The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has issued a warning notice to RTÉ following complaints about an abortion item on the Ray D’Arcy Show on Radio 1.
It noted this was the third occasion on which complaints have been upheld against the Ray D’Arcy Show on the subject of abortion law.
A warning notice is issued where the BAI considers the matter to be of a relatively serious nature or where it is a reoccurrence of the same or a similar matter.
The broadcaster said it noted and accepted the decision of the BAI but it strongly denied accusations of bias across its programming. A statement added: “As required, RTÉ will provide the BAI with a plan to ensure there is no re-occurrence of the issues identified.”
It is understood management at RTÉ will meet the BAI in January to agree a plan to ensure non-current affairs teams know how to deal with situations when their programmes drift into current affairs content.
The Pro Life Campaign said the decision was “significant” and called on RTÉ to admit “there is a serious problem regarding bias at the station”.
Amnesty International said it was “deeply concerned” at the ruling. The BAI had a responsiblity to ensure broadcasting serves the public interest “ including people’s right to seek information” and decisions like this “ are deeply unhelpful,” it said.
On June 9th the Ray D’Arcy show involved an interview with couple Gaye and Gerry Edwards about their experience of an abortion where a fatal foetal abnormality was present.
The programme aired on the same day the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) criticised Irish abortion law. The Edwards were also asked to comment on the organisation's findings.
The complaints say the programme was pushing for the repeal of the Constitutional ban on abortion, the Eighth Amendment.
They state the interview was a personal story with a political campaigning message tagged on and any opposing viewpoint was treated in a cursory manner.
They also complained the interviewees’ membership with the organisation Termination for Medical Reasons was not made clear to the audience.
RTÉ said the interview was a piece reacting to a story of the day which was the UN Human Rights Committee ruling on fatal foetal abnormalities.
The broadcaster also rejected the claim that its treatment of an opposing viewpoint was cursory.
It said D’Arcy quoted Ireland’s defence of the Eighth Amendment and also read out messages from anti-abortion campaigners.
The BAI said the programme segment was mostly a news and current affairs item rather than a human interest story and so its code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality was relevant.
The BAI said the programme should have pointed out that the Edwards were members of Termination for Medical Reasons, whose objectives include changing Irish laws on abortion.
It said it did not agree with RTÉ’s position that the interview was not on the topic of abortion or of the constitutional or legislative provisions in that respect.
It also said it did not believe that the reading of some texts that were critical of the UNHRC decision, or reading extracts from a statement of pro-life organisations ensured the item met the news and current affairs requirements.