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Joan Burton Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Joan Burton thinks RTÉ got a bit too excited about the water protests (but RTÉ doesn't agree)

The Tánaiste has joined those in government criticising the broadcaster’s coverage of water charges.

Updated 10.49pm 

JOAN BURTON HAS said that RTÉ’s “sense of excitement” may have contributed to the broadcaster focusing almost exclusively on those advocating non-payment of water charges in recent months.

The Tánaiste was speaking in the wake of evidence published in the Irish Independent today showing that TDs advocating non-payment were given more airtime on RTÉ than government opponents last month.

The broadcaster has insisted that its coverage has been fair and balanced. Labour has been particularly critical of the way in which RTÉ has covered the water charges issue in recent months.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly was incensed by what he believed was a lack of balance in reports played on Saturday with Claire Byrne when it broadcast from the Labour conference in February.

While former communications minister Pat Rabbitte launched a blistering attack on the broadcaster last month, accusing it of acting like “recruiting sergeant” for the far left and Sinn Féin.

‘Water charges dominant’

Burton said today that it appeared as if those who are protesting against water charges have dominated the airwaves.

Vine: Joan Burton at the National Gallery in Dublin launching a new campaign aimed at helping unemployed construction workers regain work in the sector. 

“We all value, as a cornerstone of our democracy, a free press, free media in Ireland. But it does have to be balanced and fair and what I would like to see is that RTÉ would actually be conscious of the need for fairness, for impartiality. They’re a public service broadcaster,” she told reporters in Dublin today. 

“Over a million people have signed up for instance to water charges or a million households. But it seems like the people who haven’t signed up, who are a very small proportionate of that in total, a significant proportion, but small nonetheless, that in fact spokespeople for the anti-water charges case have dominated the media.

She said the Labour party would like to see “balanced, impartial and fair coverage from RTÉ”.

Asked if she felt the broadcaster had been unfair to the government to date, she responded:

I think certainly, at a certain point, RTÉ’s sense of excitement perhaps about the water charges seemed to mean that their focus was almost exclusively on the people who are making a case about not paying.

“They seemed to leave to one side those huge number of households and people who have decided that we need a proper system of water infrastructure in this country.”

RTÉ response

In a statement issued today, RTÉ said it cannot treat news stories in the same manner as referendums or elections where appearances are strictly monitored.

“News stories are by their nature event-driven. If RTÉ is to provide news, then strict numbers – whilst useful as one tool – are not the sole measure of impartiality or fairness,” the broadcaster said.  

“Just yesterday, RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland featured an extensive interview with an Irish Water representative on the specific issue of leakage.” 

RTÉ said this interview was not included in figures released to the Irish Independent. Of those figures, it said:

In an intense news period when the issue of water charges was very much a public concern, with public marches and the imprisonment of protesters, RTÉ is satisfied that there was a proportionate representation of the range of views and opinions as driven by the topical news agenda.
First published 2.45 pm

Read: Pat Rabbitte launches scathing attack on RTÉ’s coverage of water charges

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