Af­ter the long si­lence, let our women speak truth to power

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - ANALYSIS - Har­ris Eoghan Har­ris

BLISS was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be a young woman in the West was very heaven. The above adap­ta­tion of Wordsworth’s words of wel­come for the French Rev­o­lu­tion also ap­plies to the cur­rent re­volt of women against men in power who abuse their au­thor­ity.

Look­ing back over my life, I be­lieve there is no free­dom as full of joy as the free­dom to speak your mind.

Women have been free to speak in many fields in the past few hun­dred years — ex­cept in that oc­cluded shad­owy area where male abuse of power ex­presses it­self as sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

But the cur­rent bliss comes sub­ject to two reser­va­tions. First, it’s mostly only women in the Western world who are able to speak out.

Sec­ond, the French Rev­o­lu­tion, like all rev­o­lu­tions, went to ex­tremes, even eat­ing its own early in­sti­ga­tors.

That is why older women with wise heads worry about words turn­ing into a witch hunt, or in­jus­tice done to the in­no­cent.

For ex­am­ple, I’m told most women TDs be­lieve John Hal­li­gan is a de­cent mod­ern man, well dis­posed to­wards women.

But they add that no mat­ter how be­nign Hal­li­gan’s in­te­rior mo­tives might be, it’s the ex­te­rior ef­fect that mat­ters here.

Hal­li­gan is Min­is­ter of State for Train­ing and Skills, a job where it is vi­tal to give good ex­am­ple in mat­ters of gen­der equal­ity.

So I’m not as sure as the Taoiseach about his mis­take not be­ing a re­sign­ing mat­ter. If he were a UK min­is­ter, he would long ago have stepped down with­out de­lay.

***** The Irish rev­o­lu­tion in women speak­ing out be­gan with the Michael Col­gan case. Cov­er­ing the con­tin­u­ing fall-out poses two prob­lems for broad­cast­ers.

First, the dan­ger of in­dig­na­tion fa­tigue. Emer­son’s warn­ing that ev­ery hero be­comes a bore at last ap­plies to even the most wor­thy causes.

The sec­ond prob­lem is how to hold an au­di­ence of men, many of whom might reach for the re­mote con­trol when faced with noth­ing but re­peated rep­ri­mands.

Tele­vi­sion is mostly where the rev­o­lu­tion reaches the masses and gives a real chance to change men’s be­hav­iour.

Pre­sen­ters and pro­duc­ers face the same prob­lem as priests and par­sons of the past — how to keep the at­ten­tion of the au­di­ence.

Sarah McIn­er­ney came up with an in­spired so­lu­tion to that on The Sun­day Show last week in the form of an all-male panel.

But the nov­elty of that would have soon worn off if the panel had be­come a male “me too” cho­rus of con­sen­sus opin­ions.

Thanks to care­ful re­search, how­ever, each of the three men had some­thing fresh to say.

Bren­dan Court­ney was as feisty as any fem­i­nist in cas­ti­gat­ing the pa­tri­archy.

Colm Kee­gan, a poet, was a breath of fresh air as he opened a win­dow into work­ing-class male cul­ture.

Ed­die Hobbs, at first sight an ec­cen­tric choice, proved to be the pawky star of the show, sup­port­ing women who speak out but also ground­ing the dis­cus­sion by de­mand­ing data.

Sarah McIn­er­ney, one of the few pre­sen­ters who knows the power of bal­ance, kept her fem­i­nist in­stincts firmly under con­trol so as to get be­neath the guard of any male di­nosaurs watch­ing.

On Wed­nes­day, The Tonight Show on TV3 got equally good re­sults by rev­ers­ing McIn­er­ney’s mix and giv­ing us an all-woman panel with Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper.

For­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ters Yates and Mary O’Rourke agreed that Hal­li­gan might have been mess­ily — and wrongly — try­ing to warn the in­ter­vie­wee about the ap­palling work­load of a pri­vate sec­re­tary.

Yates also scored a mi­nor scoop, be­ing the first pre­sen­ter on Irish tele­vi­sion to point out that the new Crown Prince of Saudi Ara­bia holds rel­a­tively pro­gres­sive views on the role of women in Saudi so­ci­ety.

