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Decisions of the
Broadcasting Complaints Commission
Y/e 31 March
(Emphasis and paragraph numbering added)
(Comments of complainants for publication welcome)
- Today with Rodney Rice, June 1999
- Prime Time, June 1999
- Mr Richard Greene and Local Elections, 1999
- Ms McKenna, MEP and European Parliament Elections
- Amsterdam Treaty 1998 and the Workers' Party.
- Dana and European Parliament Elections, May 1999
Programme: "TODAY WITH RODNEY RICE"
Subject: Catholic sexual morality
Date: 16 June 1999
Complaint made by Fr Aiden J Larkin
1. Fr Larkin complained about the programme "Today with Rodney Rice" in which he was shocked by the tone and content of the discussion that took place in the context of an interview with the author of a recently published book.
2. Fr Larkin stated that the discussion was disrespectful of the religious faith of Catholics concerning sexual morality and marriage. Catholic doctrine was fundamentally misrepresented. The presenter Rodney Rice appeared to have done no research and simply to be talking off the top of his head. He offered no critical reaction to what his interviewee was saying. The result was a complete lack of balance in the discussion. Not merely was the Catholic position not accurately stated but in its place a crude and mocking caricature was put forward and the listeners were in effect invited to think that Catholic beliefs were stupid and to laugh at them.
3. Fr Larkin also stated that RTE would not dare to misrepresent and rubbish the religious beliefs of, for example, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, or the deeply held convictions of feminists or gays in this way. People are entitled to respect for their beliefs or disagree with them. Catholics have a no less entitlement. If people's beliefs are to be discussed on the media the discussion must be fair, balanced and impartial. The programme complained of failed grievously on all three counts.
Fr. Larkin made his complaint under Section 18(1) (b) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, as amended.
1. RTE in its response to Fr Larkin stated that the item in question arose from a recent press release from the Vatican, which restated the Catholic Church's position on masturbation. This press release was the subject of an article of the Spectator magazine, which analysed historical attitudes to masturbation and sex, not just in the Catholic Church but also in the medical and psychiatric professions and in other Christian churches.
2. Following publication, the article's author, Dr Alan Skedd, an eminent historian with the London School of Economics, was invited to discuss in a light-hearted and entertaining manner the evolution of attitude to the taboos about masturbation at the level of folk, church, psychiatric and medical thinking.
3. RTE stated that the discussion between Dr Skedd and the presenter, Rodney Rice, touched on a wide range of Christian, medical and historical positions on masturbation dating back to the Middle ages and beyond. No representative of the Catholic Church was asked to participate for the same reason that no member of the medical profession or the Freudian tradition or other Christian churches was invited.
4. RTE further stated that the item was one which the producer felt was of interest to listeners and was validly within the remit of the programme.
Decision of the Commission.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission did not uphold the complaint by Fr Larkin. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission was of the view that the broadcast concerned did not infringe the relevant provisions of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, as amended.
Published in RTE Guide: 12 May 2000
Programme: "PRIME TIME"
Subject: Referendum on Abortion
Date: 15 June 1999
Complaint made by Mrs Philomena WalshSummary of Complaint :
1. Mrs Walsh complained about the programme Prime-Time broadcast on 15th June 1999. Mrs Walsh complained that the panellists on the programme were not balanced for each side and that the presenter Miriam O'Callaghan appeared to be biased in dealing with the panellists. The panellists were lvana Bacik, law lecturer, TCD, Tony O'Brien Chief Executive, IFPA, and Caroline Simons Pro-life Campaign. Both panellists and the presenter expressed liberal attitudes to abortion. Miriam O'Callaghan interrupted Caroline Simons several times, Tony O'Brien only once and lvana Bacik not at all.
2. With regard to the allocation of time, Mrs Walsh stated that Caroline Simons got about half the time. She was still at a disadvantage because of the uneven panel and the frequent interruption from Miriam O'Callaghan
Stations Response :
1. RTE in its response stated that the central tenet of Mrs Walsh's complaint appears to be that RTE failed in its obligation to be fair, impartial and objective in the conduct of a studio debate concerning whether or not a fresh constitutional referendum on the issue of abortion was necessary.
