This is getting to be a habit so let me say this right off the bat; I don’t actually hate the Irish media. In fact I quite like it. 99% of the time it does a decent to good job of letting me know what’s going on in the world and whether this chicken sandwich is going to give me salmonella. Actually, I was originally going to write about the backlash to Macklemore winning the grammy (I even had an awesome name for it: Macklash!) but then this latest controversy reared its ugly head so I had to put that post on ice (short version, he’s a really decent guy who maybe didn’t deserve to beat Kendrick, not the second coming of Hitler and anyway it’s a grammy so who cares?). So yeah, I don’t want to seem like I hate the Irish media even though whenever I bring them up on this blog I’m raking them across the coals. I’m sorry. It’s like the toilet, you only ever notice it when it stops working and you’re up to your oxters in fecal matter. But this time around I feel there’s an added urgency to put something in writing because this business is embarrassing to not only the state broadcaster RTÉ but also the national paper of record, The Irish Times. Which, amazingly, means that coverage of it in the national media has been slightly muted to say the least. So, as usual, it falls to a bunch of oddballs on the internet to spread the word. Alright, so let me set the scene.
Around a fortnight ago on RTÉs The Saturday Night Show
host Brendan O’Connor was interviewing drag artist Rory O’Neill (aka Panti). And I will say this, if there is one positive thing to come out of this whole episode it is that it has finally justified my irrational fear and loathing of Brendan O’Connor. You can read his Wikipedia page here
, I think it gives a good flavour of the man. Anyway, the topic of homophobia came up and O’Neill was asked who in the Irish media he felt were homophobic. O’Neill is obviously one of the those poor deluded fools who was raised to believe that when someone asks you a question you give an honest answer (“truthies” we used to call ‘em when I was growing up) and mentioned the Iona Institute and Irish journalist John Waters.
Who is John Waters?
That’s our boy.
John Waters is a conservative columnist and professional crankypants for the Irish Times known for his opposition to gay marriage particularly and the increasingly secularisation of Ireland more generally. He has also written such books as Hey you kids, get off my lawn!, This here is private property dagnabbit and of course I Know Your Parents!
And the Iona Institute?
The Iona Institute is a Conservative Catholic lobby group formed in 2007 to prevent the establishment of gay marriage in Ireland and promote hardline conservative Catholicism. This was as a response to the mass exodus of Irish people from the Catholic Church from the mid nineties and onward (I blame TV and rock and roll. Also the mass child rape and the vast conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and protect those responsible. But mostly the first two.)
So then what happened?
Woah, back up. Who’s Tom O’Gorman?
Yeah, he just kinda flew outta nowhere there didn’t he? Tom O’Gorman was a researcher for the Iona Institute who earlier this month was murdered and partially eaten in his home by his Italian chess partner. Seriously. I’m not making a joke, that actually happened. This of course was a horrific and tragic crime which would certainly be grounds for editing O’Neill’s interview if he had mentioned Tom O’Gorman in any way.
Okay…so, that’s weird.
It gets weirder. Well…no, it doesn’t really get weirder than cannibalistic Italian chess players but it continues to be weird in different, less horrifying ways. As it turns out, this was an attempt by RTÉ to use a horrific crime to give themselves cover for censoring the interview. The reason they did this pretty soon became apparent. John Waters and the Iona Institute had lawyered up. And they did not take kindly to being called homophobes. On a later episode of The Saturday Night Brendan O’Connor addressed the audience. Now, let me be clear, if O’Connor had just come out and said “RTE wishes to clarify that the views expressed on this show do not necessarily reflect the views of RTE blah blah boilerplate” that’s fine. Regardless of my personal stance on the issue, the national broadcaster must be seen to be impartial . That’s fine. That’s not what this was.
“Now, on the Saturday night show two weeks ago comments were made by a guest suggesting the journalist and broadcaster John Waters, Breda O’Brien and some members of the Iona institute are homophobic. These are not the views of RTÉ and we would like to apologise for any upset or distress caused to the individuals named or identified. It is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.”
So…what you have here is the national broadcaster censoring itself and then apologising profusely under legal threat because a private citizen expressed a personal opinion that individuals who have devoted a considerable portion of their adult lives to ensuring that gay people do not achieve equal marriage rights could be considered homophobic…and then lecturing us on the importance of freedom of expression in a healthy democracy.
“And now, please rise for the two minutes hate. DEATH TO THE TRAITOR GOLDSTEIN!”
However, it was the news that RTÉ is actually paying a cash settlement to the Iona Institute (which, since RTÉ is state funded essentially amounts to a gift from the Irish taxpayer) that people have loudly declaring that Up With This We Will Not Put. Ironically, John Waters was until recently a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, whose purpose is to actually protect liberty of expression in Irish broadcasting. To his credit, I suppose he’s not a hypocrite. It’s just a little disheartening that when faced with choosing between freedom of speech and media suppression he looked at the latter and said “Ooh that one!”
RTÉ’s behaviour in all this baffles me. See, I’ve spent time in RTÉ. I worked their briefly as an intern and I was interviewed once for an afternoon programme and let me tell you, the place is not exactly what you’d call gay unfriendly.
A Thursday morning in RTÉ.
The obvious reason of course is cowardice. As in, RTÉ are cowards. Big wusses. Total pussbags. And if this was a simple case of a craven obeisance to power that would be something. That at least can indicate a rat-like survival instinct which is kind of admirable in a way. But, and I cannot emphasise this enough, NOBODY GIVES A FLYING FIDDLER’S FUCK ABOUT THE IONA INSTITUTE. Seriously, they’re a joke. Ireland’s gay marriage referendum is scheduled for 2015 and there’s every indication that it’s going to be a walk for the YES side. I’ve seen polls putting support at upwards of seventy percent, the highest level of support for anything in Ireland since pollsters stopped asking “Beer good?” Given Iona’s complete lack of clout the only reason for RTE’s craven grovelling is that they think Iona and John Waters actually have a case.
So that’s the real question. Was O’Neill’s remark an objective fact or an unproven slander? Does opposing gay marriage in and of itself make you a homophobe? Now I know that thousands…hundreds? Okay, several readers are now screaming at the screen “Yes. Mouse. Yes.” But honestly, I think that kind of absolutist “with us or agin’ us” mentality is very harmful for the gay rights movement. Take somebody who supports civil unions for gay couples and abhors discrimination and anti-gay prejudice but draws the line at full marriage equality. He may be wrong, but he’s not Fred Phelps, and treating him like he is Fred Phelps is not going to win him over. In every great social struggle like this the side that is the more flexible, pragmatic, patient and willing to make messy compromises in the present for greater gains in the future always wins.
So if you were to tell me that you honestly and sincerely bear no ill will or prejudice towards gays but just believe that marriage should be between a man or a woman, I can’t read your soul. I can’t know if that’s true or not so I’m just going to have to take you at your word until I get my hands on a Klingon mind sifter.
It is extremely effective if…unpleasant.
Also, because I am an incurable optimist, I can’t help but see the bright side in this. If being labeled a homophobe is now so toxic in Irish society that even the friggin’ Iona institute feels the need to yank out the heavy legal artillery at the mere suggestion that they might be such, then the war is very nearly over and we are in the advanced stages of endgame.
However, I would like to close with a little bit of unsolicited career advice for the Iona Institute and Mr John Waters. If the idea of being labelled a homophobe is so abhorrent to you? If the mere notion that anyone could possibly consider you to be a homophobe is so awful that you would sue the national broadcaster and throw the very notion that we live in a country where freedom of expression is permitted into serious doubt?
If it is really as bad as all that?
Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work.
I hear Game of Thrones is looking for extras?