Amnesty International has said it will not obey an instruction by the State’s ethics watchdog to return a donation from billionaire George Soros to fund its campaign to overturn Ireland’s abortion ban.
The Standards in Public Office commission (SIPO) has instructed Amnesty International to return a €137,000 donation from the Soros-funded Open Society Foundation.
Refusing to obey, Amnesty’s chief executive, Colm O’Gorman, told The Irish Times: “We’re being asked to comply with a law that violates human rights, and we can’t do that.”
The news that Amnesty International Ireland was recently told by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) that they must return a €137,000 donation from billionaire ‘philanthropist’ George Soros to help its campaign for abortion is not surprising.
After all, the Abortion Rights Campaign confirmed back in April that they were returning a €25,000 grant from Soros’s US-based Open Society Foundation, having been threatened with Garda action following their initial refusal to comply with SIPO’s requests.
It was reported then that Amnesty and the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) had received significantly larger sums from Soros, but it appeared that they had somehow avoided having to return the funds.
This seemed strange at the time. The money was coming from the same foreign source, and for the same purpose: it always looked like this story had legs to run on, and so it has turned out.
The response from Amnesty Ireland to SIPO’s decision was not that surprising either. “This is an indefensible law,” the group tweeted on December 8th. “We will not comply.”
The statement on their website elaborates further, outlining that they came to the decision not to comply with the instruction “as we believe it contravenes Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law.”
Clearly, having sought legal advice, Amnesty realise that the law is not on their side. Therefore, they reach into their toolkit to pull out phantom human rights obligations.
You need not search through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights, to find what article has been violated.
Ireland has laws about the funding of politicians, political parties and political campaigns, and SIPO exists to make sure that we all abide by them. Most other countries have laws in this area too.
‘I don’t like the law on political funding, so I’m not going to pay heed to it’ is not a response which can be tolerated by the authorities, and it now appears that SIPO is also closing in on the IFPA and their chunk of the Soros cash.
Amnesty had formulated a wise strategy, revealing the news on the day when an important announcement was expected in the Brexit negotiations. This gave some level of cover to media outlets looking for excuses not to report on what was happening.
Amnesty knew what was coming, and had taken the time to prepare a detailed ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section for their website.
They need not have bothered. Because frequently asked questions sections are for questions which are frequently asked.
When the news of Amnesty’s criminal fundraising broke, the silence from the Irish mainstream media was a silence both deafening and chilling.
It took many hours for The Irish Times – self-declared ‘newspaper of record’ – to cover the story, and when it did, a short article gave prominence to O’Gorman’s inadequate excuse that funding restrictions violated human rights.
It took the new Ireland edition of The Times almost a full working day to cover the story.
The Irish Independent is the most popular daily publication in the land, and yet it doesn’t appear to have covered the story. Nor indeed has the Irish Examiner, another paper which has run articles about every possible aspect of this political issue, but which conveniently went silent last Friday.
TheJournal.ie has since its inception made abortion a fetish issue, and has pushed it to the fore at every possible opportunity, but since Friday, they have said nothing about one of the major players in the coming referendum breaking the law, and boasting of it.
Requiring organisations to follow the law when it comes to donations doesn’t set a precedent: publicly declaring your intention not to, does.
Today FM featured a noticeably soft interview of Colm O’Gorman by Matt Cooper on Monday, December 11th, an interview which only took place after O’Gorman requested that no debate be allowed.
The fact that this request was granted, and that the pro-life commentator John McGuirk was denied the opportunity to challenge O’Gorman directly, shows the deference with which Amnesty and the broader pro-abortion movement are constantly treated.
Most condemnatory of all, RTÉ has failed completely in its role as the public broadcaster, and its failure to shine a light on what Amnesty has done, and is still doing now, is the greatest betrayal of all.
All of us fund RTÉ. In order to exercise the privilege of buying and using a television purchased with their own money, every man and woman must contribute €160 to the state broadcaster. If we choose not to pay, uniformed police can drag us before the judiciary and have us thrown into cells. Part of some ‘social contract’, apparently.
Their abdication of that responsibility over the last few days has been as clear a display of institutional bias as has ever witnessed in the Irish media.
It also usefully illustrates the role that media bias can and does play in different societies.
How journalists and broadcasters report the news is not generally the problem. True, some in the industry let their masks slip from time to time during articles or interviews, but it takes only a little journalistic training to know how to perform one’s role with a reasonable level of impartiality.
Certain counter-examples aside – the obnoxious refusal of The Irish Times to use the term ‘pro-life’ being one – the problem is not biased coverage, per se.
The problem is in what is covered, and what is not.
By choosing not to make the public aware of what Amnesty International are doing, RTÉ and the rest of the Irish media are helping to stack the debate in such a manner that pro-life campaigners will never be able to convince a majority of voters.
Instead, Cora Sherlock, along with Katie Ascough et al, will have to step onto a political battlefield which has been carefully laid out for the benefit of those attacking the eighth amendment.
The landmines in front of the advancing Repeal troops will be cleared away, and their flanks will be well-guarded by supposedly objective reporters.
Any number of salient points have already been systematically concealed from the public during the several years in which an abortion referendum has been seriously mooted.
These include: Ireland’s relatively low abortion rates compared to our European neighbours, our relatively good maternal mortality rates, various shocking scandals involving British abortion providers such as Marie Stopes, the systematic removal of disabled children in utero in numerous jurisdictions, and now, the violation of Irish law by a foreign funded abortion advocacy group, which previously styled itself as a human rights organisation.
Instead of situating any real public discussion around any such areas, RTÉ and the rest of the media have willfully and shamefully assisted one side of an issue of public importance.
RTÉ’s crime is greater as their funding is not optional. But the newspapers have been busy recently arguing for taxpaying funding. Like RTÉ, they want to be funded by all the public, while working to advance political causes only supported by part of the public.
What are people to do to put a stop to this? There’s not going to be a single silver bullet approach, but while the old media is guilty of a dereliction of duty, new media could well prove to be the saviour of truth and fairness.
Look at America. When the horrific case of Kermit Gosnell – the Pennsylvania abortionist who in 2013 was found guilty of killing newborn babies in his clinic – came to light, the mainstream media did everything it could to avoid covering it.
In the end, it took individuals on social media – Twitter, Facebook, etc – to raise awareness of what had really happened in Gosnell’s abattoir, and to question why the major media outlets had shown an almost uniform disinterest in the story of how such a man had carried out those crimes on infants.
Eventually, they were shamed into discussing it, and several leading media outlets did in fact engage in public self-criticism in relation to their initial coverage.
In this country, it looks like that self-criticism isn’t coming soon. There is no country with a more deeply one-sided and fundamentally untrustworthy media than Ireland.
There are, however, many voices crying out, and some are even loud enough to be heard. The paltry amount of coverage which has been dedicated to Amnesty’s law-breaking owes something to these people.
More of this work is needed, and new publications such as The Burkean Journal can play a vital part in giving voice to public concerns about who is controlling the flow of information, and to what ends.
It doesn’t take away from the central conclusion which many have already come too. The Irish media establishment has now probably passed the point of no-return.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Burkean Journal.