RTÉ accepts Frontline report findings
RTÉ has accepted the findings of a review of the handling of the controversial Frontline television debate broadcast last year in the run-up to the presidential election.
Kevin Bakhurst, managing director of RTÉ news & current affairs, said the broadcaster regretted "mistakes made" in the preparation and broadcast of the programme.
The report is critical of the programme format, procedures around audience selection, procedures around the preparation and allocation of questions, of the standard of editorial supervision and of the standard of training on key matters such as social media.
The report was commissioned by RTÉ after the decision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to uphold a number of complaints against the programme, and in response to concerns raised about the programme elsewhere.
The broadcaster today released the Report of the Editorial Review of The Frontline Presidential Debate.
The report, by former head of news & current affairs at UTV Rob Morrison, and director of programmes at RTÉ Television Steve Carson, is a review of the editorial processes of The Frontline programme of October 24th, 2011.
The report did not consider the specific issue of the controversial tweet that was included in the programme. This was the subject of a separate decision by the compliance committee of the BAI, which upheld complaints connected to the offending tweet. RTÉ has accepted those rulings.
Commenting, Mr Bakhurst said: “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.
"However the report has found ‘that the production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate’, and that ‘the mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality’. This echoes the BAI’s finding ‘that there was no evidence to question the bona fides of the programme presenter or the production’.”
He added: “RTÉ now has in place best-practice rules, procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of any recurrence of the mistakes that were made. Recent debates on the fiscal and childrens’ referenda have seen these new rules in action. This is essential to ensure the newly invigorated current-affairs schedule on RTÉ Television is underpinned by the soundest of foundations.”
RTÉ undertook to publish the Report of the Editorial Review of The Frontline Presidential Debate (the first such report co-authored by an external party to be published) some weeks back, and had planned to do so once the formal BAI process had concluded this coming week.
In a statement the broadcaster said it is disappointed that key findings of the report were made public ahead of the completion of the BAI process and the publication of the report.
RTÉ noted the report concludes that “the production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate”, and that “the mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality”.
The report is critical of the omission of an audience question for Michael D Higgins. However, it acknowledges an “unusually challenging environment for the production team” and concludes that “the absence of a direct audience question did not mean that Mr Higgins was unchallenged during the debate. The presenter did put questions directly to him and followed up his answers. Two of the general ‘panel’ questions were put to Mr Higgins first.”
RTÉ said it has worked over recent months to ensure the recommendations have been implemented.
In addition to the introduction of new journalism guidelines, with training sessions for over 500 staff to date, social media guidelines have also been revised.
An internal editorial standards board has been established to maintain and monitor content standards across RTÉ. The new programme makers' guidelines, currently being finalised through a process that began in February under Stephen Whittle, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, will be published by year-end.
Access the report at http://www.rte.ie/documents/about/report-of-the-editorial-review-of-the-frontline.pdf