Full text of Seán Gallagher statement

Wed, Mar 7, 2012, 00:00

Full text of the tatement from Seán Gallagher regarding the decision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI):

I welcome the decision by the BAI. It confirms my view that there was an institutional failure by RTÉ. This public service broadcaster introduced, in a grossly unfair manner, a controversial and bogus tweet into a crucial and live presidential election debate, just days before polling, without first having verified where it came from, and whether it was in fact genuine.

RTÉ then compounded this unfairness by consciously withholding a corrective tweet received 26 minutes before the end of the live broadcast.

I would like to thank the BAI and those on the Compliance Committee for their careful consideration of my complaint also thank them for their patience, courtesy and professionalism in dealing with this matter.

The BAI play a crucial role in the maintenance of standards and transparency of broadcasting in Ireland. They have shown today that they will not endorse unfair practices.

The public relies on radio and television to provide many of the facts that influence their decisions at election time. Therefore RTÉ’s role, as the state broadcaster during this crucial period is not just about providing opportunities for political debate but also about ensuring that fairness and impartiality are central to all of RTÉ’s broadcasts.

As the final broadcast debate, only days before the polls opened, The Frontline was a crucial programme in the context of the presidential election campaign.

In November 2011, I submitted a complaint to the BAI relating to the edition of RTÉ’s Frontline programme on Monday the 24th of October.

It is important to categorically state that my motivation and intention in lodging this complaint was to ensure transparency, fairness and impartiality and to ensure that no other candidate or public figure would be subjected to unfairness and unfair practices during crucial broadcast.

There were three main elements to my complaint.

The first related to the introduction by RTÉ of a bogus tweet into the live presidential debate. In a shocking admission, the Head of Broadcast Compliance for RTÉ attempted to excuse the failure to verify by saying that 'there simply wasn’t time to check the authenticity of the tweet before mentioning it on air.'

In fact, a full 15 minutes passed between receipt of the bogus tweet and when it was put to me, live on air for dramatic effect. There was also a commercial break during this ten minute period during which this tweet could have easily been put directly to Martin McGuinness or his election team who were present in RTÉ.

The second element of the complaint referred to the fact that despite a verifying tweet being issued by the Martin4Prez twitter account there was a 26 minute period during which RTE’s Frontline did not broadcast this correction.

It is outrageous that despite having received this corrective tweet, 26 minutes before the end of the live broadcast that they were not the source of this tweet that RTE made a deliberate and conscious decision to withhold this important information from the candidates, from the audience and from the viewers. RTE continued this stance in the Today with Pat Kenny radio programme broadcast the next day, and the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority also found that this was unfair.

It is, and should be, a matter of grave public concern that RTE, as a public service provider, should make two such fundamental errors at such a crucial time in the democratic process.

The third aspect to my complaint was that Frontline abandoned RTE’s own stated policy of ‘accuracy first and speed second’, in deciding the credibility or otherwise of the information contained in the bogus tweet.

The monitoring of output across radio and television is an important part of RTÉ’s procedures at election and referenda times. However on this occasion it would appear that the desire to manufacture on air drama won out over the truth and the production team seemed to have regrettably abandoned RTÉ’s own published Standards and Guidelines.

Social media was a central element to my presidential campaign and given that it will play an increasing role in future elections it is therefore imperative that the national broadcaster have the required standards and procedures in place to deal with emerging new media channels.

I do hope that the action taken by me in progressing this complaint will result in fairness and transparency of the democratic process being applied to all candidates in the future. I am satisfied that this ruling of the BAI now requires RTÉ to carry an announcement that my complaint has been upheld.