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.