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All complaints on referendum on Eighth Amendment rejected by BAI

By Ann Marie Foley - 18 October, 2018

Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has rejected all six complaints about programmes on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Two pro-repeal and four anti-repeal complaints were rejected, according to the BAI’s recent broadcasting complaints decisions published on 16 October 2018. Two other complaints in relation to anti-Catholic Church bias on RTÉ were also rejected.

At three meetings held between June and September 2018, the Compliance Committee of the BAI considered 15 complaints about RTÉ One, RTÉ 2FM, Newstalk and TV3 programmes. The Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI also considered and rejected five complaints.

Out of a total of 20 complaints to both the Committee and the Forum, only two were upheld in part. One found that comments made on Radio 2FM’s The Eoghan McDermott Show on 8 March 2018 could promote violence against men. The other, about RTÉ One’s Six One News on 23 January 2018, found that a court report did not mention that the defendant was acquitted of some charges.

Two pro-repeal complaints were not upheld by the Committee about RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live of 14 May 2018 on the referendum. One complainant felt that Dr Peter Boylan and other pro-repeal speakers were not allowed to respond to negative comments from the anti-repeal side, and that the presenter failed to moderate the debate and control the audience and so the no side was given unfair prominence.

The Committee also rejected three complaints from the anti-repeal side in the debate on the referendum. Newstalk 106–108FM’s Pat Kenny Show on 15 and 16 May 2018 had two complaints against it rejected. One claimed that pro-repeal advocate Dr Boylan was given a ‘soft’ interview and allowed to criticise pro-life Maria Steen without challenge and on the next day her interview was “extremely challenging and combative” and displayed presenter bias. However, the Committee took the view that the presenter ensured there was a range of views through “robust questioning, playing devil’s advocate”.

A third complaint rejected by the Committee was also from the anti-repeal side. The complaint suggested that in TV3’s Referendum Special presenter Pat Kenny displayed bias against Maria Steen by constantly interrupting her and allowing Minister Doherty, a panelist representing the yes side, to also do this.

The Committee said the broadcaster aimed for a 50/50 time allocation for each side and so had to cut some contributions short. “While there is no requirement for equal airtime, the broadcaster may adopt the editorial approach they feel will best facilitate a range of voices and a debate which is fair, impartial and objective,” stated the Committee.

A fourth complaint about treatment of pro-life speakers related to RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week – Lunchtime News on 18 February 2018. The Forum rejected the complaint that in an interview with  pro-life spokesperson Ms Cora Sherlock there was an irrelevant and incorrect question on the comparison between the standards in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Also rejected was a complaint about RTÉ Radio One’s The Marian Finucane Show on 11 March 2018 that during a debate on the Eighth Amendment and the role of women in the Catholic Church the panel contained only one representative of the Catholic Church, Fr Twomey. He was interrupted continuously and aggressively, giving rise to an unbalanced programme, the complainant stated.

The Forum said the presenter questioned Fr Twomey on specific views on the role of women in the Catholic Church and the presenter took on the role of ‘devil’s advocate’ but allowed Fr Twomey ample opportunity to respond. The Forum noted that Fr Twomey is an experienced interviewee and would expect such robust debate, which was evidenced by his ability to respond to such challenges.

Also rejected was a complaint about unfair criticism of the Catholic Church on the RTÉ One’s Claire Byrne Live on 12 March 2018 about misogyny and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It claimed that both interviewees were highly critical of the Catholic Church and no contrary view was provided, and the presenter failed to be impartial.

The broadcaster responded that it invited other participants who declined. The broadcaster disagreed with the claim that the panelists were highly critical of the Catholic Church and stated that one panelist (Marie Collins) is a committed Catholic and the other panelist (Dearbhal McDonald, journalist) commented on the important and positive role the Church has played in Irish society. Other views were represented through the inclusion of opinion poll results.

There was a wide variety of other complaints including four that were not upheld in relation to McDonald’s sponsorship of The Big Big Movie on RTÉ One TV on Saturday evenings, which included The Santa Claus and Cinderella movies in December 2017.

Another was in relation to a reporter using a mobile phone while driving and reporting and another highlighted violence on Fair City. Claims of bias in reporting on Gaza and Syria were also rejected.

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