Independent presidential candidate Sean Gallagher has made the most serious allegations against RTE News & Current Affairs in relation to what he claims was the "ambush" of him on The Frontline presidential election television debate, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Mr Gallagher is seeking an oral and/or public hearing into a complaint which, he says, RTE should be compelled to attend to explain the circumstances which gave rise to the broadcast of a "fake tweet" which purported to be from Sinn Fein.
The unsuccessful candidate last week submitted a detailed 22-page complaint against RTE to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in which he says he is also seeking a "formal apology" from the broadcaster.
Yesterday RTE confirmed that it had received the complaint but told the Sunday Independent: "This matter is currently the subject of a complaint to the BAI and we will be dealing with it through that process -- that is the only way in which it can be dealt with at this time."
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It is understood that Mr Gallagher submitted his complaint on Tuesday last, the day the Cabinet approved an independent inquiry into why RTE broadcast the Prime Time Investigates: A Mission to Prey programme, which wrongly accused Fr Kevin Reynolds of raping a minor and having a child by her.
Mr Gallagher's complaint relates to the manner in which RTE dealt with the controversial "fake tweet" incident at a decisive moment in the presidential election.
On October 24 last, Mr Gallagher took part in a television debate between all seven candidates on the RTE current affairs programme The Frontline, which was hosted by the broadcaster Pat Kenny.
At the time, Mr Gallagher was the clear front-runner to win the Presidency, but he failed to win the election.
The final debate was broadcast live less than 57 hours before polling and less than 40 hours before an election moratorium on media coverage.
Earlier in the debate, certain matters had been put to Mr Gallagher to do with his involvement in the past with fundraising activities for Fianna Fail.
Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein candidate, claimed Mr Gallagher had called to a businessman's house to collect a cheque for €5,000. At that stage, Mr Gallagher "expressly, unambiguously and categorically" denied the claim.
At 10.30pm on the evening of the debate, a tweet was posed to twitter feed "#aras11". The twitter account responsible was "@mcguinness4Pres". It read: "The man that Gallagher took the cheque from will be at a press conference tomorrow. #aras11."
The debate had moved on from the cheque issue by the time of the first commercial break. On return from the second commercial break, Pat Kenny put it to Mr Gallagher that Sinn Fein "are going to produce the man who gave you the cheque for five grand".
In his submission, Mr Gallagher claims that RTE at all times "expressly or implicitly" represented to him, the audience, viewers and to the electorate that the source of the tweet was Sinn Fein; that it was an official tweet published by the campaign of Martin McGuinness; that Sinn Fein had organised a press conference at which the allegations already denied by Mr Gallagher would be repeated; that Sinn Fein would "produce" the businessman whom it was claimed had made the allegations to McGuinness; and Mr Gallagher had "lied" to the audience, the viewers and the electorate.
Mr Gallagher points out that on September 17 Sinn Fein had issued a public statement from the account: @sinnfeinireland which stated: "FYI -- there is no official Twitter for Martin McGuinness's presidential bid. Such an account will only exist after ratification. #aras11."
In his submission, Mr Gallagher claims that at 11.02pm, still during the course of the live debate, there was a corrective tweet from the official McGuinness campaign account which read: "As official campaign Twitter for Martin we need to point out that we have made no comment on the Gallagher FF donation issue" #aras11#rtefl."
According to Mr Gallagher, not only was the corrective tweet posted to the #aras11 feed, (from which RTE had taken the fake tweet 23 minutes earlier) but also to RTE's own feed #rtefl.
Notwithstanding this, he says, RTE did not make any reference to the official tweet. RTE failed to draw this information to his attention, or to the attention of Mr McGuinness, the audience, viewers and the electorate at any time during the remaining 26 minutes of the live broadcast.
Mr Gallagher claims that RTE's revisiting of the allegation of the cheque collection was based solely on the fake tweet. The "dramatic presentation" of the assertion that Sinn Fein had made an official statement, that it was to hold a press conference, "did cause Mr Gallagher to honestly doubt his recollection" which had "grave personal and political consequences", his submission reads.
Mr Gallagher claims that RTE ". . .ought to have known" that the fake tweet came from an account other than the official Sinn Fein account.
He also claims that RTE:
•Was in breach of the requirements of Section 39(1)(b) of the Act.
•Was in breach of its own published Programme Standards and Guidelines.
•Failed to have any or adequate regard to accepted journalistic norms.
•Had regard to a fake tweet which it ". . .ought to have known" was of false provenance and likely to be untrue.
•Published such fake tweet and asserted the truth of its provenance and content in circumstances where it ". . .ought reasonably to have known" both were false.
•Failed to take any, or any reasonable, steps to verify the source of the fake tweet.
•Failed to have any regard to a corrective tweet which called into question the provenance and truth of the fake tweet, and, in particular, failed to draw the corrective tweet to the attention of Gallagher, the audience, viewers and the electorate during the 26 remaining minutes of the debate, and thus distorted the debate.
•Abandoned such journalistic norms as may be expected of RTE to fulfil a "self-appointed role as a game-changer".