The BAI’s compliance committee have part upheld a complaint regarding a lack of impartiality and objectivity in an item on the Gay Pride march, broadcast on Newstalk Breakfast in June.
The complaint, made by Mr. Ray McIntyre, said that during the course of the item, two panellists (one of whom was a director of Dublin Pride and the other who was formerly of the organisation) were given what he called ‘free rein’ to talk about the importance of the passing of the promised same-sex marriage referendum, completely unopposed by any challenge from dissenting voices.
He added that the Newstalk Breakfast presenters were sympathetic to all of the panellists arguments, that all of the questions being of a “please, tell us more” variety and that one presenter – Chris Donoghue – even stated on air that he would vote in favour of same-sex marriage and wished he could cast that vote immediately.
Mr. McIntyre said that while he respects that those in favour of passing such a referendum have the right to express such a view on national radio, he suggested that Newstalk’s lack of provision of an opposing voice in the piece amounted to them deciding to “act as a cheerleader for one side or the other in a matter of current public debate” – an action which he said threatened to make next year’s referendum a “farce of epic proportions”.
In their defence, the radio station suggested that the piece was not a news or current affairs broadcast but rather a human-interest feature on the Pride parade – and therefore not subject to the BAI’s Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs. However, it was the Committee’s opinion that while the 10 minute piece included some content that was general in nature, those elements that discussed changes to Irish law to permit same-sex marriage were considered to be news & current affairs as the issue was a matter of current public debate.
In this context, the committee said that the requirements for fairness, objectivity and impartiality were relevant and took particular issue with both Donoghue saying what way he would vote – and his impatience at not being able to vote immediately. They said that these statements constituted “the statement of a partisan position by a news and current affairs presenter on a matter of current public debate, contrary to Rule 4.22 of [the code]”. However, noting that “contributors to programmes should have the reasonable expectation that they can express their opinions on matters, including matters of current affairs”, the rest of the complaint was rejected.
Other broadcasting complaints:
Meanwhile, the Compliance Committee rejected a complaint made by the editor of the Wexford Echo concerning a South East Radio News report on a man who was protesting outside the newspaper’s offices, as they found the broadcast to be factual and accurate. They also rejected a complaint concerning an item RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Seán O’Rourke titled “Everyday Sexism” which the complainant found to be biased, harmful and offensive, but the committee found to be relatively balanced and not in breach of their Code of Fairness Objectivity and Impartiality.
Of the two radio complaints resolved by the Executive Complaints Forum, one was from Mrs. Anne Heffernan, who took issue with a piece on RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime programme which featured a recreation of the final conversation of two Irish Air Corps pilots up to the moment of their fatal crash. The complainant said that it had caused distress to the family and friends of one of the pilots, but the Forum decided that the broadcast was editorially justified and in the public interest.
Finally Mr. David Quinn complained about an advertisement on RTÉ Radio One for a programme on digital station RTÉ Gold – which is only available in limited areas of the country – saying that it was misleading and would encourage people who could not receive the station to waste money purchasing DAB radios. The Forum found that the ad in question was a straightforward promotion for a programme broadcast on RTÉ Gold and did not find it to be misleading.