2. The background to this discussion was that lobbyists from a point of view which can loosely be described as "anti-abortion", principal among them Rosemary Scallon, had been calling for such a referendum.
3. The objective of this studio discussion was not to debate the issue of abortion itself, but to debate whether or not the holding of such a further referendum was necessary. The programme makers' intention was to feature a protagonist for each side of the debate. Viz. Ms Bacik for the "pro -choice/anti-fresh referendum" lobby and Ms Simons for the "Anti-abortion/pro-fresh referendum" lobby.
4. Also in studio was Mr Tony O'Brien of the Irish Family Planning Association whose role was to give a factual and statistical backdrop to the discussion by providing information and analysis on the numbers of abortions currently being carried out for Irish Women.
5. RTE further stated that Ms Bacik spoke for a total of two and a quarter minutes. She made two substantive contributions to the discussion. Ms Simons spoke for a total of over three minutes.
6. It was necessary for the presenter to challenge her statements, in order to ensure that the topic under discussion was fully addressed. These interventions by the presenter were also motivated by a need to ensure that the other side of the debate to Ms Simons had a fair opportunity to put its point of view also.
7. Mr O'Brien spoke for the longest time - a total of nearly four and three quarter minutes. It was not necessary for the presenter to challenge him as frequently, as it was not the programmes intention to treat him as a principal protagonist in the debate. His contribution was a necessary one in order to put the debate in factual context.
8. The subject of abortion in Ireland is widely recognised as being a highly divisive one in which little "Middle -Ground" appears to exist. This makes RTE's role as a forum for public information and debate a very difficult one to perform, where this subject is concerned. Any assessment of a debate or relating to the abortion issue is likely to be highly subjective on the part of the viewer.
9. The fairness in the structure of a studio debate is not susceptible to the assessment by reference only to relative numbers of persons with known views being present in the studio, the fairness is to be assessed by reference to the overall conduct and structure of a debate.
In this case RTE is satisfied that this particular debate represented a fair treatment of the topic in a way that comprehensively informed the viewing public on the issue. RTE believes that, on an objective analysis of its contents, this broadcast complied with RTE's obligation under section 18 of the Broadcasting Authority Act , 1960 (as amended), taking all of the above factors in account.
Decision of the Commission :
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission did not uphold the complaint by Mrs Walsh. It was of the view that the broadcast concerned did not infringe any of the provisions of the Broadcasting Authority Acts, 1960, as amended.
Chairperson, Broadcasting Complaints Commission
Date : (Undated; covering letter dated 23 March 2000)
Comment by IMR:
1. According to FMA's report on this programme, (Media Report, Winter 1999) timings were balanced, except for the addition of 2 minutes by the presenter on the so called pro-choice side.
2. The notion that a paid employee can be regarded as a neutral "expert" is absurd. Mr O'Brien's very presence tends to give weight and authority to one side.
There being no equivalent trade on the pro-life side, this stance by RTE is inherently biased in favour of the so-called pro-choice side, and it must be challenged
It may be noted incidentally that the IFPA has a turnover of c.£1m per annum.
3. An introductory report by David Nally (200 seconds) was close to the message given by the so-called pro-abortion side.
4. RTE says that fairness is not susceptible to the assessment by reference only to relative numbers of persons, and that an objective analysis of its contents would reveal the fairness of the programme. There is some contradiction here. Can it be measured and analysed or can it not? If it can, why has it not been produced?
5. This was a blatantly biased programme.
End of comment.
