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Prime Time was "fair, impartial" on Quinn family

BAI publishes its reasons for rejecting Quinns’ allegations of bias and factual inaccuracy against RTÉ current affairs show.

Ciara Quinn lodged the complaint with the BAI about the Prime Time programme on behalf of the Quinn family.
Ciara Quinn lodged the complaint with the BAI about the Prime Time programme on behalf of the Quinn family.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland has said that an RTÉ Prime Time show about the Quinn family, broadcast on 3 November 2011, was “fair, objective and impartial”.

The BAI refused the Quinn family request – submitted on their behalf by Seán Quinn Snr’s daughter Ciara – that the details of the complaint not be made public. Ciara Quinn had argued that this was “on account of ongoing legal proceedings”. However, the BAI said that such a request for privacy should be made before the complaints process commences. Ciara Quinn’s complaint had been made and investigation had begun on it before she made the request that it be kept private.

  • The full complaint and the BAI’s response can be seen on this document (see pages 70-78).

The complaint from the Quinn family centred around the following complaints (in their own words):

  • Accusation of espionage inferring criminal activity
  • Predetermining the outcome of a legal case
  • The re-broadcasting of material that was entirely out of context
  • Lack of objectivity
  • Factual inaccurate reporting

They alleged that Prime Time tried to “unfairly portray the Quinn family in a negative light”. The family also took issue with the use of clips from an interview with Seán Quinn Snr saying “a significant amount of time had elapsed since that interview” and that it had been recorded when there had been no case pending in the courts.

The programme, said the Quinns, “favoured Anglo’s position over that of the Quinn family” and that there was more reference to Anglo Irish Bank’s complaints over those of the Quinn family.

RTÉ’s response to the allegations

RTÉ said that all of the content of the report on Prime Time was “backed up by court documents, official papers and legal affidavits” and that they had sought comment from “the most informed voices”. The broadcaster also stressed a public interest in the story as it was aired just days before an insurance compensation fund – which will have an impact on premiums for Irish customers – was put in place to cover solvency problems with Quinn Insurance.

The use of the interview with Seán Quinn Snr (from June 2010), said RTÉ, was put in context and explained in the programme, highlighting the “changed circumstance between the initial interview and his current position”.

On the issue of who was chosen to contribute to the programme, RTÉ had offered a right of reply to the Quinn family. They had refused, citing the ongoing legal proceedings (“a view not shared by the broadcaster”).

The BAI’s Compliance Committee decided:

  • The issue of whether the programme had any role in pre-determining legal proceedings is outside the remit of the BAI
  • The “persepective of the Quinn family concerning their business dealings and the nature and status of their debt was presented”. They noted that the Quinn family had declined to present a spokesperson as outlined above in the right of reply section.
  • RTÉ did give context for the re-broadcast of the earlier interview with Seán Quinn Snr
  • There was no evidence that contributors “displayed any bias or that they lacked objectivity and impartiality”.
  • The word “espionage” was not an accusation against the Quinns but rather “used for dramatic effect to illustrate the somewhat labyrinthine nature of the dispute between the Quinn family, its companies and the IBRC”.

Read: Oireachtas committee to discuss State’s liability over Quinn Insurance losses>

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