‘A Comment On How Language Is Used’

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Kevin Myers

Today.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland released its latest decisions on broadcasting complaints.

In respect of a complaint made against RTE’s Morning Ireland – in which former Sunday Times columnist Kevin Myers was called a “holocaust denier” by one of the show’s presenters – the BAI upheld the complaint.

RTE has reported that it is considering a response to the finding.

BAI’s summary of the complaint – by Karl Martin – states:

The complainant states that one of the presenters on this programme described Mr. Kevin Myers as a ‘Holocaust denier’. The complainant states that this was an absurd claim based on a newspaper article written by Mr. Myers over eight years ago under a misleading headline that he didn’t write.

The complainant states that Mr Myers took issue with the word ‘Holocaust’ on account of its Greek origin, meaning ‘destroy by fire’. He stated that there was no single Holocaust because it took many forms; Jews were shot in pits, beaten to death, frozen and starved to death, burnt alive in their homes and synagogues and gassed.

The complainant maintains that it is quite clear from the newspaper article that Mr Myers believes that there was a Nazi genocide of the Jews – he typically and pedantically takes issue with the word. The complainant adds that Mr Myers has written many times about the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jews and that it is ridiculous and offensive to label him as ‘Holocaust denier’. The complainant states that no senior member of the Irish Jewish community has called him ‘a denier’.

In support of his complaint, the complainant submits the following:-

a) A copy of a statement issued by the Jewish Representative Council defending Mr. Myers from, inter alia, the claim that he had denied the Holocaust in an article eight years ago.

b) A copy of the Guardian newspaper’s correction to its earlier description of Mr. Myers as a Holocaust denier.

c) A copy of The Times of Israel published defence of Mr. Myers by the Jewish blogger, Mr. Jonathan Hoffman.

The complainant states that despite all of the above, the broadcaster still claims that it was correct to refer to Mr. Myers as having previously written a column in which he “denied the Holocaust”. The complainant states that this is, to quote the Jewish Representative Council, “an absolute distortion of the facts” and is based on the selective use of certain phrases taken out of context.

RTE’s response to the BAI is summarised as follows:

“The broadcaster states that the references to Mr. Myers in this context relate to articles written by Mr. Myers for the Irish Independent and Belfast Telegraph newspapers in 2009. In reaction to commentary on the articles following Mr. Myers’ final Sunday Times newspaper column, the Irish Independent immediately removed the article in question from its website.

The Belfast Telegraph had not, at the time of replying to the complainant, removed its version of the article. These are quotes taken directly from the article:-

“There was no holocaust (or Holocaust, as my computer software insists) and six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich. These two statements of mine are irrefutable truths.” “It is an offence in Germany to say that six million Jews did not die in the holocaust. Very well then, I am a criminal in Germany.” “I’m a Holocaust denier.”

“The broadcaster states that these are Mr. Myers’ own words. He may have then qualified his headline statements by then writing that there certainly was genocide waged against the Jews by the Nazis, in what he describes as “one of the most satanic operations in world history.”

The broadcaster maintains that if he is being referred to around the world as a Holocaust denier, it is because he described himself as such.

The broadcaster refers to the contents of this article as unarguable evidence that the statement by the presenter that Mr. Myers had “previously written a column in which he denied the Holocaust” was accurate and fair, did not misrepresent Mr. Myers and was not in any way misleading to listeners.

In its decision to uphold the complaint, the BAI said:

“While noting that Mr. Myers had described himself as a ‘Holocaust denier’ in a typically provocative newspaper article that he had written, it was evident from the article as a whole that his description did not in fact amount to a statement denying the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Rather, the article was a comment on how language is used and the criminalisation of individuals or groups who engage in Holocaust denial. In this context, the comments by the presenter were considered to lack fairness to Mr. Myers and both misrepresented his views in a manner which would likely mislead audiences as to his views. Accordingly, the complaint has been upheld.

Read the decision in full here

UPDATE:

Meanwhile…

George Hook

A complaint about comments made by George Hook last September on his then High Noon show on Newstalk has also been upheld.

On September 8, 2017, Mr Hook had made certain comments in light of a court case concerning a sexual assault.

Mr Hook said:

“But when you look deeper into the story you have to ask certain questions. Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him …. then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her.”

“Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger? There is personal responsibility. You then of course read that she passed out in the toilet and when she woke up the guy was trying to rape her. There is a personal point of responsibility, because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter.