Programme: "THIS WEEK"
Subject: Mr Richard Greene and others,
and Local Elections
Date: 23 May 1999
Complaint made by Mr Richard Greene
(Subject to minor editing as indicated)
Summary of Complaint:
1. Mr Greene complained about a news item on "Political Dynasties" in which (two relatives of well-known politicians) were interviewed. Both of these people were candidates in the local elections, in which Mr Greene was also a candidate. These interviews gave publicity to the particular candidates, giving them advantage over other candidates such as (a named candidate) and himself. Mr Greene also stated the RTE were in breach of the law by not interviewing all candidates in the relevant wards.
2. RTE did not rectify the matter. Their declaration that the report was "a legitimate news colour feature, which had not substantive campaigning material" does not change the reality. Every piece of media coverage, particularly favourable broadcast media coverage, coming up to elections, means votes.
3. Mr Greene further complained about the delay in RTE in responding to his complaint. He also stated that RTE behaved in a manner which was not fair to all interests concerned, and that the matter was not presented in an objective and impartial manner and without expression of the Authority's own views.
4. Mr Greene made his compliant under section 18(1)(a) and section 18(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, as amended.
1. RTE in its response stated that the report was a legitimate item of interest in the context of a campaign, which was not attracting public attention. They have a public service duty to facilitate political discussion and particularly where there is a danger of low voter participation.
2. The RTE Election Steering Group was of the view that positive efforts should be made to increase awareness of the polls and the issues involved. The item on political families fell within this guideline. RTE maintain that while acknowledging and respecting the need to be impartial, RTE is a news organisation,governed by the practices and reality of that discipline and must put human faces on events to help public debate.
3. There were nearly two thousand candidates running for seats in county and city councils. If all the councils were included, there would be around 3,000 candidates. It would be impossible for a national broadcaster to give the same airtime to these as it would to the far smaller number contesting the European election.
4. The local media have their role there. RTE's coverage is confined to a discussion of the main issues being raised across the country.
5. RTE was of the opinion that it acted in a manner fair to all interests concerned, that it was objective and impartial and did not express its own views on the matter.
Decision of the Commission:
1. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission was of the view that the broadcast did give an unfair advantage to the candidates concerned in the course of the election campaign. In this way the broadcast was not fair to all interests concerned.
2. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected the contention that the broadcast was not presented in an objective and impartial manner, and without expression of the Authority's own views.
Signed: R Murphy
Chairperson, Broadcasting Complaints Commission
Published in RTÉ Guide 24 March 2000
Comment by Mr Richard Greene:
1. What this decision seems to mean, is that RTE is within the law in selecting and promoting particular candidates,even if the result is "not fair to all interests concerned".
This decision has serious implications for all future elections. It is probable that the principle can be extended to referendums, as well.
2. It is also a decision that seems to be in conflict with a regulation claimed to have been issued to RTE staff. According to one of RTE's presenters, the regulation was that, if one candidate (in a ward) were mentioned, all candidates (of that ward) would have to be mentioned. This comment arose on a discussion on sport. If correct, this principle would have to apply with even greater strength to an interview.
The suggestion that all 3,000 candidates should have the same airtime as candidates for the European election is absurd, and was not made by the presenter, nor quoted by me.
(Extracted from Muintir na hÉireann website)
PROGRAMME: FIVE SEVEN LIVE
SUBJECT: Ms Patricia McKENNA, MEP
and EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
DATE: 10 June 1999
Complaint made by Mr Cass
SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT:
1. Mr Cass complained about the manner in which RTE gave coverage to the European Election Candidate Patricia McKenna, MEP, on the news/current affairs programme Five Seven live on 'moratorium day', Thursday June 10th.
2. Mr Cass stated that RTE not only breached the moratorium, but by giving air time to this candidate (and no other candidate), the Authority failed to demonstrate the required impartiality and fairness to all relevant interests.
3. In support of his complaint, Mr Cass made the following points:
RTE gave air time to Ms McKenna who was associated with a protest at the Smurfit AGM on 10th June - this protest clearly had a political content consistent with the Green Party's political agenda, and the broadcast referred at the outset to a "confrontation between Chairman Michael Smurfit and MEP Patricia McKenna".
