What exactly is the relationship between RTÉ and the pressure group, Lolek Ltd, which calls itself the Iona Institute? The debacle following the Saturday Night Show, during which Rory O’Neill criticised the behaviour of certain people which he felt placed him at a disadvantage as a member of a minority by virtue of his sexual orientation, is unedifying to say the least.
With remarkable alacrity – not mention synchronicity – those same people bombarded RTÉ with a broadside of legal threats which led to a cringeing, cowardly climb-down by the broadcaster, removal of the video clip from the RTÉ website and a public apology read by the show’s presenter, Brendan O’Connor.
But more significantly, if this unseemly, gloating press release from Lolek Ltd is to be believed, RTÉ also handed over an undisclosed sum of money to certain individuals in what it describes as damages. To the best of my knowledge, damages are awarded by a court, and the Lolek Ltd threats remain untested in law. Therefore, what RTÉ did was make ex-gratia payments to these individuals.
Even if you ignore the self-pitying tone of the headline: Threatening emails received by The Iona Institute, the Lolek Ltd press release has the usual smell of half-truth and spin about it, since O’Neill didn’t accuse any of the people associated with the ludicrous Iona Institute of being homophobic. What he actually said was that they were really horrible and mean about gays.
Imagine how devastated your life would be if somebody accused you of being really horrible and mean. That’s every teenage girl up before the courts for defamation. In classic legal terms, it amounts to no more than vulgar abuse, and pretty mild abuse at that.
What is wrong with these people? Are they so immature that they can’t stand a little criticism from somebody who is day in and day out on the receiving end of genuine prejudice?
Grow up, Lolek Ltd.
Now that RTÉ has handed over a chunk of money to certain people associated with this private company, perhaps it’s time certain questions were asked about the relationship between our national broadcaster and this small but extremely vocal assembly of fundamentalists.
Such questions might include the following:
Since Lolek Ltd is just another small niche PR company, why are its representatives afforded such a disproportionate level of access to the RTÉ studios?
Why are these people not introduced clearly by RTÉ presenters as representatives of Lolek Ltd?
Why did RTÉ collapse under the pressure of this flimsy legal threat? It has been pointed out by legal professionals that what Rory O’Neill said was uttered in good faith and without malice, that as a member of a minority he was entitled to defend himself against what he saw as oppression and that in any case he didn’t accuse these individuals of being homophobic, even though some people would conclude that many of their campaigns are decidedly so.
It seems to me that there is a strand running deep within RTÉ that wishes to support this small but aggressive pressure group. Up to now, that support has taken the form of unfettered access to the airwaves, but once the national broadcaster censors the sincerely-held views of a citizen, and hands over public funds to self-appointed moral guardians, we need to start asking hard questions.
Maybe this is a job for the Public Accounts Committee.
What exactly is the Iona Institute?
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