The Managing Director of RTÉ TV claims, in light of its payout to Iona plus John Waters, that the broadcaster has ‘not engaged in censorship‘ in the course of recent events. These events included the removal of the footage of Rory O’Neill referring to Iona plus Waters as homophobes, and the payout itself. But if you remove footage of someone making a reasoned statement based on facts, that is censorship.
If you make a substantial payout in recognition that it was wrong of you to broadcast reasoned statements based on facts, as RTÉ have done in this case, that is also engaging in censorship. You are demonstrating to the public that there are certain things that you might think but you cannot say them and you deserve to be rightly punished for this.
The Managing Director of RTÉ TV claims that RTÉ had, instead, fallen foul of Ireland’s defamation laws. This is no doubt true. But if the law tells you to drop your trousers, and you drop your trousers, you may have fallen foul of the law, but you are still dropping your trousers. It is exactly the same thing with censorship.
The legal position, according to the Managing Director’s letter, was “far from clear”. How do you see things clearly? Certain things can weigh on your mind and prevent you from seeing clearly.
Let’s speculate. What if RTÉ chiefs wanted to avoid any kind of public confrontation that would have garnered negative publicity. Such publicity might come from the stables of the Beast at INM and Newstalk, or it might come through pressure from the blueish part of Ireland’s political establishment. I can think of one major figure with links to Fine Gael and the Vatican who has previously called for RTÉ’s full privatisation. The same person, incidentally, has given his name to a School of Law at one of Ireland’s universities. I doubt there was any explicit pressure or intervention from these quarters. There does not need to be.
Such powerful presences are real. That is not to say they were the decisive factor. I have no way of knowing, really, and I’m discounting, for the sake of argument, the possibility that RTÉ bosses were inclined to accept the charge of defamation as justified because in fact they sympathised with the Iona Institute.
On the subject of Panti’s remarkable, historic speech, it was remarked to me that it the same people, who talk so reasonably on the airwaves about treating LGBT people as less, who are the ones that talk about women in the same terms when it comes to abortion rights.
However, this needs qualification. People such as the Iona Institute are in far wider company on the latter point, both in terms of explicit support for draconian anti-abortion legislation, and implicit support for the idea that the State can exercise such power over women’s bodies as a matter of right.
So whilst the focus is on a small group of right wing commentator-cranks, perhaps we should be thinking about the wider function they perform: as a kind of media bridgehead for a wider constituency of anti-LGBT, anti-woman, anti-democratic opinion that sets the terms of public debate and keeps the legal order and the interests it serves nicely nailed down, so that people can be put in their place as the need arises.