Decisions of the

Broadcasting Complaints Commission

(Selected items)

Y/e 31 March


              Notes:     1. Emphases by Editor            2. Comments from complainants for publication welcome

                Programme: "The Late Late Show"      Date: 26/09/97

                Subject:                           School-based sex education

                Complaint made by:        Mr Hegarty

                Decision of BCC:            Complaint rejected

               Summary of Complaint:

Mr Hegarty complained about the Late Late Show broadcast on 26th
September 1997 which included a feature on school-based sex education in Ireland. The content was totally deficient in relation to the issues that arise from state imposed school sex education. The panel make-up provided no representation of Christian views and represented a bias against the forms of Christian morality and constitutional rights of the family in a number of respects including the following:
1. The "panel" consisted only of two variants of the humanist viewpoint, two representatives of the teenage magazine viewpoint. Ms Carmel Wynne was the other panellist and has presented features in the Irish Times Education and Living Supplement and is described as an RSE teacher. Ms Wynne's published views in that newspaper are not representative of ordinary Christian parents.  She or any other panellist did not express Christian views on the Late Late Show on that night. As a consequence there was no discussion on the many issues which arise from the way in which the RSE programme, an objectionable so-called value free model, is being foisted on families without any public discussion by political parties of the alternatives or outcomes of such impositions elsewhere. There was no mention of the prospect of religious oppression and denial of civil liberties whereby Christian children of conscientious objecting parents are faced with the prospect of withdrawal from an RSE-implementing school; because the imposition is to be taught cross curricularly. None of the many or varied other grounds for objections were raised.

2. Mr Hegarty stated that the last straw was Mr Byrne's response to the lady who sought to express her viewpoint upholding premarital sexual abstinence, still widely held despite years of unrestricted media promotion and propagandisation of secular humanist values. When the lady sought to make her point Mr Byrne suggested to her that she was "Frustrated" as he put it. In any future balanced treatment of this topic it should be possible to put it to Mr Byrne to explain as to whether he suffered such frustration in his courting days, as his intervention served to demean the Christian ideal of premarital abstinence which, if now is not so common, is certainly not extinct and certainly was not in Mr Byrne's courting days regarded as abnormal. Mr Hegarty further stated that it is obvious that the majority of those who would wish to have Christian ideals represented on RTE get no hearing as only the humanist view is upheld.

The episode proves that neither RTE nor its presenters or planners have the capacity to be fair or truly responsible in dealing with issues of complexity which are not favoured by the liberal agenda proponents.

Mr Hegarty made his complaint under Section 18(b) of the Principal Act. He further stated that RTE were not fair to all interests concerned, specifically not fair to the interests of Christian parents who wish to continue with the traditional mode of inculcating moral values all of which are expressed as rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Stations Response:

RTE in its response stated that this programme was not, as the complainant seemed to propose a programme purporting to be about, and to promote, the Schools RSE curriculum. It was not, as alleged, a feature on school based sex education in Ireland nor was it, RTE thinks, biased in favour of one ethos over any other. It was a studio-based discussion involving panellists and a participating audience on aspects of teenage sexuality and the problems involved for parents and young people. The Late Late Show decided to broadcast this item in response to the increasing reports of teenage sexual activity, the increase in numbers of single mothers, and the changing relationship between teenagers and sex. The three panellists were selected to participate because of their experience in the area of discussion. Total freedom was given to the audience to intervene and participate in discussion and as the audience included some two hundred people of all backgrounds all viewpoints were represented.

RTE was satisfied that the programme matter was presented in a responsible and balanced way and that Mr Gay Byrne conducted his presentation in an entirely professional and successful manner. RTE rejected any suggestion that the presenter was unfair in dealing with any studio participant. RTE further stated that the studio audience's reaction to the programme item indicated a general approval by them of the way it was conducted and presented.

In RTE's view it cannot be reasonably proposed that its broadcast of this programme matter represented any breach by it of any of its statutory obligations under the Broadcasting Authority Acts.

 Decision of the Commission:

The Commission considered that the programme was presented in a fair, responsible and impartial manner. The broadcast did not infringe any of the provisions of the Broadcasting Acts, accordingly, the BCC did not uphold the complaint made by Mr Hegarty.