Similar air time was not provided to any other candidate in this broadcast, raising issues of lack of balance and impartiality, on a designated "moratorium day".
4. RTE's apparent defence for its action is that:
It was considered that a very brief response on behalf of the protesters to points made by Dr Michael Smurfit in the interview, was necessary.
A 35-second response from Patricia McKenna was considered appropriate.
The moratorium which is observed by RTE has never applied to the coverage of news stories.
5. Mr Cass stated that this defence by RTE was unsatisfactory and unacceptable for the following reasons:
If RTE considered it necessary to give air time to someone other than Dr Smurfit in covering the protest at the Smurfit AGM, it was open to the Authority to interview a member of the protest group who was neither an election candidate nor a prominent member of a political party.
In the circumstances, a response of any duration from Ms McKenna was totally inappropriate.
To imply that a response of 35 seconds from Ms McKenna was not significant is disingenuous - a half-minute insert on a prime time programme was highly significant particularly on "moratorium day".
RTE's claim that the moratorium "has never applied to the coverage of News stories" is unsupported and cannot be sustained.
6. RTE in pursuit of its statutory obligation to observe fairness in its dealings with election candidates has voluntarily adopted the practice of not giving election coverage to any candidate or party in an election during 24 hours prior to polling day.
7. Not to cover the Smurfit Group AGM in a financial news report would be a dereliction of duty by RTE. The Smurfit Group AGM was held on 10th June, which happened to be the day before the holding of a three-part poll; one in relation to local Government representation; another being a referendum on the amendment to Article 28 of the Constitution. and the third in relation to the selection of MEPS.
A significant altercation took place at the AGM. Ms McKenna was the spokesperson for the group of shareholders at the centre of this controversy. The controversy in question is one which has featured on more than one occasion on other RTE programmes, and the issue is widely recognised as not being of concern exclusively to the Green Party. RTE would have been accused of being unfair if it had not featured both sides of the dispute which surfaced between a group of shareholders at the meeting with Dr Smurfit.
During the small slot of exposure, Ms McKenna made no reference to any election issue. She was not referred to as a candidate in the following day's European Parliament election. To ignore the central role that Ms McKenna had played at the afternoons AGM of the Smurfit Group would have been for RTE to fail to inform the public fully of this item of news.
8. In summary:
1. The moratorium voluntarily exercised by RTE applies to election coverage.
2. This short element of a wider interview with Michael Smurfit about the Smurfit Groups 1999 AGM did not amount to "election coverage".
3. There was no reference in the piece to the Green Party, neither to their agenda nor to the fact that Patricia McKenna was a candidate in the Euro Election '99.
4. The issue on which Ms McKenna was asked to comment is not an exclusively Green Party issue and has been spoken about on RTE radio before by parties unconnected with the Green Party.
5. The Smurfit Group AGM and the issue which arose at its AGM relating to its Colombian operation, are both matters of public interest which RTE is obliged to feature as part of its news coverage.
6. Ms McKenna was at the centre of the dispute in question and was therefore the appropriate interviee. The fact that she was a candidate in the following day's European Election did not preclude RTE from speaking to her, by reference to the considerations out-lined above.
For the reasons set out above, RTE maintained that it was (had?) observed all of its statutory obligations in relation to the broadcast complained of.
DECISION OF THE COMMISSION:
9. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected the complaint made by Mr Cass. It was the view of the Commission that the broadcast did not infringe any of the provisions of the Broadcasting Acts. The broadcast was in respect of a news item of the day and it was not election coverage.
CHAIRPERSON, BROADCASTING COMPLAINTS COMMISSION
Published RTE Guide 24 March 2000
THE FOLLOWING IS THE FULL TEXT OF THE BROADCASTING COMPLAINT'S COMMISSION'S DECISION:-
Complaint made by The Workers' Party
Station: RTE Program: (sic) Coverage of The Referendum on the
Summary of Complaint:
The Workers' Party complained that RTE refused to grant coverage to their party in its campaign for a "No" vote on the Amsterdam Treaty. They stated that they were totally excluded from all current affairs programmes on the Amsterdam Treaty.
