RTE housing crisis series accused of bias by Boland

 

Politicians complaining about what they perceive as biased television coverage is scarcely news. It belongs to the dog-bites-man news file. But the recently-released papers in the National Archives in Dublin contain a case history especially indicative of the perception of RTE by Fianna Fail ministers in the early years of the television service.

The occasion of the complaint was a series of religious programmes in the Outlook series, which were brief talks or homilies broadcast as a postscript to the evening's programmes.

The Dominican priest, Father Austin Flannery, had decided to introduce some innovation when invited to present the programmes and had transmitted a short series on what he saw as a crisis in housing. His programmes did not impress the minister with responsibility in this area, Kevin Boland.

Rejections of many of the claims made on the Outlook programme were included by Boland in his letter to the Taoiseach. Boland also objected to the expert witnesses chosen by Flannery. While each had qualifications to comment, as a group, they were scarcely representative.

For Lynch's benefit, Boland listed them as: Uinseann Mac Eoin (architect and exrepublican activist); Sean Kenny, secretary of the Sinn Fein Citizens' Advice Bureau; Michael O'Riordan, secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland; and Father Michael Sweetman (a Jesuit with impeccable leftwing and liberal credentials).

Such a choice, argued Boland, was "clear evidence that there was no intention to present a balanced programme". Boland was also incensed by Flannery's "admonition to his audience that as Christians they could not evade their responsibilities as electors". He read this as a suggestion that the government should be changed. In general, he reckoned there was now "ample proof" that those working in current affairs programming were "intent on denigrating all authority" and specifically in "undermining the Government of the country". He felt entitled to ask that this be stopped - "in the only way it can be stopped" - by ceasing to employ such broadcasters.

He concluded with the demand that he be told "whether a definite change is to be made or whether I must regard RTE as a hostile organisation on a more dangerous level than other political parties".