Gallagher 'gobsmacked' by RTÉ response to complaint
Former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher has said he was "gobsmacked" by the "arrogance" and "hostility" of RTE's response to his complaint that he had been unfairly treated during the controversial Frontline presidential debate last October.
Mr Gallagher said RTE showed "no contrition" following the programme, in which the host Pat Kenny read out an unverified tweet live on air.
Speaking at the Media Future conference in Dún Laoghaire this afternoon, Mr Gallagher said he had been contacted earlier on the day of the debate by two people in the media who warned him of a potential ambush in relation to his links to Fianna Fáil. He declined to name who had contacted him.
Mr Gallagher was interviewed by the organiser of the conference, Jack Murray, who also served as his adviser on his presidential campaign. Mr Murray said Mr Gallagher had received phone calls that "warned them about what was to come that day".
In his first public interview since coming second to Michael D Higgins in last year's presidential election, Mr Gallagher was critical of the media for viewing politics "through the prism of Leinster House" and not accepting that he was an independent candidate.
"I'd never been a politician and I'd never stood for election and I think that's what put people offside initially. They didn't see it coming," he said. "The political media wrote me off because they didn't understand who I was, because their view of politics was so narrow."
Mr Gallagher had been favourite to win the presidential election before the debate, in which a bogus tweet purporting to come from the campaign account of Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness was read out by Mr Kenny, putting Mr Gallagher under increased pressure to explain his relationship to Fianna Fáil.
Mr Gallagher denied the allegation that he had gone to collect a fundraising cheque from the house or business premises of businessman Hugh Morgan.
A screen shot of the message on the @mcguinness4pres Twitter account that was read out during the presidential debate on RTE's Frontline programme.
Today, Mr Gallagher conceded his performance in the Frontline debate "wasn't my best performance by a long shot" and that he had replayed the moment "thousands of times" since then, wondering if he could have done or said anything differently.
"It wasn't my finest hour," he said.
Mr Gallagher recalled that he had a sore back on the day of the Frontline debate and was taking painkillers.
He recalled his advisers testing "every conceivable question" on him in the preparation session for the debate, but that he "just wanted to lie down for an hour". He was determined not to be riled by anything that happened during the debate, nor get involved in negative campaigning, he added.
"I believed in positive campaigning," he said. "I said to myself 'stay true to what you believe, Seán. Don't get dragged into this'."
He said "senior names" in RTÉ had contacted him since the debate to say they were horrified by his treatment.
Mr Kenny had not been in contact with him since he appeared on his radio show the morning after the debate.
Mr Gallagher said he would never know if he would have gone on to win the election were it not for what had occurred during the debate, but noted that three polls had shown he enjoyed 40 per cent support before the programme. "So you would imagine that it was an unbeatable lead."
He drew parallels between his "unfair treatment" and RTÉ's libel of Fr Kevin Reynolds and said in both cases the broadcaster had "gone into defence mode", compounding the original error.
In March, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) upheld a complaint of unfair treatment made by Mr Gallagher against RTÉ, but decided the matter did not merit a full investigation.
In a statement this evening, RTÉ said it had accepetd the BAI decision in full and had apologised for its failures. It added that the Director General and the RTÉ Board had also expressed their apologies to Mr Gallagher for the mistakes made.
An editorial review to identify programme-making practices and risks, giving significant attention to the production of live audience-based programmes and to the selection of audience members and questions is underway and will be completed shortly, it said.
"A new set of programme makers’ guidelines is now finalised through a process that began in February under Mr. Stephen Whittle, former Controller of Editorial Policy, BBC. It includes full new Social Media Protocols requiring systematic authentication of inputs offered to programmes. Training in key modules has begun," it added.
In relation to a request for a meeting with the Director General made by the solicitors acting for Mr. Gallagher, the broadcaster said: "The request came in relation to a Freedom of Information request. In response, the Director General said he did not think it would be appropriate to meet while that process [the FOI process] was ongoing."