Broadcasting and Defamation Acts need ‘freedom of expression’ audit, Seanad told

Laws and resources needed to make schools homophobia-free zones, says Zappone

Senator David Norris called on the Iona Institute to 'give the money back' during a Seanad debate on free speech, homophobia and the public service role of RTÉ in dealing with such issues.


A freedom of expression audit of the Broadcasting Act and the Defamation Act is necessary, the Seanad has heard during a debate on free speech, homophobia and the public service role of RTÉ in dealing with such issues.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone also called for “policies, laws and resources to ensure our schools are homophobia-free zones”. And she called for RTÉ to appear before the communications committee to outline its approach to libel complaints.

Ms Zappone said RTÉ should subsequently issue and disseminate guidelines regarding freedom of expression and defamation. These guidelines should be given to all who go on the national airwaves and “this would be a prime way for the State broadcaster to fulfil its public service role”.

It would be extremely useful for politicians to engage in debate with RTÉ on what should be included in the guidelines, she said.

Freedom of expression
“We also need a freedom of expression audit of both the Broadcasting Act and the Defamation Act.”

The Taoiseach’s nominee was opening the Seanad debate on a cross-party motion that also noted the “necessity to explore these issues in the context of the forthcoming referendum on marriage equality”.

The debate also called on the Minister to outline steps the Government would take to ensure the marriage equality debate was conducted fairly, openly and impartially.

The discussion follows the controversy surrounding the RTÉ legal settlement with the Iona Institute and others over comments by performer Rory O’Neill about homophobia.

Ms Zappone told Senators: “I stand here as a married woman, married to another woman . . . I have travelled beyond the valley of shame and fear.”

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said issues like this were “informed by deep- felt religious, moral and social considerations, but also unfortunately sometimes only by prejudice”.

Commentators had to appreciate that debate could be robust, heated, personal and sometimes even hostile.

“We politicians are expected to function as normal in such an environment, a norm that apparently does not apply to those fragile wallflowers who themselves are not restrained.”

Fianna Fáil’s Labhrás Ó Murchú said he believed “this debate has gone off the rails”.

The substantive issue was about the referendum on same-sex marriage but “what has become the substantive issue is a word and the meaning of a word, and so much more has been lost in the debate”.

Independent Senator David Norris said there was homophobia in the Oireachtas.