Monday 24 July 2017

TV report author waits for apology

Sean Gallagher's election campaign was dealt a hammer blow by the RTE programme
Sean Gallagher's election campaign was dealt a hammer blow by the RTE programme

An author of a report into RTE's controversial Frontline presidential debate said he is still waiting for an apology from the broadcasting watchdog for alleged defamation.

Rob Morrison, the independent member of an internal review team, threatened to sue the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) amid claims it questioned his integrity and reputation.

He said he went through a difficult 24 hours after the BAI stated there were more significant editorial failings than was admitted in his final report, co-authored with senior RTE executive Steve Carson.

Mr Morrison said: "I called on the BAI to clarify their position, to retract their statement, and an apology. The BAI have not clarified or retracted it."

Solicitors for Mr Morrison, former head of news and current affairs at UTV, wrote to the BAI on November 23 about its statement days before it was issued to the media. The BAI said it responded to the letter within a week, but would not comment on the contents of the correspondence.

Mr Morrison told a Dail committee he felt the BAI statement was defamatory and alleged that he and Mr Carson intentionally left something out of an eight-page published report. He maintained there was a media frenzy afterwards, with both authors questioned by journalists and broadcasters, while a BAI advisory note which "cast no question" over authors was not issued to newsrooms unless requested.

The editorial review commissioned by RTE looked at the overall editorial processes of the Frontline programme last October, which dealt a hammer blow to presidential frontrunner Sean Gallagher's chances of victory in the election. Their review found there had been a series of failings in the production and broadcast of the presidential debate, but the investigation concluded that the mistakes were not made as a result of bias or partiality.

The BAI called on the broadcaster to release its extensive 27-page working document.

Mr Morrison and Mr Carson appeared before the joint committee on communications, natural resources and agriculture with Noel Curran, RTE director general, and Kevin Bakhurst, the new head of news and current affairs at the station.

Mr Curran said what happened on the Frontline debate, so soon after the Mission To Prey programme - which falsely accused a priest of raping a woman and fathering a child in Africa - had a profound impact on RTE. "The very serious editorial failures made in these two current affairs programmes have rightly caused RTE to review and interrogate all of its editorial policy, practices and values," he said. "These errors and failures have presented many challenges to many people in recent months, not least to those who were directly affected by them. But they have also caused concern and anger both within RTE and among our audience, the general public, whose trust in our organisation we value above all else."

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