Brien, Constantin Gurdgiev, Shane Ross and Ed Molloy.

February 27th: Joining Eamon on the panle form 11-1 are Pat Leahy, Eddie Hobbs, Cormac Lucey and Ger Colleran. The Political panel up first on The Dunphy Show: Pat Rabbitte, Leo Varadker, Shane Ross and Psephologist Adrian Kavanagh.

February 20th: Joining Eamon on the panel today: Donal Donovan, Constantin Gurdgiev, Dearbhail McDonald and John Waters.

February 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Sean Kelly, David Humphreys, Chris Luke and John Allen.

February 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today is Alistair Campbell, Cormac Lucey, Jim Power and Noirin Hegarty.

January 30th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Eamon Ryan, Orla Tinsley, Constantin Gurdgiev and Pearse Doherty.

January 23rd: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Damien Kiberd, Pat Leahy, Siobhan O’Connell and Senator Shane Ross.

January 16th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Jill Kerby, Dearbhail McDonald, Ger Colleran and Brian Lucey.

January 19th: Sunday panel: James Reilly FG, Paul Somerville Markets Analyst, Pat Leahy, Lindsey Earner Byrne UCD.

Got the picture? Good. Mail your complaints to: thedunphyshow@newstalk.ie

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"Do you want to come up for some euphemistic coffee?"

I can see the ad pitch to Nescafe in my mind…

A pink balloon that looks suspiciously like a blown up condom skirts across the floor of a trendy loft flat.

A sexy scruffy looking man in his mid-twenties ambles down the  metal stairs. The morning light streams through an open plan kitchen window. He catches the eye of the bed headed beautiful brunette, who flicks up an eyebrow giving him a wanton “You’re a bad boy” grimace.

Another, more dozy, brunette who looks like she’s been shagged into the middle of next week, bumps up against the kitchen sink, turns and realises there are magic sachets sitting there.

Instant coffee. Instant absolution. Instant dissolve of granules and awkwardness.

Being a good, if slightly dumb, third wheel, she makes three mugs of the chemical concoction. They all drink it. Sheepish man makes beautiful brunette an origami bird (yes, an origami bird – it’s a bird that bends and folds easily).

Third wheel, watching this cardboard coupling display, chuckles as the natural chaste order of life returns. Her eyes say “Thank goodness he didn’t prefer drab old me to his stunning girlfriend. Now I can quietly go back to cutting my arms.”

The Voice Over flogs us the product “Nescafe, 3 in 1. White, coffee with sugar. In one.”


What a long way we have come since the 1980’s Nescafe Gold Blend ad series starring Sharon Maughan and that bloke who went on to mentor Buffy.

Despite the power dressing, the romance was worthy of at least a BBC costume drama. There was even an attempt at purveying sophistication.

There was never the smutty suggestion that, once he got her up for coffee, he would get her up for a randy threesome with that other neighbour that adland keeps in the cupboard for just such occasions.

What amazes me is that everyone watches Mad Men and laughs at the suppression and treatment of women in it. Ha ha, thank goodness we live in a more enlightened society now. But adland is chock full of young men who have grown up on an almost pure diet of porn as their sex-and-relationships education.

A threesome, therefore, is as cool as…um… a cucumber?!

It’s just the way we swing now and then. No big deal. Have a coffee and get over the embarrassment of compromising yourself for someone else’s sexual gratification in the vain hope that he, or possibly she, might like you for it.

The idea of a threesome with two men and one woman wouldn’t appeal in adland. Sure, men can look stupid not knowing how to work a washing machine – there’s a secret badge of pride in that, even if he is a total dud of a human being – but two men naked together in any context other than a Daz ad, is simply unthinkable to that mindset.

It’s not that I mind porn with my coffee, I’d just rather it wasn’t so, winking,  desperate and depressing (yes, I demand happy, hopeful caffeinated porn with my coffee-Red Bull porn). And, like porn, this ad doesn’t leave me wondering, will they won’t they (kind of a given there), so I am less likely to think or talk about it for any length of time, hopefully.

