GAA boss Liam O’Neill critical of RTÉ’s coverage of association’s new deal with Sky

Association president’s criticisms of Prime Time programme rejected by broadcaster

GAA president  Liam Ó Neill with GAA Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Kilkenny’s Noel Skehan, Kerry’s Mick O’Dwyer, Sligo’s Michael Kearins and Waterford’s Pat McGrath at  Croke Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

GAA president Liam Ó Neill with GAA Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Kilkenny’s Noel Skehan, Kerry’s Mick O’Dwyer, Sligo’s Michael Kearins and Waterford’s Pat McGrath at Croke Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 01:00

The fall-out from the GAA’s decision to grant exclusive rights to subscription channel Sky Sports continued yesterday with sharp criticism of RTÉ’s treatment of the story from association president Liam O’Neill – and a vigorous defence by the broadcaster.

Speaking in Croke Park at the Hall of Fame inductions yesterday, O’Neill expressed unhappiness with the state broadcaster’s treatment of the broadcast rights agreement when details officially emerged on Tuesday and emphasised the importance of the agreement for the promotion of the games overseas.

Fair play
“Last night’s (Tuesday’s) performance by RTÉ was shocking and you must recognise that yourselves. You know about balance and fair play and you know that what happened last night was not fair.”

Asked in what respect he was unhappy, the president replied:

“The tenor of the whole coverage. These people are meant to be our partners, who we have taken as our partners globally (RTÉ Digital has been given internet rights). I felt disappointed. There was no part of the RTÉ coverage across their entire platform that was balanced. I haven’t expressed it to them yet but I will.”

He was especially unhappy with coverage on RTÉ 1’s Prime Time , saying, “I don’t think in fairness to them that there was anything negative they could throw at us that they didn’t.”

RTÉ responded with a statement yesterday evening:

“As the national public service media organisation, RTÉ is statutorily obliged to be fair, impartial and balanced. RTÉ is satisfied that its coverage on the GAA’s media rights announcement was balanced and fair across all platforms and gave ample opportunity to all sides to air their views.”

Speaking on the station’s Six One News David Nally, the broadcaster’s managing editor of current affairs, said that of the nine speakers on the programme five had supported the GAA deal, three opposed and one had been neutral.

O’Neill also defended the GAA from charges that the broadcasting rights agreement was out of step with the wishes of the membership.

“We’ve had a hugely positive reaction from our people on the ground. We did consult with a significant number of people, who are well positioned in the GAA before we did this and discussed it with management (the GAA’s management committee).

“For the first time ever our officials are happy we have our games on a world-wide basis. People did not think this would be possible. We delivered that. We’ve delivered games to Britain, All-Ireland finals to Britain, delivered the full package to Australia because we managed to find a partner to do that. People have been zoning in on one part of the deal but I don’t know if that was balanced or fair.”

A partner
Asked why the same free-to-air arrangement couldn’t be made in the US, he replied: “The answer is we couldn’t. If we could we would. We haven’t got a partner in America.”

Similarly, when the question was asked had the association approached a terrestrial or free-to-air broadcaster in Britain, where all access to matches is on a subscription basis either through Sky’s package of 20 matches or the remainder provided by Premier Sports, Alan Milton, head of GAA media relations, said that there wasn’t a suitable broadcaster.

“There isn’t one with a reach comparable to Channel 7 in Australia to it would have been a largely futile exercise to go on a channel that is free to air but which doesn’t have a respectable reach. There doesn’t exist a partner in that you could compare in Britain to Australia.”

Premier Sports General Manager Richard Sweeney questioned the value to British viewers of the new rights offering.

“Premier Sports are actually still the main domestic and commercial rights holder of GAA in Great Britain with around 70 matches. We have supplied coverage of nearly every original GAA transmission for the last four years along with supplying an outside broadcast to cover the important London v Leitrim match in 2013.

“This coverage was priced fairly in our eyes at £9.99 per month and worked out at about £1 per game. Now fans are being asked to fork out huge sums to continue watching on TV.

“We would question if asking true GAA fans in Great Britain to shell out £40 plus, to watch all games on TV is justifiable . .”

Meanwhile Wexford County Board decided on Tuesday to write to Croke Park in protest against the deal “This media deal is a massive shift in GAA policy and requires serious debate at all levels,” said county chair Diarmuid Devereux.

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