Tag Archives: homophobia

Who Speaks For Ireland? Media and Representation

Do you feel as though mainstream Irish media represents you and the issues that matter to you well? If not, then you are not alone.

 

There is a well-documented disconnect between many Irish young people and their government. A study in 2007 had Ireland’s young voting turn-out at the lowest in Europe. But what is less well-documented is the disconnect between much of Ireland’s youth and its media. I would argue that the political apathy is in part a knock on effect of a media that does little to prioritise issues that affect younger demographics but it is a problem in its own right as well.

 

This was well demonstrated in the ‘Pantigate’ incident that has been unfolding since January which brought many issues of homophobia and censorship to the forefront of debate. But it has also shown that the priorities and loyalties of the Irish media do not align with much of the population. The details of debates on homophobia, the Iona Institute and other parties involved have been and will be discussed elsewhere but what is more significant to me are actions of RTE in its role as broadcaster during the scandal.

 

There was a lack of transparency from the beginning which made many people uneasy. When the final figure of the settlement of €85,000 was revealed many people were outraged. RTE has received over 850 official complaints regarding this pay-out for a comment which received zero audience complaints on the night.

 

The general frustration and outrage was expressed on social media platforms and described on RTE a week later as “Twitter lynch mobs”. It was probably more akin to an unfiltered Letters to the Editor page. One upload of the section of interview edited out of RTE’s digital archive has been viewed on Daily Motion 27,360 times at time of writing. This is higher than the average rating of 18 of RTE’s 20 most watched programmes.This is maybe not that surprising given, according the Irish Digital Consumer Report in 2013, 53% of Irish people aged 16-25 and 43% of Irish people aged 26-34, now consume the majority of their TV content online.

 

I spoke to the chair of Ireland’s top journalism degree, Dr Jane Suiter who has written for a number of publications such as the Financial Times, to get her perspective on how Ireland’s traditional media have struggled to entice young audiences. “Yes I think traditional media are struggling with how to win audiences among young people. The Irish Times for example has hired a few younger writers who attempt to engage with issues relevant to younger readers but the success is patchy.”

 

However Dr. Suiter felt that journalism has had to become partially about entertainment rather than purely information. “Journalists are increasingly utilising social media as a source and reference for news and current affairs; this allows more direct access for all citizens as the shift in news production becomes more bottom up. Younger people are more likely to be engaged in social media and this is thus a source of influence.”

 

So young people looking to get involved in debates and commentary on current affairs now need no more qualification than an internet connection. Social media, particularly Twitter, is the primary news outlet for many young people all over the world including Ireland. Ireland has 600,000 daily Twitter users, making us the 10th highest country in the world for Twitter users per capita. This is a fact that journalists and broadcasters alike have been struggling with for a number of years. While this presents its own set of quality-control challenges, is an open more inclusive discussion not generally preferable?

 

The guests and debates on RTE only continued to highlight this disconnect in the weeks that followed ‘Pantigate’. Pussy Riot and Hollaback are two groups that have big youth followings but their treatment on RTE has cringe-worthy at best.  Brendan O’Conner’s interview of Pussy Riot in February was widely considered embarrassment as he failed to discuss their activism or feminist actions or their experiences of prison but rather made inappropriate jokes and asked questions about Madonna. Last year Ryan Tubridy interviewed the head of Irish Hollaback Aimee Doyle and suggested that she should find street harassment complimentary.

 

When asked Hollaback stated: “It was quite clear that Ryan didn’t take us seriously and was determined to present us as a group concerned only with “wolf-whistles” rather than a group concerned with street harassment and its place within rape culture. It was a frustrating experience, as we felt that there was a deliberate attempt to twist our words and redefine our experiences.  It seemed that our attempts to challenge the status quo were unwelcome to Ryan, who of course benefits from that status quo.”

 

Just this month RTE came out with a new TV show ‘The Centre’ that focuses on a working class community centre trying to “grab grants” by ticking “diversity boxes”. I watched the first 10 minutes of the pilot and that was all it took for the show to be massively classist and transphobic, not to mention anti-traveller and dismissive of Muslim women. Rather than spreading the things that would offend people out RTE decided to put all the things you might hate about them in one convenient place.

 

In February UCC held a Journalism Conference where the issues surrounding sexism in Irish media were addressed, like the fact that 98% of opinion columns in the Irish Times are written by men. Audrey Ellard Walsh, a Cork journalist covering the event, referred to traditional news outlets and “legacy media” which is an interesting term. Legacy is what traditional medias have to offer. Reputation, authority and trust are vital for any news outlet and it is the advantage that they still have over blog and purely online based publications. However what online journalism has to offer is an accessibility and diversity of voices that is seriously lacking in much of Ireland’s “legacy media”.

 

But Dr Suiter believes that “online journalism” as distinct from journalism as a whole is an increasingly outdated concept. “In many ways almost all journalism is now online to a greater or lesser extent. The questions are from where does it emanate? The traditional news organisations tend to have greater resources, more trained and experienced journalists and thus have a higher level of credibility with the public. The challenge for them and indeed for democracy is to ensure that these advantages are leveraged, ensuring high quality, questioning, well researched journalism that engages with the audience.”