“And what determines the daughter who goes out, gets drunk, passes out and is with strangers in a room and the daughter that goes out, stays half way sober and comes home. I don’t know … but there is a point of responsibility. The real issues nowadays and increasingly, is the question of the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety.”

The complaint to the BAI was made by Fiona O’Toole, who summarised her complaint as follows:

The complainant states that it was not appropriate for the presenter to blame an alleged
victim of sexual assault for the fact that she was raped. The complainant states that it is irrelevant that she chose to go back to a hotel room with one man; she should not be raped by a second.

The complainant expressing the opinion that the presenter believes that the victim is responsible for this assault is offensive and harmful. The complainant states that
nobody would suggest that men who are mugged walking down Grafton Street in Dublin are responsible for being mugged and it is not appropriate for the presenter to blame women (and their parents) for rape rather than the rapist and their parents for how they raised them.

Newstalk’s response to the BAI was…

The broadcaster states that the day following the initial broadcast, Saturday 9th September, the programme presenter and Newstalk issued an apology for the on-air remarks.

On Monday 11th September, the presenter, while on-air, issued a further, more detailed,
apology. The broadcaster states that an internal process within the station in relation to the comments was undertaken and, on Friday 15th September, it was confirmed that the
presenter had been suspended from his duties at the station while the process was
ongoing.

The broadcaster states that on the 22nd September it was confirmed that the
process which reviewed the circumstance that led to the presenter’s comments had
concluded and Newstalk confirmed that the presenter would be stepping down from his
lunchtime slot and would return in December when he will take on a new weekend show.

In upholding the complaint, the BAI stated:

“In the case of the programme that is the subject of the complaint, the Committee noted that it is aimed at an adult audience and the programme and presenter’s sometimes provocative style are well established and understood by the audience.

The Committee also recognises that it is permissible in broadcasting to deal with the question of personal responsibility in covering issues of crime and criminal behaviour. However, this topic was raised in the programme in the context of a then ongoing UK court case about rape and the issue of personal responsibility was described by the presenter as “the real issue” in this matter.

As such, the Committee considered that the manner and context of raising the issue of personal responsibility in the context of a specific case of alleged rape caused undue offence and there was a strong possibility of causing distress to audience members who might personally identify with this issue.

In considering this complaint, the Committee acknowledged that the broadcaster subsequently undertook remedial action and has accepted the substance and validity of the complaint.

It also noted that the presenter explicitly stated that he does not condone rape.

However, the broadcaster had a responsibility to take greater care to prevent the possibility of undue offence and harm, including taking timely corrective action where content is likely to have caused offence.

The Committee was of the view that the broadcaster had failed to take corrective action in a timely fashion, action which may have ameliorated the undue offence caused. Given this and given the content of the programme, the Committee has decided to uphold the complaint.

Decision can be read in full here

43 thoughts on “‘A Comment On How Language Is Used’

  1. Tim

    Myers basically said that Jewish people were Shylocks, grasping for money at every turn. It’s a despicable stereotype and well-worn anti-Semitic trope. He’s a disgusting man.

    1. Taunton

      He is many things but he is not anti-Semitic, he has on numerous occasions shone a light on the anti-Semitism in Ireland.

      1. Sanda

        Myers has never apologized for his comments on Africa. The only thing Africa ever gave the world was AIDS. The man is a hate-filled cretin.

    2. cian

      Hmm. My first post was removed. I’ll try again.

      What Myres actually said was: “two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz […] are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price.”

      I don’t think that this is basically saying “that Jewish people were Shylocks, grasping for money at every turn. It’s a despicable stereotype and well-worn anti-Semitic trope”.

      The Jewish Representative Council of Ireland supported Myres too (albeit acknowledging that the article was a bit off).

      1. Sam

        The Jewish Representative Council are a small body of men who don’t represent the Jewish community in Ireland. Many Jews, myself included, resent their claim to be representative. The same people have been running the JRC for years. It’s a closed shop. It doesn’t represent women or young Jews at all.

  2. Nigel

    ‘I only said I was holocaust denier to be provocative and they got provoked and I wish to complain about how provoked they were at my provocativeness also ‘provocative’ comes from the Greek word for ‘towering bollockhead’ and since I do not in fact have a bollock for a head I can be arrested in some jurisdictions for false advertising and this is the real Holocaust.’

  3. TheRealJane

    It is interesting to read someone who probably considers themselves a writer arguing that there’s no room for acquired meaning or nuance or even context. Words have one specific meaning set in stone for all time with no deviation.

