RTE rejects bias complaint

RTE have made a decision regarding my recent complaint against Sean O’Rourke regarding bias against Sinn Fein.

Predictably, the station has rejected my complaint. I will now submit it to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Here’s the RTE reply/decision.

Dear Mr Sheridan,

Thank you for your email concerning The Sean O’Rourke programme of Friday April 17th.

In the 22 minute section of the programme – The Gathering – the programme set out to deal with Seanad Reform, the death of 400 migrants in the Mediterranean, insolvency, a bus strike, along with Mary Lou McDonald and Dail privilege. The presenter also introduced the subject of grants for first time buyers towards the end of the discussion.

We reject your assertion that the discussion was anything less than fair, objective and impartial. During the discussion all the panellists were given time to give their views on the various subjects.. It is not unusual for the presenter to move rapidly from guest to guest as he moves from one topic to another : indeed, over the years this has been a mark of Sean O’Rourke’s presenting style.

The discussion was robust and that again is to be expected considering the issues involved. The presenter was cognisant that none of the individuals named in the Dail, under privilege, or their representatives – since some of them are deceased – were present. His questioning of Deputy Tóibín was completely in keeping, therefore, with that section of Rule 22 of the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs which states: “It is an important part of the role of a presenter of a current affairs programme . . . to reflect the views of those who cannot, or choose not to, participate in content.”

The presenter put forceful questions to Deputy Tóibín in an attempt to elicit whether or not Deputy McDonald – in the first place – or Sinn Féin accepted the bona fides of those named individuals. In our view this was fair and would be expected of the programme by its listeners, and again in keeping with Rule 22 , where it states: “It is an important part of the role of a presenter of a current affairs programme . . . to ensure that the audience has access to a wide variety of views on the subject of the programme or item; to facilitate the expression of contributors‘ opinions – sometimes by forceful questioning.”

Finally, your claim that the presenter breached Rule 22 by “strongly and emotionally expressed his personal view” is incorrect. The presenter was, on behalf of listeners, carrying out his professional role of forcefully questioning a panellist whose party colleague was at the centre of public debate concerning her actions in Dáil Éireann. There is a clear distinction between challenging questions and the expression of a partisan view and there was no such expression on this occasion.

If any member of the public is of the opinion that a programme or segment of a programme broadcast on RTÉ has breached a provision of Section 39(1)(a), (b), (d) or (e) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 or failed to comply with a provision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Codes and is not satisfied with RTÉ’s response they are entitled to make a complaint to the BAI.

Yours sincerely,