Neil Prendeville criticised by broadcasting watchdog over Travellers item

Complaint by Cork Traveller Women’s Network is partially upheld by Broadcasting Authority

Cork radio host Neil Prendeville has been criticised by the State broadcasting watchdog after his flagship show was found to have stigmatised Travellers.

The Red FM mid-morning programme, which attracts some 77,000 listeners, “failed” to challenge “serious allegations” levelled against Travellers, which were “inappropriate and unjustifiable”, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) ruled.

The Irish Times has a minority stake in Red FM.

The BAI made the finding after investigating a complaint by the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) about an interview with Independent councillor Ken O’Flynn, a former deputy mayor of the city, on June 16th last year.


Louise Harrington, for the CTWN, alleged the broadcast about a report by the Children’s Ombudsman into living conditions in the city’s Spring Lane halting site was “inaccurate and misleading”.

The broadcast was “presented in a manner that was not objective or impartial” with Mr O’Flynn making “several ‘grossly’ inaccurate and misleading statements, which were not challenged by the presenter,” according to Ms Harrington.

Ms Harrington took issue with claims that families on the halting site refused offers of housing elsewhere, that public money was spent removing residents so contractors could make repairs and allegations the contractor was assault ed and robbed.

Claims that illegal dumping next to the site were “presented in a misleading manner which suggested the site residents were the perpetrators,” she complained.

Mr Prendeville did not challenge the “misleading and inaccurate claims” and at times “reinforced” them with comments such as: “I give up! I give up!”, “Ah, come here, are we mugs or what, like?” and “This is intolerable”, said Ms O’Flynn.

The broadcast “included many anti-Traveller stereotypes and characterised site residents as unreasonable, dishonest, criminal and violent”, and was “offensive and harmful to residents” and “to Travellers, more generally,” she told the BAI.

Ms Harrington alleged the show also “implied that parents on the site are neglecting and abusing their children, which was not challenged by the presenter” causing them “grave offence.”

Some residents were concerned the broadcast could harm their chances of getting better accommodation. One alleged she was “ignored by other parents at school drop-off, who had been discussing this broadcast” and suffered “embarrassment and shame” and was concerned “for how her daughter would be treated”.

In response, Red FM said the show’s producers spoke to members of the Traveller community in Cork to get their perspective “but these individuals subsequently opted not to speak on radio”.

The station said it “cannot opt not to cover topics if the alternative view is not available or willing to discuss it publicly” and claimed the Neil Prendeville Show “has always” given the Traveller community an opportunity to discuss issues.

The presenter referred to Mr O’Flynn’s remarks as “your version”, challenged him on claims about children drinking alcohol, and offered the CTWN and another advocacy group the chance to take part, it responded.

However, the BAI partially upheld the complaint.

Mr Prendeville had “failed to sufficiently challenge the contributor’s views and the broadcast did not provide a wide variety of views on the subject or reflect the views of those who chose not to participate in the programme,” it ruled.

While there was insufficient evidence of inaccuracies or misleading content, Mr O’Flynn was allowed to make serious allegations “without the presenter challenging those allegations” or raising questions to present wider views, it was found.

The BAI said there is an “expectation the presenter will ensure discussions of current affairs issues are not one-sided and that alternative perspectives are presented”, but that there was “no evidence in the broadcast of the presenter providing such views”.

Furthermore, Red FM’s response to the complaint “demonstrated a lack of regard” for its obligation to reflect the views of the Traveller community.

The BAI was “severely critical of the quality of journalism demonstrated in the broadcast, which did not meet the requirements of fairness, objectivity and impartiality” under broadcasting regulations, it said.

Inadequately challenged allegations by Mr O’Flynn “presented stereotypical views about Travellers and showed no respect” to Spring Lane residents, allowing the show to broadcast an “inappropriate and unjustifiable representation” of Travellers which “amounted to a stigmatisation”.

The show infringed the broadcasting code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality, the BAI concluded.

Meanwhile, Mr O’Flynn, who sits on Cork City Council’s Traveller accommodation committee, told The Irish Times all his remarks were based on information given to him by city officials, which he believed to be “correct and accurate”.

“Everything that I have said, I have to my best ability as a public representative. I have received this information from city officials, Cork City Council officials, who I have full trust and respect for,” he said.

Mr O’Flynn said he “can only go on the information I am given and the first hand experience that I have had.”

“I am grossly hurt and upset and perturbed that anyone would state that I would make a false accusation about that community,” he said, adding that his office door was “always open” to the Traveller community and their representative groups.

“But I have serious concerns about how these representative groups are behaving. I won’t be stopping that,” he said.

Mr O’Flynn said he was on the record in proposing the Spring Hill halting site be shut down rather than be developed into a “super-site”, and that all the families should be accommodated at three separate “state of the art facilities” around the city.