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Newstalk presenter condemns "daft and depressing" same-sex marriage ruling

Although another one put to the BAI about ‘The People’s Debate with Vincent Browne’ was rejected.

Image: Newstalk

Updated: 6.30 pm

NEWSTALK BREAKFAST CO-HOST Chris Donoghue has criticised as “daft and depressing” today’s ruling about a debate about same-sex marriage on the show.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland earlier partly upheld a complaint against the Newstalk Breakfast Show.

The incident that was reported took place in June and involved the two panellists on the programme with presenters Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue discussing next year’s same-sex marriage referendum.

The complaint related to the two panellists, who were the Director of Dublin Pride and a former member of the organisation BelongTo, being given – as described by the complainant – ‘free rein’ to talk about the importance of passing the same-sex marriage referendum.

Offence was taken at the fact that the presenters were sympathetic to all the arguments put forward and that all the questions were of the “please, tell us more” variety.

A pronounced incident of this was felt to be presenter Chris Donoghue stating he would vote in favour of a referendum and expressing his impatience that he could not do so immediately.

In a statement this evening, however Donoghue criticised the ruling:

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has made a ruling against me because I had stated on Newstalk radio in June 2014 that I was pro same-sex marriage.
This was not in a debate or a comment I made in a vacuum.
This was a 20-minute discussion on the eve of Dublin Pride 2014 about a range of issues affecting gay people in Ireland.

The presenter also pointed out that a date for the referendum had not been set at the time he made his comments, and questioned why the BAI had ruled against Newstalk and RTÉ on same-sex marriage, but not on other “matters of public debate.”

In conclusion, he said: “This decision is daft and depressing in my opinion.”

The complainant, however, said that while many people in Ireland support same-sex marriage as “an essential step in the march of civil rights” — there are others who take a different view and a broadcaster acting as “cheerleader” for one side or the other did not help public debate.

Response

In response to this, Newtalk stated that the feature focused on the Gay Pride Parade in Dublin and that listeners had been informed of this beforehand.

The broadcaster stated that during the segment none of the guests or presenters had made an explicit statement encouraging people to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

It was argued that in the overall context of the piece, the discussion of next year’s referendum was minimal.

Partially upheld

The BAI made a unanimous decision to partially uphold the complaint on the grounds that that it breached their code of ‘Fairness, Impartiality and Objectivity in News and Current Affairs’.

In their report, the body found that the show’s presenters broke their special responsibilities for fairness and objectivity.

Their findings state:

It was the opinion of the Committee that the statement by one of the presenters that he would vote in favour of any forthcoming referendum on marriage equality and his stated impatience with not being able to vote immediately constitutes the statement of a partisan position by a news and current affairs presenter on a matter of current public debate.

A similar complaint was upheld against RTÉ Radio One’s Mooney Show in August.

Vincent Browne 

The Authority also received complaints about a number of other programmes that were not upheld. Three were made against RTE Two’s ‘The Savage Eye’ programme.

A complaint was also made against ‘The People’s Debate’ with Vincent Browne for an episode that was broadcast on June 4.

The complainant felt that in a people’s debate entitled ‘Is Ireland Homophobic?’ there was a clear bias in favour of same-sex marriage.

This was due to the perception that one side had more speakers than the other, more speaking time, and a claim that the chair of the debate put forward views that supported that side of the debate.

In this instance the BAI decided that the opinions put forward on the programme were balanced and that the debate that occurred was “appropriate”.

‘Chill effect’

Two rights groups have criticised the BAI complaints procedure, accusing it of ‘chilling’ equality discussions.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and Marriage Equality issued a joint statement today, stating that the “BAI Code is intended to promote fairness, objectivity and impartiality, not to provide an alternative channel through which professed opponents of equality can muzzle free expression”.

“The groups note that this complaint was brought by a Mr Ray McIntyre, who professes to believe in “the importance of marriage as a social institution designed to provide children with a mother and a father”. ICCL and Marriage Equality consider that the use of the BAI’s complaints procedures to ventilate views of this nature, while ostensibly promoting debate, in fact operates to chill public discussion of equality issues.”

The ICCL said it will be bringing the issue to the BAI in a formal context.

Marriage Equality’s director Andrew Hyland added, “The BAI’s recent rulings have led to a fear factor in media especially when it comes to those who support marriage equality. This development is very worrying as we have not even moved into a campaigning period on the referendum.”

Originally published: 2.35 pm

Additional reporting, Dan Mac Guill

Read: BAI says Mooney Show was wrong to broadcast programme supporting same-sex marriage

Also: Could e-cigarette ads like this showing smoking on air be coming to Irish TV?

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