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Betty Purcell

Betty Purcell

FORMER COMMISSIONER of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and ex-RTÉ producer Betty Purcell has made an interesting complaint to RTÉ about the broadcaster’s recent coverage of the protests against asylum seekers in Inch, Co Clare.

Purcell complained to the national broadcaster about the term “protests against male asylum seekers” in reports from Inch by RTÉ’s mid-west correspondent, Cathy Halloran. Purcell argued that depicting asylum seekers as objectionable simply because they are men is discriminatory – against men, for a change – and echoes, however unwittingly, the argument of racist tropes about asylum seekers.

Purcell also wrote to Halloran expressing admiration for her long-time objective and accurate reports from the mid-west but suggesting that she describe the protests as against “asylum seekers”, not “male asylum seekers”. The latter phrase, argued Purcell, connects with the racist rationale of the far-right instigators of racist campaigns against asylum seekers, whereas the bare phrase “asylum seekers” presents the unvarnished reality of those protests.

Back and forward went the arguments and while Halloran did not reply to Purcell, MD of news Deirdre McCarthy did so and explained that Halloran was unable to reply directly. McCarthy added that the Inch protesters made a special issue out of the fact that all the asylum seekers were male and that the station had to accurately reflect this.

Betty Purcell, in turn, responded that it was one thing for protesters – inspired by far-right activists – to voice objections to asylum seekers because they are male and to express these views when interviewed. However, she argued, RTÉ should not give credence to such an argument by reporting the story in the terms determined by the protesters.

As RTÉ appears intent on not retracting the manner in which it has so far reported the protests, the former human rights commissioner has now triggered a formal complaint to the broadcaster. If this is unresolved, it will go to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s complaints division.

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