Archive for January 28, 2014

Panti-mime time for Iona

You have to hand it to David Quinn and the Iona Institute – when it comes to misinterpreting stuff, why stop at academic research?

Why not just go the whole hog, put words in people’s mouths and then sue them for it?

Which seems to be pretty much the premise that RTE paid out on today.

(Yet again I’ve repeatedly contacted David Quinn about this payout, asking who the “injured parties” referred to on his blog are, and how much money each of them got. Yet again, he hasn’t responded. For a journalist, he’s not much of a fan of questions.)

The triumphalist squawking over at Iona Towers was quickly drowned out by the indignant laughter of the masses as Iona once again paraded around Irish social debate with their peculiar mixture of hubris and stupidity firmly on show.

Because it’s not enough for Iona to brag a little – they have to try to rub people’s noses in it too, which often reveals their more megalomaniacal side.

Check this out (my emphasis):

Accusations of ‘homophobia’, which are made with great regularity in the debate about same-sex marriage and adoption, are precisely an attempt to demonise and impute the worst of motives to those who believe that marriage is the sexual and emotional union of a man and a woman by definition, and that children deserve the love of both a mother and a father whenever possible.

Except that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

Reading the above, you’d think Rory went all Diana Ross, keening about how they wanted to  stop him marrying all the gays, tie knots in his testicles and shove him back into a closet, behind his not-inconsiderable collection of frocks.

If you haven’t seen the relevant passage from the original Saturday Night Show, you can watch it here – otherwise I’ll quote some relevant passages further down:


Rory ONeill – The Saturday Night Show 11-1-2014 by radiator2

 

At no point in the interview did Rory make any reference to marriage equality, or the Iona Institute’s anti-gay stance on it.

What he actually said is:

Oh listen, the problem is with the word ‘homophobic’, people imagine that if you say “Oh he’s a homophobe” that he’s a horrible monster who goes around beating up gays you know that’s not the way it is. Homophobia can be very subtle.

His succinct argument is probably what caused such seismic tremors among Iona’s pilars of society, as it illustrates the stunning banality of everyday prejudice – in fact, it almost excuses it, as Rory rightly points out that homophobes are not “horrible monsters,” just everyday people who have got their priorities all messed up.

If anything, Rory’s is probably the most reasonable and understanding views on homophobia ever expressed in Irish media – one far more understanding than most homophobes deserve.

Let us remind ourselves what homophobia actually is  – according to Webster’s dictionary, it is:

An irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against, homosexuals.

 

So in a nutshell, Iona started flinging solicitor’s letters around like snuff at a wake because some of its members and a newspaper columnist were accused of being irrational.

Now who is attempting to “demonise and impute the worst of motives”?

Exactly.

And would they have done the same if they were accused of having claustrophobia? Or metathesiophobia (fear of change)? You’d hope not, but you never know.

Try as I might, I cannot find any academic research to suggest that the best treatment for any kind of phobia is large piles of license-payer’s money given to people who are alleged to be irrational or afraid of stuff on television.

But the real hubris comes at the end.

The RTE apology is an extremely valuable and important contribution to having such a debate.

It is no such thing. The legal letters demanding that Iona not be accused of being irrational or afraid have effectively killed any chance of such debate.

The killing of the debate and the receipt of damages from RTE is therefore no victory. It’s more a case of closing the stable door after the horse has thoroughly rogered freedom of speech in a most self-righteous manner.

But hopefully this will be a lesson to Irish media.

Never mention Iona on air or in print.

Never interview them.

Never ask them on air.

Or if they are asked to take part, don’t let them speak. Only allow them to make gestures.

We can call it Panti-mime, just to remind ourselves where it came from.

After all, as long as they insist on misrepresenting everything – research, data, other people’s opinions – they cannot be trusted to take part in reasoned adult debate.

Only then can we be sure that reasonable, caring citizens like Rory will not be “imputed” with anything other than the valid concerns he holds.

And only then can the rest of us have a debate without the hysterical warblings of professional victims who find offence wherever it suits them.

 

 

Caught with our Pantis down

Fearless journalist/broadcaster Brendan O’Connor executes the most embarrassing climbdown in Irish TV history.

This week’s fallout from the Panti Bliss interview on RTE has once again put Irish media to the test.

Once again Irish media has failed with flying colours.

Last night Brendan O’Connor made a pained apology for any offense caused by comments made on the show, pointing out that they were not the views of RTE.

Well, duh.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Irish Times – the paper of record – made no link between the resignation of John Waters from the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and his alleged threats of legal action against RTE.

Contrast this with the brave stance of the Guardian, which has suffered all manner of threats from David Cameron’s government due to its publication of Edward Snowden’s revelations.

But rather than display a bit of backbone, it seems that, thanks to the the flurry of solicitor’s letters from Iona, it has now become the elephant in the room in Irish media – the discussion that cannot be discussed under any circumstances.

