No contrition from RTÉ over 'Frontline', says Gallagher

Wed, May 16, 2012, 01:00

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL candidate Seán Gallagher has said he was “gobsmacked” by the “arrogance” and “hostility” of RTÉ’s response to his complaint of unfair treatment during the Frontline presidential debate last October.

Mr Gallagher said the national broadcaster showed “no contrition” after the controversial programme, in which presenter Pat Kenny read out an unverified tweet live on air. The former businessman and Dragons’ Den star contrasted his “unfair treatment” and RTÉ’s defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds, and said in both cases the broadcaster had gone into defence mode, thus compounding the original error.

“I got some understanding of just how difficult it was for him to get justice,” he said.

Speaking at the Media Future conference in Dún Laoghaire – sponsored by RTÉ Digital – Mr Gallagher said he had been contacted earlier on the day of the Frontline debate by two people in the media who warned him of a potential ambush concerning his links to Fianna Fáil.

He declined to name who had contacted him.

Mr Gallagher was interviewed yesterday by the organiser of the conference, Jack Murray of the public relations agency Mediacontact.ie, who also served as an adviser on his campaign. Mr Murray told the audience Mr Gallagher had received phone calls that warned them about what was to come that day.

Mr Gallagher had been favourite to win the election before the debate. But a bogus tweet purporting to come from the campaign account of Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness was read out by Mr Kenny and this placed Mr Gallagher under increased pressure to explain his relationship to Fianna Fáil.

Mr Gallagher once again denied the allegation that he had gone to collect a fundraising cheque for €5,000 from the house or business premises of businessman Hugh Morgan.

He conceded his performance in the Frontline debate was not his “best performance by a long shot”. He had replayed the moment thousands of times in his mind since then, wondering if he could have done or said anything differently that would have changed the outcome.

“It wasn’t my finest hour,” he conceded.

Mr Gallagher also said 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 programme, 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’.”

In what was his first public interview since coming second to Michael D Higgins in last year’s 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.

“The political media wrote me off because they didn’t understand who I was, because their view of politics was so narrow.” He said senior names in RTÉ had since let him know they were horrified by his treatment. He noted, however, that Kenny had not been in contact with him since he appeared on his radio show the morning after the debate.

In March, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland upheld a complaint of unfair treatment made by Mr Gallagher against the national broadcaster, but decided the matter did not merit a full investigation.

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 opinion polls had shown he enjoyed 40 per cent support before the programme. “So you would imagine that it was an unbeatable lead.”