Swift reaction to Cowen portraits
Madam, – I returned home to Ireland over the weekend and had the unhappy experience of thinking that I had been time-warped back to the 1980s when Charlie Haughey’s stranglehold on the Irish media went almost unchecked (with, of course, notable exceptions). RTÉ was once again apologising for simply covering a newsworthy story and the Garda Síochána had been dragged in to investigate the hanging of a satirical painting of the Taoiseach. What a fool I was to think that a free and untrammelled media, one of the hallmarks of a consolidated democracy, was now a given in Ireland.
On reading the story of RTÉ’s climb-down and the call from Government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain complaining about news coverage of Conor Casby’s paintings, I shuddered, remembering the atmosphere in the 1980s when similar calls were made to newsrooms including the one I worked in. I was reminded of my naive incredulity when I was advised by RTÉ management that I should not make a formal complaint to the then taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, who had sent me cascading backwards down the steps of Government Buildings for the temerity of putting a microphone under his nose and asking him what he thought of Stephen Roche’s victory in the Tour de France.
My NUJ colleagues in the RTÉ newsroom had courage and supported my complaint.
They and the rest of us should have our pens and mice at the ready, as it may be time to bear witness once again. – Yours, etc,