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Thursday 21 August 2014

John Waters has 'no regrets' for taking legal action against RTE

Denise Calnan

Published 24/04/2014 | 12:47

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PHILOSOPHER FOR OUR TIME: John Waters is a guy who wasn’t too highbrow to write songs for Crystal Swing, a guy who didn’t lose touch with the soil of rural Ireland even as he became steadily more intellectual and abstract. Photo: Tony Gavin
PHILOSOPHER FOR OUR TIME: John Waters is a guy who wasn’t too highbrow to write songs for Crystal Swing, a guy who didn’t lose touch with the soil of rural Ireland even as he became steadily more intellectual and abstract. Photo: Tony Gavin

John Waters has no regrets about taking legal action against RTE after he was branded ‘homophobic’ by drag queen Rory O’Neill on a chat show.

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The former Irish Times columnist, who stopped writing for the newspaper at the end of March, said it was ‘vitally important’ that he preserved his reputation.

“I have no regrets,” Mr Waters told RTE Radio One’s Sean O’Rourke this morning.

John Waters and the members of the Iona Institute took the decision to take legal action after they were described as ‘homophobic’ on RTE show ‘The Saturday Night Show’ by Rory O’Neill AKA Panti Bliss.

“I will never have any regrets about defending my reputation because it’s vitally important that a commentator of any kind preserve their reputation and their credibility in the public sphere,” he continued.

“It is vitally important that I am seen to intervene. My job was to intervene in the debate and have controversial views and have robust views and if you can be presented as motivated by malice in what you say, you are entirely disabled as a commentator. “

The columnist, whose interview on RTE Radio One was pre-recorded, also used the opportunity to say there would have been no legal action required if RTE had issued an apology.

“The process which arose could have been avoided,” he said.

“This could have been sorted out on day one with an apology and at minimal cost, a small donation to St Vincent de Paul. That’s all I asked for.”

Two weeks after the Saturday Night Show interview with Rory O’Neill, and a week after an apology was broadcast on the show, it emerged that RTE paid financial compensation of €85,000 to Mr Waters, fellow Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien and members of the Iona Institute for defamation.

A statement from the broadcaster said the wording of the initial apology by John Waters was "unacceptable" to the organisation.

"The apology proposed by Mr Waters was unacceptable to RTÉ," the statement read.

"Due consideration was given to the full range of RTÉ’s responsibilities as a public service broadcaster, in tandem with careful consideration of the legal advice.

Separately, a source told independent.ie at the time: "The apology was to include the name of Rory O'Neill, aka Panti Bliss, and that the station was to concede that the comments made on The Saturday Night Show were 'without foundation', which RTE was unwilling to do."

Speaking this morning, Mr Waters said he felt it ‘unsafe’ to walk down the street following the controversy.

“Obviously a lot of this can happen in one’s head, but yes,  I felt it unsafe to walk down the street,” he said this morning.

“There were lots of incidents. People would come up to me, almost invariably on bicycles, would shout ‘homophobe’ at me and scoot off.

“The emails I received were vile,” he continued.

“They were all very short, and all of a certain pattern. Short, in capitals, splenetic language, the word ‘homophobe’ would always be there.

“It seemed to me there was an orchestration of this whole thing, there were people working hard to send these messages to me.”

Mr Waters said he left the Irish Times newspaper because he felt he wasn’t receiving support for “the dogs of war unleashed [on him] week after week to attack [him]”, referring to his former colleagues’ columns and readers’ comments.

“Anytime I asked could the comments underneath my columns online be moderated, they did nothing about them,” he said.

“It’s about the fact that when I drew [my issues] to the attention of the editor, nothing happened.

“This is what I resigned for. I was told in relation to [a colleague’s] article, that my options were either to, quote, go the legal route, or write a letter to the editor.”

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