A modest proposal

Almost three hundred years ago, in Dublin, Jonathan Swift published ‘A Modest Proposal‘ one of the most famous satirical works in the world – the proposal in question being that the poor should kill and eat their young.

Almost three hundred years later, The Irish Times is doing its best to kill satire itself.

Here is a cartoon by Martyn Turner, published in the The Irish Times during the week:

Martyn Turner Singing Priests cartoon, censored in the Irish Times

Martyn Turner’s cartoon – censored in the Irish Times. Oh – Streisand effect – please pass it on!

It refers to the Bill that would make the reporting of child abuse and rape mandatory. Even if one priest confesses to the rape of a child to another priest within the bounds of the religious sacrament.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin expressed his dismay at the cartoon, and The Irish TImes yesterday apologised for causing offence, and withdrew the cartoon from its online article.

The apology is here.  It reads in part:

“In making a legitimate argument about the debate over priestly responsibility for reporting child abuse and the concerns for the seal of the confessional, Turner also took an unfortunate and unjustified sideswipe at all priests, suggesting that none of them can be trusted with children.” 

Breda O’Brien, of the Iona pressure group, writes about the issue here. She says in part:

You might even wince a bit at the satire of “singing priests”, given the best-known singing priests are humble men who raise phenomenal amounts of money for charity.”

As pointed out by Michael Nugent, Turner often takes sideswipes at whole sectors of society. Guards. Bankers. Politicians. Lawyers. And you know what?  When individual priests and the Association of Catholic Priests are actually saying that the seal of confession and canon law take precedence over the law of the state, even where the issue is child protection – there really is a need to highlight this, with satire, with boycotts, with outrage!

O’Brien… it’s very, very difficult to resist a plain ad hominem attack on this… person.

The most famous Irish singing priest: Tony Walsh. Sentenced to 123 years in jail for child abuse – abuse covered up by the Roman Catholic Church.  Good job, Breda.

There was indeed an editorial lapse within The Irish Times this week. It was in allowing Martyn Turner to be censored.

Kevin O’Sullivan now only has two options. Apologise to Martyn Turner and reinstate the cartoon to the IT digital archives. Or sack Martyn Turner, because there’s no point employing a satirist if he’s not allowed to publish his satire.


Dear TV Licence Payer,

“Thank you for your mail.”

Nice polite start.

“The Saturday Night Show in question is the subject of a legal complaint and we regret that for that reason we are unable to comment any further on the programme, or matters relating to it.  For this reason RTÉ is not in a position to respond substantively to your mail.”

Wait, so if it’s the subject of legal complaint, why has compensation already been paid? Wouldn’t that imply that legal avenues have been finished, that a court case was taken, or a settlement was agreed on the basis of legal advice, perhaps even on – as is traditional – the steps of the High Court?  And that therefore, you can respond substantively to my mail, you’re just choosing not to.

“However we would like to assure you that your correspondence and that of others on this topic will be circulated to senior editorial management and that RTÉ takes audience feedback very seriously.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Doogan
RTÉ Broadcast Compliance”

I find myself less than convinced…

Disclaimer: The information in this e-mail is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this e-mail by anyone else is unauthorised. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution, or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. Please note that emails to, from and within RTÉ may be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and may be liable to disclosure.”

Legalistic, meaningless, unenforceable disclaimer.

It’s ironic, though.  I supported marriage equality, but wasn’t actively doing anything to help bring it about. The bollocks being perpetrated by the Iona Institute and their friends in high places in RTÉ, though… well, there’s a donation from me to Marriage Equality Ireland on the way, as a direct result of their censorship, followed by an apology to the wrong party.  (You can donate too, here.)

I don’t understand things anymore…

Like most people, I’d like to imagine I’m a reasonably intelligent person.  I’ve managed to get this far in life, hold down a job – do quite well at it, usually; raise a family without mislaying any kids for too long;  partake in debates and hold my own;  I’ve even managed to successfully submit an expenses claim on our Oracle system and have the money appear in my bank account!

But I’ve reached the limit. I’m at a point where I can no longer fathom how society works. Or, one aspect of it.  One organisation in it, to be precise – RTÉ.

The issue:

On January 11th, 2014 both Panti and the man who plays her, Rory O’Neill, appeared on The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor. Comments made by Rory on the topic of homophobia, during the interview, mentioned individuals involved in Irish journalism, including John WatersBreda O’Brien and the conservative lobby group The Iona Institute. Mr. O’Neill’s view was that those mentioned displayed homophobic behaviour due to their opposition to homosexual equality on issues like gay marriage and gay adoption. Those mentioned, in-turn, threatened RTÉ and Mr. O’Neill with legal action.[10] RTÉ subsequently removed that section of the interview from their online archive.[11] The legality of Mr. Waters’ display of support for censorship was subsequently questioned since he was a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.[12] Two weeks after the initial incident on The Saturday Night Show, John Waters resigned from his post at the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.[13] There was further comment on the strange lack of coverage of the censorship by The Irish Times, who regularly publish Waters’ articles.[14]

On the January 25th episode of the RTÉ Saturday Night Show Brendan O’Connor issued a controversial public apology on behalf of RTÉ to those mentioned by Mr. O’Neill in the interview held two weeks previously. Even though RTÉ censored Mr. O’Neill’s statements from their online archive, Mr. O’Connor ended his RTÉ apology with the contradictory insistence that “It is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.”[15] The fact that the Irish State broadcaster (RTÉ) censored a citizens opinions, and then was rumoured to have offered compensation to those promoting the censorship, became a controversial issue, discussed by members of government.[16][17][18][19]

~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panti#RT.C3.89_Censorship_Controversy

(Thanks for that, Wikipedia! Saved me rehashing the public record. I love CC-SA!)

So what I don’t understand is – some people think they were defamed and threaten to sue RTÉ – and RTÉ decides that rather than giving them a right of reply, or saying that Ms Panti/Rory O’Neill‘s statements were obviously personal opinion and therefore didn’t come under the heading of defamation, or telling them to go ahead and sue and the jury could decide, or any one of a number of other options – RTÉ apparently instead decided to just pay them money.

Not damages or compensation, because that would imply that they had been damaged or required compensation. It appears that RTÉ just received some solicitor’s letters, and decided on some kind of ex gratia payment to forestall anything else.

A payment to Iona Institute members, who seem to have unfettered access to any number of RTÉ radio and TV panels…  This payment, remember, is being paid for out of the TV licence fee that goes to our state broadcaster.

RTÉ does have an odd history when it comes to compensation payments, though.  Like that time they defended a libel action taken by Beverley Cooper-Flynn, who had encouraged people to avail of illegal investment schemes. RTÉ just waived half of the €2.4 million they were due to be paid by her.  No reason.  Just because.

I sent a complaint off to complaints@rte.ie about the issue of the apology by O’Connor. I received a reply that says that they can’t talk about it because of legal action. So – they’re still being sued?  Or part of their “settlement” with some or all of the people/panellists/Institutes was that they’d say nothing more…

(By the way – RTÉ are on 847 complaints and counting… )

It’s all a bit fishy, really.  A bit like that self-proclaimed “Institute” which nobody can join except by invitation and doesn’t have a published membership or a declared source of funding or published accounts – but which is a registered charity…