Perhaps I am being obtuse. The romantic ads were for Nescafe Gold Blend. The threesome horror flogs a 3-in-1 sachet for losers who don’t even have fresh milk in the fridge. They are not going for the same market.

Still, it’s a shame. People that good-looking should drink fresh milk and not have such low self-esteem that they feel they have to share their boyfriend during a party. S’all I’m sayin’.

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There’s an interesting new interview with Kathleen Lynch over on Mediabite, in which the UCD Professor of Equality Studies

Professor Kathleen Lynch

discusses inequality in Ireland, her treatment on Tonight with Vincent Browne, and why some female politicians are so scared of feminism. Here’s a taster:

What do you think are the main obstacles to gender equality in Ireland and would you agree that Ireland still has a deeply chauvinist culture and that this too is a major factor underpinning the meek acceptance of gross injustice as a solution to what is essentially a crisis of and by the richest people?

KL: Ireland has an extremely chauvinist culture. I travel abroad a lot – in Northern Europe and have a lot of contacts outside the country. I have been a Visiting Professor and I work with many people in Germany and in France – which isn’t exactly devoid of sexism either. I also work in Brussels. I would say that we are going backwards because in terms of political representation it is self evident. We have only 16%. The two main parties have only 15% each and it’s almost nothing. The smaller parties have more. I think there are so many factors at play. Women are too polite. We have been socialised not to offend as women – don’t be too strident, don’t be too this or that. I suppose the backlash that you mention when I raised things that people don’t want to hear is one of the reasons that women will not put themselves forward because they are abused in a different way than men are abused. Men are abused for their ideas but they are not abused in terms of their appearance in the media if they dissent. Women are subjected to sexualised abuse. I think the political class in our society has no interest in this issue and women have not been resistant. We have been too conciliatory and accepting. My view is we should have marches on the Dáil – we should sit down in the middle of Dublin and stay there until something changes. We have no proper childcare, we have no infrastructure. Quebec in Canada has a very successful, non-profit childcare system because the women went out there and organised it. The Irish Women’s Council has no money, for example. There is no-one to organise it here. There have been all kinds of backlashes in the media against women who have dissented. The have actually been called nazis – or ‘feminazis’. A lot of women are afraid of that kind of abuse and it’s a form of violence against women that is accepted in Ireland.

MC: Lucinda Creighton recently felt the necessity to preface something she said with the qualifier “I’m no crazed feminist but…” – as if it would be a terrible thing to be thought of as a feminist.

KL: There are lots of sociological reasons that can explain that but if you have a young woman going into politics who is so fearful of that, what will she ever do? If she can’t defend herself as a woman, I’d be worried about what she will ever defend. You have to stand up for what you believe in and women are not equal to men in this country. For many, many years we have had second class citizenship. I’m not saying that I want a whole group of middle class women coming into politics. I’ve always said this – if we want gender balance we want it of men and women from different backgrounds which I think is as big an issue as gender. There is research from Norway and from a number of countries where they have gender balance, relatively speaking i.e. 40% and which shows that even women from conservative parties actually promote health, education and social welfare. It’s because they are closer to the vulnerable in society. It isn’t because women are morally superior to men – I would never say that, I think that’s nonsense. Or that men can’t care for children as well as women – of course they can. But because of the way our society is, women are the primary carers and a lot of the vulnerable people in society are cared for by women most of the time. Therefore policies that affect the vulnerable are more visible to women and they are more likely to vote for policies that are supportive of childcare, disability, healthcare and education. That is a simple empirical fact – observable from countries that have large numbers of women in their parliaments. I believe we will never get women in politics in sufficient numbers in this country without some sort of a quota system.

MC: I’ve argued before that in any other circumstance where you have such an obvious imbalance or social lack it’s only natural for some sort of remedial action to be taken to restore the situation to health.

KL: We need only have it for a period of time to overcome the problem, otherwise it’s not going to happen.

MC: And yet very disappointingly women in the Dáil – over half of them – are saying they are against gender quotas.

