RTÉ editor says tweet changed election

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

RTÉ’s managing editor of current affairs has said the flawed Frontline presidential debate programme changed the outcome of the election.

David Nally said yesterday: “Yes I do accept that it changed the outcome of the presidential election”. He added: “People who watched the programme made their decision and a certain chunk of the audience decided, I think, that making Seán Gallagher the president, straight into that office from nowhere, it seemed that a chunk of the electorate decided it was too big of a leap, it was a leap in the dark.”

“A certain section decided there was a safe option and they decided to go with that safe option.”

The programme has been the subject of several inquiries. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has already found against RTÉ for not verifying the origins of a fake tweet put to Mr Gallagher.

Question to Higgins

A further internal report by RTÉ made public on Sunday found that Mr Higgins was not asked a direct question and there was no senior editorial figure whose sole responsibility on the night was to view the programme for impartiality.

It concluded, however, that “mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality.”

The report stated Mr Higgins was to face a question on the issue of abortion, but the questioner never turned up because of severe flooding.

RTÉ’s managing director of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst said yesterday that staff had been disciplined as a result of the programme but he declined to say who was involved, the nature of the sanction or how many were disciplined. He cited a “duty of care to people even if they make mistakes”.


He admitted 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.

Though Mr Bakhurst declined to name those involved, Mr Nally told the Newstalk Breakfast programme “there was no mystery about who was in charge”. He said Ken O’Shea, then the editor of current affairs, had responsibility for the programme, and Ed Mulhall, then managing director of news and current affairs, had “overall” responsibility. There was also an executive producer of the programme, who Mr Nally did not name.

Mr O’Shea was also editor of the Prime Time programme that libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds. He has since left that post. Mr Mulhall retired from RTÉ earlier this year. It is unclear whether either was among those disciplined. The internal RTÉ report into the programme will be considered by the BAI’s compliance committee today.