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,

Formal complaint against RTE regarding blatant bias against Sinn Fein

Once again we witness blatant bias and intolerance by RTE when reporting/analysing the politics/activities of Sinn Fein.

I have submitted the following detailed complaint in response to the latest disgraceful example of so-called professional broadcasting by the station.

21 April 2015

To whom it may concern:

I wish to lodge a formal complaint against the presenter of Today with Sean O’Rourke, Sean O’Rourke, for a breach of section 22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs, which came into effect on 1 July 2013 under Section 42 of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

On Friday 17 April last, during a panel discussion on the controversy surrounding the naming of alleged Ansbacher names in Dail Eireann by Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald Mr. O’Rourke was anything but fair, objective or impartial.

Mr. O’Rourke was obviously leading the panelists into condemning the actions of Mary Lou McDonald by attacking Peadar Toibin the Sinn Fein representative on the panel.

As soon as a panelist agreed with Mr. O’Rourke’s obvious view on the matter he moved on to the next panelist.

For example, when David Hall suggested that perhaps there were some questions to be answered by the body politic Mr. O’Rourke interrupted him demanding a direct answer to the question – Do you think it was an abuse of Dail privilege?

As soon as Mr. Hall confirmed it was an abuse Mr. O’Rourke moved on to the next panelist.

Mr. O’Rourke failed, deliberately in my opinion, to interrupt and challenge Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins when she made false claims in relation to the issue.

For example, Senator Higgins falsely claimed that Mary Lou McDonald had presented allegations as findings when she named names in the Dail. It is not acceptable to just allow a panelist to refute this false claim, as Mr. Toibin did. The presenter has an obligation to clearly state that the claim was false.

Mr. O’Rourke, in direct breach of Section 22 of the Code, strongly and emotionally expressed his personal view on the issue as witnessed in this exchange between Mr. O’Rourke and Sinn Fein representative Peadar Toibin.

Toibin: I’m saying to those people that they are innocent until proven guilty.

O’Rourke: No, you’re really saying, and what she’s using Dail privilege to do, is say they’re guilty until proven innocent because why won’t she say it outside the House to the people who are still alive?

Toibin: You have to let me answer the questions. You’ve been firing them at me left right and centre.

O’Rourke: Yeah, well if we got an answer to one or two of them.

It is crystal that Mr. O’Rourke was neither objective nor impartial in the following exchange. His tone was accusatory and condemning of Mr. Toibin, Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein.

O’Rourke: Does the word smear mean anything to you?

Toibin: It does, of course. What do you mean by that?

O’Rourke: I mean the… by naming or reading extracts which name individuals in Dail Eireann under privilege, the cloud of suspicion is raised over these people.

Toibin: The best way to actually clear any cloud of suspicion over these individuals would be for the Government, the Taoiseach has had this information since last November and yet we’ve had no efforts by the Government to have an investigation into these allegations…

Mr. O’Rourke allowed Mr. Toibin’s political rival on the panel, Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins, free rein to interrupt Mr. Toibin at will. Mr. O’Rourke himself constantly interrupted Mr. Toibin to the point where Mr. Toibin was effectively prevented from making adequate rebuttals.

The very obvious overall tone of the discussion, and in particular Mr. O’Rourke’s contribution, was one of bullying, intolerance and extreme bias.

For your convenience I include a transcription of the relevant section of the discussion.

Yours etc,
Anthony Sheridan

Extract from Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Broadcast 17 April 2015

Sean O’Rourke: Brenda Power, do you think she deserves to be censured?

Brenda Power: I think she abused Dail Privilege. Whether or not it’s one that the public will have sympathy for is another question, I think she has possibly more support on this than you might suspect because I guess there’s a lot of unfinished business with regard to the period in Irish politics that she was highlighting and a sense that maybe all the issues weren’t ventilated at the time.

Sean O’Rourke: What do you make of it David Hall given that all the people named have vehemently denied they had these off shore accounts?

David Hall: I think there’s a significant amount of support for a certain period in Irish politics, not necessarily a certain period but a general integration of Irish politics where there’s questions to be answered. It is unfortunate for those people deceased who are not in a position and families….

(Interrupted by O’Rourke.) Do you think it was an abuse of Dail privilege?

Hall, Yes, all things being equal, yes, I do.