KL: Well you only have to look at who they are, a lot of them. Many of the women who succeed in politics in this country have family associations in politics and they get selected on the basis of their family connections – and that in my view is a form of a quota. They have already benefited from the family quota and they should remember that. And many of the others have benefited from their money. I’m sorry, but there are some women with wealthy backgrounds and that has greatly helped them. You’ve probably been to privileged schools and enjoyed all the privileges of your class and therefore of course you don’t need a quota because you belong to the privileged upper middle class. So bully for you! The vast majority of women do not. Any woman from a poor community down the country hasn’t a hope.

You can read the whole interview here.

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A couple of weeks after I’d started work in Dublin, a colleague-of-a-colleague asked to pick my brains about the British publishing industry. He’d written a few books for the Irish market and was keen to spread his wings. Could I put him in touch with someone in England?

No problems, I said. If you let me have the proposal, I’ll look through it, make any suggestions I think might help your chances in the bigger, more saturated UK market, and once you’re ready with that and your sample chapters, I’ll steer it towards the appropriate editor. Of course, since I didn’t know the publishing house’s forward schedule, I couldn’t tell him if his book would be a fit; but if the editor thought it might be, the proposal would go forward to the commissioning meeting for due diligence and then….

The would-be author, a successful businessman in his, I’m guessing, mid-fifties, cut me off. ‘Oh!’ he said (I’m paraphrasing here). ‘I don’t have any ideas for a book yet. I just wanted to work with a big British publisher. Can’t you introduce me to an editor who’d just agree to publish my book once I *did* have an idea? Doesn’t it work like that over there?’

I was reminded of this yesterday, listening to BBC Radio 4’s morning news show, ‘Today’. In a somewhere-in-the-middle news item about the Irish election, the presenter made an offhand reference to ‘the end of cronyism’. It pulled me up short. Not because of its incisive commentary (hardly) – but because it suddenly struck me, listening to the end of the report, that it’s so much harder than it sounds for the nation to achieve.

From the outside (by which, for these purposes, I mean England), it all looks so simple. Ireland got rich, people did each other favours that they really shouldn’t have; this behaviour should cease and desist instantly. Even the news I’ve seen from within Ireland seems to think this is the answer. To which I say, we’re missing the point.

The Irish mentality is hard-wired to lend a hand, to try to help each other out. To go back to my author-businessman story, I can see how it came about.  You want to write a book and become a British bestseller? No problem. I know someone who worked in that field. She’ll help you to do it. No matter if you have talent, the appropriate skills or, you know, an actual concept for a book; that’s all secondary.  From an English perspective, this looks utterly bonkers. But two successful businessmen thought this was more than reasonable, and looped me in.  Sound familiar?

(image c/o Zazzle) Right, who's first?

During my time in Ireland, I saw iterations of this ‘I know someone who can help’ mentality, in different aspects of daily life, time and again. And really, the sentiment is admirable. Why on earth *not* help someone if you can? I’ve been aided in this way, personally and professionally, more times than I can count. And in Ireland you see why the instinct is particularly strong; it’s a small country with historically large families; your degree of separation from everyone must be far fewer than the traditional six. So ‘helping someone’ in the abstract becomes, very quickly, helping your niece; or your boyfriend’s sister, or your sister’s boyfriend. Something that’ll make the next family gathering beyond awkward if you say no.

The American version of this, of course, is networking, where the emphasis has somehow shifted from how can I help others? to how can others help me? A logical consequence of arriving in the Land of Opportunity and needing the support of others to get on your feet, I suppose. But in Britain, where nepotism is a fate right up there with queue jumping, cronyism isn’t a close cousin of, well, helping your cousin. It’s wrong. And it’s absolutely not something you want in business.

We all know that whatever went on on that golf course, and doubtless in countless other situations we don’t know about, was desperate and should never have happened. But my point is this. When we’re looking to rebuild Ireland, especially those of us looking from the outside, we should think carefully before we insist the Irish give up the urge to help each other along. It’s a core component of the national  character, and when it’s not bringing down the Euro, we’re all incredibly pleased to be associated with it.

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