Sunday 26 March 2017

'RTE News bias favours Labour/SF' - FF Inquiry

Party complains News & Current Affairs' new policy keeps them off air

Fianna Fail's general secretary, Sean Dorgan

Jody Corcoran and JOHN DRENNAN EXCLUSIVE

FIANNA Fail has made a written complaint to the director general of RTE that news and current-affairs programmes at the station are "clearly biased" in favour of Labour and Sinn Fein, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

In a detailed submission, Fianna Fail says that "evidence" compiled across the news and current affairs schedule "demonstrates that Prime Time, while particularly egregious, is not an isolated example".

The presentation was made to the director general, Noel Curran, and the managing director of news, Ed Mulhall, last November, and it was repeated earlier this month to the director of television, Steve Carson, who had been appointed editor of current affairs in November.

In the 12-page document, which has been seen by the Sunday Independent, Fianna Fail says it "appears clear" that there has been a "radical, unilateral and unexplained" change in the manner in which RTE covers the views of the opposition.



The party questions how what it calls this "new approach" fits with the RTE "public-service ethos and statutory responsibility to demonstrate objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs". RTE yesterday rejected the accusation of "bias" and said it took "very seriously the responsibility to be even-handed".

A spokesman added: "RTE met Fianna Fail representatives when requested and has given attention to the concerns expressed and the analysis presented."

However, a senior Fianna Fail source said yesterday that the party was "on the verge" of taking a complaint against RTE to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Ironically, details of the most serious conflict have emerged in the same week that the Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, had a meeting of almost two hours with RTE management to discuss the broadcaster's financial situation.

Mr Rabbitte, a Labour Minister, who was last week critical of what he described as "doom and gloom" broadcasts at RTE, told management it could not continue to run a deficit.

Fianna Fail's general secretary, Sean Dorgan, and its director of communications, Pat McParland -- acting with the imprimatur of the party leader Micheal Martin -- approached RTE last November with a detailed analysis.

This was based on the number of appearances that Fianna Fail politicians have made on Prime Time over a 16-month period, before and after the general election in February of last year.

The submission, which contained statistical evidence, states: "Prime Time appears to have taken a radically different approach to covering opposition voice. Before the election, share of voice was clearly biased in favour of the opposition. Since the election, that bias has been dramatically reversed."

It also stated that the figures "appear to have little correlation with Dail representation" or with the share of first-preference vote (FPV) won by each party and independents in the election.

A significant proportion of the presentation relates to the "voice" given by RTE to both Labour and Sinn Fein.

The Fianna Fail document states: "Despite identical Dail representation, Labour enjoyed 21.6 per cent share of voice before the election, compared to Fianna Fail's 10.1 per cent after the election. Fianna Fail is now getting more than 100 per cent less access to Prime Time than the Labour Party in the same position."

It continues: "Despite having an approximately 25 per cent larger representation in the 31st Dail than Sinn Fein (19 TDs versus 14), the two parties have been given the same access to Prime Time.

"Labour, before the election, enjoyed 21.6 per cent share of voice, with just 10.1 per cent share of FPV. Fianna Fail now gets 10.1 per cent share of voice on 17.4 per cent share of FPV. Fianna Fail gets same share of voice as Sinn Fein (10.1 per cent), despite that party having just 9.9 per cent share of FPV."

In response to the charge of bias, an RTE spokesman said yesterday: "RTE does not accept the contention regarding party biases.

"All political parties make representations to RTE, expressing concerns about frequency of appearance of their representatives or airtime given to policy positions. Representations of different kinds have also been received from other parties in recent times."

RTE is facing the likelihood of further severe cuts in the wake of a stark warning by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte last week that the national broadcaster could not run deficits indefinitely. He is said to have received a commitment from management that RTE finances would be in "kilter" by 2013.

RTE broke even in 2008, but lost €16.5m in 2009 and €4.7m in 2010. It is expected to lose €17m this year.

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