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Complaint over “unfair” Liveline funeral mass discussion upheld

The complaint centred on a discussion about sympathies being given at funeral masses in Co Meath.

Image: Infomatique via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE BAI HAS upheld a complaint over a discussion on the radio show Liveline, which centred on the controversial guidelines for funeral masses that were given out to parishes in county Meath.

The complaint, from Martin Long, focused on one caller’s claim that mourners were not allowed to sympathise with the family of the deceased within the church after funeral masses.

The Guidelines on the Funeral Mass were written and disseminated by Bishop Michael Smith last year.

The complainant noted that one caller to Liveline said it wasn’t permissible to offer sympathies to the families of the deceased in the Diocese of Meath, under the direction of the Bishop of Meath.

Long disputed the claim, stating it was not factually correct and that there are “clear arrangements” regarding people giving sympathies to families at funerals.

He said that the diocesan office in Meath told the programme makers about the guidelines on foot of the broadcast and said that in many of the parishes in the Diocese of Meath, the congregation is always invited to sympathise with the family at the top of the church.

RTÉ’s response

To submit a complaint to the BAI, the viewer or listener must first log their issue with the broadcaster. A response is usually expected within 21 days and if this is deemed unsatisfactory, the BAI can be approached.

The watchdog then asks for the broadcaster’s response.

RTÉ told the complainant (Martin Long) that Liveline had a variety of callers over two days on the issue of eulogies at funeral masses, in light of a directive from the Bishop of Meath that had appeared across national media forums.

One caller told Liveline that she was told funeral attendees could not offer sympathies within the church.

The show’s producer tried to contact Meath Diocese by telephone but there was no reply, and they went on air with the caller.

RTÉ said some callers told Liveline they had been allowed sympathise in the same church, but they would not go on air with their comments when asked.

The Diocese of Meath’s press office sent an email to RTÉ after the show to tell them that in “many” parishes in the diocese, mourners can sympathise within the church.

In the broadcaster’s opinion, the statement didn’t clarify that this incident did not happen in the caller’s case.

RTÉ said that it will endeavour to clarify the issue within future discussions on religious issues.

The broadcaster told the BAI the above points, and also admitted that there was a delay in replying to the complainant due to the producer in charge being on leave in September. It as also partly due to the confusion from an incorrect date on Long’s correspondence to RTÉ.

The broadcaster states that no information has come to light that would contradict the experience of the caller at her mother’s funeral and no statement has been made that this experience of a proscription on condolences within the church is not to be found in other parishes in Meath,” it wrote.
“Accordingly, RTÉ believes that there was no lack of fairness, objectivity or impartiality in the handling of the broadcast on this topic on 14 August.”

But the broadcaster accepted that the caller’s experience “is not the unavoidable consequence of a directive by the Bishop of Meath”.

BAI response

The BAI said that the item was a matter of importance to those who are Catholic and who live in the Diocese of Meath, so it was important the caller’s comments were accurate.

The Compliance Committee said:

It is the view of the Committee that the error (acknowledged by the broadcaster) in the programme in respect of the Bishop of Meath could have been addressed during the programme or in a subsequent edition of the Liveline programme.

It also said that the guidelines would have been available on the Diocese website, so the veracity of the caller’s comments could have been checked during the programme.

The BAI said its committee was of the opinion that the item:

did not meet the requirements for fairness in current affairs content and was not presented with due accuracy and should have been rectified by the broadcaster.

Read: BAI upholds part of complaint about Newstalk ‘attack’ on Taoiseach>

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