Tag Archive for marriage equality

Enjoy the silence – “balance” has failed

The broadcast moratorium on the Irish Marriage Equality referendum is now in force, meaning that legacy technology is now excluded from the debate, which will continue online in earnest until long after the polls have closed.

But as the curtains come down on the radio and TV coverage and debates, it’s time to call a spade a spade – “balance” as it is interpreted in Irish journalism (particularly in broadcast journalism) has been a spectacular and predictable failure.

The McKenna judgment may loom large but it is no excuse for not robustly challenging and investigating both sides of the campaign.

Declining to properly investigate and analyse the funding of both sides may appear at first glance to be balanced, but it’s not, as it is the voters who are left wondering how to follow the money.

Allowing campaigners to go unchallenged with statements that range from the completely spurious to the downright offensive does not provide “balance.”

Allowing campaigners to keep referring to the same unrelated subjects, over and over and over again, despite the Referendum Commission saying several times that they were of no relevance, does not provide balance.

Instead, it allows the waters to be muddied – the very antithesis of what journalism, and in particular public service broadcasting, should be.

We have had a situation where, under the watchful myopic eye of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, editors, producers and journalists were too busy watching the clock to ensure that both sides get equal time to notice that the emperors they are interviewing were in many cases not wearing any clothes.

In our newspapers, opinion pieces from both sides were published seemingly without any facts being checked. Glaring errors and misleading information went uncorrected and unacknowledged.

The result was a skewed and shallow debate about non-issues that leaves Irish media consumers with more questions than answers.

Given that Irish people have a tendency to leave the constitution untouched when they don’t have clarity on the issue at hand, it’s hardly a wonder that the gap is closing.

The issue – whether “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” – has barely been discussed, if at all, in the run-up to polling day.

In the vast majority of cases, media moguls have been running scared.

In some cases, “experts” put forward turned out to be nothing more than internet trolls with dubious credentials. And in the case of at least one prominent gay member of the No campaign, the most charitable thing that can be said is that if he didn’t exist, they would have had to invent him.

Forced to pick from a tiny pool of No contributors, the same faces trotted out arguments that became more and more hysterical and irrelevant.

Pointing this out to them would not have been in any way unbalanced. It would have been simple common sense.

Alas, it happened all too seldom.

There are some notable exceptions – Philip Boucher-Hayes and Miriam O’Callaghan (RTE), Chris Donoghoe (Newstalk) and Matt Cooper (Today FM) all interrupted rants at times to point out that the contents of them were not relevant.

This, unfortunately wasn’t enough to stop some of the debaters, whose ignorance of good manners was almost as broad as their ignorance of the facts.

The provision of impartial information is the job of the Referendum Commission. It is not the media to be a mouthpiece for either side.

It is the job of journalists to report what happens, to question what they are told and to try to put it in context.

For too long,the practice of journalism in Ireland has been drowned in a sea of whingeing from vested interests with an enormous sense of entitlement, and who see the media as nothing more then their own personal moral megaphone.

For much of the existence of this state, the Catholic Church has been at the top of that particular queue, and to a certain extent it still is.

But there can be no obligation for the media to be “balanced” when the arguments put forth are anything but.

Freedom of speech is about being able to say whatever you want – but it does not and should not oblige anyone else to give you a platform to spout bilious irrelevant nonsense.

Also implicit in freedom of speech is that your opinions and your motivations will be rigorously teased out and tested.

Freedom of speech means that you are free to think and to say and to write what you like – but no-one is under any obligation to publish or broadcast it, or  indeed to listen to it or read it.

The Marriage Referendum debate has been a failure of the Irish Fourth Estate, but it is not entirely the fault of journalism.

We need to understand that in some issues the public is in broad agreement, and that giving 50% of airtime in such situations is only going to cause unnecessary hurt and damage to fellow citizens.

We need to recognise that the media ultimately does not tell us what to think – only what to think about. Our families and our peers have a much greater influence on how our opinions are formed than any op-ed piece or self-aggrandising debate contribution ever could have.

In short, we need to learn that balance cannot exist, and exercise common sense instead. There are many rights that come with citizenship but one of the most important responsibilities we have is to understand the consequences of exercising our vote.

And that’s something nobody should be relying on the media for.

 

 

Leo’s announcement greeted by dog whistles

“I am a gay man.”

Leo Varadkar’s coming-out on Miriam O Callaghan’s radio show prompted a chorus of dog whistles from the anti-equality zealots

Almost as soon as the words were out of Leo Varadkar’s mouth, you could hear the dog whistles beginning.

Dog-whistle politics - the art of saying something that has an additional significance or resonance for a target group – is nothing new.

It’s a favoured trick of those who would oppress others.

And given their pronouncements in the wake of Leo’s coming-out party, the anti-marriage equality campaign is entirely based on it.

They want to talk about children.

And only about children.

Because they want you to think that gay people are a danger to children.

They want you to think that gay people are paedophiles, because people who hear that dog whistle and believe it are not likely to vote for marriage equality.

They don’t care about the fact that there is no evidence to back up their smears.

Or the fact that in some cases academic research actually shows that children in same-sex families fare as well as, if not better than, kids in their mammy-daddy-two-point-four-children-saying-the-rosary fantasy.

They want you to believe that not only are gay people paedophiles, but that they choose to be that way.

