14 March: "BBC found guilty of abortion censorship"
(The Guardian (UK), 15 March 2002)
The Court of Appeal in London ruled on Thursday, 14 March, that the BBC and other British television broadcasters were wrong to refuse to screen an election broadcast prepared by the Pro-Life Alliance, a British pro-life political party, which featured graphic depictions of abortions.
The High Court had ruled in favour of the broadcasters, who refused to screen the film before the 1997 and 2001 UK general elections on the grounds that it was "grossly offensive". However, three Court of Appeal judges said today that this was a clear case of censorship.
Lord justice Laws, one of the judges, described the refusal to broadcast as "censorship".
"I have well in mind that the broadcasters do not at all accept that their decision should be so categorised," he said. "Maybe the feathers of their liberal credentials are ruffled at the words's overtones, maybe there is an implicit plea for the comfort of a euphemism."
"However," he said, "in my judgement this court must, and I hope the broadcasters will, recognise unblinking that censorship exactly what this case is about."
He made a declaration that the decision not to screen the images "in the interests of decency and good taste" [as claimed by the BBC] was unlawful.
The spokesperson for the BBC said: "This means viewers may be subjected to material that will cause widespread and gross offence".
Counsel for the BBC submitted that no censorship was involved because the ProLife Alliance could describe abortion verbally. The Court dismissed this argument as "unreal". Lord justice Laws observed: "Here the image is the message - I can see no answer to the claim that the appellant is entitled to show - not just tell - what happens."
Lord justice Brown added: "Words alone cannot convey the essential human character of the foetus and the nature of its destruction by abortion."
In censoring the broadcast, which the Court stressed contained "nothing gratuitous or sensational or untrue" the broadcasters "failed altogether to give sufficient weight to the pressing imperative of free political expression."
The BBC was specifically named in the case, though the ruling applies to all broadcasters in the UK and in NI. The case may be appealed to the House of Lords.
Bruno Quintavalle, leader of the Pro-Life Alliance, said: "This judgement signals the beginning of the end of legal abortion in the UK. Once our country sees the truth, they will know that abortion even in the earliest stages is an act of terrible violence which kills a human being." Bernie Smyth, of Precious Life, NI, commented similarly.
In commentaries from the liberal Guardian and Independent papers that were as equally landmark occasions as the judgment, they both supported the judgement, the latter under a heading "The principle of free speech matters more than a doubtful ruling on taste" (on which the BBC's defence was based).
[Pro-Life Alliance, BBC News online, (14 March), Information at Spuc, Irish Catholic, Irish Family, Catholic Herald, Catholic Times, etc]
This ruling contrasts with the outcome of a case in the Irish High Court (IRTC v Youth Defence) some 5 years ago.
In that case the IRTC sought, successfully, to ban a radio advertisement on local radio, (which local radio stations were willing to run), which gave information on abortion. The advertisements were challenged on the basis that they would have contravened s.10 (3) of the Broadcasting Act, 1988, which prohibits advertisements "directed towards any religious or political end ...".
Advertisements featuring "The Irish Catholic" were banned for the same reason. In this case the ban was lifted in the Broadcasting Act, 2001.
25 March 2002
March: Forum to be set up on PSBThe Minister with responsibility for Broadcasting, Deputy Síle de Valera, has announced that a forum is to be set up to examine the future of public service broadcasting in Ireland. The Forum will be under the chairmanship of Mr Maurice O'Connell, Governor of the Central Bank, and is expected to report within 4 months.
Further information: see Forum on Broadcasting
25 March 2002, 5 May 2002
24 January: BCI announces its plan
The licences of the majority of existing local radio services expire during 2003/2004. Arising from the Broadcasting Act, 2001, the licencing period has now been extended from one to two? years.
The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, in a Press Release dated 24 January, says it received a substantial response to its call for expressions of interest in late 2001. Twenty areas are specified, with modifications to three, ie, Carlow/Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Kildare.
A new service is envisaged for the South East Region, while "we have recently seen the arrival of a new station in Cork, Red FM". The Commission says it will consider licensing additional services in other areas after the current round of renewals are dealt with.
It is intended to deal with the Dublin, Louth/Meath and Wicklow group of areas first, with advertisement of licences to commence in February 2002. The last tranche will be advertised in January 2003. See BCI site for further details.
29 January 2002
28 October: RTE: criticism of editorial policy
This seems a very valid comment.
It is particularly obvious in the case of the interviewing of politicians. While politicians need to have a reasonable ability to articulate their viewpoint, and to have some degree of resilience when being challenged, it is clear that the style at RTE oftentimes lead to demands which can be well beyond the reasonable calls of duty. Interviewers equally can have great difficulty in extracting the truth, which they have a duty to pursue.
However, on balance, it is obvious that a considerable amount of courage is needed to go on air, and only those who have the flair or whose politics find empathy with the interviewer are going to be heard or seen. This means we are limited to a small group of top performers, and that a considerable range of views from somewhat less capable performers is excluded, an outcome hardly of much service to democracy.
3 November 2001
18 February: A MATTER of OPINIONFrom A Leavy:
We have had three opinion polls within a week showing different results, depending on who paid for them.
Should this intrusive manipulation of our democracy by people, who may have agendas of which we know nothing, be allowed to continue?
