Cousin Vinny

Vincent Browne red noseSorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

My Cousin Vinny was a 1992 Hollywood comedy about an inexperienced, loudmouth lawyer who defends his poor cousins on trial for murder. Tonight with Vincent Browne is an Irish political show starring a loudmouth lawyer/journalist who is inexperienced in the ways of Israeli foreign affairs, forced to defend his reputation following anti-Semitic remarks he made on air.

Does Vincent Browne really resemble the fool played by Joe Pesci? All I know is that his star has dimmed considerably following his refusal to apologise. Perhaps a movie version of his life should be called “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word ,” with a title track featuring Elton John’s 1970s hit song of the same name.

My cousin Vinny and Vincent Browne: are they twins separated at birth? Well, Joe Pesci’s portrayal sees him ultimately prevail in court. However, Vincent Browne utterly fails in his cowardice to face the camera and say sorry.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) last month called on network TV3 to apologize within 3 weeks of its ruling against the station. After missing the three-week deadline, TV3 broadcast a not really apology, regurgitating the words used by BAI in its decision against the station. The internet recording of the 4 April broadcast omits the not-so-sorry statement at the beginning of the programme, not surprising for a third-rate network better known for its entertainment shows such as Psychic Readings Live, a show that has also been the subject of several complaints to the BAI.

Broadcasting Authority of IrelandBAI described Browne’s remarks that “Israel is the cancer in foreign affairs” on October 23 to be bad journalism, but not anti-Semitism. In fact, no one in the Irish establishment emerges from this performance as a star. BAI, like other Irish institutions, has failed to admit that sometimes anti-Semitism occurs in Ireland. Although violence against Jews is rare and the constitution guarantees them freedom of worship, the Irish media is rife with anti-Israel remarks that target Jews but no other religious groups in Israel. Browne has made ignorant, derisive comments about Israel in previous broadcasts. On 18 September 2012, he called Israel a “fundamentalist state” in a panel discussion with Muslims that coincided with Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar.

TV3 logoFollowing many viewer complaints, Browne issued a “clarification” on 25 October saying that “cancer” might not have been the right word, but that Israel remained the sole obstacle to Middle East peace. TV3 management sent a mass e-mail expressing “regret if any offence was caused.

TV3’s insufficient response prompted complaints with the BAI which convened on 29 January 2013 to reject or invalidate most of them. One complaint was partially upheld.  BAI stated that “…it was the view of the Committee that the references by the programme presenter to the State of Israel during the programme were included without any apparent context or relevance to the discussion of the then forthcoming Presidential election in the United States of America, the focus of the programme.

Furthermore, it was the view of the Committee that the remarks constituted an editorial statement by the presenter that was not balanced by contributions from the programme guests. The item was therefore deemed to have failed to meet the requirement for fair, objective and impartial treatment of news and current affairs.”

BAI’s handling of my complaint was appalling. I filed the initial complaint in November, responded to TV3’s rejection of my complaint in December, waited for the BAI to rule in January, but received no answer. While results of other complaints were published on their website,  I heard nothing.  I pressed for an answer and was told to wait. In March, I was curtly informed that my complaint was “invalid.” No reason had been given.  I asked a Dublin lawyer to contact BAI on my behalf. He reminded them that, according to the Freedom of Information Act, I was entitled to a reason. Three employees of BAI wrote in 3 separate messages replied that an answer would be forthcoming. After two weeks of stalling, BAI said that my complaint was invalid because I had seen the show on the TV3 website instead of hearing it live.

This explanation is pathetic. TV3 shows commercials on its website and that revenue boosts its bottom line. In Ireland, everyone is obligated to pay the licensing fee for TV even those who do not own a TV set. This recent change was implemented by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte on the basis that, as content is widely available through other electronic means, everyone should pay. This decision reinforces the idea that the internet is a valid means of expression and complaint when necessary.

When BAI invalidates a complaint for any or no reason, it does not appear in the public record. As a result, it appears that there were few or no complaints received. Rejected complaints are registered in the BAI log and are available for public viewing.  BAI’s published guidelines do not mention the internet as an invalid medium for complaint. By keeping complaints from public view, BAI clearly serves corporate interests over those of the public.

TV3 told the BAI that “TV3 have engaged with the Israeli Diplomatic Mission to arrange an appropriate representative to discuss the comments made. TV3 points out that arranging a suitable representative takes some time and, furthermore, there were Referendum topics and a debate scheduled for discussion on Tonight with Vincent Browne in the interim.” As of April 2013, TV3 had not broadcast any alternative views on Israel.

If any Israel supporters run into Vincent Browne in a Dublin pub, be sure to buy this senior citizen a pint. For Browne, who turns 69 this year, this episode marks the last call of his career.


 8 April 2013

By Jacqueline Mulhern (Twitter @JacqMulhern)

Vincent Browne tweets an 'apology'.

Vincent Browne tweets an ‘apology’.

Few would disagree with Vincent Browne as the winner of the coveted Five Minutes for Israel Red Nose award. The photographer has caught him at his sanctimonious best. I love how the microphone cord over his head makes it look as if he has a halo.
By Paul Reynolds from Dublin, Ireland (20110427-20110427-IMG_0049 Uploaded by Armbrust) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

About Jacqueline Mulhern

Twitter contact @JacqMulhern
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