O’Rourke: Lorraine Higgins whether there was abuse or not it seems to (be it’s) being played by Sinn Fein as political/Dail insiders effectively defending their own and there’s no particular benefit attempting to censure Mary Lou McDonald?

Lorraine Higgins: Look, this has become part and parcel of the kind of stunt politics we expect from Sinn Fein. At the end of the day Mary Lou needs to reflect on presenting allegations as findings in the Dail and she’s a member of the Public Accounts Committee, that was the proper realm to bring up these concerns when they were investigating the Ryan report. I just think with privilege comes responsibility so Mary Lou needs to be mindful of that.

Peadar Toibin: Mary Lou didn’t present them as findings. Over and over again she said they were allegations. What’s involved here is an authorised officer of the State making very, very serious allegations and the only corroborated element of this whole process is that that officer handed the information to Minister Richard Bruton. For two years the Minister sat on those documents and only when Mary Lou raised this issue did the Minister decide to give the documents to the Gardai.

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins) Peadar, it’s not for the politicians to investigate revenue offences, it’s up to the Revenue Commissioners and the Gardai.

Toibin: Are you saying it was ok for Minister Bruton to sit on a document…

(Interupted by Sean O’Rourke.)

O’Rourke: You’re changing the argument there Peadar Toibin. First of all, the former chairman of Revenue Commissioners, Josephine Feehily, assured the PAC that these investigations (sic) had been thoroughly examined and were found not to warrant further action. And Mary Lou named individuals. For starters, I’m not aware that she or your party have accepted the denials made by the people she named.

Toibin: Well, first of all, I haven’t seen the documents from the authorised officer, I have no idea what’s contained in those documents…

(Interrupted by O’Rourke.)

O’Rourke: No,no, that’s not the question. Does your party and does she accept the bona fides of the people she named under Dail privilege?

Toibin: What I can tell you is that Mary Lou is not saying that these individual are guilty of…

(Interrupted by O’Rourke.)

O’Rouke: Does she accept the bona fides of those people and does she accept…

(Interrupted by Toibin.)

Toibin: You need to ask Mary Lou that question but what…

(Interrupted by O’Rourke.)

O’Rourke: Ok, does Sinn Fein accept those denials of the people that were named?

Toibin: What I’m saying to you is…

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins.)

Senator Higgins: It’s a yes or no answer Peadar.

Toibin: It is not about the individuals concerned.

O’Rourke: Yes it is, very much so. If you were Sylvia Barrett’s family and if you were Declan Costello’s family it would most certainly be about their bona fides and so what you are saying to those people?

Toibin: I’m saying to those people that they are innocent until proven guilty.

O’Rourke: No, you’re really saying, and what she’s using Dail privilege to do, is say they’re guilty until proven innocent because why won’t she say it outside the House to the people who are still alive?

Toibin: You have to let me answer the questions. You’ve been firing them at me left right and centre.

O’Rourke: Yeah, well if we got an answer to one or two of them.

Toibin: I’m saying that they’re innocent until proven guilty and I’m saying that Mary Lou is saying that she is just echoing the allegations by an authorised officer…

(Interrupted by O’Rourke.)

O’Rourke: Does the word smear mean anything to you?

Toibin: It does, of course. What do you mean by that?

O’Rourke: I mean the, by naming or reading extracts which name individuals in Dail Eireann under privilege, the cloud of suspicion is raised over these people.

Toibin: The best way to actually clear any cloud of suspicion over these individuals would be for the Government, the Taoiseach has had this information since last November and yet we’ve had no efforts by the Government to have an investigation into these allegations…

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins.)

Senator Higgins: Politicians don’t investigate revenue matters Peadar, I thought you would knonw that. It’s up to the Revenue and the Gardai.

Toibin: (continuing) And we know that very senior authorised officers in the civil service felt so strongly about these issues that they felt they needed investigation, that they lodged them with the Minister and that he sat on them for two years…

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins.)

Senator Higgins: Are you saying that members of PAC were wrong in deciding not to call Mr. Ryan to make an oral submission?

Toibin: PAC can’t deal with it. Members of PAC were given legal advice that they can’t actually deal with it.

Senator Higgins: You’re skewing the facts here Peadar, you’re skewing the facts absolutely.

Toibin: Attention is being focused on Mary Lou…

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins.)

Senator Higgins: Righty so, rightly so.

Toibin: (continuing) and all the attention is diverted off these allegations that are being made by this authorised officer…

(Interrupted by Senator Higgins.)