Silent in all this is David Quinn, founder of the odious Iona Institute. I have asked him several times on Twitter about his legal threats to RTE and Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss), but he hasn’t yet responded.

Nor has he answered my query about RTE’s offer of a right to reply to the allegations that the Iona Institute is a homophobic organisation, which was allegedly turned down by Quinn.

The intention of all of this is to kill the debate in Ireland as to what constitutes homophobia and whether or not Iona and journalist John Waters are homophobic.

Whatever way you look at it, the disappearance of the debate from mainstream media – a debate that has raged for two weeks on social media – suggests several things.

RTE has been cowed.

The Irish Times – which publishes Waters’ musings – has looked the other way.

And the rest of Irish media is in no hurry to draw the attention of Iona’s legal eagles to itself.

That would force you to wonder who wrote the apology read out by O’Connor on Satruday night.

It’s an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.

… as long as they agree with those of the Iona Institute, it would seem.

Rather than being cowed by legal threats, surely the media has very valid questions to ask – starting with exactly who Iona represent, and where they get their money.

The views expressed by Iona – especially in relation to gay people – are very much at odds with the liberal secular society that Ireland has become. Indeed, Rory O’Neill suggested that the only time he experiences homophobia is online or at the hands of Iona and Waters.

When they’re done with that, they can ask why Iona is given so much room in the media. In any other country in the world, an organisation as litigious as Iona would never be asked to participate in anything. Nor would anybody else with their solicitor on speed dial.

When all that is over, perhaps someone would sit down and ask Quinn, Waters et al to explain how their utterances – perceived by almost everyone apart from themselves and their supporters as being homophobic – are acceptable.

For Iona, Quinn and Waters, it might be a hard sell. Take this quote from an interview with Waters:

This is really a kind of satire on marriage which is being conducted by the gay lobby. It’s not that they want to get married; they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it…

Now if you believe – as Waters suggests earlier in that interview – that marriage is a fundamental building block of society, then he is essentially accusing the gay lobby (many of whom are presumably gay themselves) of trying to destroy it.

How, exactly, is that not homophobic?

Is it reasonable to suggest that gay people are, in trying to secure equal treatment in the eyes of the law, trying to destroy the very fabric of society?

No, it isn’t.

So what should they have done?

Well, if he disagreed with the apology, O’Connor – a columnist with the Sunday Independent and thus not without either power or a platform to exert it – should have resigned.

In the interests of public service, RTE should have stood by its man. If they were to go to court – as evidenced above, examples of the irrational fear of homosexuality displayed by both Waters and Iona are not hard to find – they wouldn’t be without hope of winning.

But it is the Irish Times and the rest of the media that is probably deserving of the most criticism. It is one of the functions of mass media to provide a platform for debate, but yet again they have abdicated this responsibility.

It may be expensive to defend oneself against even the most frivolous of libel accusations in Ireland, but the price for not doing so is the ability to report and to comment without fear or favour.

The views expressed by Rory O’Neill are not those of RTE, but they are those of many people in the gay community.

His airing them on an RTE program is the very point of public service, and of mass media in general – to provide a platform for debate and scrutiny, and for holding people to account.

It should be remembered that Ireland has, since its inception, struggled in terms of holding those in power to account, whether it be politicians, religious leaders or captains of industry.

All have at various points used the solicitors to muzzle reporting and debate.

But in the end, all of them were eventually caught with their Pantis down.

 

 

 

Missing the bigger picture as AP fires freelancer

The original photograph (top) and the manipulated version.

This week the Associated Press dispensed – rightly – with the services of freelance photographer Narciso Contreras, who used software to remove a colleague’s video camera from an image he took in Syria.

What Contreras did was wrong. The value of press photography is embedded entirely in its integrity – we have to know what these images represent is the truth.

In this one instance, Contreras broke that bond of trust. His punishment, while harsh, is probably justified. His career could well be destroyed.

But what is deeply unappetizing is the pontificating being done by pictures editors who are no strangers to offering photographers – even those working in war zones like Contreras – peanuts for their work.

His firing has prompted a glut of self-righteous pieces such as this one from the Guardian which makes all the right noises about integrity, but says little about how images are acquired and paid for.

Noticeably, it does not ask why Contreras – a Pulitzer prize winner – did what he did.

Since the turn of the century, the combination of modern digital cameras and the fact that many of the world’s hotspots are no-go areas for western photographers has seen the rise of the local freelancer or stringer.

It’s not unknown for an amateur who shows talent to be discovered by an agency or a news outlet.

They are then given tips – and in some cases equipment – and sent out into places where it is too dangerous for westerners to go. They are sometimes paid by the day, sometimes by the image.

It’s seldom very much. It’s usually a lot less than what a western photographer would get.

There isn’t much offered in the way of insurance  or training or counseling either.

And when the war or conflict ends, there’s not much chance of a staff job somewhere either. The news moves on. They don’t.