.. back to Home

        .. back to Top


        Programme: "LearNet"                 Date: 01/11/97

Subject:                        School-based sex education

Complaint made by:     Mr Hegarty

Decision of BCC:        Complaint rejected

Summary of Complaint:

Mr Hegarty complained about the content and unbalanced presentation of the LearNet programme. Considering that School RSE is the subject of public objection based on a wide range of concerns the research done prior to the presentation of the programme was evidently seriously lacking and one-sided in failing to examine the aspects which are at the heart of the objections. These concerns have not been addressed or dealt with by the Dept. (of) Education and neither have the points at issue been properly reported upon by the news media.

The programme consisted of a panel of two people, both of whom favoured the RSE programme. All but one phone caller objected to the scheme but their concerns and objections only met with meaningless reassuring phrases from the "panellists" without any challenge on air. The assertion that the RSE programme is different to all other sex education programmes went unchallenged, when in point of fact it covers the same ground as other Planned Parenthood Sex Education programmes, and with the full range of objectionable curriculum guidelines and teaching methodologies. The reference to " sensitive handling" of the withdrawal of the child of objecting parents from the class had no meaning in view of the cross curricular policy of the programme and adequate challenge on that point was impossible. A clear unjust bias in favour of the scheme was shown.

Mr Hegarty also stated that the time allotted to the programme was unsatisfactory in view of the complexity of the grounds for objection. There was the wastage of time and impropriety in programme planning occasioned by permitting young children to speak in favour of the RSE programme.

Selection of the Dalkey Project School was deceitful to the public as that school was, insofar as Mr Hegarty was aware, humanist in ethos and founded by people associated with the campaign to separate Church from State. Accordingly its moral philosophy/ethos especially on matters such as sexuality and marriage would be unrelated and irrelevant to that of the majority of schools which are of Christian origin.

Mr Hegarty further stated that the programme presenter did not raise any grounds for objection and this implicit approval lent a further bias to the programme.

Mr Hegarty made his complaint under section 18(b) of the Principal Act.  He also stated that the programme was not fair to all interests concerned, specifically to the interests of Christian parents who wish to continue with the traditional mode of inculcating moral values all of which are expressed as rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Stations Response:

RTE in its response stated that the purpose of the programme was to present viewers with an understanding of the current state of the RSE programme in schools and to provide information which they may wish to take into account in forming their own views.

The introduction of the RSE programme has been the subject of considerable discussion, debate and consultation between the partners involved in education, including parents and the churches. It was not the intention of the programme to revisit this debate or to examine the underlying philosophical issues referred to.

RTE also stated as the focus of the programme was on the current state of RSE in schools then a school where the programme is presently in operation was featured, the Dalkey School Project is one of twelve schools involved in piloting the RSE programme and was selected as the featured example after intensive research and contact with a number of schools involved in the pilot scheme. The guests have extensive experience in the development and operation of the RSE programme. Their responses to the comments and observations of the callers were made in an open and balanced manner.

RTE also stated that it was evident from the programme discussion that the introduction of the RSE programme is a matter for parents and teachers in each individual school. It was made very clear that the rights and views of parents must be respected by the school and that should a parent decide to withdraw a child from the RSE programme, then that parent is entitled to the support of the school in managing this arrangement constructively.

RTE further stated that the involvement of children in programmes is always a sensitive matter. LearNet is particularly aware of the issues and does not seek either to exploit or misrepresent the views of children. The debate on the RSE programme will continue as it is introduced to more schools and the LearNet programme may again contribute to this debate and provide an opportunity for many viewpoints to be aired.

It was RTE's opinion that this broadcast did not breach any of its obligations under the Broadcasting Authority Acts.

Decision of the Commission:

The programme was a current affairs broadcast concerning the RSE Programme in general, and the Dalkey School Project in particular. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission considered that the programme was a fair and objective attempt to inform parents and children about the RSE programme, and it did not infringe any of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, as amended.   The Commission rejected the complaint.


.. back to Home..
       ..back to Top

Programme:   Presidential Election and Dana  
Station:                          RTE 1              Date:  October, 1997

Complaint made by:      Mr O'Driscoll

Decision of BCC:      Upheld in part.

Summary of Complaint:

Mr O'Driscoll complained that in the course of RTE's broadcasts over the relevant period, and most particularly on 6th, 9th and 17th October, it failed to be fair to Dana Rosemary Scallon, and did not present the broadcast matter in an objective and impartial manner, and without any expression of the views of the Authority, to the detriment of that candidate.

Mr O'Driscoll further stated that interviews carried out by Mr John Bowman (6th October),  Mr Vincent Browne (9th October),  and Mr Gay Byrne (17th October) created a negative impression of Dana's candidacy.

