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BAI rejects Maria Bailey's complaint over 'untrue and damaging' comments made on RTÉ radio

The BAI determined that the subject matter was treated fairly and presented in an objective manner.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland (BAI) has rejected a complaint from former TD Maria Bailey over comments made about her deselection as a Fine Gael candidate during a panel discussion on Today with Sean O’Rourke.  

Bailey claimed “untrue and damaging” comments were made about her in relation to insurance fraud, remarks she said were not challenged by the presenter.

However, RTÉ said it did not accept that Bailey was defamed during the programme and that the discussion around insurance was made in the context of a wider debate on the topic. 

In January, Bailey confirmed she would not contest the following month’s general election. She pulled out of the race after a decision from Fine Gael in November to remove her from the election ticket in the constituency.

She had been under scrutiny over a personal injury case against the Dean Hotel in Dublin, which she launched after she fell off a swing on the premises. 

The incident happened in July 2015, when she was a county councillor, and came to media attention after a story was published in the Irish Independent in 2019. She later dropped the case.

Bailey was demoted by being removed as chairwoman of the Oireachtas Housing Committee following an internal party review which found that she “overstated” the extent of her injuries.

The complaint 

On 15 November 2019, the panel on the mid-morning current affairs show was discussing a variety of current and topical events, among them was Bailey’s recent deselection as a general election candidate. 

In her complaint to the BAI,  Bailey said she took issue with the discussion when one of the panellists referred to defrauding insurance, while another panellist discussed exaggerated insurance claims.

She acknowledged that one of the panellists defended her during the show by highlighting that she was not found to have made a fraudulent claim.

“The presenter interrupted the panellist to state that they did not say fraud, however, the complainant believes that the two panellists were clearly speaking about fraud,” the BAI report states. 

Bailey also took issue with comments made by the presenter in relation to a past matter related to her expenses. A matter she said was separate and “not under review”. 

She added that the broadcast did not reference her own press release but did mention one issued by Fine Gael – a statement she did not believe was adequately assessed for accuracy by RTÉ. 

In response to the complaint, RTÉ sad it is of the view that the comments were made in the context of a wider debate regarding insurance claims. 

The broadcaster said one panellist represented Bailey’s position during the programme and that the presenter twice emphasised that she was not being accused of fraud.

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RTÉ added that it stands over the references to a statement issued by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Fine Gael party.

It also said that Bailey was invited to be interviewed on the programme in order to address her concerns regarding that broadcast on 15 November. 

“The broadcaster does not accept that the complainant was defamed by the programme.”

In rejecting the complaint, the Compliance Committee said it had considered Bailey’s views that the panellists had made untrue and damaging comments about her, that inaccurate information was used by the broadcaster, and that the presenter did not challenge the comments made by the panel. 

The Committee noted that although the presenter did not offer her own views, more clarity may have been provided regarding the panel’s comments on fraud. 

“However, when taken as a whole, the Committee determined that the subject matter was treated fairly and presented in an objective manner.”

The BAI concluded that the programme did not infringe the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and lmpartiality in News and Current Affairs and, as such, the complaint was rejected.

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Adam Daly

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