I tuned into RTÉ News on Monday night and saw a rather amusing story about a practical joke in Dublin. I didn't think much more about it until a storm brewed over the incident, which has become known as 'Picturegate'. Basically the stunt involved the hanging of not-too-badly-executed paintings of a semi-clad Brian Cowen in two Dublin galleries.
According to Slugger O'Toole, Dublin North Fianna Fáil TD Michael Kennedy responded to the incidents by saying: "Regardless of who the incumbent is, the position of An Taoiseach deserves respect, especially from our national public service broadcaster. For an item like this to be given so much air time beggars belief and raises serious questions about the agenda at play in the RTÉ newsroom."
There then came an apology from RTÉ, which is still carried on its website, which reads: "Editor's Note: On the 23 March 2009 Nine News, we carried a report on the illicit hanging of caricatures of the Taoiseach in two Dublin galleries. RTE news would like to apologise for any personal offence caused to Mr Cowen or his family or for any disrespect shown to the office of Taoiseach by our broadcast."
This is ridiculous. What exactly are they apologising for? They reported the news. This was an interesting, light-hearted story. What's the problem? Surely the Republic has bigger problems to worry about than comedic paintings.
And in another twist, Gardaí interviewed a 34-year-old teacher for two hours yesterday in relation to the incident. According to RTÉ, he was released and a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Charlie Flanagan TD of Fine Gael said: "At a time when the majority of gangland murders remain unsolved, to have Gardaí spending their time investigating what amounted to a practical joke that offended the Taoiseach's ego is a scandalous waste of resources.
"Today FM has clearly come under pressure to hand over emails about this matter while RTÉ News was obviously been browbeaten into a grovelling apology. The way this matter has been handled is more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Ireland in 2009.
"Freedom of expression is fundamental in a democracy. As politicians, we are frequently subject to unflattering comment and depiction but that is part and parcel of being a politician living in a free society.
"The Taoiseach's over-reaction to what amounted to satire is completely over the top.
"I am shocked at the approach taken by the Government and the Gardaí in relation to this issue. I would ask the Taoiseach to focus his attention on the economy and I would ask the Gardaí to focus their attention on crime prevention and detection."
This incident raises serious questions about freedom of expression and the use of police time. By making such a drama of the incident, Michael Kennedy has actually raised the profile of the incident much higher than it would have been had it been allowed to sit. I'm talking about it on here, for instance, whereas I wouldn't have bothered had there not been a drama. It's also extremely worrying that the state broadcaster has felt the need to apologise in such a way for reporting the news. Plus, haven't the Gardaí got better things to do with their time?
It's a good job Banksy doesn't live in Dublin.