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Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Gallagher writes to Rabbitte over 'deeply disturbing' Frontline claims

Seán Gallagher writes to the communications minister seeking a “full investigation” into the making of the Presidential debate.

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Seán Gallagher has personally written to communications minister Pat Rabbitte to seek a full independent inquiry into the production of RTÉ’s Frontline presidential debate.

The letter comes a day after a member of the audience at the show, who asked a question critical of Gallagher on the night, claimed he had been given his critical question by staff on the show.

The letter – which can be read in full here, and which Gallagher said had been personally given to the minister this afternoon – argues that the allegations bring public trust of RTÉ “into serious question” and that a full inquiry is needed to examine them.

Gallagher argues that the investigation should include full discovery of all communications:

  • Between members of the production team, including presenter Pat Kenny
  • Within RTÉ regarding the Frontline programme
  • Between RTÉ and members of the public, with particular reference to how audience members were selected
  • Between RTÉ and audience members in the period leading up to, and following, the programme
  • Between RTÉ and campaign teams, candidates and parties regarding the debate programme

Gallagher argues that restoring trust in RTÉ was “a matter of urgency” and that it would take a “full and comprehensive” investigation if this was to be the case.

The former Dragon’s Den investor adds that the Sunday Independent’s report, which first carried the claim from audience member Pat McGuirk that RTÉ staff had suggested a more aggressive line of questioning than he had independently proposed, was “evidence that RTÉ seems to have stage-amanged, or set the agenda, for what I understood to be a question and answer session between the candidates and members of the audience”.

RTÉ’s acting director of current affairs Steve Carson, speaking on RTÉ Radio One yesterday, insisted that McGuirk had not been schooled in his question. He said that McGuirk had sent a note to the researcher who had dealt with in relation to The Frontline debate, after the show, to thank her for being “good at (her) job”.

From the outset, however, Gallagher states that his concerns about the Frontline show relate only to the democratic process and not to the outcome of the election itself, adding: “This is not about me.”

The Broadcasting Act 2009 provides that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland can appoint an investigating officer for the purposes of investigating an apparent breach of a broadcaster’s duties.

This has only previously been invoked once, on the request of Pat Rabbitte as minister, when the BAI appointed an investigator into RTÉ’s handling of the Fr Kevin Reynolds affair. That report is in the process of being finalised.

In full: Our coverage of the RTÉ Frontline debate controversy >

Poll: Do we need a public inquiry into the RTÉ Frontline debate? >

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