Resources an issue in 'flawed debate'
RTÉ’s managing director of news and current affairs has said a lack of resources could have been a factor in how the format for a flawed presidential debate was designed.
Kevin Bakhurst also defended the organisation’s decision not to disclose the sanctions imposed on individuals arising from the matter.
An internal report on the Frontline presidential debate programme describes as a “significant omission” that “no direct, challenging question from an audience member” was posed to Michael D Higgins.
It also queried audience selection and “the lack of a senior editorial figure whose sole responsibility was to view the programme during transmission and identify editorial and compliance issues as they arose”. It concluded however “mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality.”
This Morning Kevin Bakhurst admitted the programme format was “not the best way to do it”, but said RTÉ was under pressure in terms of resources. He said the organisation will in future have the necessary resources to conduct “gold standard” debates.
“In future the senior person in the gallery needs to concentrate entirely on the fairness and impartiality of the programme itself and the fact that it complies with all our news standards and not actually be involved in the hands on production of the programme, which is what I understand happened in this case,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
He said RTÉ accepts all points made in the report, but insisted “the team was always acting in the interest of fair debate”.
Yesterday he released a statement saying “RTÉ regrets the mistakes made in the preparation and in the broadcast of the programme. The production was less rigorous than it should have been.”
A separate disciplinary process involving “several members of staff” took place following completion of the report, but details of any sanctions will not be released because RTÉ has a “duty of care to people even if they make mistakes”, Mr Bakhurst said.
“It’s not the position of RTÉ and it’s not the position of most major organisations that they will take out individual people and hang them out to dry in public.”
He added that all journalists within the organisation have since undergone social media training and have signed documents declaring they have read the new journalism guidelines.
He reiterated the broadcasters’ apology to presidential candidate Sean Gallagher, initially offered after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland upheld complaints about a bogus tweet read out on the same programme, and extended an apology to all the other participants in the debate.