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Broadcasting watchdog rejects 11 complaints about Covid-19 segment on The Pat Kenny Show

The Newstalk programme interviewed Health Minister Stephen Donnelly about Covid last October.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND’S BROADCASTING WATCHDOG has rejected 11 complaints about a segment on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show about Covid-19.

An episode aired on 28 October 2021 included a segment called “Covid Roundup”, which included interviews with medical and scientific academics and practitioners, and an interview with Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly.

Eleven people complained to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), saying the presenter was prejudiced against people who are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

They said this prevented the subject matter from being presented in an objective and impartial manner.

The summary for ten of the 11 complaints said: “The complainant believes the presenter’s comment that society was being “too easy” on people who are choosing not to be vaccinated is inflammatory, discriminatory and potentially harmful.”

The comment was taken from an interview with Minister Donnelly.

In its response to the complaints, Newstalk said it believed the comments had been taken out of context.

It said presenters “may robustly question an interviewee and convey a critical view, which may include challenging the approach of Government.

“These comments do not support or condone discrimination of any person or group in society.”

The BAI’s Compliance Committee said the segment covered a range of issues to do with Covid-19, and said it believed the interview questions “were relevant and appropriate in the context of interviewing a Government minister about his area of responsibility.

“The Committee noted that people who are not vaccinated are not a particular group in society that is given specific protection under equality legislation or in provisions of Principle 5 of the Code of Programme Standards.

“The Committee found no evidence in the broadcast of content that stigmatised, supported or condoned discrimination or incited hatred against any person or group in society.”

The BAI received complaints about episodes of RTE One’s Claire Byrne Live and Today With Claire Byrne on RTE Radio One, broadcast on 18 and 21 October 2021 respectively. Both complaints were rejected.

Both complainants took issue with the programme’s discussion of people who were not vaccinated.

Also rejected was a complaint about an interview on Ocean FM with a medical doctor, and former election candidate for the Sligo-Leitrim constituency, who was speaking at a rally in Sligo town organised by a group named United Against Segregation.

The complainant said the broadcast was “harmful and irresponsible by airing this individual’s views in relation to Covid-19 vaccines and the Government’s response to the pandemic without sufficient or any challenge by the presenter.”

Ocean FM said the rally was a local event of public interest, and it was required by BAI codes to cover all issues objectively, giving both sides the opportunity to air their views.

The BAI’s Executive Complaints Forum said in its ruling that it was “editorially legitimate for the broadcaster to cover this local protest action and to 74 interview speakers at it.”

The full list of complaints published today is available to read here.

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