Revealed: Sinn Féin’s ‘orchestrated campaign’ of intimidation against RTÉ
Miriam O'Callaghan also targeted by Sinn Féin supporters as party tries to dictate coverage
Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30
Sinn Féin is trying to bully RTÉ into giving it more favourable coverage in the General Election.
And the national broadcaster was targeted by "a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters" claiming the party was being under-represented on the airwaves in the last general election.
RTÉ's best-known current affairs broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan has also been attacked on the internet by Sinn Féin supporters.
The broadcaster gives each party a fair amount of airtime based around levels of support.
But a study of coverage from the 2011 election found that "the outcome in 2011 meant Sinn Féin and Labour were over-represented with Fianna Fáil and independents under-represented".
The academic study by former RTÉ broadcaster Kevin Rafter, of the DCU School of Communications, is based upon confidential documents from RTÉ management meetings.
The study set out how senior editorial staff met with representatives of the main political parties to discuss plans for election coverage.
"Formal representations throughout the campaign were viewed as relatively low, with individual programmes receiving what was described as the 'usual amount of representations from the parties about perceived inadequacies in RTÉ's coverage. There were, however, repeated references to complaints from Sinn Féin supporters," the study says citing minutes of meetings.
"At the conclusion of the election, an internal review noted that there had been 'a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters'. Many of these complaints were about time allocations to parties and candidates. It was adjudged that there was 'a low-level campaign by Sinn Féin supporters' who claimed their party was under-represented based on its standing in opinion polls.
"This bias claim was, however, not borne out by internal data compiled by RTÉ during the campaign," the study says.
RTÉ's election coverage is monitored intensely by senior management on a committee headed up by Director General Noel Curran.
Sinn Féin not only wants more time on air, but is also trying to dictate what stories RTÉ should cover.
The party is complaining about RTÉ featuring its stance on the abolition of the Special Criminal Court last week.
"RTÉ News is being challenged by Sinn Féin about why its choosing of news stories with a slant against the party is being unfairly used to slash its election coverage," the party said in its propaganda newspaper, 'An Phoblacht'.
RTÉ has been able to prove Sinn Féin has not been excluded from its programming over recent days and has featured on a range of programmes including Claire Byrne Live Leaders' Debate, The Late Debate, Six-One News, and Nuacht bulletins on Monday; This Week, Six-One News, Nine News and Campaign Daily on Sunday; One O'Clock, Six-One and Nine News programmes and Saturday with Claire Byrne on Saturday.
"They are also due to appear on further RTÉ programmes in the coming days, including leader interviews on the Six-One News, Today with Sean O'Rourke and also in the Prime Time Leaders' Debate," a spokesperson said.
"RTÉ does not operate a quota system on airtime. We do have airtime guides but they're only a guide and we take everything into consideration in trying to be fair overall to all parties."
Accusing RTÉ of bias, the party has focused its campaign on social media - an important election battleground for young voters.
Sinn Féin supporters have also used social media to target Ms O'Callaghan, who will be presenting the crucial final leaders debate next week.
Several party supporters circulated a message on Twitter claiming Ms O'Callaghan had to "declare your interest" as her brother, Jim, is a Fianna Fáil candidate.
However, during the same debate on RTÉ's Prime Time, Fianna Fáil supporters were critical of Ms O'Callaghan for her line of questioning to their candidate, Thomas Byrne.