Irish internet in uproar over Picturegate censorship

26 Mar 2009

A major hue and cry has gone out across Irish cyberspace over the freedom of expression implications following RTÉ’s apology and the Garda investigation of Today FM over the hanging of less-than-complimentary pictures of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, in public art galleries.

Well. It’s been an interesting week for the media in general. And it’s only Thursday! Picturegate has caused internet uproar here, leaving a digital trail of angry comments on social-media forums.

Since Picturegate hit the news on Monday, there has been a flurry of media attention on the topic, ranging from sites such as Facebook and internet blogging forums, to the traditional newspaper, radio and TV media channels themselves.

But, what’s really interesting is how Picturegate appears to have struck a collective chord with the Irish internet population.

We’ve seen the ascent of the ‘Leave Cowen Guerrilla Artist Alone’ group on Facebook, which was renamed ‘Leave Conor Casby Alone!’ at around 10am today. Then, we have one of our prominent bloggers, Damien Mulley, blogging off about the topic.

What’s interesting about this latest Government scandal is that it was spurred on by the Government itself, with the Taoiseach’s very own spin doctor asking that RTÉ apologise for running the story on the 9pm News on Monday night at the end of its usual reporting on the drudgery of the recession.

Then we saw the office of Today FM’s morning crew of the Ray D’Arcy Show being raided by the Gardaí, who demanded that the crew hand over emails from the mysterious artist, or else. The poor producer of the Ray D’Arcy Show, Will Hanafin, even missed his usual 3.30pm train home yesterday, as he was forced to take a deluge of calls from international reporters.

This entire debacle brings us to the cosy topic of censorship and freedom of expression, which Irish internet users appear to be very concerned about.

Yes, RTÉ showed the two paintings from the very talented Conor Casby (34) on Monday night, which the state broadcaster has duly apologised for, but I wonder how many internet forums across the globe these paintings are now being displayed on?

Here are a few interesting excerpts from our own internet-savvy population:

Damien Mulley penned the following on his website,, yesterday: “Last night, part of the freedom of the press was murdered in front of our eyes, in prime-time hours. We should be crying at that apology. Hope is quickly diminishing in Ireland and more of it went tonight. The country is going to hell in a handcart, and now they’re attacking satire in a most brutal way. RTE News has been shut down. RTE cannot report news anymore without having to second-guess itself and the reaction from Government press officers.”

And here’s a few titbits from some of the members of the Facebook group ‘Leave Conor Casby Alone!’, which currently has circa 1,111 members.

Blogs Siobhan Doyle (Ireland) on the site: “Should broadcasters and newspapers be made to apologise for reporting on political satire such as this?”

Dorothy Nealon (Ireland) adds: “… Irish people are far too accepting of the situations we are in with the banks and the economy. If only this much fuss was made about the things that really matter! I also thought the Irish had a sense of humour… where’d it go then?”

Oisin Quinn (Ireland) comments: “I can’t stop laughing about this – major national economic crisis and what a cool way to protest – we’ve had marches, tractor blockades, sheep in the Dept of Agriculture, but this guy gets out his canvas and oil paints, does up a couple of nude portraits of the Taoiseach (Dutch-Master style), sticks them in a rucksack and heads down to the National Gallery and puts them up like a scene from the Thomas Crown Affair (probably the security was less challenging and he didn’t have to wear the bowler hat – iPod with Nina Simone’s Sinnerman on would have been a nice touch).

“The funniest thought is the first few tourists who went by without complaining … (Vermeer, Rembrandt … hey what’s this one …). Somebody in Government HQ was pretty stressed to send in the Gardaí and complain to RTÉ … gives the story international legs though, and could start a new form of global protest for those who fancy a bit more than a placard and a loudhailer …”

So, we’ve spared you another photo from Picturegate, and instead have chosen one of our Taoiseach, who last week met with President Barack Obama in Washington DC, when he presented the US President with a copy of the wonderful tune — There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama — from the Corrigan Brothers.

That was the day when Michelle Obama added a tinge of green to the water in the fountain in front of the Whitehouse in honour of St Patrick. Ah, those were the days, I hear you say … But, now, we must all be serious. This is no laughing matter.

By Carmel Doyle

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic