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'Pure sectarian hatred' or 'totally biased pro-Catholic coverage': Complaints to RTÉ over papal visit

Documents released show that RTÉ received nearly 1,000 pieces of “feedback” over its coverage.

Pope Francis arriving at the Phoenix Park during the visit.
Pope Francis arriving at the Phoenix Park during the visit.
Image: Danny Lawson/PA Images

RTÉ RECEIVED 450 emails and 500 telephone calls of “feedback” regarding its coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, but no official formal complaints. 

Negative commentary to the broadcaster included claims that its coverage of the papal visit during the World Meeting of Families was both “anti-Catholic” and “pro-Catholic”.

Information released to under the Freedom of Information Act also highlights positive feedback received by RTÉ, including praise for Bryan Dobson being “professional and in charge”. 

Figures also released to also show that the visit cost RTÉ an additional €136,000 in costs across TV and radio for presenters, guests and crew in studio, construction costs for off-campus sites, travel and the hiring of broadcast equipment. 

Host broadcaster

Pope Francis had a packed itinerary during his two-day Irish visit, and many of his appearances were covered live on RTÉ TV and radio over 17 hours of coverage.

This included his arrival into Dublin on the morning of Saturday 25 August, the Festival of Families at Croke Park that evening, and his mass live from the Phoenix Park on Sunday 26 August.

At the same time as the mass in the park, a large-scale demonstration was held in Dublin city centre where participants marched in silence to remember abuse survivors.

Papal Visit to Ireland 2018 Protestors outside a former Magdalene Laundry in Dublin during the visit. Source: Leah Farrell/

While no formal complaints were made to the broadcaster, nearly 1,000 people got in touch detailing their feedback to the papal visit, with emails and calls complaining about the coverage wide-ranging.

Negative submissions from some said that RTÉ’s coverage was anti-Catholic. Responses included:

  • “coverage of the papal visit is an absolute disgrace… pure sectarian hatred”
  • “no body [sic] on the panel who was supporting the church… it was a car crash by RTÉ”
  • RTÉ “purposely suppressed the opinions of thousands by stifling the commentary with one-sided poor understanding and knowledge of Catholicism”

There was a reference to the “dreadful quality” of the audio during the Pope’s speeches – on a very windy, August day in Dublin – as well as the “lack of knowledge and preparation by presenters”. 

Another emailer said the “coverage was inappropriate and too flippant – more like a Eurovision commentary”.

Others accused RTÉ of not showing the protests that took place during the visit.

One said that the broadcaster “purposely avoided catching protesters on camera, who have a right to be seen, and disregarded abuse victims”.

Another wrote to express their “disappointment at RTÉ’s totally biased pro-Catholic coverage of the Pope’s visit”.


Others who gave feedback to RTÉ were more positive. 

Adjectives such as “superb”, “outstanding” and “excellent” were used by a number of people.

Three emailers singled out the presenters in particular for praise, including Dobson who anchored the mass coverage alongside Áine Lawlor.

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“Bryan Dobson and his contributors deserve credit,” one wrote. “Bryan Dobson… professional and in charge,” said another. 

Pope Francis visit to Ireland - Day 2 Aerial view of the crowd at the Phoenix Park Source: Liam McBurney/PA Images

Each person who made contact with the RTÉ Information Office regarding the coverage of the Pope’s visit would have received a response informing them that their comments were welcome and would be circulated to senior management. 

In terms of the cost of sending reporters and crew to Dublin and Knock cover the events of the visit, RTÉ hasn’t yet finalised the amount but the best estimate is €16,000, it said. 

The additional costs for presenters and guest fees for those working in studio sites amounted to €11,472.

The additional crewing costs for the same events amounted to €76,616.

RTÉ said: “Costs for personal who were involved in the event but who were already assigned to work on those days are not captured here as it is not an additional cost.”

The costs for construction of an off-campus studio was €6,756, while the cost for the hire of broadcast equipment was €15,675.

In relation to radio coverage, across staffing costs, guest fees and travel, the cost to RTÉ was just over €10,000. 

About the author:

Sean Murray & Stephen McDermott

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