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Station made "personal and pointed" remarks about election candidate who didn't turn up for interview

It noted there had been some “fundamental conflict of fact” in regard to whether Noel G Walsh was supposed to turn up or not.

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A RADIO STATION in the Kilkenny-Carlow area made “personal and pointed” remarks about a general election candidate when he didn’t show up for an interview, the BAI has found.

There was conflict between the station, KCLR FM, and the candidate Noel G Walsh about whether he was supposed to turn up on the day.

Walsh made a complaint to the BAI concerning KCLR Live, which is a weekday magazine programme.

The complaint concerned comments made by the presenter of this programme about Walsh.

Complaint

Walsh said that he was invited to take part on KCLR Live on an agreed date of Wednesday 17 February 2016. But he said that when he arrived at what he believed was the agreed time, he was informed by KCLR that the slot assigned to him had been double-booked and that KCLR had re-booked him for Thursday 18 February.

He said that he wasn’t booked in for 18 February and that KCLR then asked him for a date during the following week that would suit him, and that he suggested 22 February. But he said this was not confirmed with KCLR.

He then said that while canvassing in south Kilkenny on 23 February, he was informed by a member of the public that he was being “slated” on KCLR Live for not turning up for an interview on the programme that day.

The BAI decision included the text of the comments made on air, which included:

…well, actually, we don’t have four candidates today because one of them is sadly lacking in manners. That would be Noel G. Walsh who was due here at 4 minutes past 10, to go on-air at 4 minutes past 10 to do his one-plus-one interview but he neglected to tell us that he couldn’t be bothered turning up to KCLR. He got 243 votes last time, so maybe he’ll get more this time.

Walsh said he contacted KCLR Live and requested that the remarks made about him be withdrawn. Walsh said that the relevant production staff hung up on him when he rang them after the broadcast.

Station response

In response, KCLR said that it “is satisfied that the complainant was treated fairly, appropriately communicated with and received appropriate coverage on the station”.

KCLR states that it considers that the decision by its staff to terminate a phone call with the complainant was “entirely appropriate on that occasion as the KCLR production staff member was uncomfortable with the tone and content of the call made by the complainant”.

The station said that it was not the understanding of KCLR that an interview was agreed for 17 February, and that Walsh’s presence in the studio that day was unexpected.

It said it gave him the benefit of the doubt and subsequently wrote him a letter offering a one-on-one interview with him.

In subsequent emails and a phone call with the complainant’s election agent, an interview for Tuesday 23rd February was arranged. The broadcaster is adamant that this arrangement was made with the election agent for the complainant.

The broadcaster asserts that the complainant did not appear on the morning of 23
February for the interview and attempts by KCLR to contact him failed.

KCLR also said that it contacted his election agent, who informed them that Walsh had decided the previous evening not to participate that morning.

The broadcaster claims that the non-appearance for a pre-arranged interview followed a pattern of difficult communication with the complainant. This was the context of the subsequent remarks by the presenter, Mr Masterson, on-air.

The broadcaster states that the presenter, referring to the complainant, said on air “he
neglected to tell us that he couldn’t be bothered turning up to KCLR”.

It claimed that this was a statement of fact based on the information conveyed earlier by the complainant’s election agent.

With regard to the presenter saying “I think there is a little lack of normal civility and manners with that particular candidate”, KCLR said it “believes that this is a legitimately held view which is relevant in the context of a person seeking responsible public office”.

KCLR said that it maintains that in the context of the circumstances, the comments made by the presenter “were fair and reasonable and addressed and [sic] issue of relevance in the context of someone seeking office”.

Decision

The BAI said that committee decided to uphold the complaint, having considered the broadcast and the submissions and having had regard to the Broadcasting Act 2009, Section 48(1)(a)(fairness, objectivity and impartiality in current affairs) and the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs (Section 4: Rules 4.2 and 4.3).

It stated that on the matter of the interview arrangements, the committee “was of the view that there was a fundamental conflict of fact which could not be resolved on the basis of the complaint submissions”.

In these circumstances, the committee could not reach a view as to the fairness or otherwise of the manner in which the broadcaster engaged with the complainant.

It said the committee was of the view that while there was nothing problematic in noting that the candidate had not turned up as expected by the programme makers, “it considered that the remarks were personal and pointed and addressed aspects of the character of the candidate, including his civility and manners”.

The presenter’s remarks also included a reference to the number of votes that the complainant had attained during the last election and queried whether he would get more; comments which the committee considered to amount to a suggestion about his electability. The committee noted that these remarks were made about a candidate in the middle of an election campaign and without Mr. Walsh being afforded the opportunity to respond beforehand or afterwards.

The BAI noted that programme makers are obliged in normal circumstances to ensure fairness, objectivity and impartiality in the treatment of news and current affairs.

It also said that during election coverage, additional requirements are placed on them because of the “importance of broadcast coverage as a means of informing audiences about candidates and about the issues of a given election”.

In view of this, the committee concluded that the nature, tone and content of the remarks of the presenter did not meet the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 2009 or the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs.

Read: Complaint over Paul Williams calling some Sinn Féin voters “drug dealers” and “killers” on Late Late dismissed>

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