Posts Tagged ‘censorship


Cowengate Debate on RTE, not yet

The discussion on The Late Late Show regarding the (artificially created) controversy for those paintings was a typically pathetic attempt by RTÉ to ‘address’ the issue, in that it completely missed the point. In case you missed it, Senator Ronan Mullen, Comedian Alan Shortt, Sunday Tribune editor Noirin Hegarty and Mammy O’Rourke TD were invited on to discuss the issue. And by ‘discuss’, I mean Shortt told some jokes that reminded us how awful Bull Island was (he even pulled out a wig, for fuck sake), Senator Ronan claimed the paintings didn’t count as satire as they didn’t say anything (or it might have been because they were funny enough. His argument was so inane that I couldn’t identify anything that might be described as a “point”), and Mammy displayed (not for the first time) an inability to distinguish between popular opinion and her own perception of events. After whining that we would have been up-in-arms had the subject of the paintings been one of our female politicians (or “Marys”, as she referred to them), she then claimed that the paintings were in particular bad taste as Cowen has two daughters. By that rational, any parent is entitled to a limit being placed on criticism or reproach, due to the impact it may have on their child. Even Joe O’Reilly wouldn’t have thought of that one.

So, the focus of the discussion stayed squarely on whether the paintings were satire or just a mean-spirited attack on Cowen’s physique. I would argue that they are satire as they depict the holder of the highest office in our land naked and vulnerable as the rest of us. You could also draw comparisons between The Emperor’s New Clothes and what happened to our economy, but I’m sidetracking myself by mentioning this as the purpose of the paintings is now irrelevant. Only Hegarty touched on the real significance of this story, by saying it should have died on Monday night rather that grow and become an international phenomenon. Pat did mention that RTÉ may be somewhat responsible for this, but he did this in a manner that was so limp-wristed and uncommitted that it doesn’t count. RTÉ is undoubtedly (though not solely) responsible for this. The reason this story has grown is not because it was an insult and not because somebody illicitly hung paintings in two of our state galleries. It’s because of the over-response of our government and our state bodies, and because of the implication that free speech is now limited in this country. None of this was addressed on the Late Late last night.

It also seemed odd to me that the discussion was never opened up the audience, as is typical for this kind of item. I’m not suggesting this was a deliberate attempt to restrict a discussion. It could have been just an oversight on the producer’s part. Either way, this was missed opportunity as audience participation might have invited some real insights on this. I mean, here is a scenario where the state broadcaster backs down so readily and cops are sent to the offices of a commercial radio station to look at e-mails even though nobody is convinced an actual crime has been committed (and this at a time when we can’t know the identities of the Anglo 10 because of “due process”). There is clearly something to say on this regarding our freedoms. Ireland’s reputation on the international stage has already been sullied by the meteoric collapse of our economy and the scandals that have emerged in our banking system. On top of this, we now look like a tin-pot dictatorship where criticism of our leader does not go unpunished. The fault for this does not lie with the media (RTÉ excepted) or bloggers (despite what John Waters would have us believe) and certainly does not lie with Conor Casby. Responsibility lies purely with the powers that be. Cowen may have been embarrassed by the pics, but we as a nation have (once again) been humiliated by our government. As for RTÉ, it is possible, I suppose, that they withdrew the story independent of pressure from the Taoiseach’s office, but this does nothing to make the station appear as any less of a weak-willed, unprofessional news body that refused to stand by a story. In fact it makes them seem a lot worse.

Hopefully we’ll get a proper debate on Questions & Answers on Monday.


I’m soooo, soooooo sorry

Last night’s nine o’clock news on RTÉ was one of the most craven displays of cowardice I’ve ever witnessed, even by this country’s standards. If you’re unfamiliar with the story (though there’s really no reason for you to be at this stage) RTÉ apologised for a story they ran the night before regarding two paintings for our glorious Taoiseach Biffo in the nip. As usual, Suzy was first out of the paddock on this one. Just to be clear, nobody in RTÉ was responsible for the painting, and their report merely highlighted that these works were somehow displayed in two state galleries. And this has apparently evoked enough anger in the Taoiseach’s office to get the state broadcaster, OUR broadcaster, to apologise.

There is just no defending this. It is simply not something happens in a free country. A commenter on Suzy’s post has argued that RTÉ was right to apologise as the paintings are personally offensive. It could also be argued that they were libellous, and as we all know repeat of libel is still libel (though from what I understand of precedent law RTÉ has automatically admitted liability by issuing an apology). Though I can respect this argument, I disagree with it strongly. By buckling under pressure from the government, RTÉ has effectively stated that limits are to be placed on to satire and, more importantly, free speech. What’s weird is that RTÉ wasn’t the only, or even the first, media outlet to report this. Even the Guardian had it today, reporting that the Gardaí are tracking down the anonymous artist. They even called into Today FM’s office because Ray D’arcy was reportedly in contact with him. If ever this country was made to look like more of a banana republic then I shudder to think what that might have been.

I don’t want to get any further into the ridiculousness of this as it’s already been well discussed by the blogosphere. Instead, in a spirit of public activism (I know we still have it in us), I want to propose what we should do about it. Many people have said they e-mailed the department of the Taoiseach and RTÉ to express their disgust over this. This is completely understandable, but I have a better idea. Instead of getting ourselves worked up with complaining, why not go the other way with mass apologies. Here’s what I’m proposing: we go through our old posts looking for anything that might be perceived as offensive to our leader or the government, and send a letter of apology to the Taoiseach’s office for everything we find. We highlight in these letters that were are doing this under the new restrictions that have been placed on public discourse in light of RTÉ’s cowardice. If you can afford to post rather than e-mail, I suggest you do that. Forcing them to deal with hard-copies of letters will ensure this is a nuisance for them. There’s no need to let RTÉ off the hook either. We can send them letters highlighting further instances where they might like to apologise. I realise this will be difficult without access to their archive, but I’m sure memory will serve. And theirs always stuff we can find on the internet.

I’m completely serious about this. I’m going to e-mail some of our better satirists to ask if they’re interested in participating. But I think the blogosphere is where most of the heat of this will come from, if I comes from anywhere. You might say this idea is childish and petty, but it’s no less childish and petty that what has given rise to it.