Newstalk show rapped for linking Kenny to Mao
BAI says Newstalk Breakfast did not offer ‘alternative’ view when discussing Taoiseach
A radio item on Newstalk breached the broadcasting code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality, the regulator said. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times
An “attack” by Newstalk Breakfast presenters on Taoiseach Enda Kenny after he declined to take part in an RTÉ debate on the Seanad referendum breached the broadcasting code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality, the regulator has ruled.
During the item, which was broadcast last September, one presenter compared Mr Kenny to the former chairman of the Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong, while the other presenter agreed.
The complaints committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) found the programme had not met its obligation to provide “alternative perspectives” in its treatment of a news and current affairs topic and upheld the complaint in part.
“The presenters made a number of comments that should have rightly been balanced by other perspectives. These included comments on the decision of An Taoiseach not to participate in a television debate, as well as the broader media communications decisions of An Taoiseach, as being akin to those of Mao Zedong.”
In its response, the Communicorp-owned station said its presenters were aware that a period leading up to a referendum is a sensitive one and that they had not said which way listeners should vote.
However, the BAI upheld the complaint in part. The regulator clarified that the Newstalk item did not infringe its guidelines on the coverage of referendums and it also rejected elements of the complaint relating to accuracy and tone.
Mr Kenny’s decision not to participate in RTÉ’s Prime Time debate and a second TV3 debate on the referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann last autumn was the subject of much criticism in political circles.
Ahead of the RTÉ programme, the Taoiseach’s opposition was questioned in the Dáil by independent TD Michael Healy-Rae, who asked what Mr Kenny was doing “that is so important you can’t go on the television to debate a matter of national importance that you instigated?”
The Taoiseach responded that he “was not interested in debating societies”, and it fell to Fine Gael director of elections Richard Bruton to advocate the “yes” vote in the debate with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
After the referendum was rejected, Government backbencher John Deasy described Mr Kenny’s failure to engage in public debate on the abolition as a “huge mistake”, while Mr Martin said it had “sent a very bad message” to voters.
The complainant, Brendan Cafferty, argued to the BAI that there was a long-standing precedent for holders of the office of Taoiseach not to take part in debates outside of general election campaigns. This was contested by Newstalk, which cited media appearances by John Bruton and Garret FitzGerald ahead of two referendums on divorce.
The BAI last year rejected a previous complaint by Mr Cafferty, a Fine Gael supporter, about what he claimed was a “one-sided rant” against the Government in an item on RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show in November 2012. During the item, broadcaster and journalist Olivia O’Leary joked that she did not know what was going on in the head of Mr Kenny, “if anything goes on in his head”.