The Workers' Party also stated that a response from RTE to the Workers' Party stated that coverage given to the Peace & Neutrality Alliance (PANA) to which the Workers' Party is affiliated, amounted to representation of the Workers' Party point of view. While the Workers' Party share many views with PANA in relation to the Amsterdam Treaty, it also has its own unique and independent position which it believes has a right to be aired on debates on the national broadcasting service. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the Progressive and the Democratic Left are also affiliated to the European Movement, but they all enjoyed ample airtime in their own right. RTE further stated that the Workers' Party received coverage on a News programme. The Workers' Party stated that they were totally excluded from the normal "cut and thrust" of a political campaign which takes place during debates on programmes such as Prime Time, the Week in Politics and other programmes.
On the final day of campaigning the Workers' Party was asked if it could supply a speaker for that night's programme (Prime Time). The Workers' Party informed RTE that a speaker was available. On the night RTE decided to drop the speaker in favour of a speaker from the Green Party. The Workers' Party stated that they were excluded from the most important television debate of the entire campaign.
RTE in its response stated that it was satisfied that the correspondence submitted by the Workers' Party does not amount to a valid complaint under Section 18(B) of the Act. In the first instance it is clear from the Act and indeed from the Commission's own "Notes for Guidance on Complaints" that a complaint must relate to a "specified programme of current affairs" and not just a general complaint about the nature of policies adopted by the Authority in the making and broadcast of programmes. RTE's view in this matter is reinforced by the terms of Section 18(B) 2 where it is made abundantly clear that complaints must be made in accordance with the strictures laid down in that sub-section and in particular the obligation on complainants to make a complaint to the Authority in writing and to be received by the Authority not more than 30 days after the relevant date of the broadcast or broadcasts. The matters raised by the Workers' Party do not comply with the requirements set out in Section 18(B)2. The only programme referred to in correspondence is a Prime Time programme broadcast in the days before the poll, Friday 22nd May. This specific programme was not referred to in correspondence received by the Authority as is required nor does the Workers' Party indicate in its letter of 17th July, 1998 to the Commission how the Authority was in breach of any of its obligations under Section 18(B)1 of the Act.
RTE further stated the essential nature of the grievance in the letter of 17th July, 1998 to the Commission is a request to it to "investigate the criteria used by RTE for its current affairs programming". RTE submitted that the Commission has no statutory authority to investigate and decide on such a matter. To do so would embark on an exercise which amounts to interference with the independence, and in particular the editorial independence, of the Authority. RTE's considered opinion was that the Act does not permit the Commission to exercise jurisdiction in respect of a "complaint" of the general and non-specific nature of the one articulated in this instance.
RTE further asserted that the contacts by Television Current Affairs with the Workers' Party in the final week of its coverage were made in good faith in the interests of assessing the options available to the programme-makers to achieve the required balance in the context of the planned programme. RTE regretted that people were disappointed when their kind offer to participate could not be availed of by the programme's editorial staff.
Decision of the Commission:
The complaint was submitted under Sub-Section 18(1) (b) of the Broadcasting Acts i.e. it is the duty of the Authority to ensure, inter alia that the broadcast treatment of current affairs is fair to all interests concerned. Although this sub-section is not referred to specifically in the formal complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission dated 17th July 1998, it is referred to in the previous correspondence and is part of the original complaint made to RTE. The current legislation is cumbersome and difficult for complainants to understand and follow. In the circumstances it would be unjust and bureaucratic to deny the validity of the complaint on this basis.
