Sunday, July 26, 2009

RTE shies away from the facts - political correctness strikes again?

IT IS no secret to anyone that RTE, like most news organisations, is far from immune from bias and has its own sacred cows that it is unwilling to tackle. The more unsavory, denigrate aspects of Traveller culture is one such example. As pointed out by Kevin Myers last week, the fact that double rapist Simon McGinley - who, shockingly, raped an 85-year-old woman after being convicted of the rape of the 13-year-old girl behind the 'C' case in 1997 - was a member of the travelling community was omitted by most of the media. Myers made the point that had McGinley been the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrator, the media would have readily reported that he was a Traveller.

It was with great interest, then, that I watched a story to do with two feuding families in the Mitchel's Crescent area of Tralee on RTE's nine o'clock news this evening. The words 'feuding' and 'family' immediately set off alarm bells and, quietly confident of what I would would find, I threw a few relevant details into the search engine. Sure enough, my prejudices - because, indeed, that is what there were - were confirmed.

A story from the Kerryman - for whatever reason, provincial papers tend to be less politically correct - detailed how eleven people involved in a feud between two Traveller families in the same area were charged for threatening behaviour, possession of weapons and breach of previous bail conditions. Now, that these two stories do not relate to the same on-going feud ranks as about as likely as Michael Bay winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature.


So, why then did RTE decide to leave out the identity of families? No doubt, their rationale would be that being a Traveller or otherwise is of no relevance to the story. But considering the continuing problem of high-profile feuds between Travellers, is it really not in the public interest to know? Considering that a Traveller male is around17 times more likely to spend time in jail than a member of the general population, is being a Traveller really an irrelevant piece of information in a news report?

Are RTE really trying to avoid the furthering of prejudice, or are they actually just contributing to a culture of silence around the problems associated with the Traveller lifestyle? How can we ever address the failures of the Traveller lifestyle - and there are many - if the media prevents us from knowing the magnitude of the problem?

How can there be debate when we are too afraid to speak?


Cian said...

Your statement that a male member of the travelling community is more likely to spend time in jail than the average person is completely meaningless by itself. Have you taken into account the fact that the average traveller has a lower standard of education, or that they tend to come from a poorer family? And even were they more likely to spend time in jail once statistics were normalised for these things, how much of this is due to bias within society against travellers, and how much is due to actual crime rates within the travelling community?

Unless the crimes were directly related to their status as members of the travelling community, I do not see why is it of any more importance than their county of origin, or their religious beliefs.

John Power: said...

A few things:

The statistic is hardly 'meaningless'; that is quite an overstatement. I don't doubt that poverty and a a lack education play a part in their propensity for crime.

However, the fact is, the main reason Travellers are under educated is that they CHOOSE to be. They rarely complete the leaving cert and most kids are out of school by their teens. For whatever reason, their culture simply does not place a great value on education. There is no point rehashing the old arguments and saying that it is the State's fault that they are under educated - it isn't. They need to get their own house in order in this regard, no one can do it for them. Poverty again is, at least to a degree, self-inflicted. Most Travellers are not in regular employment. Let's be reasonable here and accept that a degree of person responsibilty is required.
As for prejudice? Come on! You really think all those nasty judges are putting Travellers away for no reason? Nonsense. You'd have appeals coming out of your back side if they were. Besides, most cases taken by the Equality Authority are on the behalf of Travellers and the vast majority fail. Moving from a abhorring discrimination to institutionalising under- achievement and a victim mentality will get us no where.

Finally, the fact that they were Travellers is hugely relevant to the story. It was a Traveller feud. That is a phenomenon almost uniquely prevalent among their community. This isn't some one-off case. It is clear that their extended family structure and traditions are some way behind their involvement in feuds - i.e. the incident is in some way related to them being Travellers. Please don't try tell me that this happens with families in the general population to any similar degree.

If any group of people regularly hit the news for causing riots, their identity would be of relevance to the news.

The papers today mentioned their identity - it seemed to be only RTE that didn't. Obviously an agenda at play.

P said...

Do you recall the name of that documentary we watched once about 'dispelling the myths of the Irish travelling community' or something like that?

That had a very interesting view on things..

Was looking for it online, but could only find bare-knuckle boxing on youtube