'Frontline' report shows RTÉ has still not grasped need for accountability
On Pat Kenny’s RTÉ radio programme the day after the presidential election last November, I advanced an explanation for the dramatic collapse in Seán Gallagher’s vote: “It were Frontline what done it.”
“Mea Culpa,” Pat Kenny joked, happy to acknowledge the influence his RTÉ television programme had exerted. At that stage there was no reason not to claim credit.
There is, therefore, a consistency at least in the acknowledgment by RTÉ current affairs editor David Nally to Newstalk last Monday that the Frontline debate had changed the outcome of the presidential election.
Nally was speaking after the publication of the internal RTÉ report into aspects of the Frontline programme, co-authored by former UTV director of news and current affairs Robert Morrison.
There is much about the timing of the publication of this report, RTÉ’s initial response to it and the subsequent criticisms of it by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) that suggests, notwithstanding the changes in management of news and current affairs, RTÉ at a corporate level just doesn’t get the point about the need for public accountability.
This internal report was remarkably short. It runs to just eight double-spaced pages. It is effectively no more than a set of conclusions or findings, some of them very cautiously worded.
The report was completed, it seems, last July. RTÉ refused to publish it at the time, saying it did not wish to do so until after the BAI, to which it had sent the report, had dealt with it. The report was circulated only within RTÉ and to the BAI. It was shared neither with Gallagher nor with any of the other candidates.
Details of the report were leaked to the Sunday Business Post just days before the BAI was due to make a determination. RTÉ then decided, presumably in its corporate interests, to publish the report rather than wait the couple of days remaining.
On Tuesday the BAI compliance committee found there were “serious and significant editorial failings” and these were “more significant than had been identified in the published report”.
Notwithstanding RTÉ’s insistence that the report should not be in the public domain before the BAI considered it, Kenny chose to go public with a selective take on its contents. On September 4th he told journalists the Frontline team was “completely vindicated”.
Kenny was also dismissive of the ongoing controversy about the programme in terms that, deliberately or otherwise, served to undermine the apology previously given to Gallagher by RTÉ.
Now that we can read the full report we see that while it concludes that the production team was not motivated by any bias, the report is damning of the way the team put the programme together. It could not on any reading be said to be a complete vindication. RTÉ declined this week to offer a view on the appropriateness of Kenny’s public intervention before the report was published.