Two further complaints over television debate


TWO MORE members of the audience at the Frontlinepresidential debate have expressed their unhappiness at the way the debate was handled.

One person has complained that the question he prepared was very different from the one production staff wanted him to ask. In the event, the question was never asked as time ran out. A spokesman for Seán Gallagher said they had been made aware this person had issues with the programme. They did not have any other details.

A second audience member, Donegal man Brian Flanagan, a supporter of Dana, has accused RTÉ of “outrageous” treatment for refusing to take a question from him before or during the programme.

Last weekend, audience member Pat McGuirk claimed production staff on the programme prepared a “hostile” question for him to ask of the then front runner Seán Gallagher. RTÉ denied the claim and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which last week upheld a complaint by Mr Gallagher about the programme, declined to reopen its investigation.

A spokeswoman for the authority confirmed it had received “correspondence” from a member of the Frontline studio audience. It wasn’t clear last night whether this related to Mr McGuirk’s complaint or some new complaint.

It is unlikely the latest complaints will convince the authority to change its stance, as RTÉ is currently conducting a review of its programme-making practices.

Mr Flanagan, who wrote about the matter in a letter to The Irish Timeson Tuesday, said yesterday he was furious at having to travel 200 miles from Buncrana only to be ignored during the debate. “They treated us like wraiths, invisible figures they couldn’t see,” said Mr Flanagan, who said he waved, gesticulated and shouted during breaks in an attempt to get an airing. RTÉ said last night that each candidate had been given five tickets for supporters to attend the show but not to ask questions. Mr Flanagan was one of these.

A spokesman for the broadcaster said a person had contacted RTÉ on Tuesday who had “issues” with the programme and had been spoken to by customer relations staff.

Mr Flanagan, of the Flanagan family furniture business, said he felt the programme was unfair on Mr Gallagher, who was asked “tougher than average” questions.

A spokesman for Mr Gallagher said he was aware that a number of people were unhappy at their treatment on the programme. He said anyone contacting Mr Gallagher had been advised to bring their information to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Meanwhile, former Irish Timeseditor Geraldine Kennedy said RTÉ’s reputation would be damaged unless the station confronted the issues raised by the controversy quickly.

Speaking after she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters at the University of Limerick, Ms Kennedy said she felt sorry for RTÉ: “I would have thought that RTÉ would have had one of the highest standards in journalism and in verification processes – there clearly was a major breach on this occasion.”