Bogus tweet not only flaw on 'Frontline' presidency debate, RTÉ report finds
An internal report on the RTÉ Frontline presidential debate programme last year has found there were mistakes made separate from the controversy about the tweeted message that caused problems for the then front-runner candidate Seán Gallagher.
Complaints about the bogus tweet, which involved allegations concerning fundraising for Fianna Fáil, were already upheld by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s compliance committee.
This internal report on the programme presented by Pat Kenny does not deal with that issue but makes other criticisms. It says, in particular, it was “wrong that no direct, challenging question from an audience member was posed” to Michael D Higgins, who later soared in the polls as Mr Gallagher fell back.
This was “a significant omission,” and “should have been identified and rectified during the live transmission”, it says. It noted “the presenter did put questions directly to him and followed up his answers. Two of the general ‘panel’ questions were put to Mr Higgins first.”
It queried audience selectionand “the lack of a senior editorial figure whose sole responsibility was to view the programme during transmission and identify editorial and compliance issues as they arose”. In general, it concludes “mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality”.
The report on editorial processes employed on the programme, broadcast on October 24th, 2011, was commissioned by RTÉ last March. It wasconducted by Rob Morrison, former head of news and current affairs at UTV; and Steve Carson, director of programmes at RTÉ Television.
Completed last June, it was presented to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which is due to consider it tomorrow. However, details were published in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post.
RTÉ expressed disappointment and said it had planned to publish the report once formal BAI processes concluded this week. It published the report itself yesterday and said it accepted its findings and had implemented the recommendations.
In a statement yesterday Kevin Bakhurst, managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs, said: “RTÉ regrets the mistakes made in the preparation and in the broadcast of the programme. The production was less rigorous than it should have been.”
He said: “RTÉ now has in place best-practice rules, procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of any recurrence of the mistakes that were made. Recent debates on the fiscal and children’s referenda have seen these new rules in action. This is essential to ensure the newly invigorated current affairs schedule on RTÉ television is underpinned by the soundest of foundations.”
The report concluded that “with one exception, all questions broadcast were founded on the views of the questioners gathered during the research process”. The “exception” resulted from one questioner being unable to attend. Another audience member asked the same question. The report felt it was wrong for a question to be “transferred” in this way.
It found the Frontline team “provided most questioners with cue cards containing written summaries of the questions that had been discussed with them” and that this was acknowledged practice by broadcasters of similar programmes.
“Of the total of 11 questions asked by the audience, Seán Gallagher was asked 3 direct questions; Martin McGuinness 2; Gay Mitchell, David Norris, Mary Davis 1 each; Dana Scanlon and Michael D Higgins were asked no direct audience questions and 3 were asked to the panel as a whole.”
“Directly approaching potential audience members was not appropriate for an election programme.”
“The production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate.”
“The mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality.”