Sinead Ryan: Pingate is nothing but a big fat insult to viewer intelligence
The daft spectacle of Minister Aodhan O'Riordan being asked, live on air, to remove a small 'Yes' pin on his jacket lapel by Saturday Night Show host Brendan O'Connor, indicates the level to which the concept of balance has sunk in the referendum debate.
Of course, it's not really about balance at all, but utter fear and political correctness gone mad. O'Connor seemed at least as embarrassed as his guest by the debacle.
One wonders why the myriad of researchers, producers, broadcast assistants and stage managers one encounters before any live programme on RTE hadn't already (a) spotted it or (b) asked him to remove it - but then what possible harm was it doing anyway?
It may be that Brendan was unclear as to the balance rules, which is likely as they're terribly confusing.
After all, the 2,000 RTE employees who got the recent diktat (sorry, memo) about not falling down on one or the other side in the debate lest the gravity with which the rest of us look to that bastion of brilliance may be so affected as to sway our vote, have been so conscientious in their adherence to balance that even the mere hint of a coloured pin sends the production team into coniptions.
Or was it the over-riding fear following the hasty and expensive #Pantigate payout to advocates of the No campaign?
I appeared yesterday morning on the Marian Finucane panel. Kathleen Lynch, Junior Minister in the Department of Health was proudly sporting her 'Ta' pin in the green room, studio and as far as I could see, all the way home. As it was radio, nobody asked her to remove it, but given that the panel of five, to my mind, was roundly a 'Yes' lot, we weren't allowed discuss the R word at any stage during the two-hour programme, as there wasn't sufficient (or any) balance to counteract it. This, in comparison to the Saturday Night Show #PinGate affair, was entirely the right decision.
This is exactly what the BAI has in mind when it asks RTE and other broadcast outlets to provide balance on shows. It would be unfair to the 'No' side to have five of us pontificating in the same direction with nobody to provide an alternative viewpoint.
Wearing a pin though ... seriously? Is this what we're reduced to? Is there a minion in the BAI watching to see if anybody wears particularly stylish shirts or rainbow coloured socks lest it trigger the viewing public's gaydar?
By publicly asking O'Riordan to remove the badge it created a story where there wasn't one.
The Labour party campaigned on the Marriage Referendum; without them it would not even be taking place. Indeed, it may be the only policy they can put before their scarred electorate next year and say: "Look - we did it!"
Aodhan O'Riordan (inset) is Minister for Equality and a most vocal advocate of that side of the debate. Therefore, the real news would have been if he didn't share allegiance for a Yes vote at every opportunity.
What would have happened if he hadn't chosen the path of least resistance but stoutly defended his wearing whatever he damn well pleased? Would O'Connor, committed to a path now, have been compelled to terminate the interview? Instead, he clumsily said the word "No" and carried on. The whole thing was unnecessarily mortifying.
So, should O'Riordan have worn a 'No' badge on the other lapel instead? Should Brendan? Isn't this the silliest conversation ever?
The only conclusion from all of this is that the audience, and by extension, the Irish electorate, is deemed too stupid to filter the inane from the important. It cannot be trusted to discern that sometimes, a pin is just a pin. It must be hand-held through the see-saw of balance even in the tiniest matter.
Suffice to say, another RTE memo is undoubtedly winging its way to staff. Perhaps this one will be clearer.