Contreras, from Mexico City, was working as a freelancer in Syria, essentially competing against newly-minted photographers such as those described above.

I don’t know what freelance deal Contreras had with AP, but an educated guess at the original image suggests that, as shot, it wasn’t sellable.

Contreras might not have had any other decent images that day either, and thus he may have decided that in this one instance it was worth a shot at manipulating the image in a way that is normally totally unacceptable.

After all, having spent a day on any assignment, let alone one as dangerous and as violent as Syria, a freelance photographer must have something to show for it.

It should also be pointed out that it was he himself that brought this manipulation to AP’s attention, and that no other image filed with the agency showed any signs of having been manipulated in a similar fashion.

I’m by no means accusing AP of underpaying Contreras or of putting him in danger, nor am I excusing what he did. Trying to understand something is not the same as condoning it.

What I am doing is asking the question: why did he choose to do this?

Was it because of economic necessity?

Because if it was, we have a very big problem on our hands.

Modern (and not-so-modern) media businesses are working on notoriously tight margins, and agencies and outlets are trying to get content for as little as possible.

But if that is going to be the business model, then something has to give. You cannot produce good journalism on a shoestring.

It might be that we have to accept a photographer manipulating an image, or a reporter reporting quotes and scenes he didn’t witness first-hand as if he was on the spot.

AP have deleted Contreras’ images from the public database, but the debate cannot be deleted from the public domain – how much are we (consumers, readers and agencies) willing to pay for our content?

And if that isn’t enough to compensate journalists, photographers and camera people for the risks that they take, how much are we prepared to have our news compromised as a result?

 

Shock around the clock – but no change

The hoo-ha about the CRC payoff (and indeed Irish Water) is probably a welcome diversion for James Reilly and the government.

After all, it keeps the focus off the real source of the problem – that the Ireland we have created is designed for the benefit of a few while consistently failing the vast majority its citizens.

For all their talk about change, would Ireland really be that different if Fine Gael and Labour once again ceded power to the greedy spivs of Fianna Fáil?

The point is not that the CRC does great work. It is not that the CRC board are inept at best and downright devious in their dealings with the state at worst.

It’s not even about the fact that that the chairman of that board received a massive payoff when he finally stepped down.

The point is that, in a civil, developed, well-functioning democratic society, the CRC should not exist at all.

In a well-functioning, democratic society there would be a health service available to those who need it – in particular those who need it most.

In a well-functioning democratic society, those families and others who support them wouldn’t have to go out and beg for support, fundraising to ensure that the services which give their loved ones a better of quality of life are maintained, only to see their money pocketed by those who feel more entitled than the ostensibly less well-off.

In a well-functioning democracy, the staff and management would be well looked after by the state – and held accountable to it when things are not as they should be.

Instead, we have a professional class that sits on boards, claiming huge salaries for themselves while seeing children go without wheelchairs for months on end.

And then, when they’re found out, we have deals done for them to go quietly and prosperously into the night.

Not for a moment do I fault them, by the way – that they accept huge amounts of money for little or no work and at no risk to themselves is not their fault. It is the fault of those offering it. On your behalf.

The spoofing has already started, James Reilly intoning gravely that the government “will use all available options open to it, including corporate enforcement, the gardaí and civil courts” to get the CRC payoff money back.

The truth? That money is gone. That payoff was mandated in a legally-binding contract, and it had to happen. No amount of Reilly’s spoofing will change that fact. The money is gone, and it’s not coming back.

It’s just another milestone in a long litany of failures that seem to be occurring more and more regularly in recent years.

Almost since the foundation of the state, Ireland has abdicated its responsibility to its citizens.

It abandoned the health and education sectors to the clutches of the Catholic church, which indoctrinated its misery into the country’s youth for generations, physically and sexually abusing them with impunity, and then sullenly refusing to make restitution when they were eventually found out.

And now, with the church thankfully on the slippery slope to terminal irrelevance, Ireland has instead embraced capitalism as its new savior, outsourcing everything except the accountability for services, which remains curiously unassigned.

Ireland has become the perfect example of what Naomi Klein described in the Shock Doctrine – a society sacrificed on the altar of the most savage kind of capitalism.

(Anyone considering refuting that might want to have a look at where the €50 million on “consultant’s fees” for Irish water went before calming down.)

But the state is a product of its democracy, and the real blame lies with those who continue to elect fools and gombeens to government, regardless of their ineptitude.

The reason Ireland is a failure as a state is not because of the bankers or the fat cats or the spiv politicians.

It’s because, when confronted with injustice on a staggering scale, voters take one look out the window and rather than revolt, they call Joe Duffy instead.

There’s a bit of Twitter outrage, the odd headline in the papers, and then … nothing.

Nothing changes. Nothing happens. The kleptomania carries on, and the Irish people just watch as their money is pissed away on them.

The barricades remain unbuilt and unmanned.

The failure continues.