Human reason is founded on the capacity of people with opposing beliefs to debate and discuss what’s best for society. This principle underscores a vibrant democracy that emphasizes citizen participation, transparency, and equitable involvement to ensure political accountability.
Over the past twenty-five years, Irish society has seen monumental shifts in permissible topics of discussion and debate and consequently societal behaviour. In times past unfettered societal conversations, whether trivial or serious, were an integral aspect of daily life. These discussions enabled societal evolution in an organic manner. However around the beginning of this century Irish society began to undergo a largely unnoticed seismic change in what was acceptable to discuss and hold viewpoints on.
It began with the somewhat innocuous public criticism of those who for many years had discussed ‘truths’ which were immutable over time. Now after a number of years of reinforcement of an ideology through a legacy media which has worked tirelessly to alter reality to serve its own interests and manipulate public opinion, often through convoluted language, it is difficult to fathom what liberty of expression actually is.
As the first two decades of this century progressed, what was once widely acceptable casual talk centred on indisputable facts was soon reduced to the categorisation of ‘far right chatter’ by “fringe groups”.
Today Ireland embraces an ideology of equality, tolerance, and inclusion, an embracement which is good when adopted in an organic and vivacious manner but is a crushing force which savagely reduces a society’s ability to think critically and make decisions based on independent analysis and judgment when enforced begrudgingly. Unfortunately Ireland, over the last number of years, has endured a heavy dose of the latter with a key consequence being the severe limiting of topics open for discussion.
As the ‘politically correct’ approach to societal cohesion becomes more and more forcefully embedded in our societal thinking, the ensuing restriction on free speech is exponentially exacerbated. This degeneration is compounded by the ever increasing tendency to centralise decision-making to self-accountable ‘experts’, a move which is nowhere better evidenced than in the the frequent paradigm-changing legacy media narratives.
A significant concern is that most media channels commonly support one side of divisive issues. This phenomenon though isn’t limited to legacy media. When global figures, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, admit to censoring information later deemed accurate, the trustworthiness of dominant social media platforms also becomes questionable.
Today, despite an ever expanding gamut of divisive subjects which could and arguably should be discussed and debated, Ireland’s tolerance for open discussion is dwindling faster than could ever have been imagined less than a quarter of a century ago.
Increasingly the challenging of prevailing narratives is met with resistance. Instead of fostering debate, the media sets societal norms by failing to discuss and even discouraging alternate viewpoints. Discussions that veer from the suggested narrative are shut down, often vilifying those daring to espouse contrary opinions.
As societal norms undergo continuous rapid transformation members of the public are expected to adapt seamlessly while guided by a media presenting a singular perspective. Challenging the perspective suggested narrative invites backlash. The rise of ‘cancel culture’, where individuals are socially and economically ostracized for expressing dissenting opinions, rocks the notions of free speech and democratic freedoms to their very core.
Today those who attempt to engage in such ‘alternative’ debates are often labelled with one or more of a detestable set of words such as ‘hateful’, ‘bigoted’, ‘dangerous’, ‘extremist’ or worse still ‘right-wing’.
While Ireland takes pride in its freedom, commemorating its Proclamation of Independence annually and the ever increasing secularisation of society on a daily basis, the current restrictions on freedom of expression raise a major question which needs to be addressed. Has Ireland merely substituted one form of dominance for another?
Although past ‘oppressors’ have been discarded modern Irish society sees media – both traditional and social – wielding an unprecedented influence.
It is quite ironic that the perspective suggested narrative which is communicated endlessly by these supplanters is not one of peace, complacency and assurance of individual self worth but one of melancholy and the necessity to attain sanctity through continual demonstration of acts of tolerance, acceptance, diversity and self-sacrifice.
The role of media conglomerates in the continual shaping and moulding of our society is critical. Media organisations in an open and free ‘press’ environment should, in theory, only collaborate to ensure the absence of incitement to violence, obscene or defamatory communication. Beyond this different media outlets, each of which would ideally hold somewhat varying views of issues which affect society, should strive to challenge one another to continually demonstrate attributes such as ethics, integrity, courage and investigative skills.
Unfortunately the majority of Ireland’s media organisations are more akin to baseness, unscrupulousness, fearfulness and regurgitation than ethical journalism. Important issues such as Tusla’s catastrophic failures or the potential for impediments to free speech by means of the Hate Speech Bill are overlooked in favour of a multitude of relatively trivial stories both in and out of ‘silly season’.
A true free press should offer varied perspectives, allowing people to form their own critically thought out opinions. This principle is enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Irish Constitution. However, the genuine independence and transparency of Irish media are questionable to say the least, pointing to a broader societal issue.
As society evolves at an increasingly fast pace the primary challenge is staying informed. If the critical societal shaping topics are not meditated upon and if the prescribed narrative is enforced without tolerance for discussion and debate, society will fast head towards the abyss of self destruction.
Arthur Shortall, experienced radio broadcaster, excels in funding and program development. Trained in energy, business, and communication, Arthur’s passion for justice, truth, and current affairs shines through his work. A proud husband and father, he enjoys occasional victories on the football field against his kids.