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Archive for May 15th, 2011

Here’s a video you might enjoy. It’s part of a US documentary on Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez and it features the president’s weekly TV show “Alo Presidente” (Howya President). You might find the clip from about 5 minutes in, particularly amusing. Because at one of the president’s shows, a group of international journalists was invited, which included one of our own, Rory Carroll who works for the Guardian in the UK. It would seem that some aide told the president that there was a journalist present from Great Britain, the ultimate Old World gringo nation. And Rory was called upon to ask a question by the president who announced to everyone that there was a journalist from Great Britain. Now to his credit, Rory spoke in fluent Spanish and told the president he was Irish, but it seems that the president didn’t quite understand the significance of being Irish. Rory asked a mildly hostile question, which he hadn’t prepared, about the president seeking a change in the law allowing him to be president for life. And then poor young Rory was the recipient of what is apparently called in the journalism biz, “a monstering”. All the sins of colonialism were visited upon the shoulders of Rory – the slave trade, African holocaust, Christopher Columbus, the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, the unelected British monarch etc. The president went on and on, and poor Rory had no choice but to take it.

The documentary mightn’t show the entire monstering because the programme can go on for seven hours. The show starts and finishes when the president decides and is carried on Venzuelan TV. During the show, Hugo Chavez talks to his people, grants wishes and demonstrates that he is a man of action – in one show he ordered a general to send the army and tanks up to the border with Colombia, and Venezuela having a serious military, this was potentially a precursor to war; in another he had his air force collect a sick child and deliver her to a hospital for treatment. Looking at it from an Irish perspective, it’s amusing stuff and we probably brush it off as evidence of what you get when you don’t have a properly functioning democracy (though we should remember that the documentary maker is from the US and the US has a particular stance on Venezuela and its president).

So today, I want to formally pitch an original TV concept, a weekly show for our own corner of the world. In it, our own politicians can demonstrate their own credentials as men and women of action.  Callers would request medical cards, planning applications be speeded up or otherwise resolved, that the queue at hospitals for operations could be by-passed, that a super-casino be granted permission, the list could be endless. You’d have no problem at all filling a few hours.

And to sex-up the format a little you’d have a few special segments, like the Crank Phone Call. Here you would get the great and good at the top of our State sector to call counterparts around the world and taunt them about how badly they get paid. For example one week, you might have the governor of the Central Bank, the €300k-a-year Patrick Honohan, the Financial Regulator, the €300k-a-year Matthew Elderfield, the Secretary General at the Department of Finance, the €228k-a-year Kevin Cardiff the Minister for Finance, the €169k-a-year Michael Noonan and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, the €130k-a-year Brian Hayes, and they could all do a conference prank call to US Treasury Secretary, the €137k-a-year Timothy Geithner and they could all make monkey noises to signify “you pay peanuts you get monkeys” whereas in Ireland we have financial engineering geniuses that gave us this. By the way Timothy Geither’s title includes the word “secretary” but of course he doesn’t do diary-organising, short-hand and audio typing, the funny thing is that if he came over here and did do that, he probably wouldn’t have to take a major pay-cut.

Another prank call could be from our own president, the €293k-a-year Mary McAleese to her US counterpart “Barack, you’re an idiot. I can’t remember the last time I got up at 5am but it certainly wasn’t to direct someone out foreign to be shot.” Mary earns the equivalent of USD $418k a year compared to Barack’s USD $400k. And when we say “president” in the Irish case, it’s a “smile and wave”, ceremonial figurehead type of president that once in a blue moon might refer a piece of legislation to a Council of State but otherwise is mostly to be seen on junkets. Of course Mary McAleese when she became president in 1997, played her part in the peace process and she is by all accounts a charming and intelligent woman. She has however, singularly sat on her hands in the past three years whilst the country has been economically ravaged. As Janet Jackson might ask “what have you done for us lately (Mary) (to justify a salary more than that of the leader of the free world)”

And no show would be complete without NAMA Corner with the NAMA CEO and chairman, the owlish Brendan and the hawkish Frank. You’ll never know who will be the target of their largesse from week to week. Last week it was the National Gallery where NAMA said it had “decided as a goodwill gesture to the National Gallery and to the Irish people to offer the National Gallery one piece of art from the collection for free given the fact that they advised it was of importance to the heritage ofIreland.” So, during this programme segment, you can expect a torrent of calls from the very many arts and cultural organizations in the country, most of which I would expect are starved of funding (always the way with the arts). And Brendan and Frank can have a little huddle, flip a coin and bingo! you’ll have this week’s lucky winners.

It is an original concept and I suppose I had better assert my format rights here before the Irish Independent swipe it and claim it for their own. By the way, the Irish journalist at the Guardian wrote of his experience at “Alo Presidente” here. And Venezuela was once a recipient of IMF aid. It isn’t now though.

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