Cowen not consulted before complaint to RTE

Thu, Mar 26, 2009, 00:00

GOVERNMENT PRESS secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain has said he did not consult the Taoiseach or anyone else before making a complaint to RTÉ about a news item relating to the hoax nude portraits.

Mr Ó Neachtain objected to the broadcasting of the news report of the paintings on the Nine O’Clock News on Monday night. He described the report as “over sensationalised”. He explained he was not objecting to a news item that the nude portraits were hung without permission in the National Gallery or the Royal Hibernian Academy, but the manner in which it was presented.

He particularly objected to an art expert being asked for an opinion on what was clearly a hoax painting and to the introduction to the news report which stated that Brian Cowen was “not thought to have posed for the anonymous artist”.

Mr Cowen himself has not said anything about the report or the RTÉ apology. An RTÉ spokeswoman confirmed the decision to offer an apology was taken before they received the complaint from Mr Ó Neachtain.

“It was decided by senior management immediately after it was shown on the Nine O’Clock News that it was inappropriate and in bad taste. After that we got several calls of complaint about it, one of which was from Eoghan Ó Neachtain, who was not acting on the instruction of the Taoiseach or any other Minister,” she said.

“We were already able to tell him that we had made the decision, that we were wrong and we should issue an apology. We informed him of that. That was the only communication we had with him. He did not ask for an apology.”

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “I was never able to influence RTÉ one way or the other. If they felt it [an apology] was appropriate, then it had to be appropriate.”

RTÉ senior management are likely to be asked about the broadcasting of the report when they appear at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the coming weeks. The committee’s chairman, MJ Nolan, said RTÉ had “questions to answer” about a report which was “appalling and in very bad taste”.

Fine Gael TD Michael D’Arcy said it was the “most distasteful report I have seen on RTÉ in years”.

Senator Maria Corrigan said she agreed with those sentiments and she wanted RTÉ to explain how it achieves balance in its news reports. Former Government minister Mary O’Rourke, who was once portrayed by Ryanair sitting in a bath, told Newstalk’s Lunchtime with Eamon Keane it was “bordering on obscenity”.

“There’s a vast difference between being portrayed in a sudsy bath and being portrayed sitting on a loo doing your business, well your personal business,” she said.

“Have we thought of Mary Cowen, his wife and his two daughters, I’m quite sure they felt it very badly when they saw the papers and the report.”