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RTÉ invites former UTV chief to assist in editorial review

The national broadcaster has outlined the numerous actions it is taking in connection with last October’s controversial Frontline debate.

Seán Gallagher outside RTÉ after participating in Pat Kenny's radio show the morning after the Frontline debate.
Seán Gallagher outside RTÉ after participating in Pat Kenny's radio show the morning after the Frontline debate.
Image: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

IN RESPONSE TO Seán Gallagher’s calls for a public inquiry into the production of the Frontline presidential candidate debate last year, RTÉ has invited an ex-UTV chief to assist in a review of the programme.

Former Head of News and Content at UTV, Rob Morrison would help as part of a full editorial review which aims to identify programme making practices and risks. It will also examine editorial managers and programme-makers throughout RTÉ.

The review will pay significant attention to the production of live audience-based programmes and to the selection of audience members and questions. Morrison will be asked to review audience-related issues connected to the Frontline Presidential Debate.

In a statement issued this evening, the broadcaster said that it had reviewed the events and decisions involved in the handling of tweets received in the Frontline programme of 24 October.

The RTÉ board was told last week that the internal review of HR matters connected with the incident in which a ‘bogus’ tweet was read out and incorrectly attributed to the official Martin McGuinness account is “in train”.

The Senior Editorial Management has also decided to start a personnel investigation. The communications department said that to protect the integrity of this process, it would not comment on matters directly involving named staff members.

As a further step, an internal Editorial Standards Board has been established within RTÉ. It aims to maintain and monitor content standards and will also play a role in the restructured complaints process.

Programme Makers’ Guidelines, which are being finalised under the watch of former BBC controller of editorial policy Stephen Whittle, will include new Social Media Protocols and training in key modules has already started. The new processes will require systematic authentication of inputs from social media, explained RTÉ.

Addressing reports in the Sunday Independent that producers altered a question posed by audience member Pat McGuirk, RTÉ said:

Staff took research notes of the conversations with Mr McGuirk. The notes support the form of the question printed for Mr McGuirk on the night of broadcast, both in substance and in the wording used. Mr McGuirk’’s satisfaction with the RTÉ programme and staff is evident in his mail two days later, which in the circumstances has been made available.

The broadcaster once more reiterated its acceptance of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s decision last week to uphold a complaint by Gallagher that the use of the tweet was “unfair”.

RTÉ noted that it has “apologised for its failures”, adding that it will comply “openly and honestly with requests for compliance, regulation and proper disclosure”.

Earlier today, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told reporters that no evidence has been submitted to him that would provide the basis needed for a further inquiry. He said he would reply to Gallagher’s letter immediately.

Earlier: Gallagher writes to Rabbitte over ‘deeply disturbing’ Frontline claims>

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

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