Friday 18 August 2017

Politicians 'concerned' about RTÉ news chief's deleted 'pro-Varadkar' tweet

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said the decision to delete the tweet was made entirely by Mr Williams
A spokeswoman for RTÉ said the decision to delete the tweet was made entirely by Mr Williams
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Politicians have raised concerns about the impartiality of RTÉ's coverage of the Fine Gael leadership campaign after managing director of news Jon Williams appeared to back frontrunner Leo Varadkar.

Mr Williams had to delete a comment he posted on social media which appeared to be supportive of Mr Varadkar.

"With Leo Varadkar as gay Taoiseach symbolizes Ireland's transformation," he wrote.

The tweet was posted with a link to an article which said Mr Varadkar was closing in on victory. However, it was deleted some time later, with RTÉ insisting Mr Williams made the decision to remove it himself.

Last night, Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell, who has backed Simon Coveney for the leadership, said the tweet had been "ill judged". "It seems very strange and I do wonder how it could have happened," she said.

"It wasn't appropriate but I think it must come down to human error. The fact that it was deleted indicates he was aware of the error."

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who has backed Simon Coveney for the leadership, said the tweet had been 'ill judged'. Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who has backed Simon Coveney for the leadership, said the tweet had been 'ill judged'. Photo: Tom Burke

Labour senator Kevin Humphreys said Mr Williams's comments online raised serious concerns about whether RTÉ's leadership coverage will remain non-biased.

"I think it is a cause of great concern," Mr Humphreys said.

RTÉ is legally obliged to be impartial in political matters and has strict social media guidelines in place. These guidelines say the core guiding principle is "fairness and impartiality".

Read more: RTÉ news chief's Varadkar tweet deleted over fears it showed bias

The social media rules were implemented in 2013, and updated in 2015 ahead of the same-sex marriage referendum. In the run-up to the referendum, RTÉ warned staff not to publicly express any personal views, be it in the form of social media banners, Twitter avatars, watermarks, or retweets.

"The fact that the head of news couldn't abide to the rules is troubling," Mr Humphreys said. "I think the Director General should come forward and issue a clarification - RTÉ has to be held to higher standards than this."

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said the decision to delete the tweet was made entirely by Mr Williams.

She said he had retweeted a link to the article and said he often did this.

He was just summing up the content of the piece in his post, she said.

The spokeswoman said that after reading it again following the post, he decided to delete it. She said the word "coronation" appeared in the piece Mr Williams had linked to.

However, sources have confirmed that RTÉ staff were perplexed by his actions. "It shows a naivety," a source said.

"Everyone in RTÉ has to be extremely cautious about what they share online.

"The tweet shows a lack of judgment."

Yesterday, former news reader Anne Doyle, who worked in the current affairs department for 30 years, said it was not appropriate for employees to air their views in public.

"Obviously in private you can have opinions, but you can hardly turn around and say 'Ah Jaysus Leo, I think I'll go for Simon'," she told the Irish Independent.

Asked if she felt constrained when working within RTÉ guidelines, she said: "I suppose there might have been moments occasionally where you had very strong feelings about somebody but you would be out of a job if you aired those freely.

"So that tends to moderate opinions."

Responding to criticism of Mr Williams's tweet, she said: "He's the head of news so, yes, I can understand why it was deleted."

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Undeclared
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Irish Independent

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