By Daniel Brennan
A recent edition of RTÉ’s flagship current affairs programme, Prime Time, featured a debate about transgender issues where for the sake of “balance”, the comedy television writer Graham Linehan of Father Ted and The IT Crowd fame, was invited onto the show following the writer’s recent history of being openly anti-trans on Twitter and other sites over the past few years.
In a debate about transgender issues and rights, a subject much of the general public might know little or nothing about, RTÉ saw it fitting to bring on a comedy writer as an “expert” on transgender issues, just so they could have more Twitter interactions rather than a proper, scientifically-backed discussion that could have done wonders in informing the public more about transgender issues.
Even further still, the concept of having a political-style debate in the first place when it comes to transgender rights has come under severe scrutiny. I spoke with GiGSoc, NUI Galway’s LGBTQI+ society, about how RTÉ handled the show in general, as well as their facilitation of Graham Linehan’s appearance on the programme:
“Trans rights are human rights, and human rights are not up for debate. The representation of trans people on the show was extremely lacking; they did not showcase a depth or breath of knowledge as regards the trans experience. It should have been a platform to let trans people speak… when representation in the media is so lacking, it should be trans people informing other people, as opposed to cisgender people either willfully or ineptly misrepresenting a group that is regularly and consistently discriminated against. The counter-argument consisted of one premise: trans people should not exist. This should never be considered a debate… RTÉ has a duty as our national broadcaster to represent all its citizens with compassion and honesty. They failed.”
“RTÉ prioritised sensationalist views over representing the trans community. The trans community had an online petition against Linehan’s appearance, however RTÉ decided to include him in the show anyway. They knew Graham Linehan was controversial, so ignored their duty to fairly represent information by showing him as an ‘expert’ and allowing him to speak on an issue where he has, in the past, been so vitriolic about [it that] the police were called to investigate him twice. By platforming Linehan, RTÉ has sent the message that they value an attempt at relevance over the trans community of Ireland.”
The response to Linehan’s appearance and general toxic behaviour before and after was huge. GiGSoc, along with the NUI Galway Students’ Union, protested his appearance on NUI Galway’s campus on the day of the show’s broadcast, while activists also protested outside RTÉ.
The most notable achievement was a charity livestream by Youtuber ‘hbomberguy’, who held a near 60-hour Donkey Kong 64 stream to raise money for the UK-based transgender charity Mermaids, which had been targeted online by Linehan and his followers. The stream raised over $340,000 for the charity, and had trended worldwide on Twitter after activists like Owen Jones and most notably US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had both appeared on and shared the stream on social media – most definitely one massive positive stemming from Linehan’s behaviour.
RTÉ’s decision to continue with having Linehan on the show deserves to be criticised heavily – despite all of the emails, all of the calls and the protests, they still decided that actively hurting trans people on national television was worth it just for “balance” and angry tweets just to boost the show’s social media stats.
Following some of the awful things said by right wing activists brought onto RTÉ current affairs programming during the recent gay marriage and abortion referendums, as well as with Peter Casey during the recent Presidential elections, I had hoped that they had learned their lesson. Sadly, to me, their current objective with their current affairs programming in general isn’t to inform us, but instead to pander to dangerous views all for the sake of some numbers they can show to advertisers to fill their own pockets.
Image: re:publica [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons