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An anodyne interview which failed to ask McCollum any crucial questions

By John Boland

Published 09/04/2016

On camera: the first television interview of Michaella McCollum after being released on parole from jail in Peru
On camera: the first television interview of Michaella McCollum after being released on parole from jail in Peru

Half of Ireland has spent the week talking about Prison in Peru: Michaella's First Interview, the comments mainly focused on how glamorous the 23-year-old convicted drug courier looked after a couple of years in jail and on her rueful insistence that she was "a good person" who had simply made "a bad decision".

There's been much less analysis of the interview itself, which was conducted by Trevor Birney, who also produced and directed (he previously directed the unsatisfactorily partial 2014 RTE1 documentary Michaella, Peru and the Drug Run).

That's a pity, because throughout the whole half-hour, he failed to ask McCollum any questions that might have ruffled the image of contrite victimhood that she was so assiduously intent on conveying. Indeed, none of the crucial questions to which viewers would reasonably have expected answers were even put to her.

Who, for instance, were these people who had persuaded her to run drugs from Lima to Spain? Were they Spanish, English, Irish, or part of a global cartel? Was she coerced or did she willingly agree to carry the drugs? What, if anything, was she being paid for her services and did she get the money in advance?

And what about her fellow traveller, Scotswoman Melissa Reid, who's still in prison? Were they in contact with each other in jail? And what prospects does Reid have for being similarly paroled? But Reid's existence wasn't mentioned throughout the interview.

And even when McCollum mentioned aspects of her life that invited follow-up questions, they weren't asked. She claimed that in 2013, while still living in Northern Ireland, she was warned to leave the area as soon as possible or else "something would happen" and that this was based on religious grounds. "Sectarian?" Birney inquired. "Of course", she replied. "Right", he said, and moved on to another soft question. What on earth was that all about?

(It has since emerged that McCollum posted a pro-IRA message on social media, which included a masked member of the Provisionals armed with an assault rifle.)

This was quite the worst television interview I've seen in a long time, indeed a low point for RTE's factual department, which commissioned it from Birney's Below the Radar company, but which seemingly never demanded that a few basic hard questions be put to McCollum.

Or, indeed, that care should be taken to ensure that the result amounted to something other than a promotional aid for the interviewee.

From slammer to glamour, as Paddy Power put it when inviting odds on McCollum's post-jail choice of career.

Belfast Telegraph

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