RTÉ chiefs before Oireachtas hearing
Director general of RTÉ Noel Curran has told an Oireachtas committee he did not know how it could be said the Frontline presidential debate decided the outcome of the election.
Mr Curran said he was not saying the debate did not have an impact but the late swing away from the front-runner Sean Gallagher towards now President Michael D Higgins could not be attributed to a single programme.
He was responding to Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan, who said he believed the outcome of the election was changed by the broadcast last October. Pat Kenny presents The Frontline.
Mr Curran said 1.1 million people had not seen the programme. “I don’t know how you can say that this programme decided the outcome of the election,” he said.
Mr Curran and other senior RTÉ executives appeared before the communications and transport committee today to discuss an editorial review of the programme by Steve Carson, director of programmes at RTÉ Television, and Rob Morrison, former head of news and current affairs at UTV.
The report did not consider the specific issue of the bogus tweet involving allegations Mr Gallagher was involved in fundraising for Fianna Fáil as it was the subject of a separate personnel investigation following RTÉ’s acceptance of a Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI) ruling.
However, many TDs and Senators at the committee yesterday focused their questions on the tweet. Labour TD Sean Kenny asked if it had been possible to trace the IP address from which the tweet was sent.
Mr Curran said RTÉ did not trace the IP origin of the tweet after the programme. He did not think it was possible for RTE and did not think anyone had done that.
Kevin Bakhurst, the new managing director of news and current affairs, said he personally monitored a lot of tweets sent by people who worked in RTE news and current affairs. He said he did this “to satisfy myself that they are not putting anything out there that in any way questions the impartiality of what we do”.
Mr Carson said the key finding of the editorial review was that it was “extraordinary” that a “direct, challenging” question was not asked of Mr Higgins.
He revealed that a question was due to have been asked about abortion which those behind the programme believed would have been “particularly difficult” for Mr Higgins to deal with.
However, the person due to ask the question did not arrive for the broadcast. Another person agreed to ask the question but half way through changed their mind.