What do we really know?
2. In one substantial evaluation, the coverage in favour
of divorce was found to be:
3. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) has rejected FMA's complaint, alleging that:
(b) The complaint did not come within BCC's terms of reference.
This is on the claimed grounds that the BCC is not entitled in law to investigate
anything other than a single, specific programme for evidence of
bias or imbalance.
4. FMA measured and reported as follows:
|In FAVOUR of divorce||
In FAVOUR of divorce
AGAINST divorce William Binchy
In response to a phoned-in complaint, Pat Kenny explained
that time was the important criterion, ("..time is how we
normally balance these arguments.."), and that the caller would find that
Professor Binchy had been given more time than the two other speakers combined.
This was not true. FMA found that:
7. "Media Report" Spring 1998:
8. Extract from FMA's analytical publication, "Media Balance" for November, 1995:
In considering the findings the monitoring role of (RTE's) Divorce Referendum Steering Group, to ensure fair and balanced representation of opposing viewpoints, must be called into question, especially having regard to the outcome of the Referendum. Was it aware of the serious imbalance in the way in which the subject matter was being treated and, if so, what action did it take? Alternatively, if no action was taken, serious doubts arise about its impartiality, objectivity and/or competence.
The imbalance shown in favour of divorce, during the campaign, cannot be dismissed as an abberation, or merely as an unfortunate isolated lapse from fairness and impartiality since the same pattern had already been evident in discussions on divorce for several months previously. The conclusion which follows from the Association's analysis is that RTE was not impartial in its handling of the Divorce Referendum.
The question that now has to be addressed is how can the apparent failure on the part of RTE, to exercise proper control over programme makers, be explained? In that respect, primary responsibility must rest with the Authority itself which is charged with overall responsibility for ensuring fairness and impartiality in programme content and presentation.
This is an issue which not only has major implications for RTE itself: it goes to the very heart of the democratic process.
End of extract
Further extracts in due course.
9. The full set of detailed analyses and charts
is available at £5 from:
1. Under the Broadcasting Act, the BCC is required to publish its decisions either itself, or by request through RTE. Decisions are thus published in the RTE Guide, normally six months after date of receipt from BCC. They are also circulated to the national newspapers, for publication if and as they see fit.
2. In publishing the BCC's decision of 30 May 1997 on my complaint on general coverage of the referendum in the
3. RTE was subsequently (9 October 1998) formally requested by the BCC to re-publish the report in a readable format, a request that has been ignored.
4. This referendum is likely to prove a watershed in Irish social history. For some people, it represented a victory over a tyrannical Catholic Church, for others an act of compassion, and, for 49.7% of those who voted, it meant the destabilisation of marriage, and the abandonment of social responsibility for the child.
The media played an important part in this event, none more so than RTE. This semi-state body is under a legal obligation to be fair, objective and impartial in its handling of news and current affairs. In view of the major consequences for society of the decision on divorce, and the necessity for impartiality on the part of the national broadcaster, it is a matter of no small importance for the public to be aware of the steps, if any, taken by the Board of RTE to ensure that its obligations were met, and the extent to which such steps were effective.
5. In reducing the BCC's report to one-eighth of its original size, and in ignoring subsequent requests for proper publication, RTE has effectively suppressed an independent report which, in some small part at least, is unfavourable to itself.
In my view, this is unacceptable behaviour on the part of any broadcaster. It is all the more so in the case of the national broadcaster, which claims to be carrying out a public service duty, and which is in receipt of £70m raised by taxation from the general public.
6. The problem is that there are no penalties for RTE's breaches of the Broadcasting Act, and there is no means of compelling RTE to publish a report that it does not want to. It is all too obvious that, where the performance of this self-acclaimed public watchdog itself is concerned, different standards of openness and accountability apply.
7. The BCC has re-issued the report on the Divorce Referendum complaint to the print media, and short reports have been published in "The Irish Times" and the "Irish Independent". While of some value, this falls far short of publication of the full report. The report is, indeed, included in the BCC's annual report, but this is unlikely to reach many members of the public. The BCC has issued no public report on my complaint of RTE's action of suppression.
8. It is now four years since the Divorce Referendum, and over two and a half years since the issue of the BCC's report. This report, on a most important issue, remains substantially unpublished, and the obligation on the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to ensure its publication remains undischarged.
9. This website is the only freely-available means of publication of the report. In my view, it is a serious reflection on the effectiveness of the Act, and on the individuals concerned in RTE, in the BCC, and on Minister de Valera, that it is left to a member of the public to arrange publication.
"1. We welcome the decision of the High Court in the case brought by Mr Anthony Coughlan, to the effect that the State broadcasting authority had acted unfairly in allocating excessive and unequal time to the "Yes" side in the Divorce referendum. (See note added below January 2000
We hope that this judgement, taken together with the McKenna judgement, will ensure fair referenda in the coming months.
2. Muintir na hÉireann was the only political party, fighting as a political party, on the "No" side in the Divorce referendum. Yet, as leader of this party, my party and myself were constantly excluded from even panel participation in RTE's divorce referendum programmes.
3. We were ultimately forced to take a court action in the midst of the campaign.
The outcome was that the Judge stated that the case
was an important one, but was not one to be fought in the heat of battle.
We are delighted that Mr Coughlan has continued to fight - to success -
for fair and impartial radio and television coverage.
4. The following irregularities have now been exposed in relation to this referendum:
2. The finding by the Family and Media Association of a consistent record of unfair and unequal treatment.
3. The illegal behaviour of the political parties in expending taxpayers' money unequally in promoting one side (the "Yes side") (The McKenna judgement). The £500,000+ thus illegally expended, remains unrefunded.
4. The "economical with the truth" advertisements.
5. The misrepresentation, whereby 80,000 people who were stated to have been in need of divorce, and who now find that they could get most of the reliefs already, without divorce.