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Did RTÉ need to get such ‘extreme views’ for balance in the marriage referendum?

Rory O’Neill doesn’t think so.

Image: Niall Carson

RORY O’NEILL HAS questioned whether RTÉ needed to get “extreme views” on the airwaves in order to maintain balance during campaigning for the marriage equality referendum.

The national broadcaster was criticised during the campaign by some of its own presenters for the lengths it went to to achieve a balanced debate and faced further questions afterwards.

At one point during the campaign RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor said the word ‘No’ to counteract the ‘Yes’ pin being worn by Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríodáin.

O’Neill, who was at the centre of the Pantigate affair the year previously, says that what happened on the Saturday Night Show and the subsequent €85,000 payment RTÉ made following defamation claims put an extra focus on their referendum coverage.

“I think it was always going to be difficult for them, but I think there was more focus on how they were going to handle it, because of what happened,” he says.

I do think there were some issues, but I think RTÉ is in a particular bind. I think that the whole balance requirement is very difficult for them to handle but I do think they tend to handle it by getting the same extreme views on when I don’t think that’s necessary.

“We would have some disagreements, but I do appreciate that they’re in a bind and it’s not a bind of their making,” O’Neill adds.

Other issues raised during the campaign included the use of stopwatches to time both sides in debates and allegations that viewpoints were not challenged adequately.

Despite taking issue with the manner in which the issue of balance was addressed by RTÉ, O’Neill says he does believe that the controversy surrounding Pantigate created a debate around homophobia in Ireland that ultimately helped the referendum pass.

“I’d love to say that I’m a Machiavellian genius and that I had it all planned, but of course that’s not the case,” he says.

“But I think yes, what happened started a conversation about how Ireland treats gay people much earlier and I think it set a good tone about the arguments to come up to the referendum.”

Read: “The country needed to have that conversation” – Panti returns to the Saturday Night Show >

Read: Marian Finucane using “stopwatches” to ensure balance on marriage referendum debates >

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Rónán Duffy

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