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

Last night at around 3am the Occupy Dame Street camp was cleared by Gardai.  The fifteen protesters still on site were given no forewarning but rather claim to have been woken by the clatter of their temporary structures being pulled apart.  Ostensibly the reason given for clearing the camp was health and safety concerns relating to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is set to pass by the former location of the protesters.  Gardai had previously requested that Occupy Dame Street ‘temporarily’ remove the camp to accommodate the parade, which the protesters refused to do.

While questions relating to how effective the protest in this format has remained in recent months and what levels of support the camp still generates are open to debate (see some discussion on namawinelake), the events of last night nevertheless seem to me a sad reflection of the paucity of positions of active citizenship.  Whenever I passed by the camp recently there appeared to be relatively little activity.  To an extent, its presence had become somewhat normalised and thus lacked the confrontational aspect of its early incarnation.  Ironically, looking at photographs of the cleared site I am struck that its absence (at least today) packs a more potent political message.  The naked site denudes the state power that continually produces the city as a site organised around particular practices and ideologies.  Uses of space that significantly deviate from, and challenge, these practices and ideologies, it seems, will not be tolerated on a sustained basis.

The story of the camp’s removal featured on Today FMs 11 o’clock news but was dropped by the midday bulletin, replaced (as far as I could tell) by a story relating a new incentive scheme offering rewards of €1,500 per job (up to a maximum of 100 jobs) for anyone who suceeds in bringing a foreign company to Ireland.  I don’t know if Today FM’s dropping the story is significant.  But it is indicative of ‘Ireland Inc’ becoming increasing the default performance of citizenship.  While health and safety concerns are cited, there are clearly parties concerned that the presence of the camp during the St. Patrick Day parade will reflect poorly on Ireland’s international tourist image.  On twitter, one commentator criticised an “ignorant” protester who dismissed the value of tourism to Ireland.  Foreign investment in terms of companies and tourists is clearly significant in sustaining employment in Ireland, but I can’t help but be struck with the underlying picture of a hopelessly anti-democratic society that these sentiments suggest.  Hamstringed by the programme of austerity imposed by the Trokia, the Government must look towards international investment to improve the lives of Irish citizens.  Enacting citizenship, then, appears to mean stoically accepting the pragmatism of this strategy, shutting up and getting on with things.  If not, you can always join the long lines of those leaving for Canada.

Cian O’Callaghan