RTÉ open to legal action on fake campaign tweet, says Gallagher

Mon, Nov 28, 2011, 00:00

RTÉ’s BROADCAST of false information concerning Seán Gallagher during the presidential campaign has left it open to a criminal prosecution, the losing candidate has suggested in a detailed complaint to the broadcasting watchdog.

Mr Gallagher has called for an oral hearing into his claim that RTÉ broadcast a fake tweet during the Frontlinepresidential debate which badly damaged his electoral prospects at a time when he was the frontrunner.

His 22-page complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland accuses RTÉ of pursuing an editorial policy which abandoned the norms of journalistic integrity to fulfil a self-appointed role as a “game-changer” in the election. He is also seeking a formal apology and the implementation of new rules on the use of social media at the broadcaster.

The complaint relates to the highly charged Frontlinedebate on 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 at 11.28pm.

His complaint alleges RTÉ deliberately concealed information that would have revealed the tweet as a fake by not broadcasting corrective information released by the McGuinness campaign.

It also claims RTÉ made public material which it knew or ought to have known was false. He claims this material distorted a crucial debate and recklessly misled him, the audience and the electorate.

He accuses the broadcaster of failing to take reasonable steps to confirm the origin and contents of the fake tweet, and of failing to put the tweet to Mr McGuinness’s team for corroboration during the preceding commercial break.

The complaint alleges RTÉ failed to put Mr Gallagher on notice of the material and failed to take any action on foot of corrective information it received during the show.

RTÉ has previously rejected his complaints on the matter and is likely to file a detailed response to the authority shortly.