The decision of RTE to apologise and pay damages to the Iona Institute over Rory O’Neill’s comments on the Saturday Night Show is a disgrace. Discrimination against LGBT people is homophobia, and Rory O’Neill was clear that it was in this context that he was using the word. It is entirely reasonable to apply this description to those who oppose marriage equality for LGBT people. One of those named, John Waters, said in an interview with UCD’s College Tribune; “’This is really a kind of satire on marriage which is being conducted by the gay lobby. It’s not that they want to get married; they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it.” If that isn’t homophobia, what is?
However, instead of defending the right of Rory O’Neill to express his opinion, RTE have immediately capitulated to the legal threats made by the Iona Institute. The successful use of libel law to silence accusations of homophobia is sinister, and can have a chilling effect on free speech, in particular in the context of the likely upcoming referendum on marriage equality. That debate must not take place on terms dictated by the Catholic right, and RTE must now clarify that this kind of censorship will not take place. There must also be transparency about how and why this decision took place.
This incident has once again shown up the media and establishment as cowardly and conservative. That someone as reactionary as John Waters was, until this incident, a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland which is responsible for regulating programme content, speaks volumes. It mirrors RTE’s slavish role in uncritically promoting the austerity agenda since the crisis began. It also shows the importance of building a strong campaigning movement to fight for marriage equality and LGBT rights.
Speaking in a debate on homophobia in the EU Parliament yesterday, Paul Murphy MEP said:
“Like the other MEPs, I have been inundated with emails claiming that this report represents an attack on the freedom of speech – because it condemns homophobia. It is deeply ironic because in Ireland at the moment, you have a real attack on the freedom of speech.
“National broadcaster, RTE, has censored Rory O’Neill for calling out homophobia, even worse than that, it has paid out 85,000 euros reportedly in damages to those accused of homophobia.
“It’s an attack by the right wing conservative forces in Ireland, acceded to by RTE, designed to censor debate in advance of a likely referendum on marriage equality. We must refuse to be silenced.
“When John Waters says that gay marriage is ‘a kind of satire’, that is homophobia.
“When Breda O’Brien says ‘equality must take second place to the common good’, that is homophobia.
“When the Iona Institute campaign against gay marriage because it is gay marriage, that is homophobia.
“In the words of Rory O’Neill, these people should get the hell out of our lives.”