There are some elements in Irish society who need to think deeply about how they use their platforms. For anyone concerned about social justice it should mean we highlight the disenfranchised; who they are, what they believe, what they’re up against, and what solutions, if any, there are to the systemic issues responsible for their deprivation in the first place. Most of us do what we can in that regard. Some of us have larger platforms than others. But the cause of social justice unites us all in a collective effort towards creating a better society.
Those of us who can do this without receiving abuse and death threats are in a privileged position. And this means we should be doing our utmost to platform the views of communities who endure this kind of persecution. It’s a simple yet effective tool in the fight against injustice.
The balance commandment
On the flip side of this are individuals or organisations with substantial platforms, especially on social media, who insist on the “both sides” argument. Usually this is the position that journalists and media organisations take.
We hear from feminists about why access to abortion is a fundamental right and then have someone foisted upon us, undoubtedly linked to a religious or fundamentalist organisation, who insists that such a right is tantamount to legalising murder. Throughout the Repeal campaign anti-choice activists were given platforms across the media, from the national broadcaster to the Irish Times. All in the name of balance.
But this balance seems to have its limits.
In the last 12 months the Irish Times and other parts of the Irish media landscape have begun to platform people who have no issue in attacking not only the idea of trans rights, but the existence of trans people themselves. Given the vaunted balance we’re all used to hearing about, presumably it applies here? Has the “paper of record” given valuable column inches to trans people? The answer is no.
These articles attacking trans people are a reaction to their increasing visibility in Irish society and their demanding their due rights. Unable to deal with this, a blinkered and hateful part of the self-appointed Irish intelligentsia has begun to import a culture war from the UK that has done its best to walk back hard-won rights. Balance isn’t platforming a so-called gender critical feminist in response to trans activists calling for better healthcare and understanding. Whether it’s down to an editorial line or an attempt to increase circulation, it’s an entirely cynical ploy that’s putting lives at risk.
During a lecture a number of years ago the famed journalist Robert Fisk attacked this notion of balance. He argued that it makes a mockery of journalism by treating issues such as the conflict in the Middle East “like a football match” where equal time is given to both sides. Driving the point home, he declared that if you were a journalist covering the liberation of Auschwitz during the Second World War, you wouldn’t interview the survivors of the camp and then run off to interview the SS spokesperson in the name of balance.
Many of us inherently know that media balance is a a myth. Yet the establishment media insists its interpretation of it must be upheld regardless of the damage being done.
Boycotts and platforming
So, when there’s been a pattern of platforming the views of those who would undermine the rights and very personhood of groups of people, media organisations shouldn’t be surprised if activists call for a boycott. This is exactly what’s happened in the case of the Irish Times. Having had enough, the Trans Writers’ Union has called on trans people and their allies to boycott the paper until certain conditions are met.
Someone’s fundamental rights and another person’s opposition to these rights are not of equal validity and deserving of the same consideration. This is a very simple notion. Taking it to heart would allow many of the underprivileged in society to have a greater voice.
Housing activists wouldn’t have to debate a representative of landlords who thinks rents should go higher. Repeal activists wouldn’t have had to go up against the John McGuirks and David Quinns of the world. Travellers wouldn’t have to keep justifying their survival in the face of centuries of institutional racism and repression. And trans people wouldn’t have to read in the Irish Times how they can be “converted” out of existence as well as having to endure a recurring debate over their rights and whether they should have them or not.
Our own scope at The Beacon is limited. We mainly report on extremism, the far right, and conspiracy theorists, all of which intersect at various angles. At the same time we’ve also done our best to platform views and groups we think are underserved by the establishment media. We’re not perfect. And we’ll add more mistakes to the list of ones we’ve already made as time goes on. But we’re trying. If only others with a far larger platform and substantial funding would also try. Alas, that would mean abandoning the cherished myth of balance.
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