By Ann Marie Foley - 10 February, 2014
A complaint by the Diocese of Meath against RTE Radio’s Liveline programme has been upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
It related to Liveline’s broadcast on funeral guidelines which was transmitted on 14 August 2013.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) stated in a letter to the complainant that the item on Liveline: “did not meet the requirements for fairness in current affairs content and was not presented with due accuracy and should have been rectified by the broadcaster.”
RTÉ will now be asked to air a statement from the Compliance Committee of the BAI.
Bishop Michael Smith expressed his appreciation to Martin Long of the Catholic Communications Office who worked on behalf of the Diocese of Meath on the issue.
The complaint arose when the topic of funerals was under discussion on Liveline.
A caller claimed that new guidelines from Bishop Smith in Meath did not allow for the sympathies to be offered to the families of the deceased inside the church.
However, the printed Guidelines of the Funeral Mass in place in the diocese state: “clear arrangements allowing people the opportunity to offer sympathy to the family of the deceased should be put in place in each parish.”
The diocesan office in Meath contacted the programme and pointed this out and the fact that in many Meath parishes, including the cathedral in Mullingar where Bishop Smith presides, the congregation is always invited to sympathise with the family at the top of the church.
This response was not broadcast nor a clarification made in subsequent broadcasts.
As regards the actual programme content, the producer claimed they got no reply from a telephone call to the Meath diocese before airing the item.
An email sent to the diocesan press office on 16 August got a response as to the actual situation but RTE felt it was “inappropriate” to broadcast a clarification at that time.
The broadcaster denied lack of fairness, objectivity, or impartiality, given that no information came to light to contradict the experience claimed by the caller, or to contradict that there were similar difficulties in other parishes in Meath.
However, RTE accepted that the caller’s experience “is not the unavoidable consequence of a directive by the Bishop of Meath, who requires parishes to put clear arrangements in this regard in place, without specifying what they should be.”
The broadcaster offered to broadcast a clarification within the next discussion of a religion-related topic on Liveline.
Having considered these submissions from the complainant (Diocese of Meath) and the broadcaster (RTE) the BAI stated that:
– given that the issue is a matter of importance to Catholics, it was important that the programme makers took steps to ensure that such comments were accurate.
– the broadcaster acknowledged that a clarification was required on–air to confirm that the experience of the caller was not as a consequence of a directive on the part of the Bishop of Meath.
– the information on the guidelines (on funerals) was available on the website of the Diocese of Meath and so to the programme-makers, and so the veracity of the comments made by the caller could have been examined during the programme.