A free press is a precious thing, too easily surrendered to political correctness and veiled threats from supersensitive elected officials.
The proof is found in an online column by Colum Kenny, an associate professor of communications at Dublin City University in Ireland. (photo at right)
Kenny’s column titled “Whatever you say, say nothing to give offence” (more on that headline later) spells out the problems the Irish press is having with its voluntary Irish Press Council and Press Ombudsman. Kenny is far more generous than I would ever be, conceding a need for such restraint on the press, where I simply call it an abomination.
According to professor Kenny, Principle 8 of the Code of Practice of the Press Council states: "Newspapers and periodicals shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness, or age."
That pretty much covers the waterfront and the waterback. And as Kenny himself agrees the Press Council might as well have said don’t offend anyone anywhere.
You see, the Press Council has slapped the wrist of writer Kevin Myers who wrote in the Irish Independent that "Africa is giving nothing to anyone ... apart from Aids."
Kenny compared this to some British paper saying, "Ireland is giving nothing to anyone ... apart from drunkenness" and suggested it would arouse anger. (Isn’t it the Irish who proudly proclaim God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from conquering the world? Besides, the ad next to Kenny’s column online is for Jameson Irish whiskey.)
Jonathan Swift would surely be a target of this Press Council for satirically suggesting that the financial woes of Ireland could be addressed by selling suckling Irish babies to the rich for food.
"A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout,” Swift wrote in 1729 in “A Modest Proposal.” I suspect that would offend someone, probably both the poor and the rich.
In modern Ireland anyone may anonymously complain. No ability to confront witnesses. No appeal.
And the standard is not overwhelming facts but something rather subjective.
The chairman of the Press Council, Thomas Mitchell (no relation that I know of by blood and certainly not by philosophy) is quoted as saying, as a general principle, "in cases where the balance of probability very strongly favours a particular version, and where there is corroboration, then the Council could consider it will make a judgement as to what it considers to be the facts of the situation."
The Irish press voluntarily (read: under duress) agreed to create this travesty of a watchdog to avoid even harsher measures legislatively.
May we learn a harsh lesson from this Irish experiment in self-restraint.
Sometimes some people need to be offended out of their foolish and offensive ways.
Now, for an amusing aside about that headline.
It is obviously a takeoff on the Colum Sands song “Whatever you say, say nothing,” which is an hilarious ditty about the effects on communication caused by the Troubles and many clandestine organizations.
The chorus goes:
Whatever you say, say nothing,
When you speak about you know what,
For if you know who should hear you,
You know what you'll get,
They'll take you off to you know where,
For you wouldn't know how long,
So for you know who's sake,
Don't let anyone hear you singing this song