Section 18B governs the functions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the procedures and time limits to be adopted in respect of complaints. The Commission is of the view that sub-section 18(1)(b) and sub-section 18B(2) (a) (ii) allows it to consider a complaint such as that submitted by the Workers' Party.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission also considered that the complaint made was sufficiently specific to satisfy the requirements of the Act. The complaint referred to current affairs programmes on television and radio during the relevant Referendum campaign. Furthermore the complaint did not breach any of the time limits set down in the Act. In the circumstances the BCC considered that the complaint was valid and did come within its remit under the Act. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission accepts the contention by RTE that the BCC does not have the Authority to investigate the criteria used by RTE for its current affairs programmes.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission uphold the complaint submitted by the Workers' Party. The Workers' Party was a distinct organisation with a particular perspective on the Referendum. RTE was not entitled to assume the views of the Workers' Party were identical to those of other groups or parties opposed to the Referendum. In the circumstances RTE's coverage of the Workers' Party views was insufficient.
Chairperson, Broadcasting Complaints Commission.
Date: 1 October 1999
Published in RTE Guide: 24 March 2000
End of Decision of BCC
Comment by The Workers' Party:
RTE and the Amsterdam Treaty 1998 and the Workers' Party.
The Workers' Party complained to RTE in a letter of 25th May 1998 regarding the failure of RTE to give the party's campaign of opposition to the Amsterdam Treaty fair coverage. A formal complaint was subsequently lodged with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission as RTE refused to acknowledge their bias. Some months later the party was informed that the Broadcasting Complaints had upheld its complaint. Lo and behold, the party received a telephone call some time later from the BCC in which they informed the party that the Commission had erred in its processing of our complaint as they hadn't given RTE the opportunity to make a response to the BCC's decision before the Workers' Party was notified and they would have to re-hear the complaint. This was done and eventually, at the end of August 1999 the Broadcasting Complaints Commission issued its final decision in which it once again upheld the Workers' Party's complaint. The party issued a press release the same day which was covered by the Irish Times on August 27th 1999.
That was over six months ago and RTE has still not complied with its duty to publicise the decision in the RTE Guide and to air it publicly on radio and television. Given that the original complaint was made almost two years ago it seems that RTE's policy is to delay publication of any complaint it has lost until the complainant gives up or the matter being complained about is so far in the past that it is a dim and distant memory in the public's mind.
End of comment of Workers' Party
Comment by Editor:
There are invariably very long delays before a decision is published by RTE. In the "Dana and the Presidential Election case" in 1999, almost 8 months elapsed between notification of the decision and publication in the RTE Guide. In the "Divorce Referendum case", 1997, the decision was never published in readable format.
So, yes, it does seem to be a policy.
End of Editor's comment.
Dana Rosemary Scallon and the
European Parliament Elections:
Date: 1 May 1999
Summary of Complaint
1. Mr Greene stated that Mrs Rosemary Scallon (Dana) was to have appeared on Kenny Live on Saturday lst May. This arrangement was cancelled by the Director of TV, Mr Joe Mulholland, allegedly on the basis that it would have been unfair on the other candidates (Irish Times 7th May). Elections to the European Parliament were to take place on 1 l th June.
2. Mr Greene stated that over the months leading up to the European elections, there had been numerous appearances of politicians on Radio and television, such as (named politicians) etc. These were sitting MEP'S.
3. Dana had arranged to appear as an entertainer, not a politician, or as a prospective MEP. It was decided at this point in time coming up to the election, and in the interest of fairness.., that such people should not appear.
4. If such a decision was made, it was revoked or amended the following day, when Mr De Rossa, a well-heralded candidate, participated for over half an hour on the Sunday Show.
5. Mr Greene further stated that RTE failed to be fair to all interests concerned, and did not present the broadcast matter in an impartial manner. The decision to exclude Dana was, therefore, not without any expression of the Authority's own views. This conduct was in breach of Section 18(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, as amended.
1. RTE stated that the decision not to include an interview with Mrs Rosemary Scallon (Dana) in the Kenny Live Show was made in consideration of the nature and purpose of the programme and was not intended to reflect in any way on Mrs Scallon. The same judgement would have been made no matter which candidate or prospective candidate might have been in question because a major Saturday night programme with a central emphasis on entertainment was not the appropriate place to feature anyone whose candidacy in the June elections was about to be declared.
