I oppose irresponsible programming – not free speech

So The Late Late Show decided to book Katie Hopkins – British tabloid columnist, vocal Trump supporter and bigoted racist extraordinaire – to fly over from England to discuss the context and outcome of the US election. RTÉ received over 1,000 complaints in little over a day, but the complainants were quickly labelled smug and opposed to democratic, basic free speech, and accused of – wait for it – denying Hopkins a platform.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: this has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with poor programming.

“RTÉ, as the national public service broadcaster, shall reflect the democratic, social and cultural values of Irish society and the need to preserve media pluralism,” reads the first guiding principle of the Public Service Broadcasting Charter. The third principle adds that “no editorial or programming bias shall be shown in terms of gender, age, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or membership of a minority community.”

So The Late Late Show, notorious for under-representing women amongst its guests, went and booked a woman who not only regularly engages in hate speech and famously referred to immigrants as ‘cockroaches’ but has explicitly endorsed and amplified rape threats. The irony would be hilarious if it wasn’t so frightening.

RTÉ justified the decision by highlighting what a big event the US election was. Presenter Ryan Tubridy added that Hopkins’ ‘thing’ is to state controversial opinions, which start important conversations. Shorthand, if I may: we’re broadcasting a bit of racism and misogyny to spark debate. Reflecting the values of Irish society, huh? This is the media equivalent of the Taoiseach congratulating Trump on his victory on behalf of the Irish people. Not in my name.

There are endless ways to analyse the context in which a man like Trump can be elected President of the United States, without inviting along a hateful person with an already significant platform, not to mention the fact that she seems like quite a far-fetched choice in an Irish-American context. I can think of countless ways to bring to the fore controversial issues while providing a platform for women with voices that are otherwise seldom heard. How about starting by inviting immigrant women from direct provision centres onto the show for a different perspective?

Far from wishing to deny someone a platform, I want to extend that platform to include more voices in an aim to embrace that charter pluralism principle. Far from being smug, I’m worried about a public service broadcaster that should refrain from demonstrating programming bias in regards to everything from gender to race, yet finds it so hard to find suitable women that it resorts to inviting one with a fondness of hate speech and controversy. This is irresponsible broadcasting, plain and simple – at any time, all the time, but especially in the current political environment.

Want to have a debate about free speech and pluralism? Bring it on. But the way things stand, if anyone’s smug it’s Katie Hopkins.