Senator Higgins: The Gardai have investigated, the Revenue has investigated, the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals have investigated and PAC has examined, how much more needs to be done?

Hall: It’s very important to remember this has been investigated, some people don’t like the outcome of investigations but this has been investigated by a number of State bodies and outcomes have been determined and to be fair to all concerned and particularly those named, they are innocent as has been proven by those investigations and it is unfair to suggest anything else.

Copy to:
Peadar Toibin
Lorraine Higgins
David Hall

RTE: The listeners can wait

It’s 2 pm and I need to access RTEs Late Debate from last night, but, once again, it’s not available – 16 hours after broadcast.

I rang the programme and was told it would be up in an hour or two. I asked why the long delay and was told something about somebody not being in.

I asked about their technology, was it up to date? I mentioned how stations like Newstalk put their shows on archive even as they’re going out live. Pat Kenny, for example, frequently reminds listeners that they can listen to the first part of the show while he’s live on air.

So why can’t RTE do the same? Well, it appears they can, they do have the technology.

It just seems to be a case of – feck the listeners and journalists who may need the service, let them wait.

Dr. Kelly and the Operation Transformation roadshow

Last year, if I remember correctly, there was a major controversy surrounding RTE’s reality TV show Operation Transformation. As I recall some person of authority strongly attacked one of the contestants for something or other.

The incident resulted in wall-to-wall coverage and comment, generating massive publicity for the programme.

And now, amazingly, the same thing has happened this year.

So here’s the reality of reality shows.

This show, like all other reality shows, has just one principal aim – to make lots and lots of money.

The principal resource for such shows is an endless supply of naïve, desperate people who are willing to humiliate themselves in front of the nation in the hope of solving their problems and/or enjoying their 15 minutes of famosity.

The more people that watch the show the bigger the profit, so a big effort goes into promoting the product and by far the best, and most cynical, promotional strategy is the creation of controversy – hence the annual charade.

Somebody called Dr. Ciara Kelly was the vehicle for this year’s controversy.

It may be that this doctor is completely unaware of the standard strategy of promoting such shows; it may be that her motives are entirely genuine.

It may be that her one mission in life is to do all she can to help people like Eilish, the victim in this year’s controversy – but, somehow, I doubt she’s as naïve as her victim.

Dr. Kelly should have dropped the matter once the annual controversy had garnered the required publicity but she lost the run of herself and began lecturing the nation on the evils of drink.

The lecture began on the Sunday Independent and continued on the Marian Finucane Show (did the producer of Operation Transformation ‘arrange’ her presence on the show?).

The doctor tells us in her article that:

Yes, I was speaking to Eilish, but I wasn’t talking about Eilish.

So, she was exploiting Eilish’s weakness as a vehicle to deliver a rant to the nation? Not exactly a professional approach to a medical problem.

Here’s some of what she said to her victim.

I’m disgusted (by your behaviour) because there are people around the country following you.

There are young people watching this show, there are kids watching this show and I thought that was appalling.

This week was an abomination.

I was embarrassed for you and I was disgusted to see you, you let the programme down. You let your followers down and with respect to Eilish, you let yourself down.

Ok, I might be missing something here but these brutal, deeply insulting comments do not sound like they were aimed at the general population.

They sound more like an individual abusing her position of authority to stoke up a controversy to promote the commercial interests of a reality show.

No reasonable person would deny that drink abuse is a very serious problem in Ireland. But if Dr. Kelly is serious about helping the situation I would suggest she does it in a measured, professional manner.

I would suggest she desist from exploiting vulnerable people to promote what looks like self-promotion and the promotion of RTEs commercial interests.

Copy to:
Dr. Kelly
RTE

Government and media launch major propaganda campaign against water protesters

Yesterday, the Government in cooperation with its many friends in the media, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Irish Water, launched its first major propaganda campaign of 2015 aimed at defeating those who are refusing to pay water charges.

The message was simple: The water is poisoned, the infrastructure is about to collapse any minute with dire consequences for ‘customers’. The only thing that will prevent the greatest catastrophe since the famine is – investment, lots and lots of investment.

One million homes at significant risk from contaminated drinking water

screamed the Irish Independent headline.

And just in case readers didn’t get the fear message, there’s a picture of two lovely children brushing their teeth, great to get the emotions going.

