Friday 28 November 2014

Conspiracy theories belong on the internet, not RTE

Marian Finucane and RTE dropped the ball by allowing offensive 'rumours' to pass them by, writes Cathal McCarthy

Published 17/05/2009 | 00:00

Who doesn't like a good conspiracy theory? This week millions of people, many of whom can count backwards from 10, will flock to their cineplex to sit through Dan Brown's opus pocus Angels & Demons. They will chew their pastilles and ponder on the mysteries of the Illuminati and their centuries-old struggle with Catholicism. They will wonder what happened to the mullet Tom Hanks sported in The Da Vinci Code and ask themselves who took care of that dark force and saved civilisation.

There is something within us all that loves the idea of unseen forces battling for the highest stakes just underneath the fabric of our everyday humdrum existence. It's really just boredom delivered as a pseudo-historical hand-job. But when the hour is late, the bottle is empty and the Discovery Channel is on, who doesn't want another look at the smudgy images of the grassy knoll.

JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?

Well, just this. There is a place for airing your theory that Shergar detonated the controlled explosion that brought down the Twin Towers that day all the Jews were told to stay away from work. It's called the internet and I've also heard it referred to as 'The Arab Street'. So if you want to run that theory up the conspiracy flagpole and see whose eyes widen, then those are the places for you. That's where I'll go to find you, if I want to check it out (or have a laugh).

Conversely, there are places where I don't want to find overheated and undercooked nonsense that has the factual content and traceability which we might associate with the scribbling on the back of a public toilet door. One of the places where I want them to be a bit fussy about the kind of stuff they put out is RTE. Despite their best efforts, we still tend to take them at their word. Also, we own it. We pay the tax that pays the wages and that makes us the proprietors.

Last Sunday, I was listening to Marian Finucane's show. I always do. She's a superb broadcaster who asks the questions occurring to her audience and who is sympathetic without being sycophantic. Her guests were Eamon Dunphy, Gemma Hussey, Simon Mills, Richard Nesbitt and sitting in Des Geraghty's chair this morning was Colm Rapple, an amiable lefty buffer who's been writing on financial matters since before the mullet was even invented.

Oh, they ranged over the questions of the day, a dart here, an apercu there. The correct notes of indignation struck, just the right inflection of righteousness. All harmless fun and guaranteed to slip down as easily as your weekend brekkie poached egg.

Marian touched the joystick (oh, er, missus!) and soon the conversation was overhead Rossport, scene of the titanic existential struggle between the forces of Darkness, represented by Shell, and the armies of Light, represented by some locals and their reclaim-the-street, reinvent-the-pancho supporters.

Eamon tore into Shell. Gemma pointed out that they'd jumped through the planning and environmental hoops. Should it be a low-pressure pipe? A high-pressure pipe? Marian remembered the trouble between Shell and the Ogoni people in Nigeria.

Then Colm Rapple piped up. Forget about the gas in the Corrib Basin. Somebody should mount a derrick over his mouth.

"Shell," began Colm, "is a force to be reckoned with." Hard to argue with that.

Then he continued, and really, in case you think I'm making this up, you should have a listen to it yourself on the RTE website. Some of the words got lost in his beard and Marian was waiting to go over to the news and Angelus, so there's a bit of paper rustling. But here's what Mr Rapple said, inter alia.

"Some Bolivian links are now being suggested. Because our man, er, Michael Dwyer, who was shot out in Bolivia, worked up there in Rossport for Shell."

We won't labour this because it's perfectly obvious what Mr Rapple was insinuating. We were invited to consider that there may very well have been a connection between Mr Dwyer's death at the hands of the Bolivian security forces in very questionable circumstances and his work to provide security for Shell at their Rossport facility. The Bolivian security forces do not appear to have provided any kind of coherent account of the deaths of Mr Dwyer and his associates other than some impossible vague allegation that they were engaged upon a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales.

I defy anyone to listen to Mr Rapple's contribution, made just over an hour into the show, and not draw those conclusions.

I rang RTE immediately and spoke to someone connected with the show. I told them that I thought the comments were grossly unfair to the reputation of the dead man who was scarcely cold in his grave. I also told them that, in fairness to the facts which had not been ascertained at that time -- and which are most unlikely to be confirmed in the foreseeable future, if the behaviour of the Bolivians thus far is any indicator -- that it might be unwise of RTE to allow anyone to suggest outlandish and ruinous speculative motives to what was, at the very least, the violent killing of an Irish citizen in the most dubious circumstances of which it is possible to conceive.

Yeah. Sure. Bring it to someone's attention. Yeah.

The show ended without any clarification, without any caveat from Marian noting that Mr Rapple's suggestions were entirely speculative and that, in advance of the facts being made known, that no-one was suggesting that the dead man was, in fact, some type of mercenary who had been engaged on some nefarious work connected with a possible assassination of a national president.

I thought at the time that it was a hugely unfair and deeply offensive insinuation. And I still think so. I thought at the time that it was desperately remiss of Marian or any of her other guests, several of whom pride themselves on 'shooting it straight' to sit there mute while an astonishingly derogatory supposition was aired about the violent death of a man against whom not a single shred of hard evidence has yet been produced.

The Dwyer family are entitled to have his memory spared the kind of vicious insinuation RTE permitted last Sunday. They are certainly entitled to ask for, and receive, an apology from those who advanced this disgraceful fantasy and those who left it unchallenged.

For what it's worth, I don't know the Dwyers. They may not be aware of what was said and insinuated. They may well be aware of the remarks and chose not to dignify them with a rejection. These are only my own thoughts (as if I could have anyone else's).

We never used to kick corpses in this country and I think we were better for it. If the facts ever emerge and they support Mr Rapple's contention then I will be glad to acknowledge that.

In the meantime, could those people sitting in front of a live microphone be a little more circumspect about parading their own prejudices when the reputation of a man no longer here to defend himself is so shamefully thrashed?

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