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.
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 Waters, Breda 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. RTÉ subsequently removed that section of the interview from their online archive. The legality of Mr. Waters’ display of support for censorship was subsequently questioned since he was a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Two weeks after the initial incident on The Saturday Night Show, John Waters resigned from his post at the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. There was further comment on the strange lack of coverage of the censorship by The Irish Times, who regularly publish Waters’ articles.
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.” 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.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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…