On Friday The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) upheld a ludicrous complaint by the Family and Media Association (FMA), a US-style conservative Christian group based in Dublin that promotes “Catholic family values” in the media.
The FMA contended that in a broadcast on January 20 chat show host Derek Mooney had interviewed former news presenter Michael Murphy and Tiernan Brady from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).
But the FMA argued that no panelist had been invited on to the program to express opposing views on gay rights or marriage equality.
Instead Murphy had simply spoken of his recent civil partnership while Brady spoke about the wider issue of the 2,600 civil partnerships that had been registered in Ireland since the law changed in 2011.
In their defense RTE maintained that "The Mooney Show" is not a current affairs show, instead describing it as a light-hearted human interest show. The broadcaster added that they did not flout the terms of the forthcoming referendum on marriage equality since the referendum has not yet been announced.
But the BAI implied that the "The Mooney Show" had became a de facto current affairs program because of the topic. Gay rights they argued are always controversial and political, always a matter of “public debate and controversy.”
To wit, heterosexual couples are merely couples, no need for countermeasures or opposing views. But gay couples are political entities that require careful explanation and counter-balancing and presumably the constant oversight of a national watchdog committee.
The Kafkaesque absurdity of this double standard is becoming self-evident to all but the board of the BAI itself apparently, who clearly can’t have given the issue much independent thought before they ruled.
Perhaps these prominent thinkers from the worlds of academia and commerce will soon suggest that gay people in the public eye be accompanied everywhere by a sandwich board wearing counter demonstrator?
But why stop there? Shouldn’t interracial couples on RTE programs now be accompanied by Grand Wizards of the KKK to berate them for ‘balance?’ And shouldn’t we hear from Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other faith traditions (and none) each time the Angelus (the national Catholic call to prayer) is broadcast at 6PM on RTE each day? If not, why not? Shouldn’t the BAI be consistent to avoid charges of bias?
The BAI compliance committee reportedly includes noted government nominees Professor Chris Morash (Chairperson) the head of NUI Maynooth School of English; Aidine O'Reilly, the Managing Director of Real Event Solutions, an event management company based in Cork; John Reynolds the music promoter and owner of Pod Entertainment; and Edel Hackett, PR director at Persuasion Republic, a communications agency aimed at leading charities and public sector organizations.
Startlingly, also among the BAI compliance committee appointees is Professor Colum Kenny the chair of the Masters in Journalism program at the School of Communications, Dublin City University. It’s startling because the implications of the BAI’s rather open ended ruling suggest that no gay person can now be entrusted to present a program or host a debate relating to gay marriage at all because they could be deemed to have an interest in the outcome (of the still not announced referendum).
At all events, Friday’s ruling was a notable success for the FMA, which was set up to combat the “liberal agenda” and which claims a subscriber base of just 5,000.
Meanwhile some Irish atheists are probably hugging themselves. The prospect of being invited on to religious programming to counter the opinions of religious leaders and provide ‘balance’ is an opportunity they have dreamed of for decades. I’m sure the legal challenges are already being drafted.
Earlier this year columnist John Waters dramatically resigned his position on the BAI compliance committee after he decided to sue Rory O’Neill, who performs in drag as his alter ego Panti. Apparently Waters could not be seen making legal moves to censor a critic whilst simultaneously upholding balance and proportion on the national airwaves.
At the time Waters had been incensed to hear his name mentioned by O’Neill in a discussion about homophobia in Ireland and he immediately took action to silence his critic. For his pains he was reportedly awarded about $55,000 by Irish state television. But far from silencing Panti the action actually contributed to O’Neill’s celebrity and instead made Ireland’s reactionary censoring of gay voices an international topic.
It now seems that that BAI have given the latest assist to the much longer campaign to drive gay people off the national airwaves. Their decision is so reflexively conservative it beggars belief.
Prejudice, even when it arrives by proxy, has often overwhelmed jurisprudence. That’s why this indefensible ruling now needs to go before the High Court for a judicial review. It makes a laughing stock of our claim to be a modern secular republic.