Why I would not participate in the Claire Byrne Live show on freedom of speech

Statement of non-participation in the Claire Byrne Live show, 9 January 2017 by Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University and Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland.

 The Claire Byrne Live show on RTE on Monday 9 January intends to discuss freedom of speech. To that end, the production team invited Shane O’Curry of ENAR Ireland and I as experts on racism to participate in the programme.

This statement explains why we have not done so, and acts as a statement of record for our joint decision.

The intention of the production team in establishing this debate appears to be to cause controversy without concern for ensuring that the debate properly represents the position of the invited guests, without concern for representing the diversity of opinion in Irish society around these issues, and without properly considering that the debate centres extremist speech, giving undue exposure to commentators who put hate speech into the media.

Hate speech, of the kind published by both Nicholas Pell and Brenda Power, who will be panellists, has been well documented as producing direct and indirect harms to ethnic minorities, women and other less powerful groups. RTE, in inviting both Pell and Power to represent the defence of freedom of speech, is failing to hold extremists to account for the impact of their incitement to hatred. It also, by means of the structuring of the debate, improperly positions Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International and Rosemary McCabe of the Irish Times in opposition to an ill-informed argument for entirely unlimited freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech, like all rights, must be balanced with the harms which may arise from it, and which affect the human rights of others. Both Pell and Power argue for an unlimited right which permits the expression of white supremacist, racist and genocidal views. We believe that it is essential that these are properly named.

A balanced debate on the subject, which would adequately inform the public in Ireland, would take account of this negotiation of harms and rights, and be informed by the legal and social experiences of other democracies. It is our contention that by establishing the debate between the publishers of hate speech on the one hand, and Amnesty on the other, RTE sets out to misrepresent the available range of positions and weight of evidence in this global debate.

Throughout the day, we have made efforts to work with the production team to inform and support the preparation for this debate. We have worked closely with them to discuss the legal and political ramifications for Irish media outlets, and to provide evidence of harms arising from hate speech (which we have jointly published regularly since 2013). It was our belief that expertise on racism and prejudice was key to an informed debate of this nature, given the appearance of Nicholas Pell, and we offered that expertise. However, we were disappointed to learn late this evening that Brenda Power had also been invited to the panel. Ms. Power’s publications have previously been the subject of complaint to the Press Ombudsman for genocidal language about Travellers.

We feel that the contempt shown by both Mr Pell and Ms Power for ethnic minorities in this country should have been taken more seriously by the production team. We further believe that the production team are acting recklessly in inviting both commentators, in the privileged place of panellists, to repeat their claims. We have little faith in the production team to robustly challenge hate speech arising in the course of the programme, and we base this belief on recent failures to challenge hate speech against refugees and Muslims in December by a panellist and audience members.

It is the responsibility of the broadcaster, delegated to the production team, to ensure that incitement to hatred is not broadcast. We feel strongly that the production team have not adequately taken cognisance of their legal and editorial responsibilities in this regards and established tonight’s programme accordingly.

Like Colm O’Gorman, and Amnesty, we are strong advocates of freedom of expression. We believe that the subject of freedom of speech warrants regular and robust debate, and we remain open to engaging in those debates. We will not, however, do so where the subsequent harms to the ethnic minorities we work closely with are so evident as in this planned broadcast.

Dr Lucy Michael, Ulster University

Shane O’Curry, Director, ENAR Ireland


PDF for download: statement-of-non-participation-in-rte-claire-byrne-live-programme-9-jan-2017-on-freedom-of-speech



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