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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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Larry Donnelly Enough - can we have some good news, please?

Our columnist looks at the relentless bad news in the last few months and wonders where it’s all going.

ONE OF THE main reasons I wind up steering clear of highly recommended, popular television programmes and films is that they typically involve an element of sadness or unvanquished cruelty. My thinking is that there is more than enough of both in the real world. Why would I voluntarily subject myself to it?

Instead, I prefer the likes of “Blue Bloods,” where members of the Reagan law enforcement family encounter and then successfully tackle the big issues facing New York City before sitting down to a Sunday dinner.

Or less wholesomely, I enjoy a Steven Seagal movie in which the martial arts expert invariably rips rotten evildoers to shreds, one by one, albeit in rather implausible scenarios. In short, I need the show to have a happy ending.

Negative feeds

For those with a similar disposition – and I believe most of us are of this ilk – the world is scary right now. A lengthy period of consistently bad news has been disheartening, to put it mildly.

The horrendous attack on Ukraine by Russia rages on. It may have slipped down the news agenda because it has been going on for months, but the human carnage and the global displacement of the Ukrainian people continue.

Of course, the pandemic hasn’t left us and, anecdotally, there seem to be plenty in this country contracting coronavirus, even if the symptoms of the afflicted are usually not severe or life-endangering. “Covid-19 is everywhere,” according to one senior medic.

Meanwhile, climate change is increasingly wreaking havoc and imperilling lives and livelihoods. And though they may routinely escape notice, there are serious struggles on the vast African continent. For instance, as this site reported recently, Kenya is in the midst of its worst drought in four decades and the forecast is bleak.

Problems in western democracy

At home, the widespread problem of extraordinary inflation is hitting hard. For the privileged, it is an inconvenience to complain about, yet for many others, it has morphed into a far graver predicament. There appears to be no finish in sight to the rapidly rising price of consumer goods or a viable solution to inflation on offer. A small, but telling, example is that a two-litre of milk in my local supermarket – €1.49 mere weeks ago – costs €2.09 today.

Childcare is comparatively extortionate. House prices are absolutely out of control and some understandably anxious young people are actually emigrating as a consequence.

And in the two countries that Ireland, wisely or not, often looks to, the United Kingdom and the United States, there are profound crises in democracy and more broadly. In the UK, we have witnessed the spectacle of a deeply flawed prime minister clinging to the trappings of his office by any means necessary and only relinquishing it begrudgingly and at his own pace.

The unseemly revelations emanating from in and around Westminster are proof of a massive disconnect between a tiny cabal at the top and the rest of society, as well as systemic deficiencies. A written constitution certainly wouldn’t go astray for one thing.

My America is reeling. Mass shootings are commonplace. And the worth of each innocent life lost in them is diminished by the US Supreme Court ruling making it tougher still to enact rational laws to regulate the ownership of weapons of war that were unimaginable at the time the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution was drafted.

And no matter one’s personal stance on the complex topic of abortion, the court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade reinforces the perception that it is just another political body comprised of rigid ideologues when it was intended to be, in many respects, a bulwark against the imperfections of a representative democracy.

It is no wonder that comprehensive Gallup polling shows that Americans are arguably less confident in the country’s major institutions in 2022 than they ever have been. What percentage of citizens have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the Supreme Court, the presidency and Congress? Sequentially, 25%, 23% and an infinitesimal 7%.

I do not concur with those who say the US is irretrievably “broken”; I do, however, recognise that it is at an exceptionally low ebb.

Two words aptly sum up the state of play on the planet at the moment: pretty sh*t. And we hear about it incessantly: on TV, on radio, in the papers and online. Research from the Reuters Institute indicates that millions are tuning out as a result. Internationally, 38% avoid news and current affairs. 55% of the 46% of UK residents who ignore the news say they do so because it is “bringing them down.”

Truth to power

Journalists across the myriad platforms that consumers can choose from would instinctively, and quite correctly, assert that they are not in the business of providing good cheer. Their task is to tell the stories that have to be told without fear and to hold those in positions of power to account.

It is equally accurate to note that journalism is under fire and under threat from numerous directions. Charges – some meritorious, others not – of bias are regularly made. A huge swathe of the population, particularly young people, refuse to pay for quality reportage and analysis due to distrust, indifference or a misguided, near total fidelity in what features in their social media feeds.

This is an era of immense challenges for journalism. A further line of criticism to the effect that the negative is being accentuated won’t be welcomed. What’s more, it is largely off the mark

That said, and without prejudice to the significant incidents and trends that must be covered extensively regardless of the sentiments engendered, there is an appetite out there for heightened focus on the positive things that happen everywhere, every day. It is incumbent upon the media to shine a spotlight on them.

For my part, I will keep devouring as much “hard news” as possible – at times to the point of despair – because I am passionate about and fascinated by politics and current affairs. But I will also seek out items describing individuals who are doing amazing deeds and showcasing the multitude of ways in which so many are striving to be change agents in a troubled world.

And in truth, this is not what a cynic might call “feel good fluff.” It is news, too, and warrants being brought to the public’s attention.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston lawyer, a law lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with The Journal. His book – “The Bostonian: Life in an Irish American Political Family” – is published by Gill and available online and in bookshops.


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