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BAI says Mooney Show was wrong to broadcast programme supporting same-sex marriage

The BAI agreed with a listener who complained that the programme was not objective in its discussion about same-sex marriage.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated 10.49 pm

RTE RADIO ONE’S Mooney show broke the rules for broadcasting in Ireland by running a programme which supported same-sex marriage, according to a controversial decision by the broadcasting watchdog.

During the programme which was broadcast on 20 January, two guests and the presenter made several statements supporting same-sex marriage, including when presenter Derek Mooney said: “I hope you do get gay marriage… I hope it does come in”.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland today upheld a complaint from a listener who said that the programme breached the guidelines for fairness and objectivity.

The decision and its implications for the upcoming referendum have been strongly criticised on social media.

The person who made the complaint said that no voices were heard opposing same-sex marriage, and that the subject should be the matter of debate in a referendum due to be held next year.

The complainant said that the upcoming debate should not be pre-empted by an unbalanced programme, or by a personal opinion on the matter by the presenter, the BAI ruling says.

In its response, RTE said that the programme was about the number of civil partnerships which had taken place since the law allowing them was brought in. Michael Murphy, one of the guests, was one of the first people to have a civil partnership and was in studio to tell his story, along with Tiernan Brady from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network to give a wider perspective.

Defending itself, RTE said pointed out that it was not meant to be a debate about same-sex marriage. Instead, it said that giving voice to diverse views is central to a responsible, uncensored media, and said it was part of its duty to hold discussions about the rights of gay people and their life experience.

“It does not automatically follow that every examination of this area should turn into a debate about the rights and wrongs or otherwise of homosexuality and gay marriage,” RTE told the BAI.

RTE also claimed that the item was broadcast at least 12 months ahead of the referendum, the date of which has not yet been decided.

However in a brief 5-paragraph ruling, the BAI said that the programme was “not fair, objective or impartial”. It said:

  • While aspects of the programme were factual and of a human interest nature, the discussion of same-sex marriage constituted current affairs content of an issue that was of “current public debate and controversy”. 
  • While the referendum campaign is not under way yet, the current affairs requirements for fairness, objectivity and impartiality still apply.
  • In the absence of alternative views, the role of the presenter was to provide alternative perspectives to those of his guests “and this requirement was not met”.

Tiernan Brady of GLEN, who was one of the guests on the programme, said that the decision by the BAI could have serious implications.

“The real worry that arises from the ruling is whether it means that any lesbian and gay person will not be able to talk about their lives or aspirations on the airwaves without the producer of the programme feeling that they have to bring someone in to challenge that,” he told TheJournal.ie. 

For any one group in society to be placed in that position where they can’t simply talk about their hopes, their lives, their aspirations, I think it’s a terribly unfair precedent.

The complaint was made by Donal O’Sullivan-Latchford on behalf of the Family and Media Association, which says on its website that it aims to “promote greater understanding and appreciation of Christian values in the media with particular reference to Catholic teachings”.

Reaction on social media has been strongly critical of the BAI for its decision.

Tweet by @Glenna Lynch Source: Glenna Lynch/Twitter

The complaint was one of 13 which were considered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s compliance committee at its most recent meeting, and was the only complaint to be upheld in full.

The BAI handles complaints from viewers and listeners who believe that a broadcast has broken the BAI’s broadcasting codes and rules, but only after the person has already made a complaint to the broadcaster first.

First published 2.16 pm 

Read: Complaints about RTE’s Panti apology have been rejected by the BAI > 

Read: RTE is looking for members of the public to join its board > 

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