BCC heralds bad days for broadcasters
A DECISION to rap Eamon Dunphy over the knuckles has implications for freedom of speech in Ireland. The latest decision by the Government-appointed Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) comes hot on the heels of its earlier ruling that castigated Pat Kenny for his handling of an item about so-called psychics.
The BCC often finds itself dealing with listeners outraged by "bad language", and comedian Tommy Tiernan has featured in a number of its judgments. It can now expect new complaints after Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh appeared on RTE's Rattlebag last Tuesday afternoon and read an extract from his latest novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. No doubt board members of the BCC were relieved to be informed recently by RTE that the station does not, "in general", wish to hear words such as "prick" and "fuck" broadcast. On that occasion, a complaint against Morning Ireland and Today with Pat Kenny for airing Bono's tribute to Samuel Beckett was rejected by the BCC. But the BCC also deals with serious current affairs, and what these Government appointees say can chill the atmosphere for broadcasters. BCC judgments are also an indication of how the promised new Press Council may behave when it comes to newspapers. With Freedom of Information already cut back by the Government, journalists worry that freedom of speech may also be restricted. The BCC agreed at its most recent meeting that Eamon Dunphy had handled an item about nurses in a way that was unfair to the Health Service Executive (HSE). Health services could be central to the outcome of the next general election, and journalists do not want their hands tied when dealing with them. In the past, Fianna Fail ministers have claimed that RTE's coverage of health cost them vital votes.
On his breakfast programme on NewsTalk 106, on January 13 last, Dunphy interviewed Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses Organisation. The broadcast dealt with work practices among theatre nurses at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital. When the HSE delined to debate with Doran live on air, they were told by Dunphy's programme team to get lost. "We told them to go", Dunphy informed his listeners. The law requires Irish broadcasters to cover current affairs in a way that is fair to all interests. Dunphy claimed that the HSE had their chance and turned it down. Famous for his distinctive style of interviewing, among other things, Dunphy added on air, "They ain't getting away with this any more - neither are any politicians, incidentally."