Broadcasting regulator rejects abortion referendum coverage complaints

Objection to Ivan Yates comment on Irish speakers also dismissed

Ivan Yates, who co-presents ‘The Tonight Show’. A controversial ‘style is usual’ for him, the regulator said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times.

Ivan Yates, who co-presents ‘The Tonight Show’. A controversial ‘style is usual’ for him, the regulator said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times.


The broadcasting regulator has rejected three complaints claiming that programmes on Virgin Media Television were unfair to representatives of the “no” side in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Two complaints were made against the Tonight Show and one against the Pat Kenny Show referendum special. The programmes were broadcast on Virgin last May, when the channel in question was known as TV3.

The complainant, Brendan O’Regan, alleged Mr Kenny had been rude to the panellists who favoured a “no” vote and that this was most evident in his treatment of “no” campaigner Maria Steen.

Virgin Media Television said the presenter had treated panellists from both sides of the debate equally and the programme was fair to all sides.

The compliance committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland unanimously agreed that Mr Kenny had moderated the debate fairly and did not believe his handling of any particular contributor indicated bias.

A similar complaint – that “no” panellists were treated different than “yes” panellists – was made against the Tonight Show on May 16th and May 21st, 2018. Mr O’Regan also claimed a journalist from appearing on the show had provided their own views under the guise of fact-checking.

The broadcaster denied this and the compliance committee again unanimously rejected the complaint.

A total of 12 complaints were separately rejected by the executive complaints forum of the BAI.

They included a complaint about a comment on a May 2018 edition Tonight Show by presenter Ivan Yates in which he described people interested in the Irish language as “cultural terrorists”.

The complainant claimed this was unfair to Irish language-speakers and to Irish-speaking panellist Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh.

‘Devil’s advocate’

However, the forum concluded Mr Yates had used this term “to kick start the debate” and noted that, although it may have offended some viewers, “this style is usual” for the presenter.

“Regular viewers would have expected the presenter to make controversial comments.”

A “devil’s advocate” approach to launching a debate did not necessarily constitute unfairness or lack of balance across the show as a whole, it said.

The BAI’s compliance committee considered a fourth complaint, taken by the Kerry-based company Bio Atlantis against RTÉ One documentary series A Wild Irish Year.

Bio Atlantis alleged the show made false and unsubstantiated claims about the impact of the mechanical harvesting of seaweed on the environment. The broadcaster responded that the observations made on the show were in line with concerns well documented in academic journals.

The committee rejected the complaint on the basis that the programme was a nature documentary, not news and current affairs, and therefore not covered by the relevant code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality.