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RTÉ reaches settlement with former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher over campaign tweet

Gallagher claimed a tweet read out during a live debate seriously damaged his election prospects.

Gallagher's presidential campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.
Gallagher's presidential campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

RTÉ HAS APOLOGISED to former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher and paid him “substantial damages” over a tweet read out live in a televised Frontline debate during the 2011 presidential campaign.

The broadcaster agreed to pay the businessman an undisclosed settlement.

Gallagher had initiated legal proceedings in 2013, and sought a declaration that the RTÉ Frontline programme involving the candidates was “deliberately unfair and unfairly edited, presented and directed by RTÉ”.

RTÉ denied his claims, in an incident that became known as tweetgate.

The tweet that was read out was purported to be from an account linked to Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness, but was in fact not from his official Twitter account.

Gallagher claimed that reading out this tweet was a failure on RTÉ’s part and seriously damaged his election prospects.

It was declared in court today that both parties had come to a settlement. As part of this settlement, RTÉ read out an apology where it acknowledged that it made mistakes and did not verify the origin of the tweet.

It also failed to immediately correct the error when it was discovered, it was said.

RTÉ acknowledges that it should have verified the origin of a tweet to which reference was made during that broadcast and that the tweet should not have been erroneously attributed to another candidate’s Twitter account.
RTÉ acknowledges that it should not have broadcast the tweet and, when it became apparent during the course of the programme that it was false, it should have immediately corrected the fact that the provenance of the tweet was mistaken. As a result, RTÉ failed in its obligations to Mr Gallagher.

The broadcaster acknowledged it made mistakes and failed to comply with its statutory duty under section 39 of the Broadcasting Act in the course of that specific Frontline presidential election debate.

It accepted the findings of a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland ruling in March 2012 and the findings in an internal RTÉ editorial review of the Frontline presidential debate, by Rob Morrison Report, published in November 2012, which “identified numerous failings in the broadcast separate to that of the tweet”.

RTÉ apologises to Mr Gallagher for its failure to comply with section 39 of the Broadcasting Act and for the failings identified in the BAI and internal RTÉ Editorial Review. RTÉ acknowledges that the production of the programme fell significantly short of the standards expected by the public and required by law.

In a statement read out on Gallagher’s behalf, his solicitor Paul Tweed said that RTÉ had paid “substantial damages” to his client, but did not specify the amount.

He said Gallagher had taken the case to ensure such an incident was never repeated.

A press statement released on behalf of Gallagher today said:

Sean Gallagher is satisfied that RTÉ have, before the High Court today, acknowledged their failure to treat Mr Gallagher with due fairness and impartiality in the preparation and broadcast of the Presidential Debate in 2011, which has been supported by the payment of substantial damages.
Mr Gallagher hopes that this apology and acknowledgement of the BAI findings and RTÉ’s own internal report prepared by Rob Morrison and Steve Carson, will lead to significant improvement in procedure and protocol for the next Presidential Debate in 2018.
Sean Gallagher’s motivation in taking this case has not just been about addressing the unfairness shown to him but also about protecting the integrity of the democratic process and ensuring that what happened to him will not be allowed to happen again.

Read: RTÉ wants Seán Gallagher’s e-mails to defend itself against his ‘tweetgate’ lawsuit

Read: Seán Gallagher issues legal proceedings against RTÉ over Frontline debate

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Sean Murray

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