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BAI issues formal warning to RTÉ over biased abortion coverage

By Susan Gately - 23 December, 2016

Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) issued a formal ‘Warning Notice’ to the state broadcaster on 21 December 2016 after a third complaint was upheld against The Ray D’Arcy Show, relating to coverage of the abortion issue.

Welcoming the decision, the Pro Life Campaign described it as “significant” in the ongoing campaign against media bias on the abortion issue and called on RTÉ to “finally admit there is a serious problem regarding bias at the station and that it’s time to demonstrate how concrete and verifiable steps will be taken to address the situation.”

“The dual issues of accountability and impartiality run much deeper than The Ray D’Arcy Show,” they said in a statement. “For example, from June to July 2016, RTÉ Radio 1 afforded 81 minutes airtime to the pro-choice side and a pathetic 4 minutes to the pro-life viewpoint. With each new instance of one-sided coverage, public trust in RTÉ is evaporating. RTÉ’s refusal to address the problem is also doing a huge disservice to those working in RTÉ who take care to be impartial.”

In its latest decision, the BAI pointed out that this “was the third occasion on which complaints have been upheld” in respect of abortion coverage on The Ray D’Arcy Show. They described it as “a matter of concern for the [BAI] Committee.”

rte-logoThe decision related to an interview on 9 June 2016 with Gaye and Gerry Edwards. The BAI concluded that the interview was predominantly a news and current affairs item rather than a human interest story about Gaye and Gerry Edwards’ abortion experience.

The BAI also concluded that the audience of The Ray D’Arcy Show should have been made aware that the interviewees were members of a campaigning organisation, Terminations for Medical Reasons, which is seeking to change lrish law, and they were not simply people telling their personal story.

The decision also makes clear that if the matter is not remedied to the BAI’s satisfaction, the matter may ultimately result in the compliance committee determining that an investigation is warranted and the potential application of formal sanctions.

In a statement on Wednesday, RTÉ said it noted and accepted the decision of the BAI and that it would provide the BAI with a plan to ensure there is no re-occurrence of the issues identified.

In its decision, the BAI concluded that the broadcast did not comply with the fairness, objectivity and impartiality requirements of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The Committee also rejected RTÉ’s contention that a subsequent interview on The Ray D’Arcy Show corrected any imbalance that may have occurred, noting that this later interview did not touch on the abortion debate in any meaningful way.

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