RTÉ and televised leaders’ debate
Sir, – RTÉ is Ireland’s public service media organisation, funded by the licence fee, and has a statutory duty to be fair, objective and impartial.
Therefore it must be apparent to any reasonable person who believes in the principle of free and fair elections that RTÉ’s debate between the leader of the main party in Government and the leader of the main party that supported that Government and kept it in office could never by any stretch of the imagination be considered as true political debate.
To exclude the biggest opposition party in the last Dáil from this “debate” is untenable and, in my opinion, a clear breach by RTÉ of its statutory obligations to ensure that all news and current affairs programming is fair, objective and impartial.
During elections and referendums, this obligation to be fair, objective and impartial is all the more important because any distortion or biased presentation of choices that influence, directly or indirectly, the outcome of the vote is contrary to the principles of democracy and a free and fair election.
RTÉ knows or ought to know that by facilitating a debate between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil it is presenting to the voter a false impression that the choice in this election is a binary choice.
Furthermore, a debate between the main government party and what is in effect its de facto coalition partner in government shields these parties from being held to account, by actual opposition parties, for the performance of the outgoing government with regard to matters where the two parties were in agreement.
Sinn Féin has been rightly critical of RTÉs decision and the matter may end up in the courts.
If so, it will not be the first time that voters have been forced to challenge legally RTÉ’s failure to comply with its statutory and legal obligations, as the Supreme Court decision in the Coughlan case demonstrated.
However, it will be the taxpayer who once again foots the bill for RTÉ’s failure.
I do not tout for any party, only for democracy and fairness, and irrespective of what political party one ultimately supports, the decision by RTÉ and indeed by Virgin Media, which is also excluding Sinn Féin in a similar fashion, cannot be justified. – Yours, etc,