Waters, Panti And RTÉ



missPantiok[John Waters, top, and Miss Panti, above]

Since her appearance on the Saturday Night Show a fortnight ago Miss Panti, also known as Rory O’ Neill, has received legal correspondence from three members of the Iona Institute…and one from Irish Times columnist  John Waters.

Solicitor Simon McGarr on his blog Tuppenceworth.ie writes

[When RTE removed Miss Panti’s interview from the RTE Player] RTE initially sought to obscure the source of this legal concern, telling TheJournal.ie that the censorship was:

due to potential legal issues and for reasons of sensitivity following the death of Tom O’Gorman as would be standard practice in such situations.

The unseemly attempt to use Mr. O’Gorman’s death as an explanation was overtaken by events when, on Thursday the 16th January, the Irish Independent ran a story headed “RTE cuts part of show after legal complaint from Waters”;

It removed the entire programme earlier this week, after claims that comments made by a guest about journalist John Waters were defamatory.

The Irish Independent understands that representatives of Mr Waters sent a legal letter to the broadcaster, seeking the removal of the interview.

Mr Waters refused to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent. However, sources confirmed that he contacted the broadcaster and asked for the programme to be removed.

When he did not receive what he saw as a satisfactory response, his solicitors sent RTE a legal letter.

Now, this is where we reach an interesting point. Because, provided we accept that the Irish Independent was accurate, this was not merely a letter from an aggrieved citizen to a broadcaster.

It was also a letter from one of that Broadcaster’s regulators seeking to have that broadcaster censor a citizen, who was both contributing to a matter of public debate and engaging in a defence of a minority of which he is a member, bona fide and without malice.

This is, to put it mildly, an unusual situation.

 John Waters is not just a private citizen. He is a member of the Government-appointed Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. And as part of that appointment he has to accept certain constraints on his behaviour. Firstly, uniquely amongst all citizens, the nine members of the BAI are told to protect one constitutional right above all others.

The Broadcasting Act 2009 sets out the obligations and function of the Authority and its members in Section 25 (1) of the Act. They must ensure

(b) that the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, are upheld,
(c) the provision of open and pluralistic broadcasting services.

This section sets out what are the primary duties of the Authority and each of its members. They place an obligation on all the Authority members to be act to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is “especially” upheld and that broadcasting services are “open and pluralistic”. This is actually their job.

There is a corollary of this.

The nine members of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland must not seek to lightly restrict liberty of expression on the basis of claims of defamation untested before the courts. The inhibitions on them before seeking the silencing of debate are significantly higher than on the rest of us.

A broadcasting Regulator who is obliged to uphold the constitutional “liberty of expression” above all other democratic and Constitutional values and to act to “ensure the provision of open and pluralistic broadcasting” can choose to follow their statutory duty. Or they can contact a broadcaster and obtain the silencing of a dissenting view without testing the legitimacy of their complaint before a court.

But I can’t see any way that they can do both.

More here: The BAI, John Waters and regulating away Other voices (Simon McGarr, Tuppenceworth.ie)

Update: Helpful BAI Statement on new Code of Business Conduct Issued today (Simon McGarr, Tuppenceworth.ie)

91 thoughts on “Waters, Panti And RTÉ

  1. buzzoneill

    He needs to either
    A) withdraw his legal threat to Rory o Neill
    B) Step down from the BAI, for contravening their own set of guidelines.

      1. bruce01

        Does holding the view that gay people are less capable parents than any other group of people make you a homophobe?

        1. Aido

          Does holding the view that black people are less capable parents than any other group of people make you a racist?

          Yes. Yes it does.

          1. Tommie

            I don’t know why I’m bothered pointing this out, but being gay is not a matter of race or appearance. Even outside of sexuality, research has shown that being brought up by carers of only one gender tends to have (unsurprisingly) certain effects on children. Blocking people from even discussing this kind of thing by labelling them homophobic is as narrow-minded as the ‘racism’ you equate it with.

          2. Shanti

            Which research is that Tommie? The research Iona tried to use that the authors specifically stated could not be used to draw conclusions on gay parents because they hadn’t studied any?
            Please, show us this research you reckon proves gay people can’t be parents..

            And by the way – all the laws surrounding gay parents are being dealt with separately. Mainly because there are gay parents out there right now and their families are being disadvantaged and discriminated against by our laws, so they require amending.

          3. Aido

            @Tommie – being gay is not a matter of choice either(1) so when people use sexuality as an excuse to marginalise groups of people it is no different than racism or sexism. I agree with you that children of single-gender parents will experience a different development pattern than that of parents of both gender. However, many children of gay parents have grown up to be healthy well-balanced (heterosexual) adults themselves (2) and anyone stating that if gay people have a child they are automatically bad parents, or incapable of raising this child this is not just homophobia, it’s wilful ignorace.

