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Our View: Free speech, or just pandering to ignorant viewers?

THIS YEAR’S prize for failing to see the irony must go to comedian Costakis Constantinou whose comments on a CyBC talk show got the public broadcaster fined €3,000 for inciting racial hatred.

Migrant support group KISA complained that Constantinou had declared his support for Greece’s ultranationalist Golden Dawn party, slammed foreigners who made him feel unsafe walking the streets – not knowing what they’d been up to in their own countries – and declared that there was such a thing as too much democracy. He also threw in the ubiquitous ‘I am not a racist but…’

Constantinou clearly does not realise that without the existence of the democracy he so loathes, he would not be enjoying the freedom of speech to say anything he wants to on public television.

Secondly, as many of the foreigners he hates to see on the streets have fled countries that have little or no democracy, perhaps he ought to consider changing places with them. Then see how fast he would be on the next migrant boat back to a democratic country.

That there was not more of an outcry over his comments when they were first broadcast back in July, even though the fine has only just been issued, is just par for the course.

Yet there was a huge outcry over a fictional storyline about a homosexual couple on a Sigma drama series that received so many complaints, the scriptwriter pulled the characters. Even though gay rights groups complained about this, it was clearly not enough pressure to write them back in.

It is certain that if the same show had contained a plotline making fun of gay people, there would have been no outcry from the same viewers who kicked up a stink about the portrayal of the two men’s relationship as a serious issue.

In the Constantinou incident, CyBC put its case forward as one of free speech, also saying that as it was a live broadcast, there was no way of foreseeing what he would say. This is true but according to the conclusions in the official report, the broadcaster gave Constantinou latitude to express xenophobic views “without taking any steps to disassociate themselves from them clearly and unequivocally”.

KISA did say it accepted the CyBC’s view that the station must provide a platform for free expression for its guests. But it added, the crux of the matter for them was that the CyBC systematically ignores and refuses to accommodate or even listen to the views of NGOs active in the areas of immigration, asylum and the fight against discrimination, xenophobia, racism and human trafficking.

Like Sigma, the CyBC must believe their audiences wouldn’t like it, and as long as TV stations pander to ignorant viewers rather than challenge their prejudices nothing will change.

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