By Ann Marie Foley - 04 July, 2019
Out of a total of 16 complaints, all were rejected by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), according to its most recent broadcasting complaints decisions, published on 3 July 2019.
At its meeting held in February 2019, the Compliance Committee of the BAI considered and rejected four complaints. Three were about RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show of 2 November 2018. The complainants claimed that an interview with Mr Peter Casey was conducted in an unfair and biased way by presenter Ryan Tubridy when the candidate in the presidential election spoke about his campaign and his comments regarding the Traveller community. All three complaints were rejected.
The Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI considered and rejected 12 complaints in meetings held in January, February and March 2019.
One was about RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ray D’Arcy Show of 3 October 2018, which alleged that when discussing the topic of Catholic education and Catholic religion in schools the presenter demonstrated bias in a personal view that amounted to a campaign to take religion out of schools. The BAI Forum noted that the comment reflected the presenter’s personal view, and that review of newspaper segments in which the view was expressed often reflects the presenter’s personality and style.
The BAI issued a special clarification “Addendum” which stated that Under section 39 of the Broadcasting Act the term ‘broadcaster’ does not refer to individual presenters; instead it refers to the entity that owns and operates the broadcasting service. However, this does not mean that individual presenters do not need to comply with the Code.
The clarification went on to state that Rule 22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs is about the standard specific to presenters in the context of current affairs content.
It added that “this rule should not be taken to mean that a presenter of current affairs content may never give a view or opinion on a matter of public controversy or public current debate. Rather, the Code seeks to prevent the presenter from pursuing an agenda or advocating a partisan position such that a biased view on an issue is articulated.”
RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ray D’Arcy Show of 21 November 2018 was the focus of a complaint that in a discussion with RTÉ’s Head of Religious Programming the presenter stated that he was offended when he heard the Angelus bells being played on RTÉ because this made him think of child sexual abuse. The complainant felt this was the presenter’s personal view which was a generalised statement against a particular group in society.
The Forum noted that the Code requires that respect for religious views, images, practices and beliefs be shown in programme material. However, the Forum rejected the complaint, stating that the comment reflected the presenter’s personal view. The Forum also noted: “the Code is not intended to prevent the critical scrutiny of religion by means of information, drama or other programming.”
Newstalk 106–108FM’s Lunchtime Live of 23 October 2018 attracted a complaint about an interview with a representative of Doctors for Freedom of Conscience in relation to GP-led abortions in Ireland. The complainant felt that the presenter’s interviewing style was unfair and showed a lack of respect for the interviewee and that the presenter displayed bias.
The BAI Forum stated that the interview contained “robust exchanges”, but that the presenter’s tone was “respectful” towards the guest and there was ample opportunity for the guest to convey her views. The Forum did not find that the comments included an expression of the presenter’s own views or advocated a partisan position, and stated that “rigorous” questioning in an interview does not constitute unfairness.
Newstalk 106–108FM’s Lunchtime Live was the subject of another complaint on 12 October 2018 about an interview with a Senator regarding the UK Supreme Court ruling that the owners of a bakery in Belfast did not discriminate against a gay man when they refused to bake a cake featuring a message in support of same-sex marriage. The complainant felt that the presenter, in suggesting that the decision was wrong, gave her own view and that no opposing view was offered.
The Forum noted that as the programme is a mix of current affairs, lifestyle and human-interest stories and the discussion took place during a lighthearted review of the week, the complainant’s view of the presenter offering her own view criticising the decision of the Supreme Court did not “render the piece partial or unfair”.
RTÉ One’s Nine O’Clock News of 20 December 2018 was said to have allowed an organisation promoting the repeal of the Eighth Amendment an easy, relaxed interview with no opposing viewpoint. The BAI noted that the interview with a Together for Yes Campaign leader was a “human-interest story” broadcast within the news and as such was not an analysis or debate about the results of the referendum, but a review of an event that had already taken place. The Forum further noted that the broadcaster retains editorial independence regarding which stories are covered and the approach adopted when covering a topic.