These days it’s only those who refuse to kowtow to prevailing “liberal” orthodoxies who can expect to be vigorously challenged about their beliefs
To have a complaint upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is not that easy. Of the 10 complaints considered by the BAI in its latest report, only one was sustained by the so-called compliance committee. That was against Today FM for a segment last September on Matt Cooper’s drivetime show, The Last Word.
On the programme, an unnamed panellist described Harry Potter author JK Rowling as a “transphobic bigot” after she expressed support for a researcher who’d been sacked for daring to suggest biological sex was real, rather than a matter of how one happens to feel, or ‘identify’.
There was a time, not that long ago, when it wouldn’t have been controversial to state that the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ had a meaning in objective reality, rather than merely being expressions of personal inclination.
As JK Rowling herself has put it: “It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
Sadly, speaking out has caused the author to be subject to threats and abuse by transgender activists and their supporters, both online and in real life, and to her books being withdrawn from sale by some bookshops.
The discussion on Today FM which prompted the complaint to the BAI wasn’t actually about Rowling as such, but her name came up in the course of the conversation. The authority in due course ruled that the show’s treatment of her was “not fair”, as neither the host nor any of the other panellists challenged what was, after all, a serious allegation, much less offered an alternative viewpoint.
A slap on the wrist was handed out but the damage was done.
Of course, it could be that the comment simply went unnoticed in the heat of conversation; but it’s worrying that a person can now be denounced live on air as a “transphobic bigot”, or any other kind of thought criminal, without it being immediately pointed out that the issue may be slightly more complicated than that.
That's particularly damaging when certain beliefs and assumptions now seem to be increasingly accepted without question as correct.
This includes the conviction that Donald Trump was bad, and Joe Biden is good; that Brexit was an outrage, and the EU’s integrity inviolable; and, not least in this particular case, that anyone who refuses to accept that a man is a woman just because he says he is, or who seeks to deny an automatic right of entry to female-only spaces such as changing rooms and prisons to biological males, should be driven in shame from public life.
In the words of the American Declaration of Independence, many now “hold these truths to be self-evident”, and anyone who disagrees is seen not simply as wrong, but morally bad.
Incredibly, even Zero-Covid now seems to have been added to the list of orthodoxies. Only those who wish lockdown to end are vigorously questioned. Those who want Covid restrictions to last indefinitely are, like those who called JK Rowling a “transphobic bigot”, allowed to say anything at all without fear of being challenged.
It’s a new kind of puritanism that is rapidly destroying the traditional basis of liberalism, which is its tolerance for difference and dissent.
To disagree with certain groups has now been reclassified as hatred. The chilling effect that comes from the fear of being next on the list for cancellation is, well, chilling.
‘Transphobe’ is one of those words, like ‘racist’, or ‘Nazi’, which has practically ceased to have any meaning because it’s thrown around so loosely.
That has to be one concern about Minister Helen McEntee’s new Criminal Justice Hate Crime Bill, which plans tougher sentences for crimes that are deemed to be motivated by a hatred of someone’s race, sex, colour, religion. Who gets to decide what is and isn’t “hate” on what has become the front line of an ongoing battle between “progressives” and the world?
The encroachment of that battle into public life in Ireland was evident in the BAI’s latest report as well, though it wasn’t sufficiently explored in the subsequent news analysis.
Go back through reports from previous years. In general, complaints were on the grounds of taste, decency, inappropriate advertising, or alleged bias when it comes to media coverage of issues of national importance such as referendums. The first thing to notice about the latest report is that Catholics have either stopped bothering to complain or else their issues are not making it to the committee.
Instead, there were complaints about the coverage of the death of George Floyd, the black man who died after a police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nine minutes, as well as a number about the coverage of the US presidential election.
There was also a complaint about RTÉ’s school hub for telling children that “we rarely hear about” black sports people or singers.
The local is fast being replaced by the global as we’re all dragged into a toxic war of competing identities imported from America; and conservatives are as guilty of obsessing about these alien concerns as liberals.
But it happens so creepingly that we almost don’t notice. That suspicion was deepened by the BAI’s response to another complaint about the Nine O’Clock News coverage of the US election, during which the presenter responded to a film of Democrats singing “Irish Americans for Biden” by declaring: “We’ll all be singing that for the next week, Brian.”
The BAI concluded this was just a “throwaway comment... made in a jocular fashion” and did “not reflect bias on the part of the broadcaster” or “constitute a personal view being expressed by the presenter”.
The BAI’s verdict might have been in accordance with the rules under which it operates, but viewers are entitled to draw a different conclusion.