            1. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668167
            2. http://www.thestar.com/life/2013/08/16/growing_up_with_samesex_parents.html

            (btw, you’ll notice that i was able to back up my opinion with the facts of other. If you want to claim ‘research has shown’ something or other do us a favour and provide a reference so we can let the facts speak for themselves)

  2. Zynks

    The BAI has failed to fulfill its duties and ignored a serious conflict of interest, What a stupid move. Is it time for Mr. O’Neill to send a counter-threat?

  3. Lilly

    John Waters needs to step down ASAP. He’d be quick enough to point out the glaring conflict of interest if it was someone else.

  4. Blah

    I don’t think the fact that Waters is on the BAI means I can libel and defame his character, constitutional provisions or not.

    1. Sgt. Bilko

      “The nine members of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland must not seek to lightly restrict liberty of expression on the basis of claims of defamation untested before the courts.”

      I draw your particular attention to the eleven words at the end of the abovequoted sentence by Simon McGarr.

        1. Sgt. Bilko

          You’re as free to be as wrongheaded as you please. Disagree away with McGarr’s unassailable logic.

      1. Tom

        So unless a court decides a defamation case in his favour he can’t complain? But of course he can’t take an action in the first instance unless he complains? Sounds fair.

        1. Caroline

          No, he can complain, the proper means of doing so is by taking an action for defamation. But not (according to the argument) by requesting that the article be censored absent a ruling, which is an informal redress sometimes sought by people in these situations. I can see the merits of the argument but I don’t know if I agree with it. I cba reading the act, but there might be an argument that these obligations are incumbent on board members *in the exercise of their roles and functions* rather than in their everyday lives.

    2. Catherine

      I’ll draw your attention to the phrase ‘claims of defamation untested before the courts’ in that sentence. Perhaps you’d like to go and read that again and think about it.

  5. postmanpat

    Rule and Law (or facts) don’t matter to religious people. the way they see it the end justifies the means.

    1. Blah

      You just said “religious people” don’t care about laws, or facts.

      Think about that for a while, and you might conclude that that’s an obnoxious and bigoted statement.

  6. Rompsky

    If, and I’m not saying that they were, he has defamatory comments made against him can he not make moves to try and protect himself?

    Or am I reading that wrong altogether?

    1. jungleman

      Good question. I think basically there is a stricter onus upon him to seek legal redress, rather than simply using the channels of the authority of which he is a member, presumably to prevent a conflict of interest. I don’t really see the issue here, unless he referred to himself in his official capacity in his correspondence with RTE.

    2. curmudgeon

      It was personal sure, legal recourse is not beyond the pale certainly. But just try to get RTE to take down an entire show, and lie about why they did it. Unless of course you happen to sit on the Board.

      1. jungleman

        Like I said, if he did not mention or allude to his position in his correspondence there is no point to be made. He is perfectly entitled to correspond with RTE through his solicitors or by himself in his personal capacity.. It would be illogical for him to file papers in court without first attempting to have the video taken down through correspondence.

        1. Shanti

          Surely the factor which is relevant is the “untested by the courts” section.
          This would – I presume – mean that he may not censor someone for defamation against him until such a time as the courts have passed judgement on the matter in question, no?

          So basically, he should have waited until a judge said Panti defamed him before demanding the piece be censored.

          That’s how I read it anyway..

  7. concerned citizen

    excuse my ignorance now, but what exactly has john waters done to merit being accused a homophobe?

    1. Ms Piggy

      He has publicly argued that gay men and women are maliciously attempting to destroy the very institution of marriage, and with it civilisation in general (I’m barely paraphrasing, that’s what he wrote). If he said that about the Jews, it would be racist, right? So it’s homophobic.

    2. Blah

      Very broadly speaking, being against gay marriage. Apparently enough to be called a homophobe.

      Nonsense if you ask me. (And fwiw I think in time we’ll look back on gay marriage like women voting, etc.)

      1. Peter

        As panti said, if you think that homosexuals should have less rights than straight couples you are a homophobe.

    3. MajorThrill

      Coming out with crap like this about affording equal rights and protections to same sex marriages for example – “It is a deliberate sabotage of the culture”, continues Waters, “and the relishing of the destruction as a result. Gay marriage is a satire…. But sometimes you have to allow things to happen for the consequences to become obvious.”