 

The BBC could be seen in some ways to reflect this. It is one of the most highly visited online sources of news, on its own site and across various social media platforms, but also maintains its tradition television and radio mediums. It combines new techniques with a reputation that is trusted. But more importantly it provides context for its breaking news, something which can be lacking in Twitter headlines.

 

At the end of our interview, Dr Suiter expressed optimism for Irish media in the future, that it would figure out how to adapt and change. This week The Irish Times saw changes as John Waters left their employment and the website hosted a respectful and engaged article at the Lady & Trans Fest at Seomra Spraoi.

 

I am not suggesting that this disconnect is a new problem but rather that the internet is providing a new solution. Now the voices of the disenfranchised have a more easily accessible means of being heard. Underground zines that the world can read.

 

Does this mean we about to see a seismic shift in Irish media? Will ‘legacy’ outlets catch up with the needs and priorities of a very different country? I am not sure honestly. Most of the time in Ireland, to poorly paraphrase Yeats, change comes dripping slow. I do think that local, home-grown media still has value in an increasingly globalised word. So if Ireland’s media does change, hopefully it will be for the better.

 

First published in Trinity News.

Let He with the Best Solicitor Speak Freely

This week has seen legal attacks not only on the LGBT community in Ireland but on the freedom of speech in Irish journalism as a whole.

The controversy began when Rory O’Neill, alter-ego of Dublin gay icon and pub-owner Panti Bliss, was interviewed on RTE’s Saturday Night Show on the  11th January.

The interview was going well until O’Neill attempted to discuss some of the prejudices still facing members of the LGBT community. O’Neill said that of course things has changed over time but that it there were still difficult to deal with the kind unpleasantness found “the internet in the comments and people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers”. When pressed for examples O’Neill named John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute.

Not long after it was posted the interview was taken for “legal issues” following complaints made. When the interview was re-posted on line, all discussion of homophobia was edited out. A transcript of the missing section can be found here.

Now this obvious and upsetting piece of censorship was discussed eloquently by Trinity News writer Matthew in ‘Ignorance Isn’t Panti Bliss’ which was widely shared on social media in the outrage that followed.

O’Neill himself has received soliciter’s letters personally from Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Patricia Casey, and John Murray (all of the Iona Institute the highly-conservative lobby group) and from John Waters.

John Waters, being the Irish Times columnist who wrote that the “gay lobby” want “to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it” and who is absolutely no way homophobic of course.

This is not the first time the head and founder of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, has silenced his critics or those of Iona with the threat of legal action.

Just last year David Quinn forced the University Times to retracted two articles it had published criticising the Iona Institute’s controversial YouTube video ‘The Case for Man/Woman Marriage‘ with threats of legal action. When Trinity News published an article describing these events, they themselves were contacted by his solicitor, as was published by the College Tribune.

It’s worth noting at this point that mostly the news outlets brave enough to risk Quinn’s legal wrath have been student publications with far less legal support than mainstream media.

‘Defamation,’ the common thread to these claims, is a slightly complicated piece of Irish law though it’s outlined brilliantly in relation to this case here. But ultimately nothing that is true can be legally considered defamation. Is the claim that the Iona Institute, Breda O’Brien and John Waters homophobic, not one of a opinion that O’Neill as a gay man is entitled to have?

Even outside of the range of opinion and in analysis of statements made against Same Sex Marriage by all three that they work against the mainstream of the LGBT civil rights movement is not a matter for debate, as is outlined in an analysis of statement here.

But I believe the real problem is that frequently it is not a question of whether those getting served with Quinn’s legal complaints are legally in the wrong but whether than can afford to run the risk that a judge might side with a wealthy, prominent public figure over them. Deeper pockets wins the debate; which is a scary thought for the future of journalism in Ireland.

Where does the argument for “defamation of character” end? How do we hold people accountable for defaming their own characters? Because the journalists and others Quinn has targeted are not in a position to stop his organisation publishing or operating, they are simply stating that they disagree. But Quinn’s actions serve to silence the opposition entirely. This incident certainly begs the question whether a wealthy, public figure can be held accountable for the offense his organisation causes so many people. 

And much more importantly when will we stop letting those with the most cash on hand, and the best solicitors dictate what is and is not fair debate?

Resurgence of the Populist, Anti-Immigrant Right

While the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups in Europe has been documented in the last ten years (though perhaps not as closely as they warranted) by media outlets like The Guardian or Geo-Currents the rise in support for populist, not-quite-as-ultra-right parties is even more pervasive and less documented.

Conservative parties with neo-libertarian economics and anti-immigration, moralistic rhetoric have gained significant support in various countries throughout the region. I’m going to be including Australia in this discussion because for a country on the far side of the world it is and always has been politically linked to Europe.

The UK, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Norway have all elected centre right or simply right-wing parties to head their governments in the last five years.