(Sunday Business Post 18 February 2001)
13 January:PRAGUE WINTERThe revolt by striking journalists brought forth some ringing declarations in defence of freedom of the press and of democracy in the Czech Republic's state television station. It also brought forth some 100,000 people onto the streets in support of the self-proclaimed watchdogs of democracy.
Some comparisons with our own situation might be instructive. Here, an amiable détente exists between the politicians who make appointments to the board, on the one hand, and on the other, those who run things on the shop floor. Neither the board members, nor broadcasters are elected or are accountable in any sense, yet they hold a position of enormous influence over the public.
The government of the day is quite happy with this state of affairs. How else could it happen, for instance, that RTE, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and the State came together early last year, in a joint appeal to the Supreme Court against a complaint by a citizen (the "Coughlan" case) which had been upheld by the High Court?
Right now, a Broadcasting Bill is making its way through the Seanad. There is not an iota in it to change the complaints procedure from the charade that it has been for the last 24 years.
Broadcasting, like the telephone, no longer requires a monopoly physical structure for delivery. It is time we were set free from the joint bondage of the State and the State broadcaster.End
1. There are no penalties for breaches of the Broadcasting Act, and none are proposed in the new Broadcasting Bill.
2. The Irish Times was the only paper found which carried a report suggesting that there might be a second side to the Prague story. All other reports, including those in RTE, The Economist and Newsweek, followed the standard "valiant fight to save democracy line", omitting the possibility that privatisation and journalists jobs might have been the real issue.
If journalists could bring 100,000 people onto the streets in their defence, how much easier must it be for them to get substantial numbers of the public to mark a ballot paper in a particular way.)
16 April : TOLERATING OPINIONS
Comment:At a UN-sponsored youth conference (in London?), a no doubt well-intentioned Geri Halliwell was promoting safe sex when she was challenged from the floor by some pro-life people, who were presumably not supposed to be there.
As they were being bundled out the door, still trying to get their message across, Geri assured them that everyone was entitled to their opinion. (Skynews)..obviously, as long as they kept it to themselves, or took it outside the hall.
It didn't seem to be Geri's idea that they be ejected, and it wasn't a big incident in any event. But it did illustrate the gap between theory and practice. Sartre's (?) much quoted, and much breached, lofty declaration comes to mind: "I may not agree with what you say, but..."
13 April: DOPED SOAPSAccording to a report by Karl Brophy in the Irish Examiner, the Government intends asking RTE to alter the storyline of Irish soaps, with a view to encouraging large numbers of women into the workforce.
Social Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern says that a large resource exists "which is eager to play its part in our growing and vibrant ecomomy".
This is incredible. And outrageous. The means more than the objective. The "Brave New World" is here!.
10 April: REVIEWING
THE LIBEL LAWS
John Waters in "Libel laws must weigh freedom and fair play" (Irish Times) provides a useful essay on current libel laws, and a counterpoint to Michael Foley's article of 28 March.
He takes issue with the idea of shifting the burden of proof to the plaintiff, as seems to be called for by Mr Abid Hussain of the UN Commission of Human Rights. (The UN Commissioner for Human Rights is (Mrs) Mary Robinson, the popular former President of Ireland)
John Waters thinks that the proposal, deriving from the American idea of promoting the maximum freedom of expression in the public interest, may be desirable in specific instances, but not in general, due to the fact that it would aply equally to "the notorious and the anonymous".
In certain circumstances, the change could have the effect of placing media beyond sanction.
28 March 2000: MEDIA LAW REFORM
According to a piece by Michael Foley in the Irish Times, "Media can no longer be viewed as irritant", a report by UN special rapporteur on the Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr Abid Hussain, is likely to cause embarrassment for the Government, because of the Government's alleged failure to act on a number of issues.
Chief amonst these issues is the law relating to defamation and to the protection of journalists' sources. In the case of defamation, it has long been sought, particularly by media sources, that the burden of proof should be borne by the plaintiff, rather than the defendant, as at present.
If Mr Hussain's report is as wide-ranging as is stated, and as it needs to be, the Government may not be alone in finding itself embarrassed.
25 March 2000: COMPETITION, and other issues, in the MEDIA
It seems we're in for a spate of discussion on the media, according to a report from Dick Walsh in the Irish Times, "Silence of the media is about to be broken". That this is likely, is due to some recent events and imminent reports, he says. For one, Mary Harney will be publishing a report by the Competition and Mergers Review Group in the next fortnight, ie, around mid-April.
Dick Walsh quotes Enda Kenny's warning in the Dáil that the main financial beneficiaries of the digital age are going to be the system operators.
The Report of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry of June 1996, may be relevant here.
16 March 2000: "PADDY'S" DAY
In promoting its programme for St Patrick's Day, the national broadcaster, RTE, refers to the occasion as "Paddy's" Day.
RTE speaks for itself only when it seeks to dumb down the Irish national feast day and, with it, the Irish nation.
8 March 2000: DEMOCRACY and VALUES"Democracy is a means and not an end, and the value of a democracy stands or falls with the values it embodies and promotes. These values cannot be based on changeable opinion, eg polls, but only on the acknowledgement of an objective moral law, which ever remains the necessary point of reference. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism." Pope John Paul II. L'Osservatore Romano, 8 March 2000.