Other dire warnings included: health risk to babies, e-coli, cryptosporidium, lead poisoning, endless water notices, risk to thousands of jobs.

‘Customers’ were warned that if they wanted a modern water system they would have to pay for it. €500 million per year for ten years – minimum.

Also in the Independent (partly owned by Denis O’Brien) John Tierney, Managing Director of Irish Water, was afforded an article all of his own in which he made this dire revelation:

There are now people in Ireland who cannot drink their water because it will make them ill.

His solution: Slap a bill for €2.3 billion on ‘customers’ to pay up or risk getting sick.

We want to become an organisation trusted by people to deliver every time they turn on their tap.

What he means is, of course – trusted to deliver a bill every time a ‘customer’ turns on a tap?

To be fair to Newstalk’s (fully owned by Denis O’Brien) Breakfast presenters, Ivan Yates and Brendan Donoghue, they didn’t even bother with balance.

They got stuck in right away – 20,000 on boiled water notices, nearly one million at risk. They interviewed a spokesperson from EPA asking him comfortable, leading questions that were very helpful to Irish Water.

Again we had all the dire warnings that the sky was about to fall in unless Irish Water ‘customers’ stumped up a couple of billion. At the end of the piece, in case ‘customers’ still weren’t on song, Ivan Yates hammered home the message:

There’s no avoiding the fact if we want to retain our water quality for almost a million people very significant investment needs to take place.

RTE also played its part in the Government’s propaganda campaign.

Here’s part of the written introduction on the Sean O’Rourke website to an interview with Head of Asset Management at Irish Water Jerry Grant.

In the face of opposition to water charges, the response from government and from Irish Water has remained steady. If we want to ensure a sustainable and clean supply of water into the future, charging for water is the way forward.

In fairness to RTE, this clear and dramatic abandonment of balance in favour of supporting Government policy is courageous. At least listeners now know where the national broadcaster stands on the question of water tax.

On RTE’s Late Debate presenter Cormac O’hEadhra nearly had a heart attack at the sheer horror of what was revealed in the EPA report.

Funny, all this hysteria, because Irish citizens (as opposed to customers) have been aware for decades that the water system is Third World standard, at best.

They know they’re being poisoned, they know political incompetence and corruption is at the root of the problem, they know major investment is required.

They also know, and this is where they depart from the position of the Government and its friends in the media, that this time they are not going to be screwed because of the greed and corruption of politicians.

Copy to:

Dept. of Environment
Irish Water
Environmental Protection Agency
RTE
Newstalk
Irish Independent

RTE: Professional standards dropping

It’s 0125hrs on the 21 Jan and I’ve just attempted to access RTEs Drivetime for the 20 Jan.

Disgracefully, it’s not yet available.

RTEs rivals, Newstalk, Today FM, and I’m sure most other stations, provide an excellent and immediate archive service for listeners, researches and journalists.

The failure to provide such a basic service is the latest sign that professional standards at RTE are not what they once were.

Copy to:
Drivetime

RTE: Who to censor, who not

On Wednesday 5 November last, during a discussion on the RTE current affairs programme Late Debate, Labour Senator John Whelan stated that Bord Gais had made their pitch to establish Irish Water under false pretences.

The presenter of the show immediately distanced RTE from the allegations made by Senator Whelan. RTE felt the allegations were so serious that an editorial decision was taken to delete the relevant section from the podcast of the programme.

On today’s Morning Ireland the mother of Paul Quinn, who was brutally murdered in 2007, alleged that Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy knows who murdered her son. The presenter of the show immediately distanced RTE from the allegations made by Mrs. Quinn.

Then, at the end of the show the following message was broadcast:

We (RTE) just want to make it clear that she (Mrs. Quinn) was speaking in a personal capacity and Morning Ireland does not in any way endorse her views.

The allegation made by Mrs. Quinn are infinitely more serious than those made by Senator Whelan.

It will be interesting therefore to see if her allegations are censored in the same manner.

Fionnan Sheahan: An 'Independent' and 'enlightened' journalist

During the pro government love-in on the Marian Finucane Show last Sunday Fionnan Sheahan, political editor of ‘Independent’ Newspapers did, like so many other establishment journalists, allow that the great unwashed do have a right to protest.

But, his generous concession to the masses came with a dire warning.

It would be a shame if recent events such as we saw here would tarnish everybody who decides to take to the streets.

