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Watchdog

RTÉ told to ‘take greater care’ after complaint over Late Late abortion interviews

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland rejected the complaint but warned over the separation of human interest and political stories.

THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland has told RTÉ’s Late Late Show to “take greater care” when dealing with human interest aspects of political issues to ensure there is a clear and adequate separation for audiences.

The warning came as the watchdog rejected a complaint over the 20 April show. During the programme in question, presenter Ryan Tubridy interviewed three women who had travelled to the UK for abortions after they were told their babies had fatal foetal abnormalities and were incompatible with life.

The complainant believed the Broadcasting Act had been infringed on the grounds that it was not fair to all interests concerned, not objective and not impartial. He also submitted the complaint under section 48 (1)(b) which covers harm, offence, incitement to crime and the authority of the State.

The complainant stated that the interviews failed to comply with a statutory requirement that news and current affairs be fair, objective and impartial. He believed the three women were engaged in a campaign to have Irish law changed so abortions could be made available in Ireland and said the interviews were undertaken in a manner to facilitate their objectives.

The BAI’s committee rejected the complaint after deciding that the segment “on balance, constituted a human interest rather than a news and current affairs item”. Therefore, the statutory obligations on news and current affairs content did not apply.

Although members of the committee agreed that there was an current affairs aspect for the interviews – namely the X-case and the ongoing requests to legislate for it – they concluded that it was appropriate to provide reference to the political context for the personal discussion.

However, the BAI also ruled that the separation between the human interest element of the story and the political element “was sufficient, although barely so, to ensure that the item did not constitute news and current affairs.”

For this reason, the broadcaster is asked to take greater care when treating human interest aspects of political issues so that the separation between these two types of interviews is adequate and clear for audiences.

The watchdog dismissed any claims that the programme contained an incitement to crime.

Responding to the complaint, RTÉ said the Late Late Show has interviewed people with interesting personal stories to tell for almost fifty years. It added that the item was not “a discussion about abortion per se” but three tragic personal stories being told.

It also argued that Tubridy had “put to them that many members of the public would not accept their decisions to abort their pregnancies and would have the view that the women should have gone through to birth.”

RTÉ can understand that Pro-Life supporters might have preferred that the discussion on The Late Late Show should have opened up to deal with wider issues. But this was not how the item was designed, the production team is entitled to determine the limits of the item and in this instance the focus was kept on the personal stories of the contributors. It was simply three women telling their own stories.

The broadcaster promised to report objectively and impartially on any measures which are proposed by Minister James Reilly when he addresses the issues arising from the X-Case when an expert group reports this year.

“What was broadcast on 20 April was not part of that coverage and to view the interviews as part of any campaign to introduce abortion in Ireland is to misunderstand the nature of the item.”

RTÉ refuted all claims that an incitement to commit crime was broadcast, stating that the terminations being discussed took place in the UK where such procedures are legal. “Nothing illegal took place in regard to the three women who featured in the programme,” they concluded.

Ireland and abortion: the facts

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