3.  Mr O'Driscoll also stated that RTE was unwilling to publish an open letter submitted by him, which explained, for RTE's and for public information, a point he believed to be crucial to the qualities required of a candidate for the premier post in the land. In Mr O'Driscoll's view the letter was not published because it would have brought a key paint to the fore to the advantage of Dana, and also because it contained an implied criticism of RTE.

RTE failed to inform the public that Vincent Browne had particular views on the suitability of the candidate.

Mr O'Driscoll is of the view that the public is entitled to know of the personal views of a public service broadcaster.
Mr O'Driscoll stated that there seemed to be a change of policy on the exclusion of candidates in non-political programmes in such areas as "Light entertainment". This would appear to have excluded any musical item associated with Dana, and would be in contrast to RTE's approach to the playing of a musical item associated with Divorce, prior to the Divorce referendum. His enquiry was whether the restriction in the presidential election coverage represented a change in RTE's policy.

In responding to the points raised regarding the operation of s.18 compliance procedures for the Presidential Election, RTE has not responded adequately or at all in that:

1. Monitoring procedures were not specified.
2. Since there appear to be no monitoring procedures, reporting arrangements seem to be limited to representations from the public.

3. There appear to be no penalties for non-compliance.

4. There appears to be no public access to information on the operation of the control system. A description of the system is all that appears to be available.

 Mr O'Driscoll stated that as far as he can ascertain, RTE failed to establish a personnel recruitment policy, which would ensure that the views of broadcasters, and those intimately connected with broadcasting, reflect the diversity of public opinion on all issues. Mr O'Driscoll further stated that RTE failed to establish a register of interests for broadcasters and those intimately connected with broadcasting.

 The reason for the complaint is that in Mr O'Driscoll's view, RTE has been in breach of Section 18(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960 as amended.

Stations Response:

 RTE in Its response stated that it strongly rejects any suggestion that the interviews of Dana by John Bowman, Vincent Browne and Gay Byrne, with regard to the issue of signing into law of measures repugnant to her, created any unfavourable or negative impression of Dana and asserts that the issue was dealt with by the programmes in question in a manner which was objective, impartial and fair to all interests concerned. The programmes must be viewed in the context of live interviews and discussions, the nature of that Presidential election as it contained candidates for the first time not nominated by the political parties, along with the fact that Dana was publicly perceived as having strong Christian values and opposed to abortion. Therefore it was a valid issue to pursue as a matter of current public debate in the Presidential Election specifically referable to her.

RTE has always taken very seriously its obligations to be fair to all interests concerned, to be objective and impartial under Section 18(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Authority Acts, 1960, and has at all times adhered to that legal obligation in all the programmes complained of. The Steering Group and editorial staff at all times endeavour to maintain fairness to all interests concerned, objectivity and impartially in all current affairs programmes particularly in the context of an election, by ensuring impartial and balanced treatment of candidates in its current affairs output.

RTE also rejects the allegation that an open letter of Mr O'Driscoll was not published for some improper purpose, either because it sought to prevent any advantage to Dana which might be gained from the letter, or that it has any policy regarding unfavourable correspondence.
Vincent's Browne's own personal views do not preclude him from presenting a current affairs radio programme, nor did it prevent him from complying with Section 18(1)(b) requirements in the interview with Dana.

The interview was not affected by his personal views, since he was fair and impartial in his questioning of Dana on a wide range of issues of current public debate, as well as the issue of abortion, on which she was known to have strong views, all being relevant to her role as possible future president.

RTE further stated that an experienced and respected broadcaster as Mr Gay Byrne did not allow his personal views to affect the fair conduct of the Late Late Show of 17th October, in which he emphasised at the outset his concern to be fair to all candidates in the context of a live programme with audience questions. The five candidates were all treated in a manner which was fair to all interests concerned.

Dana was only asked one question on the legalisation of abortion which was answered, as she was known to have strong views on the subject, and so it was an issue specifically relevant to her role as a presidential candidate. The other candidates were also asked specifically relevant questions to them, such as Adi Roche's attitude to neutrality and the nature of Unionist support for Mary McAleese, and so the programme was fair to the interests of Dana. To ask them all the same questions would have been lazy and boring.  No complaints were received from any camp and Dana in particular was very happy with her performance.