France elected Sarkozy as president with his party the Union for Popular Movement in 2007. A party so populist they put it in the name. The centre right gained 46.36% of the vote. Immigration and cultural assimilation were issues that rose in the early days of the government. The France National Front, has gained more support than they have had in years with young article leaders like Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded FN in the 1980s, attempting to rebrand the fiercely anti-immigrant party who have been accused in the past of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, denying the Nazi occupation of France was all that brutal and still use rhetoric about ‘protecting the French way of life’.

2010 and 2011 saw the UK and Ireland replace their governments with similar alternatives. The UK replaced their Labour party, who had been in power since 1997, with a Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition with the conservatives taking 36.1% of the national vote. Ireland replaced the three term reign of Fianna Fáil, centre party, with a coalition of Fine Gael (centre-right) and the Irish Labour party (centre). Fine Gael took 36% of the national vote.

What links these two elections, besides the coalitions, were that there were other factors influencing the radical shift in leadership. The European economic downturn, accusations of unethical practises by elected officials and in the case of the UK the Iraq war. However they unseated long running governments who had remained popular despite concerns such as this so they remain relevant to the regional trend.

The British Conservative government under the leadership of David Cameron have implemented anti-immigration laws that make it possible to deport people who are not citizens but who have little or no connection to any other country and whose family life is in the UK. These new regulations also make it harder for immigrants to access key services such as the National Health Service. 

London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

The Netherlands has had a particularly noticeable shift to the right in recent years. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) gained 26.58% of the vote in 2012. Their website lays out the party policies which include being anti-veiling, anti-immigration, pro-financial deregulation and use the phrase “economic migrants” in their policy on asylum seekers. It also states that “without security there is no freedom”.

Then came the victory of the National Coalition over Labor in Australia. Cathal covered this story for us and how, despite the fact that Labor had been in power for six very successful years and that the Coalition leader Tony Abbott is not particularly popular in his own right, the right-wing, anti-immigration party took the election last week.

Only days ago in Norway, the Conservative Party won a landslide victory over the Labour Party who had been in power for the last two decades. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) have been consistently popular and led Norway through the European economic situation unscathed. Not only that but it was the Labour Party’s youth organisation that were the target of the terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people most of them youths in 2011. Breivik was a member of the Progress Party who are now going into coalition with the Conservatives to form the new parliament. The coalition is taking time to finalise because other conservative parties do not want to be seen to be associated with a party with ties to a mass murderer. However despite this the Conservatives and Progress Party do not actually need any other coalition partners if they simply form a minority government.

I do have to take a moment now, to step back from the statistics and initialisms to applaud the grace with which Vegard Groslie Wennesland, a 29 year old survivor of Breivik’s attack, handled the possible election of the Progress Party in government. While he did say that their anti-immigration rhetoric concerned him he also said that Breivik has not and will not win.

Vegard Grøslie Wennesland – Oslo/Arbeiderpartiet

“Someone tried to kill me and my comrades for what we believe in and that kind of stirs a feeling that it’s important work you’re doing. You can make a difference through politics – I’m more sure of that now than ever”.  — Wennesland

One of Breivik’s, and if we’re honest, the Progress Party’s big concerns is that immigration means a higher Muslim population which some right-wing politicians believe somehow threatens Europe.

It seems relevant to point out that when I was researching this article, I began to type “Europe growing increasingly conservative” into Google to see who else was writing about this (not that many people all in all) one of the first Google autofill suggestions was “Europe growing Muslim population”.

google autofill 1

Given how the Google algorithm works, that’s a concerning note all by itself.

As though that was not concerning enough however, if you follow that Google search you do not find census data at the top but rather articles shouting that we are a generation away from Sharia law due to these “demographics” demonstrating that these reporters (in the loosest sense of the word) don’t know what either of the words “Sharia” or “demographic” mean.

The Telegraph, in the article ‘Muslim Europe: the demographic time bomb transforming our continent’ which I refuse to link to in this article to preserve a sense of journalist ethics, state that: “Britain and the rest of the European Union are ignoring a demographic time bomb”.

The, what I hesitant to call an article, then goes on to reveal that “Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza” were the top seven baby names for boys in the city of Brussels without applying any context for why anyone who isn’t trying to think of baby names for their child or hasn’t recently hit their head off a wall would even care about this very specific example of one city in one country. And even if you chose for some reason to care Adam is obviously not a Muslim name and neither is Rayan specifically because it has etymological origins from ancient Celts, Old English, Hindi, Persian and Hebrew as well as Arabic not to mention the fact that many Arabs of religions other than Islam still have Arabic names. The fact that I even had to write this paragraph convinced my never to read the Telegraph ever again.

But trivial scaremongering nonsense about baby names aside, Islamophobia is now an election issue and when I say that I mean that there are people in Europe who were successfully elected into office who believe expelling all Muslims from Europe would be a good idea. Holland’s Geert Wilder actually said “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” in an interview with the Guardian and remained in office.

The Telegraph article and statement by leaders of some of the parties I have name here have cited the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups as a reason to vote populist right wing, in order to deal with the problems with ‘create’ situations that lead to violent right-wing extremist. The rise of right-wing fundamentalists has in fact aided the populist right.

I hate to be alarmist but I am alarmed.

All election data is from the European Election Database.

Orla-Jo