2. Once she became a candidate, Dana Rosemary Scallon appeared on the Pat Kenny radio programme, which is a current affairs programme, and on a range of other news and information programmes.
3. These editorial arrangements enabled RTE to ensure that all candidates were dealt with fairly by RTE in their respective campaigns for election to the Parliament.
Mr Greene makes reference to the appearance of Mr Proinsias de Rossa on this Week programme on 2nd May. As indicated in RTE's letter to Mr Greene, Mr de Rossa's participation was in his capacity as President of the Labour Party and in the context of that Party's Annual Conference and was entirely appropriate.
4. In fairness to all candidates in the European elections, RTE had to determine a date after which monitoring of broadcasts was necessary to ensure that candidates were not being treated unfairly. RTE did not accept that Mr Green's points about monitoring airings of declared or possible candidates prior to May are valid.
5. RTE rejected the notion that it has been unfair in this instance and does not believe that there is any question of it not having been impartial. There was no policy of exclusion of Dana Rosemary Scallon and RTE rejects Mr Greene's contention that the Authority expressed its own views in relation to Ms Scallon's candidacy in this election.
Decision of the Commission:
1. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected the complaint by Mr Greene in relation to the decision by RTE not to have Rosemary Scallon (Dana) appear on the "Kenny Live" show.
2. To exclude a potential serious candidate for the European elections from appearing on an entertainment focused show at that time was not in breach of Section 18(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, as amended.
Signed: R Murphy
Chairperson, Broadcasting Complaints Commission
Date: (14 January 2000)
Comment of Mr Richard Greene:
1. RTE has failed to "come clean" on its regulations, insofar as they exist. Its Bulletin 848 (on European Parliament Elections) was issued on 11 May and was backdated to 4 May.
So, under what regulation was the exclusion order of 30 April made?
2. The decision on Dana is in contrast to the decision on the airing of two particular candidates in the Stillorgan ward in the local elections, also held in June, and which has been the subject of a separate complaint by me.
In the Kenny Live case, RTE states that "it would have been unfair on all other candidates to have facilitated her in declaring her candidacy…". And this was before the election coverage starting date.
In the "This Week" (Stillorgan) case, RTE argued that the item was a "legitimate news colour feature", containing "no substantive campaigning material"1. And this was after the election coverage starting date.
The policies implied in both of these decisions are plainly in conflict with one another. RTE cannot subscribe to both, at one and the same time.
3. RTE implies that Dana might have broken faith by "declaring her candidacy" on such a high audience programme (on Kenny Live, 1 May).
Did they have a reason for distrusting Dana? If so, what was that reason?
4. The explanation that Mr de Rossa's appearance was "in his capacity as President of the Labour Party", is clearly spurious.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Mr de Rossa was already a candidate in the European elections, regardless of what hat he was wearing on RTE's programme. Why is it that the "different hat" theory can be applied to Mr de Rossa, but not to Dana?
Further, it is interesting that it was Mr de Rossa who was chosen to convey what any other sitting Labour TD might have conveyed. Why was it the President, rather than the Leader of the party, Mr Ruadhri Quinn, who had the major profile? And where was Mr Pat Rabitte, well known to RTE's audiences?
5. RTE's contentions about the monitoring of airings between December and May are not, in my view, acceptable from a major broadcasting organisation. In my opinion, they were either unwilling to monitor, or they were unwilling to disclose the results.
I do not accept that such monitoring was either "impossible" or not necessary to the discharge of their obligations under s.18.
I must admit to considerable difficulty in accepting the view that RTE's decisions were not tailored to exclude Dana.
1. The decision of the Commission in the "This Week" (Stillorgan ward) case was that, while the broadcasts were not fair to all interests concerned, the contention that the broadcasts were not presented in an objective and impartial manner was rejected. (See Local Elections, below)
(Extracted from Muintir na hÉireann website)