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TV and radio watchdog reject complaints that Chris Donoghue was 'rude and hostile'

TV and radio watchdog busy with complaints about same-sex marriage

REMEMBER MARIAN’S STOPWATCH? The bizarre shouts of ‘no’ from Brendan O’Connor to balance a rogue Yes pin on a minister’s lapel?

Despite stringent efforts by RTÉ – and others – to abide by strict broadcasting rules ahead of May’s same-sex marriage referendum, they have still been inundated with complaints about their coverage.

However, all 10 complaints on the issue examined between June and September were rejected by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Newstalk Breakfast, the Pat Kenny Show, The Week in Politics, Drivetime, the Six One News, the Marty Morrissey Show and Nationwide were all hit with complaints about shows which dealt with the referendum.

A number of the complaints referred to Newstalk Breakfast, including two which took issue with how Chris Donoghue approached an interview with David Quinn of the Iona Institute.

During his 20 May appearance, one complainant claimed that the presenter “overstepped the mark several times”, haranguing the interviewee and making it “obvious” that he is a Yes voter.

The complainant states, that in his opinion, the presenter showed little impartiality during this interview. He states that the answers to some questions posed by the presenter were not fully answered by Quinn due to consistent interruptions by the presenter with further questions.

Another complainant said Donoghue was “rude”, “overly hostile” and came across more as a campaigner than presenter.

Newstalk argued from the other side, stating that Quinn was an obvious No voter and that Donoghue had to provide balance, transparency and accountability over the 28-minute segment.

The BAI acknowledged that the interview was “particularly robust” but concluded that it did not result in unfairness.

Another complaint was made – and rejected – about an interview with Dominic Hannigan on 26 January, which also included a ‘vox pop’ of four people who expressed a range of views on the vote.

Meath East by-election Joan Burton (left) and TD Dominic Hannigan (centre) Niall Carson Niall Carson

The complainant said that even though the ‘vox pop’ included the voices of two No voters, it was then used by Deputy Hannigan “with the help of the presenter to advance one of the key strategies of the ‘Yes’ side, that is, to rid the ‘Yes’ camp of complacency and ‘rally the troops’, a strategy which can clearly be seen, in action, in the opening exchange”.

The Week in Politics

On 12 April this year, The Week in Politics held a televised debate on the referendum. The complainant took issue with the fact that there was a “personal story” from the perspective of a family “on the Yes side” but none from those on the No side.

The complainant also questioned how the presenter treated Senator Rónán Mullen, claiming her interviewing techniques were more intense with him.

2/7/2013. Abortion legislation Voting Takes place Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

According to the BAI, the complainant stated “that the presenter frequently interrupted, didn’t let the ‘No’ side representatives finish their points, put forward contentious views as if they were a given and dismissed points the ‘No’ side were trying to make”.

RTÉ told the complainant that they had asked both sides for a family to represent their points of view, but that the No side could not secure one and therefore Keith Mills as an interviewee and that option was accepted.

The BAI agreed with the broadcaster, stating that the debate was conducted fairly and that the pre-recorded segments were objective and impartial.

Unchallenged advocacy

Some of the most memorable interviews of the year were given by former minister Pat Carey ahead of the referendum as the 67-year-old came out as a gay man for the first time.

Irish General Election PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

One complainant told the BAI that Pat Kenny’s mentioning of an upcoming interview with the Fianna Fáil politician was misleading and that the interview itself was an “unchallenged advocacy for a Yes vote”.

The complainant maintains that Pat Kenny mentioned on The Breakfast Show, when referring to an upcoming interview with Pat Carey on his own show, that Carey mentioned “in passing that he himself is gay”. The complainant believes this was inaccurate as Carey had said on another programme that day that he was ‘coming-out’ precisely in order to strengthen the ‘Yes’ vote in the then upcoming referendum on marriage. The complainant states that there was no “in passing” element to what he did. The complainant believes this was misleading to the listener and unfair to those who would argue for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum.

Newstalk rejected the second part of the complaint, pointing to the personal element of the interview. It stated that he expressed his regret at not ‘coming-out’ earlier and spoke of his admiration of Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

The broadcaster states that Carey was at times critical of the tactics of the ‘Yes’ side but he did not actively advocate for a ‘Yes’ vote. They state that, furthermore, Pat Kenny put to him some of the arguments of the ‘No ‘side – that civil partnership should be enough and that marriage is about reproduction.

The BAI said the interview did not infringe on the requirements of the Broadcasting Act.


29/8/2013 New Season on RTE Radio 1 Launch Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Marty Morrissey’s entertainment and lifestyle show on RTÉ Radio One was also victim to scrutiny by those concerned about balance in the marriage equality debate.

On 21 January, Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack and Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy spoke about their experiences of being gay in Ireland.

The complainant states that both of the guests expressed their support for same-sex marriage in multiple ways, on several occasions, and that it went unchallenged.

Responding, RTÉ said it returned to the topic later in the week with Fr Harry Bohan giving his unchallenged view on same-sex marriage.

The programmes were clearly linked in terms of their stated topic(s) and the presenter’s commitment to return to them. They were transmitted with a reasonable time period, on a Wednesday and the following Friday.

The BAI felt that “the topic was dealt with in a fair and even-handed manner and without the presenter expressing his personal view”.

Periphery issues

It wasn’t just on shows explicitly about the referendum which drew ire from viewers and listeners.

Some programmes dealing with other issues were also subject to complaints.

When covering the Gender Recognition Bill on 28 January, discussions on Drivetime touched on the marital status of transgender people.

The complainant said this “really amounted to an argument in favour of same-sex marriage during which no counter-argument was heard or even alluded to”.

The BAI rejected the complaint, with committee members agreeing the discussion was not about marriage equality.

The Six One News covered the case of a printer refusing to print invitations for a civil partnership on 6 March. The report was subject to a complaint because of a perceived bias toward a Yes vote in the referendum.

Considering that homosexual marriage is the subject of an upcoming referendum, and RTÉ has an obligation of absence of bias, the programme featured demonstrated an improper bias, showing a support for the objectives of the ‘Yes’ side,” he wrote.

Nationwide also had a case to answer after it interviewed fashion designer Don O’Neill in Ballyheigue in Kerry. The programme explored his work, his life and his long-term relationship with his partner. The complainant did not like that the “homosexual lifestyle of Roger Casement was highlighted while ignoring the opposing viewpoint or suppressing some basic facts”.

The complainant believes that this section was improper and biased especially given the upcoming Constitutional Referendum on same-sex marriage.

The complaint was rejected.

More: IBM is under investigation for some of its dealings in Ireland

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