Launched last month, ‘Rap Nuacht na hEireann’ (RNE) is a project by Darragh Kenny which aims to release a series of videos on youtube that combine a television news format with music and a rapping anchor in order to explore “news and views that shape Ireland but are often on the peripheral of the mainstream”. Episode 1 seeks to ask broad questions concerning “who controls the scope of the media debate”. In an effort to extend the level of debate generated, the author of the video has asked a number of people (including myself) to write pieces that comment on issues raised in different episodes. With that in mind, the intentions of this post is to function as a ‘critical plug’ for the project and to provide a space for discussion of both the video itself and the issues it raises.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about how political discussion in Ireland, as filtered through the mainstream media, can be limited in scope. While minor policy issues can be covered in great detail, more structural factors, such as the legitimacy of the form of capitalism currently practiced in Ireland, can be completely excluded from the debate. This continues to be the case even when those minor policy issues are effectively locked in place by the constraints of this overarching system.
The explosion of forms of new social media has significantly altered the media landscape by incorporating a range of new voices and modes of communication. In different ways this has changed how most of us receive and consume news. However, the presence of new voices in the media landscape does not preclude that we are now exposed to more diverse opinions or that our critical capacities have been sharpened. In one sense all the competing voices may cancel each other out. In a different sense, because we are inundated with so much content through new social media channels, we tend to be selective about which sources (websites, blogs, twitter feeds) we get our information from. Hence, the internet has a tendency to turn into an ‘echo chamber’ where likeminded individuals come together in particular corners of cyberspace. Thus, mainstream media remains an important conduit for public discussion, in contrast to the sometimes diverse publics catered to by new social media.
As a media commentary and media product, RNE fits right into the ambiguities of this space. The project aims for a populist appeal by presenting what is perhaps challenging content in an accessible and fun manner. It mirrors the format of a televised news programme, wherein news anchor Seamus O’Dea mediates between a number of other guests (an Occupy protester, an economic correspondent, and an investor) who offer a range of different viewpoints on events. O’Dea is intended to represent an impartial perspective. He is, according to Kenny, meant to be ‘one step ahead of the public’, and hence guides them through a series of issues that are articulated by the other guests. As such, a debate unfolds between the guests and O’Dea that is intended to open up spaces not normally covered by mainstream news.
While RNE draws on mainstream media tropes, it is very clearly a product of the new social media terrain. The project is hosted on youtube and disseminated through twitter and facebook. It also aims to take advantage of the blurring of identities offered through these mechanisms: Seamus O’Dea has his own facebook page for instance.
Whilst O’Dea and co don’t have Mos Def’s flow, the project should be commended for presenting a lot of complex information in a concise and easily digested manner (and in verse!). The news programme format functions as a way of distilling several voices and demonstrating their points of friction. The video isn’t always entirely successful in this regard. At times, O’Dea oversteps the boundaries of his supposed impartiality, and investor Vlad Doich Cuaill comes across a bit of a cartoonish villain.
Nevertheless, the project raises a number of pertinent questions about the shape of the current media landscape. In satirising the television news format, RNE calls attention to the proclivity of the mainstream media to uphold the status quo. When peripheral perspectives are drafted in they are often discursively marginalised as ‘extreme’ points of view and used to play against more minor differences between ‘moderate’ (Centre Right) responses. However, for these very reasons RNE is also perhaps in danger of falling into the chasm of an ‘echo chamber’, preaching only to a left-leaning choir while missing the ‘popular’ audience that it sets out to address.
These opinions are not intended to be a definitive pronouncement on RNE’s successes and failures. Rather they are open questions that need to be addressed through more general discussion. As a socially engaged internet public, the readers of this blog are in a good position to conduct such a debate, to ask questions like: How effective are projects like RNE? How can new social media extend the public debate? How can fragmented ‘online publics’ be reconciled with a ‘general public’? To address these and other issues, please send your comments to Seamus O’Dea below.
Cian O’Callaghan