RTE asserts that Mr John Bowman on Questions & Answers of 29th September 1997 performed his task in accordance with Section 18(1)(b) of the 1960 Act, and was fair to all interests concerned and impartial in his questioning of Dana, in the context of a panel and audience discussion. The issue of abortion was raised on the programme by a member of the audience, and not by Mr Bowman, who allowed Dana to explain fully the manner of her nomination by the County Councils and why she believed she was the best candidate, without any negative impression being given of her by the programme.

The policy to prevent candidates appearing on light entertainment programmes aims to ensure fairness to all interests concerned and impartial coverage in all RTE's broadcast output in accordance with Section 18(1)(b), and so did not give any advantage or disadvantage to any particular candidate, including Dana.

RTE stated that it must be emphasised that the Presidential Election Steering Group monitored RTE fulfilment of its obligations under Section 18(1 (B) of the 1960 Act in the presidential election. The steering group is comprised of Senior RTE staff with significant editorial experience between them, such as the Directors of News, Radio and Television productions, along with the necessary support staff to implement programme planning in current affairs programmes in such elections. The steering Group met regularly before and during the Presidential election campaign in order to ensure that fairness to all interests concerned and impartiality was observed in all RTE current
affairs output in the election, which worked along with the normal editorial committees in RTE.  In conclusion, RTE contends that in the coverage of the Presidential election and the treatment of Dana in the programmes mentioned in the complaint, RTE at all times complied fully with its obligations under Section 18(1)(b) of the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act.

Decision of the Commission

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission was of the view that any person who runs for public office may be subject to robust questioning by interviewers on behalf of broadcasting stations. In regard to the specific complaint made in respect of the Vincent Browne interview on October 9th, the Commission was of the view that it was not presented objectively and impartially and without expression of the stations own views. The apology given by Mr Browne, which was endorsed by RTE is welcome, however it does not change the fact that the broadcast infringed the relevant legislation.  This aspect of the complaint is upheld.

RTE is not required to inform the public of the personal views of its broadcasters. However, all broadcasting stations are required to ensure their presenters/broadcasters perform their duties in an objective and impartial manner. This duty was not infringed in respect of the Gay Byrne Show broadcast on 17th October, and Questions & Answers broadcast on 6th October. Accordingly the Broadcasting Complaints Commission reject this and the other aspects of Mr O'Driscoll's complaint.
2 February 1999.
Published in RTE Guide 29 October 1999
(nearly 9 months later)

    .. back to Home..
       ..back to Top

The Open Letter:

Late Late Show
 and the search for a President without Principles

In last Friday's Late Late Show special on the Presidential Election, Dana was targeted once more to see if she would baulk at signing into law, something which would be against her conscience (abortion).  There was much less intensive questioning of  the other candidates, with Mary Banotti hardly being asked at all.

It seems to me that the focus of this question is all wrong.  It is focussed primarily on those who accept responsibility, and not at all on those who would shun it.

In so doing, the implication is created that a basic qualification for the highest office in the land is a declared willingness to act against, or without reference to,  one's conscience.

None of the four candidates who accepted that they would sign "any" Bill which came before them, were asked about the full implications of this acceptance. Would there be no Bill, however abominable, they would not sign?  Chopping off hands for theft, capital punishment for drugs offences, compulsory sterilisation?

If we have learnt anything from the events in Europe of over 50 years ago, it must surely be that the moral integrity and dignity of the person requires that s/he must act according to his/her conscience, whatever the consequences.  Hitler was validly elected, and most of his orders were legal, and could thus be described as "the will of the people".   The subsequent plea of  "higher orders" by those carrying out these commands was not seen by society as acceptable.

Have things changed, or have we forgotten?

Gay Byrne (and in earlier programmes, his colleagues) couldn't have brought a more important issue to the fore.  But his ideological convictions have led him to the wrong target.

I would suggest that the foremost qualification for the highest office in the land is integrity.  On this, Dana, alone, walks tall.

Donal O'Driscoll                Dated:        20 October 1997

    .. back to Home..
       ..back to Top



                        There is no mention above of Vincent Browne's declaration in an article in the "Irish Times" (20 August 1997) that it would be "very unhealthy" to have Dana as President, and that the campaign could be "the vehicle for the discussion and elucidation of the values of political liberalism" (sic).

It is my contention that the public is entitled to be informed of views such as these, and they can then make up their own minds as to whether an interview is, or is not, affected by personal views.

(The article in question is, incidentally, well worth reading.  For it does itself offer some "elucidation" of the "values of political liberalism", an elucidation that, in my view, is more revealing than was, perhaps, intended.)


(under construction)