Saturday 25 January 2020

Mooney and the Ministry of Truth

Derek Mooney. Photo: Peter Houlihan / Fennells
Derek Mooney. Photo: Peter Houlihan / Fennells
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The numbers just don't add up. That may be the problem for RTE as they try to navigate their way through the legal landscape in the aftermath of the BAI's incredible decision to censure Derek Mooney for off-handedly telling some gay men on his light entertainment programme that he hoped they would one day be able to get married.

The implied propaganda in Mooney's benign best wishes may have had to be tackled, but where on earth, the state broadcaster must be wondering, are they going to dredge up enough anti-marriage cranks to provide that all-important "balance" every single time a gay person appears on the air?

The personae of Pantigate must be emotionally exhausted from the whole issue but now you have producers trying to yoke them back into a backbreaking schedule of objecting to other people's happiness.

And if they can't be forced to do that on Derek Mooney's show? Well then, according to the BAI, Derek Mooney himself will have to play their role and provide what they called "the alternative perspective" - that gay people shouldn't be allowed get married - even while the whole country, who knows he is gay, listens in total bafflement. This is the BAI's version of free speech.

Referendums are strange pieces of public theatre. There's a requirement for an artificial equivalence in broadcast debate during the campaigns that lead up to them.

This means that small fringe groups - such as Nora Bennis of the Catholic Democrats who said the segment was "incitement of hatred toward heterosexuals" - are often given a once-in-a-lifetime chance on the national soapbox and we have to listen to them in the name of legally mandated balance.

Nobody is afraid of that. The difference is that there is no date for the gay marriage referendum and the BAI instead grounded its decision in the fact that gay marriage is now "a subject of current public debate and controversy."

This sets a dangerous precedent and will silence the testimony of a huge number of people.

Must we have a pro-life activist on air every time someone who has had an abortion opens their mouth, even if it's not in the context of a debate on abortion? Is RTE expected to have a chauvinist on every time they do an item on women because a referendum on the role of women is on the way? And is any of this, to use the BAI's favourite word, "balanced"?

The ultimate effect of the ruling is that gay relationships can now only be represented on RTE, even on light entertainment features, as issues to be picked apart. "The personal is always political" was an oft-used phrase from the women's movement and the BAI's reduction of a human story to a political football will have consequences far beyond the debate on gay rights.

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