By Ann Marie Foley - 26 September, 2019
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has rejected a complaint about lack of impartiality in an RTÉ news report on the preparation of Catholic children for the sacraments in Irish schools.
The reporter on RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock News stated that “Ireland is unique internationally. Nowhere else are Catholic children prepared for the sacraments by state-salaried teachers in state funded schools.”
However, the person who made the complaint pointed out that in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, Catholic children in Catholic state-funded schools are prepared for the sacraments by state-salaried teachers.
The complainant felt that the reporter’s statement may influence the views of people who are opposed to the ethos of Catholic schools and that the report could therefore not be objective or impartial.
The broadcaster (RTÉ) responded that the report was about a survey carried out by the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin which stated in a press release that “Ireland is unique in its dependence on schools in preparing for and celebrating the sacraments.”
RTÉ acknowledged that schools in other countries have some involvement in preparing children for the sacraments, and went on to state: “the evidence is that in the main they do not have anything like the level of involvement that is current across the primary education system in Ireland.”
RTÉ concluded that it was not possible to ascertain practices in every Catholic school in other countries and acknowledged that there may be exceptions, but added that the reporter’s statement is substantially true.
The unanimous decision of the Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI was to reject the complaint. The Forum noted the broadcaster’s admission that schools in other countries may have some involvement in preparing children for the sacraments and that the broadcaster stated that it is not to the same extent as schools in Ireland.
The Forum was of the view that it was necessary to consider the news report in full, rather than considering one sentence in isolation. The report was prepared in the context of findings of a survey undertaken by the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin regarding the role of schools in preparing children for sacraments. The Forum noted that the report included a range of views and found that the subject matter, that of the results of the survey, was presented with accuracy.
The Forum found that views or facts were not misrepresented or presented in such a way as to make the report misleading. The Forum did not find evidence to support the complainant’s assertion that the report would support viewers who oppose the ethos of Catholic schools. Overall, the Forum found that the report, when considered as a whole and in context, complied with the requirements of the BAI *Code.
The BAI published the broadcasting complaints decisions on 24 September 2019. The decisions come from a meeting held on 15 May 2019, when the Compliance Committee of the BAI considered and rejected three complaints. The complaints related to RTÉ One on Prime Time on 22 January 2019, which looked at the topic of transgender.
The Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI considered and rejected a further 12 complaints in meetings held in April, May, June and July 2019, which included the complaint about the teaching of the sacraments.
Two other complaints were about topics of a sexually explicit nature and about a violent crime being aired at a time when children could hear them and for which there was no advance warning to allow parents to switch off.
*Category Broadcasting Act 2009 – Section 48(1)(a) (fairness, objectivity and impartiality in current affairs); the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs – Rules 17 and 19. 3.