      The whole thing is here : http://collegetribune.ie/index.php/2012/08/gay-marriage-is-a-product-of-this-bunker-mentality/

  8. Eamonn Clancy

    Very thin ice here, Waters isn’t a homophobe, despite his nonsenscial comments about gay marriage. I understand Panti is a publican, if this is true it’s going to prove very costly to him.

    1. Sgt. Bilko

      It is perfectly fair comment as understood in the context of the law on defamation. It’s not thin, it’s not even ice.

  9. mthead

    just don’t talk about these things let them rule us they know best. soon it will be just like the 50’s.

  10. Paulus

    I don’t know, I saw some of the general fallout but somehow reading the above all I can think of is a certain effect named after a certain actress.

        1. Blah

          Yes, I do.

          There effect is not binary, it’s continuous. It can be small, big, huge, or the size of Marty Morrissey’s forehead. Broadsheet is pushing it toward the latter.

          I don’t agree with John Waters on gay marriage. I don’t like his tone on the matter. And I think he could do with a haircut. But I think he sincerely holds those beliefs, that they’re not “phobic” or hate-filled or anything like that, and that this circus of defamation is extremely unfair on him. And Broadsheet is complicit in that.

          You don’t understand that, do you?

          1. Cean

            How do you know they’re not hate-filled or phobic? If a person believed that no woman should vote and held those beliefs are they not sexist? If a person believed that interracial marriage is a farce is that not racist just because they hold that belief?

          2. Barry

            What a silly comment. Sincerely held beliefs can still be hate-filled. Sincerity and decency are not the same thing.

          3. Blah

            “How do you know they’re not hate-filled or phobic?”

            Obviously I can’t know it for sure. Look, a homophobe might say the same things that John Waters says. That doesn’t mean that John Waters is a homophobe.

            I think it would be bad for Ireland if the population magically jumped by ten million. Similarly I think allowing in ten million immigrants would be a bad idea. That doesn’t make me xenophobic, even though a xenophobe would also be against mass immigration.

          4. smiffy

            Yes, but if you claimed that immigrants were coming to Ireland not because they had a genuine desire to live here, but instead because they wanted to undermine Irish cultural identity, and described their integration into Irish society as a ‘sham’, then it would probably be a reasonable assumption to think that you were xenophobic.

          5. Blah

            Here is Waters’ opinion in his own words:

            “In a certain sense it’s not even gay marriage that I’m opposed to, it’s the idea of gay adoption. Because marriage is fundamentally societies way of nurturing children … [People] believe that the differences between men and women are completely a social construct and can be moved around at will. I predict that in fifty, sixty, seventy years, these ideas will have brought disaster in this society and others.”

            I disagree with him. I stand up for his right to say that without being accused of being homophobic.

            We have comments on this page saying that religious people don’t care about facts or laws, with little push-back from ordinary punters here. In their rush for political progress, people are forgetting what it means to be liberal and progressive.

          6. MajorThrill

            Here is waters’ opinion in his own words
            ““It is a deliberate sabotage of the culture and the relishing of the destruction as a result. Gay marriage is a satire”

            That is a vicious and hateful thing to say about anyone expressing a sincere desire to have their relationship recognised by society.

          7. Sgt. Bilko

            I’m glad Major Thrill took the time to knock Blah’s threadbare defence of a patent homophobe into a cocked hat, so I don’t have to.

          8. Rebecca

            Blah said: “Obviously I can’t know it for sure. Look, a homophobe might say the same things that John Waters says. That doesn’t mean that John Waters is a homophobe.”

            What a ridiculous comment. Homophobic is as homophobic does. If someone says things that are homophobic then they are a homophobe. Our actions and language make us what we are – I don’t give a crap that “deep down” John Waters may or may not be this idea of what people have created as a “homophobe”. He believes that gay couples and relationships are not entitled to the protection of the state like straight couples are – he believes they are not equal and deserving of less respect.

  11. Al

    The most laughable thing about John Waters is his continuing assertion that he’s not homophobic. At least Iona try to hide behind reasearch (albeit discredited research.) Waters spouts things like: ‘Gay marriage is a satire.’ http://youtu.be/7dEvGtwMNfw

      1. Shanti

        Exactly – he said that everyone is naturally uneasy with things that they don’t understand – and that the onus is upon them to step back and see whether that’s something they wish to hold onto or reevaluate. Which is a fair statement.

  12. More_Bermuda_than_Berlin

    If i was Simon, I’d be expecting a solicitor’s letter from John in the next day or two.

    1. Sgt. Bilko

      Simon get’s solicitors’ letters all day, every day, being a solicitor. There’s nothing magic about ink and paper, just because a solicitor folded it up and put into an envelope. I’m sure he won’t be wetting his slacks.

