Bill to remove ‘offence’ from Broadcasting Act because it gags free speech - Donnelly
Legislation that ‘mollycoddles’ those who take offence harms public debate
Stephen Donnelly TD: “Maybe RTÉ should or should not have paid out [on homophobia libel] but it did so because of a serious flaw in existing legislation.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
A Bill has been introduced to remove the word “offence” from the Broadcasting Act because it “gags” free speech, the Dáil has heard. Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said his Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill aimed to “clarify one item of the puzzle at the heart” of the controversy about comments made by performer Rory O’Neill on RTÉ about homophobia.
The comments led to the State broadcaster’s subsequent decision to pay €85,000 to six individuals who claimed they had been libelled.
Mr Donnelly said that “maybe RTÉ should or should not have paid out, but it did so because of a serious flaw in existing legislation”.
As currently written the legislation requires broadcasters not to broadcast “anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence”. The Bill removes the phrase “or offence”.
He wanted to remove the term “offence” from section 39 of the Broadcasting Act. “I do not believe that people should be censored for saying offensive things whether or not the offence is reasonably taken.”
He told the Dáil “legislation that mollycoddles those who take offence, gags free speech, harms public debate and makes uncomfortable truths invisible truths”.
The Wicklow TD said that determining what might be considered offensive by anyone in society was a “pretty hefty obligation to put on our broadcasters and is especially difficult when it comes to live broadcast”.
He said the Act as currently written “will undoubtedly cause broadcasters to err on the side of caution and they have already started to do so since RTÉ paid out. If we do not make a change quickly, free speech will begin to suffer”.