BAI upholds RTÉ’s right to apologise to Iona Institute and Waters

Watchdog says broadcasters have right to deal with potential defamation actions

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland received  four  complaints from viewers over the broadcasting of an apology by presenter Brendan O’Connor arising out of an interview with drag queen artist Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland received four complaints from viewers over the broadcasting of an apology by presenter Brendan O’Connor arising out of an interview with drag queen artist Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss.

 

The broadcasting watchdog has upheld RTÉ’s right to apologise to the Iona Institute and John Waters over an allegation of homophobia which surfaced on the Saturday Night Show.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s (BAI) compliance committee considered four separate complaints from viewers over the broadcasting of an apology by presenter Brendan O’Connor arising out of an interview with drag queen artist Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss. It rejected them all.

During the broadcast on January 25th, Mr O’Connor read out the following apology: “On the Saturday Night Show two weeks ago, comments were made by a guest suggesting that the journalist and broadcaster John Waters, Breda O’Brien and some members of the Iona Institute were homophobic.

“These are not the views of RTÉ and we would like to apologise for any upset or distress caused to the individuals named or identified. It’s an important part of democratic debate that people may be able to uphold dissenting views on controversial subjects.”

Viewer David O’Callaghan maintained the apology should not have been made as those involved had been “on the record in their opposition to same-sex marriage”.

He also felt the apology contradicted RTÉ’s assertion that “it’s an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues”.

He accused RTÉ of engaging in censorship by offering the apology.

Jennifer Daly stated that the apology gave the impression the Iona Institute, which she referred to as “conservative reactionaries”, are the only ones allowed a right of reply in relation to the issue of same-sex marriage.

The compliance committee stated that RTÉ had a right as a broadcaster to take steps to deal with broadcasts which might end in a defamation action.

In that respect the BAI said it would not be “appropriate nor suitable for it to interfere with the editorial independence of a broadcaster”.

It held that it could not be concluded that the apology amounted to censorship.

It stated those who are the subject of current debates are entitled to be treated “fairly and honestly”.

However, the BAI also said it would be “problematic” if a broadcaster “unduly circumscribed debate on issues of current public debate and controversy so as to avoid offending those elements of its audience who may not hold the same views as other members of its audience”.

The BAI also maintained there are circumstances in which the term homophobic may be applied to “describe the views of individuals or groups once the use of the term is accurate, fair, objective and impartial and in circumstances where the broadcaster and its contributors can properly defend the use of such a description. A decision in this regard rests with the broadcaster”.

The committee concluded the apology could not be “considered to either support or condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or that it would prejudice the interests of the LGBT community”.