  13. Marie

    Yes, he said that everyone is a bit homophobic in the same way that everyone is a little bit racist as it is the way we categorise people. I agree, who here doesn’t know a neighbour/friend/workmate who’s gay and classify them as the ‘gay’ one…?’ Even gay people can be homophobic, some very much so.

    What I can’t understand is why Waters and Iona are saying they’re not!! What do they care?!!
    They (well Iona predominately) spend their lives fighting against certain gay rights and saying stuff like marriage equality will cause the destruction of society…. They should just man up and own what they’re saying or else stop saying it.

    Legally Waters doesn’t have a leg to stand on so, ya, that makes his position with the BAI very controversial, stupid move.

    1. smiffy

      Spot on. It doesn’t really matter what the dictionary definition of homophobia is, in this case, or what John Waters thinks homophobia is. The important thing is what O’Neill said after he named Waters and others, and gave a measured and reasonable account of what he understood homophobia to be – that’s what he’s accusing Waters et al of. And it’s very hard to argue against.

      This is great though. Over the next year, in the run-up to the referendum, whenever John Waters, Breda O’Brien or the Iona crowd come out with their usual whinge that those accusing them of homophobia or bigotry are trying to ‘stifle debate’, they’re going to have to explain how name-calling stifles debate more than solicitors’ letters.

  14. Be The Jay

    If you’re against gay marriage does that mean you’re a homophobe. I’m asking a genuine question. The definition that I’ve found for homophobe is “a person who hates or fears homosexual people” – I just put it into google. So, by opposing gay marriage does that make John Waters a homophobe. Does it automatically imply that he hates or fears homosexuals/LGBTI.

    By the way, I’m not sure that it’s fair or makes sense that if somebody defames him (or anybody else on that 9 person panel) that they need to take the direct route to court to get something done about it. I’m sure if they started doing that people would complain about the unnecessary expense when all would be required is a letter. RTE didn’t do this just because John Waters sent them a letter. I would have thought they’d seek legal advice first. Some of the comments here give the impression that when John Waters clicks his fingers RTE do his bidding.

    1. Cean

      an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.

      He called gay marriage “potentially destructive of the very fabric of Irish society”

      Does that not seem a bit extreme?

      1. Cean

        It’s not that they want to get married; they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it and they feel really, that it’s an affront to their equality

        “This is really an attempt to discredit an institution, the nominative institution on which society and human civilization is founded. If you do that there will be consequences, and one of them is that marriage will become a nothing.”

        1. Cean

          John Waters quotes above from

          “The way this is being set up where there’s almost a blackmail clause involved, whereby if you don’t support it you’re a homophobe. This bullying is actually silencing people and it’s preventing any kind of open discussion…. You’re sneered at and ridiculed.”

          But if someone does call you a homophobe you can try to silence them and stop any form of discussion apparently

    2. Shanti

      Doesn’t have to involve hatred.
      If you are seeking to deny equality to someone – then you are essentially saying that they are worth less than you.
      Now, I don’t know your ethnicity, or any details about you – so rather than assume, I will use myself – a straight, white, Irish female as an example.
      If I were to consider men to be worth less than me, and argue to limit their rights – I would be sexist. Perhaps even misandrist.
      If I considered any other ethnicity or race to be worth less than me, and argued against their rights, I would be labelled a xenophobe or a racist.

      So when someone argues in favour of limiting homosexuals rights – they are doing the same thing.. Why do they expect to escape the labelling? People label each other, that’s the human need for categorising people that Panti hinted at in the cut part of his interview. And if they are seeking to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality – they can hardly expect to go unchallenged, and to avoid being categorised as homophobic..
      At least an opinion can be changed, your sexuality can’t.

  15. Lilly

    Someone on another thread said that people are being asked to state if they’re gay or straight when sitting public service exams – all in the name of equality but not anonymously. Can this really be true?

  16. Gwantafuppoutathat

    When I applied for a public service job there was a form that asked about gender, race, religious affiliation and sexuality. However, it was anonymous. This was two years ago.

    1. GRWH

      Filled out one of those ǎ few months back. Don’t known if it said it was anonymous or not, they’re used as part of equal opportunities employer framework and are almost standard in most applications. They’re not mandatory either, the drop down list includes ǎ prefer not to answers option.

  17. steve white

    “provided we accept that the Irish Independent was accurate” is kind of a problem, we dont know if waters sent rte a complaint we only know the independent said he did.

  18. Sham Bob

    So Waters stepped down, I’m expecting a moan-fest over at the Irish Times, but he might surprise us.

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