BOTH THE CABINET and the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will meet today to discuss demands from Seán Gallagher for a full independent inquiry into the production of RTÉ’s Frontline presidential debate.
The calls come after Gallagher, and the Fianna Fáil party, both demanded an inquiry into the claims of one audience member that programme makers gave him a question, critical of Gallagher, to put to the candidate during the debate.
Pat McGuirk had told the Sunday Independent that he had originally suggested a question relating to the salary of the President, but was later encouraged by staff from the programme to ask a question on Seán Gallagher’s record on job creation.
Gallagher yesterday wrote to communications minister Pat Rabbitte sharing his belief that McGuirk’s claim was “deeply disturbing” and brought RTÉ’s reputation and standing “into serious question”.
RTÉ has disputed the claims that the question ultimately put by McGuirk – dealing with Gallagher’s business record – was suggested by the broadcaster itself, and says McGuirk emailed the researcher after the show expressing satisfaction with how the show had gone.
The national broadcaster has announced an editorial review to identify practices and risks in programme-making, with significant attention to live audience-based programmes and to the selection of audience members and questions.
Rob Morrison, the former head of news and content at UTV, is to lead the review, which will also review the audience-related issues raised by the aftermath of The Frontline debate.
Rabbitte himself yesterday told Today FM that McGuirk’s claims warranted “being reflected on” and that he would refer the matter to the Broadcasting Authority “if there was any evidence that would warrant the matter being referred”.
He said, however, that by yesterday evening “no such evidence has been presented to me”.
The claims are nonetheless set to be discussed by the cabinet at its weekly meeting this morning, while the BAI will also discuss the revelations when it convenes for a prescheduled meeting.
RTÉ News reported this morning that today’s meeting had originally been convened to finalise the authority’s report into RTÉ’s handling of the Fr Kevin Reynolds affair – but that the Frontline debate could well now be discussed at that meeting.
Broadcasting legislation does not specifically empower the Minister for Communications, or the cabinet, to call for a full independent inquiry into alleged breaches of a broadcaster’s duty.
Independent inquiries can only be prompted by action from the BAI itself, though in the Fr Kevin Reynolds case the BAI acted upon request from the cabinet.