By Cian Molloy - 09 August, 2020
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has rejected five complaints of pro-Catholic bias by RTÉ during March and April of this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic was first affecting Ireland..
The complaints were all made by Mike Garde, a South African born Mennonite who is best known for his work with the cult watchdog Dialogue Ireland.
Three of the complaints made by Mr Garde relate to news programming; one concerns the broadcast of daily Mass, in particular a broadcast of the Mass on Thursday 19 March, and in his last complaint Mr Garde tales issue with the broadcasting of Easter Mass on Sunday 11 April.
The broadcasting of daily Mass on RTE News Now is facilitated by Church Services TV, a sister company of CatholicIreland.net. In addition to the daily Mass, broadcast since the time the COVID-19 lockdown was first introduced, RTE News Now also provides a seven-minute long spiritual ‘thought for the day’ given by people of varying religions and of none.
However, according to the BAI, Mr Garde believes that because RTÉ broadcasts a full daily Mass, the national broadcaster is granting Catholicism an unequal proportion of broadcast time and that other religions are treated as ‘a side show’.
Mr Garde believes that because the Irish Constitution includes the principle that the State will not endow any religion, this means that no one religion should be given prominence. He claimed that by giving the Catholic Church 70% of coverage relating to religious affairs, the state-owned broadcaster is not treating all its citizens equally.
In his complaints, Mr Garde said he believed that the broadcaster’s religious presentations seem to be based on a statistical foundation which is founded on a flawed Census return that classifies different Christian denominations as separate religions. He stated that he has no objection to either religion or atheism, but that equality should define that policy.
Deliberating on the issues raised, the BAI’s complaints forums found ‘there is no requirement for an equal portion of time to be devoted to each service or to each faith’.
Indeed, the forum also noted that in one of RTE’s responses, the broadcaster pointed out that during the Easter period it had aired a Church of Ireland Service on Good Friday on RTÉ News Now; the Jewish festival of Passover was marked with a programme on RTÉ One and also celebrated the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, again, on RTÉ One.
In a statement, the BAI said: “The Forum did not consider that the broadcast contained any content that infringed the Code of Programme Standards in the manner described by the complainant. As such, the [complaints were] rejected.”