The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) recently upheld a complaint that the journalist Kevin Myers had been unfairly treated by RTÉ in comments made on the Morning Ireland programme.
Of itself, that news would hardly have made headlines. Mr Myers is not the nation’s most popular personality. If you were to seek volunteers to stand in line behind his cause, the queue would be a short one. Regarded by many as too smug for his own good, pedantic, smart-assed, confrontational, wielder of an often-vitriolic pen, Myers is generally seen as his own worst enemy.
But all of that is no justification for his becoming victim of RTÉ’s well-documented arrogance in refusing to ever admit to being wrong. The broadcaster has a solid record in digging in its heels and resorting to its deep legal pockets even when it becomes abundantly clear that it has messed up.
The Myers saga began when the presenter, Audrey Carville, described him on air as a ‘Holocaust denier’. The basis for this assertion was a newspaper column written by Kevin Myers some eight years ago when – in typical pedantic mode – he took issue with the word ‘holocaust’ to describe the atrocities inflicted on the Jewish people. Holocaust, Myers helpfully explained to his readers, was a word of Greek origin, meaning ‘destroy by fire’.
As such, he went on, there was no single Holocaust, because the genocide had taken many forms. Jews had been shot in pits, beaten to death, frozen and starved to death, burned alive in their homes and synagogues, and gassed. Quite clearly, Myers was acknowledging the Nazi genocide of the Jews. His problem was wit the word ‘Holocaust’. And to that degree, he said he was a Holocaust denier.
In due course, a complaint was made to the BAI by a listener who took issue with the glibly made accusation against Myers. It was, the complaint said, an absurd claim, given that Myers had written many times about the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people. The Jewish Representative Council came out in defence of the journalist, calling it ‘an absolute distortion of the facts’ to describe him as Morning Ireland had done.
By this stage, it was obvious that Morning Ireland had got it badly wrong but, true to form, RTÉ kept on digging. Whether it was simply crass stupidity or simply a deliberate attempt to brazen things out, the broadcaster insisted that the content of the eight-year-old article provided inarguable evidence that the statement made on radio was accurate and fair, that it did not misrepresent Mr Myers, and was not in any way misleading to listeners.
Eventually, the BAI announced its decision. Yes, in a typically provocative newspaper article, the writer had described himself as a Holocaust denier, but no, it did not amount to a statement denying the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazi regime.
The complaint was upheld.The comment was found to have lacked fairness, Myers’ views were misrepresented in a manner that was likely to mislead the audience as to his real views.
Not for the first time, RTÉ had shown a stubborn capacity to refuse to acknowledge when it has got things wrong. Kevin Myers is battle hardened enough for it not to have worried him unduly. But there are many others – not least the ‘Mission to Prey’ priest in Ahascragh whose reputation was ruined and his priestly ministry destroyed – who have been gravely wronged by a broadcaster whose excellence in so many fields is marred by an arrogance that brooks no challenge.