The amount of license fee money RTÉ paid out following a row over homophobia topped €10,000, the Irish Examiner can reveal.
As Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte warned the national broadcaster that legal claims cannot be allowed to affect its public service obligations, sources said RTÉ paid out “somewhere north of €10,000”.
The settlement was made following legal correspondence from the right-wing Catholic think-tank Iona Institute over an alleged defamation during an appearance on the Saturday Night Show by Rory O’Neill, who performs as drag queen Panti Bliss. It is understood that RTÉ bosses felt the broadcast would have been almost impossible to defend in any potential defamation action and moved quickly to settle the complaint.
Yesterday, Mr Rabbitte intervened in the debate by warning against the use of the term ‘homophobe’ to describe those who disagree on issues of gay equality, and in particular gay marriage.
“It is too loaded a term to be used to categorise those who hold contrary views on what is a matter for legitimate public debate,” he said. Mr Rabbitte, who has responsibility for RTÉ, indirectly referred to the Iona Institute, implying it should be a little more thick- skinned in the run-up to the gay marriage referendum as it “cannot expect the Queensbury Rules will always apply”.
He said people and institutions which hold themselves as commentators to public debate must fullyappreciate that debate can be robust, heated, personal, and even hostile.
“If you enter the arena, you cannot expect that the Queensbury Rules will always apply,” said Mr Rabbitte. “It would be a matter of serious concern if recourse to our defamation laws was to have a chilling effect on the conduct of public debate on this issue, in the lead-in to the forthcoming referendum on gay marriage.”
Mr Rabbitte said he had no intention of interfering in RTÉ’s handling of litigation claims against, it but said he expects Montrose to remain fully committed to its obligation to ensure full and free debate on all matters of public interest.
The director of the Iona Institute yesterday welcomed Mr Rabbitte’s comments but said that, on issues of abuse from the public, there was a difference between receiving nasty emails and having one’s name and motives blackened on the national airwaves.
“To be defamed on the national airwaves... that’s a whole different matter,” said David Quinn who insists he only wanted people “play the ball, not the man”.
He welcomed Mr Rabbitte’s acknowledgement “that homophobe is an extremely loaded term and he wouldn’t use it himself”.
It is understood the five individuals who are in receipt of the payment have not yet decided what to do with it.
As of last night, RTÉ had received more than 1,000 complaints in relation to the broadcast but the vast majority are believed to express concern at the apology issued by the station.
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