***** Last Tues­day, the Irish In­de­pen­dent re­ported that Shane Cas­sells of Fianna Fail had “hit out” at peo­ple who “bash RTE”. Cer­tainly I agree with Shane about the dan­ger of mind­less at­tacks on RTE as I’m an ad­mirer of its sports and drama out­put. But I am baf­fled by his be­lief that RTE jour­nal­ism should be “val­ued” given the poor cov­er­age by RTE News of his own party com­pared with that given Sinn Fein.

Last Septem­ber, Fianna Fail was forced to com­plain about Prime Time as fol­lows: “Tonight is the sev­enth Prime Time pro­gramme in a row where they failed to have rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the Fianna Fail party.”

David Nally, man­ag­ing ed­i­tor, TV Cur­rent Af­fairs, who seems de­voted to Twit­ter, re­sponded by tweet­ing: “Fianna Fail has had sig­nif­i­cantly more ap­pear­ances on Prime Time than any other op­po­si­tion party this year.”

Thomas Byrne TD coolly pointed out that this was “maybe be­cause we are dou­ble the size of any op­po­si­tion party”.

Two ques­tions arise from Nally’s tweet. First, why should a demo­cratic party like Fianna Fail have to strug­gle for space on RTE with a party still in­flu­enced by shad­owy fig­ures? Sec­ond even on the fig­ures, why does Nally be­lieve that RTE is be­hav­ing well in giv­ing Fianna Fail, with 44 seats, more space than Sinn Fein with only 23 seats?

These ques­tions were pointed up by his ex­tra­or­di­nary tweets fol­low­ing a col­umn of mine on June 11, 2017, where I com­plained that RTE News had failed to cover a cru­cial joint press brief­ing by Leo Varad­kar and Micheal Martin.

The same day, Nally tweeted: “Though I hate to give it any oxy­gen, there is for the record, not one whit of truth in Eoghan Har­ris’s claims re RTE.”

Two min­utes later, David McCul­lagh sent his boss a sup­port­ing tweet say­ing: “There’s a first.”

As I’m not on Twit­ter, I was not aware of any of this un­til Tom Carew alerted me to a tweet he had posted ask­ing Nally where ex­actly RTE News had cov­ered the press brief­ing.

Rather than re­ply, Nally re­moved his orig­i­nal tweet. Carew con­tin­ued to press for an an­swer un­til Nally was forced to ad­mit they had not cov­ered it.

Did he do this de­cently, ad­mit his mis­take and apol­o­gise? Judge his re­ply for your­self.

“Nope. They didn’t cover it. Pos­si­bly a mis­take, we do make them. But it takes some imag­i­na­tion to con­nect that to Sec­tion 31, the 1980s etc.”

Nope, he didn’t apol­o­gise for his mis­take. Or for the ar­ro­gant tone in speak­ing dis­mis­sively of some­one long marginalised by RTE News and Cur­rent Af­fairs.

Since Va­lerie Cox re­tired in March 2016, I have only once heard my col­umn men­tioned on What It Says on the Pa­pers. I have never been in­vited on to Sean O’Rourke’s show, nor on to Pat Kenny’s show be­fore that.

I be­lieve my glar­ing ab­sence from RTE po­lit­i­cal pro­grammes ar­gues an abuse of au­thor­ity — and suits Sinn Fein/IRA as I have the polem­i­cal skills to put them on the spot.

But thanks to an epiphany, ex­pe­ri­enced five years ago while talk­ing to some reg­u­lar read­ers in Sk­ib­bereen Market, my only in­ter­est in my ex­clu­sion nowa­days is to ex­pose it.

My read­ers be­lieved I was banned from RTE — but that this was one more rea­son to read me. They said reg­u­lars on RTE can­not be re­lied on to bite the hand that feeds — but that I was still free to speak my mind.

No greater joy than that.

‘Why should Fianna Fail, with 44 seats, have to strug­gle for pri­macy of place on RTE with Sinn Fein, with 23 seats’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.