BAI rejects complaints about Prime Time’s transgender programme

Programme treated issue ‘fairly’ and presented information in an ‘objective manner’

A file image showing supporters and members of the Transgender community at RTÉ Studios Dublin over the broadcast of a Prime Time interview with  Graham Linehan. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

A file image showing supporters and members of the Transgender community at RTÉ Studios Dublin over the broadcast of a Prime Time interview with Graham Linehan. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

Complaints about a Prime Time programme focussing on transgender issues broadcast on RTÉ earlier this year amid controversy and protests have been rejected by the broadcasting watchdog.

In a ruling published on Tuesday the compliance committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) found the programme aired in January had treated the issue “fairly and was presented in an objective manner”.

It featured a pre-recorded interview with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan and an online petition urging the national broadcaster not to run the piece had gained over 5,000 signatures prior to broadcast.

That petition read: “Graham Linehan is not a medical expert and he is not transgender. He has frequently expressed transphobic views in public and has used his social media platform to denigrate transgender people.”

Mr Linehan has repeatedly defended his views and has said he is not transphobic.

The BAI considered three complaints about the broadcast including one made by Irish Times columnist Roe McDermott who said the programme was not objective based on the mix of contributors and how the discussion was framed.

She said it had been harmful to transgender people and lacked a focus on human experiences.

She said the mix of contributors meant there was an “overall lack of balance” in the way the subject matter was presented and said some contributors did not have any relevant expertise or experience on the subject matter.

Her complaint said the programme had given a platform to contributors which led to comments being made “which were inaccurate, harmful and displayed prejudice against transgender people”.

In response RTÉ said it had aimed to examine two issues - the implications of Ireland having passed the Gender Recognition Act 2015 and proposals to allow minors to change gender.

It stressed the important role commentators play in public debate and said it would be wrong to limit contributors to people with personal experience or expertise.

It added that those who featured on the programme represented a range of views on the issues being examined and while it acknowledged that it was a “complex topic that affects some people personally, it maintained that the “subject matter was treated fairly” in the programme.

The BAI said while the Ms McDermott “objected to the inclusion of some contributors and questioned the relevance of their experience and their expertise” it noted the broadcaster “retains editorial independence and, as such, is entitled to choose the contributors who participate in a programme”.

It accepted some comments made by contributors “were controversial, however, at the outset of the programme the presenter provided context for the topic and outlined the nature of the discussion”.

The committee found that “audiences were given access to a wide range of viewpoints and considered that the subject matter was treated fairly and was presented in an objective manner.”

All told the BAI’s Compliance Committee and its Executive Complaints Forum considered 15 complaints, all of which were rejected.