    1. DeKloot

      Phew. I thought it was just me but it’s good to now know that James Joyce’s Ulysses is actually utter bum dribble…
      (I don’t think this)

    2. ivan

      Well that’s it, isn’t it? I mean, when we’re at home and my better half says “d’you want to go and defrost that lasagne while I put on a wash?” I can certainly reply with “no I don’t” because maybe, pedantically, she’s asking if i’m experiencing a volition (and i’m not) as opposed to wanting me to make myself useful.

      Pedantry is fun, but at home, I’d rightly get told to cop the frig on, and same with Myers – he might, in a sense, be right inasmuch as what Holocaust meant originally – it’s not a hill that’s ever been worth dying on.

      1. postmanpat

        He sounds like the type of person who would give you a lecture on the misuse of the word “decimate” . “you know, the word, ‘decimate’ is used incorrectly, it actually means removing a tenth……….” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

        1. rotide

          It’s because that’s what the word means.

          We live in a world where the Oxford dictionary LITERALLY had to redefine the word literally because of people like you.

      1. Nigel

        Sometimes the acquired meaning is ugly and nasty. Lots of perfectly good words have become generally horrible and unacceptable because of their acquired meanings.

          1. Nigel

            rotide. That is the opposite of what I said. Word usage changes whether I like it or not, and sometimes I really don’t like what they change into, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed.

      2. ivan

        but Holocaust has been used for quite some time to describe the systematic destruction of a great number of people by means *other* than fire. Since I were a young ‘un in the 80s, we feared death in what was called, among other things, a Nuclear Holocaust, so even then the H word was a shorthand for ‘a fuppton of people getting killed, though not necessarily by actual burning’.

        Myers has been banging that pedantic drum for 30 years for little or no reason; holocaust largely means *now* the ‘fuppton’ thing i said above. It most likely meant it 30 years ago too.

        The word ‘gay’ may be changing its meaning permanently; it may not. It’s too soon to tell.

        1. rotide

          I’m pretty sure holocaust fits with the nuclear thing on account of how much fire a nuclear weapon produces.

          1. ivan

            It fits but (depending on where the ruddy thing lands obvs) most people are killed by radiation/aftermath/dust-blocking-out-the-sun-for-ages than the blast itself.

            That’s not to say there ain’t a heck of a lot of burning.

    1. cian

      the complainant gets a nice warm fuzzy feeling that “they were right!”, and will be encouraged to complain on future occasions.

  4. Gabby

    Myers writes about several things to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the 1916 rebellion, the role of Irish soldiers in the Great War, the English dimension to Irish culture,ultra-feminism, and the IRA. Nobody is going to agree with him on all these themes. He queried the use of the Greek word ‘holocaust’ being used exclusively to describe what nazi Germany did to Jews in the Second World War, and says that holocaust has other meanings pre-WWII. The BAI report exonerates him of the RTE charge that he is a ‘holocaust denier’. It also acknowledges that he maintains warm relations with members of the Jewish community in Ireland. If people want to tackle his views on other matters, let them do so, but move on from false ideas about his attitude to Jews and the extermination policies of the nazis.

    1. ivan

      I *think* I agree; I don’t believe that Myers takes the view of (for want of a less reductionist phrase) ‘fupp them, they’re only Jews’. However, he does himself no favours by niggling on a point of pedantry that, well actually, you know, it wasn’t a Holocaust that killed them all, the word you want is genocide.

      He’s ‘right’ but as I’ve said above, is he honestly doing himself any favours? Because by insisting that what happened wasn’t a holocaust, he’s leaving himself open to the charge of being a holocaust denier. It’s that old line, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. And hiding behind the smug “it’s the rest of the world is too thick to understand the oh-so-nuanced point i’m making” isn’t much solace. He still emerges from this as a bit of an eejit.

      1. Gabby

        11 million people were murdered in the Nazi liquidation camps. 6 million were Jews and the other 5 million were political opponents of the Nazi ideology, religious critics, mental ‘defectives’, sexual ‘deviants’ and several other types of people that didn’t suit the Nazis.

        Myers pedantic quibbling of the word holocaust was an article dragged up from 8 years previously after his regular column with the Sunday Times was suddenly discontinued in 2016. RTE was trying to throw mud. The BAI report has called out the mud slinging.

        1. cian

          Don’t forget the Poles.
          About a million Poles were killed to make more room in Poland to allow the Germans more roo.

  5. some old queen

    I would dearly love to have enough money to play cat and mouse with semantics but the rent needs paying.

  6. Matt Lucozade: The Only Reader of the Village

    Basically, Kevin is quite smart. George is none too bright.

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