Complaint that Joe Duffy ‘harassed priest’ upheld by BAI

Editor of Alive! magazine was on Liveline to discuss article linking Taoiseach to King Herod

A complaint alleging that a Catholic priest was harassed by RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy during a discussion on why people might liken the Taoiseach to King Herod has been upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

A complaint alleging that a Catholic priest was harassed by RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy during a discussion on why people might liken the Taoiseach to King Herod has been upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Thu, Jun 27, 2013, 14:13

A complaint alleging that a Catholic priest was harassed by RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy during a discussion on why people might liken the Taoiseach to King Herod has been upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The authority’s complaints committee said the March 5th Liveline broadcast lacked “fairness, objectivity and impartiality” and that the discussion was not handled in “the interests of listeners”, contrary to the Broadcasting Act.

Two complaints were upheld about the programme, which featured Alive! magazine editor Fr Brian McKevitt, Duffy and a number of callers.

Fr McKevitt was discussing an article exploring why people might liken Enda Kenny to King Herod in the context of the abortion debate. Herod was a tyrannical king held responsible for slaughtering infants in Matthew’s Gospel.

Fr McKevitt, one complainant said, was subjected to a “well organised ambush” by RTÉ that was designed “to discredit a voice that challenges their own ethos”. The complainant said RTÉ abused its position as national broadcaster and that Fr McKevitt had been harassed by Duffy and abused by callers.

In its initial response to the complainant, RTÉ said the discussion was robust and had been handled fairly and that the presenter was there to facilitate this process and occasionally challenge the comments of contributors.

RTÉ told the committee that a good part of the discussion on the programme concerned the precise wording and meaning of the article and that the presenter played an appropriate professional role.

“While all callers expressed themselves with conviction, the participants’ delivery varied in tone; for example, Fr McKevitt was quiet-voiced while unwavering and eloquent in his defence of his socio-religious views,” RTE told the authority. “It would not be accurate, however, to say that Fr McKevitt did not have the opportunity to rebut criticisms by others.”

In its ruling, the committee said Duffy had interrupted the contributions of Fr McKevitt, and callers who supported him, more regularly than those of callers who said the article had inappropriately likened Mr Kenny to King Herod.

It said some of the issues discussed were raised by the Duffy alone, such as an alleged libel against an RTÉ producer in a previous edition of Alive!; the role of the Dominican Order in the publication of the magazine, and Fr McKevitt’s familiarity with priests from that order convicted over child sexual abuse.

The authority rejected a total of four complaints on subjects such as gay marriage, cannabis use, and disorders associated with behavioural difficulties. Another suggested that RTÉ Prime Time had not provided a fair summary of the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in its decision on the case of A, B and C v Ireland.

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