And if they’re given the chance, they will convince any children in their care to grow up to be gay too.

Because people who hear that dog whistle about the gay-paedo-recruiter and believe that being gay is a choice are more likely to vote no to equal status for people they believe to be evil, conniving paedophiles intent on increasing their numbers.

There is a twisted logic to all this, of course; the very people who hear these dog whistles and want you to believe that gay people are paedophiles (which they’re not) are big fans of the Catholic Church.

Who, of course, are famous around the world for moving actual paedophiles around to keep them out of prison, allowing them to abuse more children in the process.

The only way to counteract the dog-whistles is to call the religious hounds to heel by metaphorically rubbing their noses in their own anti-gay do-do.

Every time the anti-equality side brings up the issue, they should be asked the question – why are you trying to portray gay people as a danger to children?

If the question is asked, politely and persistently, there are only two possible answers.

The first is that, contrary to appearances, they don’t believe they are a danger to children, which of course negates every child-related argument that comes thereafter.

In other words, their bark a lot worse than their bite.

Or they show their true colours – that they suffer from an irrational fear of, or aversion to, gay people.

In short, they are homophobes.

And no amount of trying to smear gay people as a danger to children can ever hide that fact.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Let’s have a gay ol’ time

I have to say I’m really enjoying Prime Time’s new mix of hard-hitting debate and slapstick comedy as provided by the likes of the Iona Institute, and the fact that it is hastening the death of a particularly nasty strain of Irish conservatism is an added and welcome bonus.

For those not aware of who they are, the Iona Institute is a think tank set up to peddle fairy stories from the distant past, from virgin births and resurrections to the fact that gay people don’t deserve the same rights as you.

The recent appearance of Susan Philips – a woman so deluded she thinks your marriage somehow affects hers – on Prime Time is an excellent case in point.

One of her ridiculous diatribes against marriage equality was greeted not by applause, but by guffaws of well-deserved laughter. Extremists like Philips are now making moderate conservatives uncomfortable – after all, would you want to be associated with her?

The Irish Tea Party/Taliban hybrid is fast becoming a parody of itself, and in adopting tactics and rhetoric (not to mention dollars) from fellow zealots across the pond, it’s fighting a losing battle.

As indicated by a recent survey of Newstalk listeners, the Ireland they are trying to conserve doesn’t exist any more.

There are people who say they shouldn’t be allowed airtime, and I’m not one of them; simply because every time they appear on the TV or the radio, that nasty streak of Irish holy-Joe fundamentalism dies a little more.

The more they appear on the telly and make a show of themselves, the sooner we’ll be rid of them forever.

But they won’t go quietly, so here’s a few things to look out for – particularly their love of “redefining” stuff.

1. There’s a lot of talk of changes to marriage legislation “redefining society” from the holy Joes, as if that was a bad thing.

It’s not. Irish society is getting better, but it still doesn’t recognise or respect the rights of many – mostly thanks to said holy Joes.

2. Marriage equality for gay people doesn’t “redefine” anything about my marriage. Or yours. Or anyone else’s. And if you’re so unsure of yourself as to let it redefine you, then you should be asking yourself exactly why you got married in the first place – was it because you loved your partner, or because you wanted to do something gays can’t?

2. They’ll also do anything to “redfine” the marriage argument, usually by saying it’s about children.

Marriage is no more about children than dancing is about architecture, and to try to define it in those narrow terms is an insult to those who cannot have children or who marry late in life for companionship.

(In fact, the holy Joes probably frown on modern couples whose children attend their nuptials, but that’s another issue.)

Because the holy Joes and Josephines cannot bear to be faced by their own prejudice, they cannot bear to think of happy, loving gay people.

Witness the awesomely backward  performance of Philips in the Prime Time clip above as she repeatedly refers to gay people having “friends” and “their relationships.” It’s almost Victorian in its imbecility.

It seems that in her world of male/female marriage perfection there  is only joy; there is no domestic or emotional violence, no unhappy, unloved spouses or children.

There is also no logic at all. Just prejudice. Marriage has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with love and commitment and understanding. Gay people are capable of all that – and in many cases, probably more so than Philips.

3. When it comes to children, they are very quick to “redefine” the role of their church in the rape and persecution of generations of Irish children – the children whom, lest we forget, they are so eager to ‘protect’ from being brought up in a gay household.

A screen grab from Catholic Comment – “try using more general search terms” indeed…

Don’t believe me? A search for the word “Magdalene” on the website of religious reactionary mouthpiece site Catholic Comment returns no results at all – this from a site that claims to be “for the church and the media.”

The brilliant Irish comic Tara Flynn wrote a superb parody of the anti-gay marriage ads usually associated with sites like Catholic Comment and its cousins in America.

In it, she succinctly presents many of the arguments and threats used to deny gay people their rights.

The very fact that Flynn had to make such a video shows that Ireland is still a very conservative place, but thankfully a lot of progress has been made, especially in terms of removing the sense of shame that was previously attached to matters of sex and intimacy.

The hysterical laughter of the Prime Time audience -some of whom share Philips’ views – is a good sign for the future. Ireland has moved on, even though there are still those who insist on yanking at the handbrake.

But soon gay people will be able to marry just like anyone else and we’ll be “redefining” the likes of Philips and the Iona Institute as late, unlamented historical figures from Ireland’s shame-strewn past.