On Michaela McCollum’s RTE Interview

by Brendan Strong

Now nearly a month behind on my Year in Verse (why not stop by?), I have discovered another way to procrastinate, by adding another pointless voice to the general babble surrounding Michaela McCollum’s release from a Peruvian prison. 

Some thoughts on last nights Michaela McCollum interview on RTE. Everyone’s talking about it, so I thought I would chuck my two cents at it, as these thoughts appear to reside only with me.

If you don’t know: Michaela McCollum is an Irish woman, arrested and convicted in 2o13 for trying to smuggle drugs out of Peru into Spain. She was 19 at the time. She was released last Thursday. She says she was influenced by some group to do this, but to date I am unaware that she has ever disclosed who this group was.

Should RTE have interviewed Michaela McCollum?



At 19, she made a dreadful mess of her life, perhaps the rest of her life. I see public interest in hearing her version of events – how she found herself in this situation and the decision process that led to her ultimate arrest and conviction.

Should RTE have made it prime time?

That’s up to them. We always complain about the media. But they have numbers that indicate what people watch/ are interested in. And frankly, when McCollum was arrested it was everywhere. So, one can see that there is probably a continued interest in her release. If the numbers made sense, then it makes sense to make it prime time.

On another note: I have two daughters (much, much younger, and mainly unaware of the Michaela McCollum story), and Michaela McCollum’s story scares the shit out of me almost as much as child kidnaps, etc. To think your child could make such a tragically poor decision and then have to pay the consequences on their own. (Yes, of course she has to face those consequences on her own. But I don’t know what prison in Peru is like, what might happen, and I wouldn’t want my kids to face that unknown on their own.) So, as a parent: I have interest in understanding how Michaela McCollum got herself into this mess, and I believe if my kids were adolescents, I would want them to watch it too.

So it was worthwhile?

No, it was terrible. A missed opportunity.

Michaela sounded like she was reading from a script. At several points, I simply did not believe what she was trying to communicate.

The questions were ludicrously soft, given the severity of the crime and the consequent punishment.

“Did you know your hair was famous?” was a complete waste of time. Mind you, it seems to have played into a general sexism around the interview. If Michaela McCollum was a man, looking well after a few years in a Peruvian prison might be considered a triumph: not letting them break his spirit. But she’s a woman, so we want to know about her hair, nails, new blazer, etc. She does not look like she’s suffered enough. But these cosmetic changes are (I would imagine) not the result of being in a Peruvian prison, but perhaps bought by her family to try and “wash away” something of the experience, to show her spirit has not been broken by the experience.

Of course, the previous paragraph is assumption, because despite the billing (“Prison in Peru: Michaela’s First Interview”), I have no idea what prison in Peru was like for her. We actually don’t know how much she suffered, whether or not it was enough.

I also have no idea whether she really is remorseful for her actions. I know she said she was, but (see above), I just don’t know if she meant what she said or if she was told (by her family, or her solicitor) what she needed to say and not say.  Her spoken words rang hollow.

I have sympathy with Michaela McCollum making a disastrous decision at 19. She’s still a kid, and she’s a kid from that generation who’ve been taught there are no consequences for any action. That is not to defend her actions or decisions: it is merely to say I have sympathy for her current predicament. She was an idiot (as we all are as teenagers), perhaps a little greedy, perhaps a little arrogant; perhaps too arrogant.

Yes, my mind will probably change if she ends up on Celebrity (?!) Big Brother as the Mirror was reporting, but for now I feel for her as a kid who made a stupid mistake who is still a kid, but with a reputation that may follow her for life (and frankly, if it does – if she is made to be a pantomime villain, I think we can expect to see her on reality TV programmes, as she will still need to make some kind of a living, and they may well be happy to pay for her presence. If you think it’s awful this could happen, then don’t watch – but let’s face it, if it happens, it’s because the numbers added up).

All in all, the whole interview and programme was a wasted opportunity.  As I said, I have sympathy for her, but from a public service broadcasting point of view, there was a chance to create something of public interest and value, and they ditched it. The interview questions were too bland, her responses were not further interrogated or explored in any way – she was let away with it.