Don’t tweet the messenger

NOTE: RTE did not approve this picture, even though I wrote to Bosco in 1981 and my letter was read out.

I learned long ago it’s never profitable to suspect conspiracy where stupidity is a more likely explanation, but the recent ham-fisted attacks on the Internet and freedom of speech bear all the hallmarks of both.

I’ll deal with the issue that has made Ireland the laughing stock of the online world – namely, newspapers trying to get paid because they’re on the internet – some other time.

But first, the ludicrous notion that RTE is somehow behind everything anyone who appears on it posts on Twitter.

Twice recently, the Irish Independent has run stories attacking freelance contributors to RTE for tweets posted from private accounts about members of the anti-abortion lobby.

First, Pat O’Mahony was hammered for calling David Quinn “a poisonous cunt.” Notably, the Indo made much of the fact that Pat works on occasion for RTE, whilst never denying the substance of the tweet.

(If anyone from the Indo is reading this, which I doubt, that’s what’s called satire. The Internet is full of it.)

Today brought the news that Jim Sheridan, musical director of the Late Late Show, was being hauled over the coals for engaging in some humorous slagging-off of Ronan Mullen.

(It’s worth noting that it seems Sheridan’s tweet was posted on December 20, yet the Independent story was only published today. Judge for yourself whether this is an oversight, or part of a concerted campaign to use recent stories about cyberbullying to tar Sheridan with the same brush.)

Now some people may not find Jim’s tweets funny (I do), and some others may find Pat’s judgement of Mr. Quinn a little harsh (I don’t), but there is one thing that they are not – and that is any of RTE’s business.

As freelancers tweeting from private accounts, they are free to tweet and write and record whatever they like. It has nothing to do with RTE, or any other company or entity they work for.

They are entitled to their opinion, and the fact that they work for RTE should not preclude them from expressing it, or making any other joke.

Both have been very, very clear in making this distinction, and to try to manipulate these tweets to misrepresent them as somehow coming from RTE is deeply disingenuous.

A lot of offensive guff gets posted on Twitter and written in Irish media, and no side – right or left, Christian or sensible – has a monopoly on the moral high ground.

But perhaps most offensive of all is that the Jim Sheridan story comes complete with quotes from none other than Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, a man who has done more to denigrate Irish politics than Twitter ever could.

His glib admission that lying to the electorate is “what you do” at election time says it all about the man who now seems intent on silencing all his critics – be they on RTE or on Twitter – by fair means or foul.

Jim Sheridan is not RTE. Pat O’Mahony is not RTE.

And for the sake of Connolly’s party, I hope Rabbitte is not the Labour party.

Because if he is, time’s up.



There’s no such thing as “internet journalism”

The Irish Times- why, indeed.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all, shall we?

There’s no such thing as “internet journalism” – there is journalism, and then there is everything else.

There is some very good journalism out there in newspapers, magazines and on the internet, and an awful lot of very bad journalism too.

Whether it appears doesn’t matter – journalism is journalism, end of story.

Not in Ireland, apparently. An article in this morning’s Irish Times (don’t worry, I won’t be paying for the link) does the usual half-cocked job of attacking everything on the Internet, all at once.

Contrary to the preferences of millions around the globe – many of them journalists – Twitter is dismissed out of hand as simply a tool to showcase gossip and bad grammar.

The writer attempts to portray the Internet and social media as lawless badlands of bullying and libel, despite the fact that the law of the land applies as equally to online publication as it does everywhere else.

Then there is the Daily Mail-lite argument that people behave ignorantly online, as if somehow it is the Internet, rather than people themselves, that is responsible for such behaviour.

Then there is the lovely irony of the central argument:  “so-called internet journalism is at a level equivalent to the Stone Age.”

The Internet has revolutionised how news is conveyed and how we consume it, but the basic tenets of journalism have not been changed one iota.

To pretend otherwise is to obscure “the story of why” (to borrow the cute phrase from the Irish Times) traditional media – in particular Irish newspapers – are struggling to adapt to changes in the industry.


A fight that will last more than three rounds

The offending tweet from Herb Street.

It was the stark, casual, easy laziness of our return to racism that was so disappointing, and yet so predictable.

Moments before, John Joe Nevin had fought himself to  a standstill in an effort to deliver another Olympic gold medal for his country.

An honourable silver later and you would have thought the red carpet would be rolled out from Dublin airport to Mullingar.

Instead,  whoever controls the Twitter account of the Herb Street restaurant in Dublin decided to put Nevin back in his place.

In a single tweet (see image), he and his family were just another bunch of thieving Travellers.

It wasn’t a case of Nevin going from hero to zero – he simply returned to where he and his people have always been for many in  Irish society.

Then came the defence of Herb Street – first the operator of the account tried (laughably) to claim that “a prat” had taken his or her phone and posted the now-deleted “joke”.

It’s the online equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”.

Then other Twitter users started to ask what the big deal was – it was only a joke. And of course they were right – it was ‘only’ a joke.

But here’s the big deal- it wasn’t a joke furtively shared amongst friends in a pub, an aside soon forgotten.

It was a very, very public joke, and in very bad taste, in front of an audience of thousands during the biggest sporting event on the planet,  perpetuating one of the most damaging prejudices about the Travelling people, from the account of what was previously a reputable business in Dublin.

That was the big deal.

Many seemingly failed to grasp that fact, and more defences came.

“Travellers aren’t politically correct themselves.”

It doesn’t matter.

“You never see any gay or divorced or handicapped travellers.”

That doesn’t matter either.

“It’s just a joke- hardly the crime of the century.”

Again, it doesn’t matter.

The joke was wrong. Denying making it was wrong.  Not apologising properly was – and is – wrong.

It took thirteen hours for a lame effort at an apology to be made – with no acceptance of responsibility, or no explanation of how the tweet came to be sent.

Now I know (or used to know) a lot of Travellers back in Dublin. I know how annoying and abrasive and aggressive some of them can be.

I know that some can be violent, and I know that there are Travellers involved in criminal behaviour.

I’ve run into them on several occasions here in Sweden too, and it hasn’t often been a positive experience.

But I also know good, decent Travelling people who frown on all that, who see the value of education and integration and wrestle with their traditions and their instincts as they strive to give their families a better future.

I know of people heartbroken when their children come home with more tales of how they were barred from shops or called ‘dirty knackers’ by passers-by for no reason.

I know of the families who encourage the John Joes of this world to work hard and look after themselves, who fill them with pride and desire to do well for their families, their people, their country.

I know how they struggle with those who – on both sides – say that there is no point, because they’ll never be allowed in.

We’ll never let them in. We will never accept them.

Instead, we’ll let them represent our country, and then when we’re done with them we’ll go back to the old ways and make jokes denigrating them.

Maybe, thanks to some idiot at Herb Street, now is the time to start the dialogue needed, but I doubt it can happen.

The issue of Travellers in Ireland and England is usually enough to have otherwise reasonable people reaching for arguments they would never use in a discussion about Muslims or Africans or Jews, but somehow it’s OK when it’s “our own.”

Maybe Herb Street can make it up to John Joe and his family by telling them the truth about how the tweet came to be posted, and what they’re doing about it.

Then maybe they could put the kettle on and invite us all over to discuss how his success in the boxing ring as part of Team Ireland could be translated into other areas of society.

I just hope their food isn’t as tasteless as their jokes, and that it doesn’t take thirteen hours to get something resembling service – or a proper answer.