A Picture Can Be Worth A Thousand Words

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview via telephone author and journalist Ed Moloney (EM) and discuss The Irish Times' stance on censoring cartoons.

WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
10 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo cartoon
SB:  Hello, Ed. It's Sandy Boyer for Radio Free √Čireann. 

EM:  Hi, Sandy.

SB:  We want to welcome you to Radio Free √Čireann once again and of course, among your other credits, you're the former Northern Correspondent for The Irish Times. And of course The Irish Times this week was loud and vociferous in defending offensive cartoons when they're from Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But Ed, you blogged on The Broken Elbow that they weren't so loud in defending controversial cartoons in Ireland. Can you tell us a little about that? 

EM:  Yes. Let's make one point very clear: I was very heartened to see The Irish Times out there identifying itself with Charlie Hebdo and joining a campaign to defend freedom of expression and so on and so forth with the Index on Censorship. 

But you know, it would have been a little bit more convincing had The Irish Times also expressed some sort of regret for its own censorship of cartoons. As you know the whole issue of Charlie Hebdo is that: should cartoons that some Muslims find offensive - portrayals of the prophet Muhammed etc - should they be allowed to appear?  Should they be censored? And the whole issue of: does a religion have that right to demand that people censor themselves? 

The unfortunate thing is that exactly the same thing happened in The Irish Times last April when a cartoon that was drawn by the resident cartoonist in the paper, Martyn Turner, which is quite a complicated cartoon but essentially it was making fun of the Catholic Church's attitude towards a new law that had been passed in Dublin which was obliging people to inform the authorities if they knew of any threats to the welfare and treatment of children. And of course the context is the whole controversy over paedophilia and the Catholic Church and the cover-up that the Catholic Church and the Irish State concocted over the years to hide all of that.   

And the cartoon showed three priests holding a copy of the bill, which is called the Children's First Bill, and singing a song which said: I'd do anything for children but I won't do that. In other words, it will not - the Church will not - report threats or offences committed against children. 

The Archbishop of Dublin immediately objected to the cartoon saying that a lot of priests had been hurt by the publication. The Archbishop was called Diarmuid Martin - which is quite surprising 'cause he's got a bit of a liberal reputation - but obviously this went too far for him. And as the result of a bishop publicly objecting to the cartoon The Irish Times immediately caved-in and withdrew the cartoon. They couldn't withdraw it from the print edition obviously because that had already been out and circulated but they withdrew it from the internet edition, from the web edition, and also from Martyn Turner's own archive and it sort of disappeared here. 

And that was like as if Ireland had suddenly returned back to the 1950's when the Catholic Church had enormous power over the media and over society. And it was an episode which unfortunately - and surprisingly to me - didn't really get the attention or generate the protests which I thought it should have at the time – and it just seemed to me that to see The Irish Times now identifying with the whole idea that Muslim clerics or Muslim religious leaders should not be allowed to dictate which cartoons appear in French papers is a little bit hypocritical for them given this history – this incident that happened not so long ago – just a few months before. 

JM:  Ed, John McDonagh here.  One of the things about when you would write an article or something there could be a response in the letters page but there is something about a cartoon. There really isn't a response – is there? I guess the response is censorship - it's not a letter to the editor. What do you think how cartoons affects peoples' psyches as compared to a story maybe talking about Mohammed. 

EM:  Well as they say, John, a picture can be worth a thousand words and the cartoon can be worth several thousand words and that is why cartoons are so valuable and it's also why they're very often the very first target of censorship because they express in sometimes caricatured, in exaggerated fashion, essential truths. 

And the essential truth in Martyn Turner's cartoon was that the Catholic Church would be the last organisation in Ireland to report offences or threats to the welfare of children given their history of cover-ups and involvement in paedophilia and that's a very, very sharp message. 

And you know - you try and write that in an article and you'd be lucky to get the message over in five hundred, a thousand, two thousand words - and most readers will not last the pace and they'll drop out after five hundred words. So that's the effect of a cartoon is - that it's immediate and it can be very dramatic in it's impact. 

SB:  Well, Ed, thank you very much.

And again you can read Ed's work on The Broken Elbow and of course you can go to any of his many books including A Secret History of the IRA. So Ed, thank you very much. 

EM:  My pleasure. Bye now.

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