The pro government panel all muttered in solemn agreement. And I’m sure I could hear a distant murmur from the listening peasantry recognizing the wisdom and charity of this fine Irish ‘Independent’ journalist.

Somebody said to be recently, the great seer went on:

It takes a lot to get Paddy out on the streets but when he gets out there you can’t get him off again.

The pro government panel all dutifully laughed at the humorous wisdom of this great national philosopher.

I see outside Leinster House on a weekly basis groups of people from all parts of the country coming up taking up their protests and you have to say, more power to them and it’s only right and proper that they be allowed to do that.

This generous and unsought sentiment, I must admit, brought me to the edge of tears – ‘it’s only right and proper that they be allowed to do that.’

My God, I thought, the Irish peasantry is so lucky to have such an enlightened journalist recognise their democratic rights.

And, it must be remembered, this weekly engagement with the peasantry outside Leinster House probably occurs when the journalist is on his way to meet the Great Leader and his hard working fellow politicians as they beaver away protecting the democratic rights of the sadly, ignorant and unappreciative masses.

It’s no easy thing to mix in such exalted circles while at the same time retaining an understanding of the coarser feelings of the common citizenry.

I think our problem here is, you’re seeing fringe elements now attaching themselves to legitimate people.

The pro government panel all murmured in agreement at this warning to the ‘legitimate’ people of Ireland – whoever they are.

And, to be fair to this most unbiased of journalists, he does clearly take ownership of his views when he states ‘I think our problem is.

The ‘our’ he speaks of is, of course, those on the pro government panel, the government and wider body politic (excluding certain sinister elements, naturally) and his bosses at ‘Independent’ Newspapers.

Paisley's death tips RTE over the edge of obsession

Did you wake up Saturday morning worrying about how the UK Orange Order was coping with the prospect of an independent Scotland?

No, neither did I but RTE insisted on informing us that a UK Orange Order parade was taking place in Edinburgh in support of the NO vote.

How many Irish citizens even know, or care, that a UK Orange Order exists?

It’s all part of RTEs chronic obsession with all things Northern Ireland.

When Paisley died Friday morning, RTE went into meltdown. Even though they’ve been preparing for his death for years they still panicked.

At 1250, regular transmissions on radio one were suspended. They simply couldn’t wait another ten minutes for the scheduled news broadcast.

It’s been pretty much RTE Paisley radio since then.

The entire One O’Clock news, Liveline, Drivetime. Six One News, Nine News – all effectively dedications in honour of a man whose greatest talent was his ability to fill others with such hatred that they willingly went out and brutally murdered fellow humans in the name of his particular god and country.

The RTE Paisley show continued on the Marian Finucane Show Saturday morning with at least one scheduled item cancelled in order to tell the nation, yet again, what a great man the bigot was.

No prizes will be awarded for guessing the content of RTEs This Week programme later today.

So what about Paisley’s home country, how did the UK media react to his passing?

Channel 4: No mention whatsoever in the headlines. May have been mentioned later but clearly the event was not seen as earthshaking.

ITV: Paisley’s death was the third item on the evening news.

BBC 4: His death was the fourth, and last, item on the headlines.

Albert Reynolds and Norma Smurfit's new shoes

During a discussion on Albert Reynolds’ legacy columnist Brenda Power told an interesting story (RTE, last item).

In the late 1980s, when the country was in deep recession, then Finance Minister Reynolds was was preparing to introduce his first budget.

His wife, Kathleen, suggested that he introduce a means test for Children’s Allowance as a result of an encounter she had with the enormously wealthy Norma Smurfit while buying shoes in Brown Thomas.

Are you treating yourself Norma?

No, the taxpayer is treating me. I save my children’s allowance every year and buy one decent pair of shoes.

The shoes cost £300, the same price as the average industrial wage of the time.

Reynolds did consider introducing the means test but in the end decided not to.

After all, Norma was a member of the ruling elite, she had her ‘entitlements’ just like the rest of the Golden Circle.

The response to the story by RTEs Sean O’Rourke was also predictable.

In fairness to Norma Smurfit I suspect she gave a multiple of that amount to various good causes that she has been supportive of down through the years.

There are two possible reasons for O’Rourke’s comment:

One: He/RTE are so afraid of litigation or of being seen to be biased they have to balance out every story no matter how trivial.

Two: He/RTE operate so closely with the ruling elite mindset that they instinctively defend against every negative attack, no matter how trivial.

I suspect the latter is the truth.