RTÉ admits election debate tweet bogus


RTÉ HAS formally admitted it broadcast a bogus tweet concerning presidential candidate Seán Gallagher during the crucial final television debate between candidates last year.

The State broadcaster has told the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) the provenance of the tweet read out on the show was inaccurate, according to correspondence seen by The Irish Times.

RTÉ also says it has expressed its regret over the broadcast of the tweet, though it is resisting Mr Gallagher’s claim that it failed to broadcast corrective information when it could have.

The authority is currently investigating a complaint by the former Dragons’ Denpanellist over the tweet, which badly damaged his electoral prospects at a time when he was the frontrunner.

The tweet read out by presenter Pat Kenny falsely claimed to be from the campaign team of Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness.

Mr Gallagher has pointed out that a tweet from the real McGuinness campaign, which made it clear that it was not the source of the earlier bogus tweet, was received several minutes later.

He claims no attempt was made by The Frontlineto convey this information to its audience, even though the second tweet arrived 28 minutes before the end of the programme.

Mr Gallagher made his formal complaint to the authority through a solicitor several weeks ago, to which RTÉ has responded.

In a letter sent to the BAI within the last week it states: “What was inaccurate, and RTÉ accepted this and has expressed its regret, was the provenance of the tweet. It appears that the tweet which purported to come from the official Martin McGuinness campaign site was actually a bogus account made to look like the official account.”

Mr Gallagher has made further submissions in support of his complaint, and RTÉ is currently deciding whether to add to its submission.

The authority is continuing to investigate the complaint and its compliance committee is due to meet later this month on the issue.

A spokesman for Mr Gallagher said he was actively pursuing his complaint that RTÉ’s broadcast was not presented in a fair, objective or impartial manner.

Mr Gallagher, who was previously a businessman and motivational speaker, is considering his options after losing the election to Labour candidate Michael D Higgins.

His complaint relates to the highly charged debate on The Frontlineon October 24th, three days before polling day.

Earlier in the debate, Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness claimed Mr Gallagher had called to a businessman’s house to collect a €5,000 cheque for Fianna Fáil. Mr Gallagher had denied this, and the debate moved to other topics.

At 10.39pm, a tweet was posted on an account with the hashtag @mcguinness4pres. This was not the official McGuinness campaign username, which was @Martin4Prez2011. The tweet stated: “The man that Gallagher took the cheque from will be at a press conference tomorrow”.

At 10.49pm, immediately after an advertising break, Pat Kenny addressed Mr Gallagher, saying on the “Martin McGuinness for President” account, “Sinn Féin are saying they are going to produce the man who gave you the cheque for five grand.” His question disconcerted Mr Gallagher, who stumbled in his answer and was jeered by the studio audience.

At 11.02pm, a tweet came from the official McGuinness campaign account stating “we have made no comment on the Gallagher FF donation issue”.

Mr Gallagher contends RTÉ knew the original tweet was fake from this moment, but made no attempt to correct it before the end of the programme.