Frontline report co-author sues BAI
Legal action has been initiated against the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) alleging “serious defamation” following publication of a statement by its compliance committee yesterday. It concerned the Frontline presidential debate programme of October 24th 2011.
It has also emerged that RTÉ may not now be able to publish a working document on that programme, as the committee requested yesterday. Some of those interviewed in connection with the document are unwilling to waive a guarantee of confidentiality.
Rob Morrison, former head of news and current affairs at UTV, who co-authored an internal report for RTÉ on editorial processes employed during the controversial presidential debate programme, told The Irish Times this evening comments in the committee statement yesterday amounted to “extremely serious defamation.”
He had instructed a firm of Dublin solicitors to write to the BAI on his behalf alleging serious defamation, he said. “This is way beyond the Pale for me,” he said, adding he felt he had no alternative.
The report on editorial processes employed on the Frontline programme was commissioned by RTÉ last March. It was conducted by Mr Morrison and Steve Carson, director of programmes at RTÉ Television.
Completed last June, it and the working document on which it was based, were presented to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland last July.
RTÉ published the report last Sunday. Both it and the working document on which it was based were considered by the BAI compliance committee at its meeting last Tuesday.
In a statement yesterday the committee called on RTÉ to also publish the working document as it indicated that failings of the Frontline programme “were more significant than has been identified by RTÉ in the published report.”
Publication of the working document “would provide additional insights into the editorial failings” on the programme, the committee said and “would provide greater understanding of these failings, would support the principle of transparency and would be in the public interest”.
This evening Mr Morrison said the report was “an absolutely accurate” eight-page summation of the 27-page working document but that the compliance committee statement yesterday “suggested a cover-up….a watering down.”
Yet others who had seen both documents had considered the report “a very fair reflection and summary” of what was in the working document, he said.
Yesterday RTÉ indicated a willingness to publish the working document provided those interviewed agreed to waive a guarantee of confidentiality given them to secure their co-operation.
Mr Morrison said this evening that some of those interviewed had already said they were not willing to forfeit that confidentiality.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s New at One programme today the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said that when confidentiality is offered “you cannot renege on that.”
There was “a real problem there,” where publication of the working document was concerned, he said.
He also said he suspected that “a confusion of language” may be behind what he described as “the squabble” over a committee statement published yesterday.