independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

More damage to RTE's reputation

Yet another insight into the happy-go-lucky way in which our national broadcaster conducts its affairs has been supplied in the report of the "editorial review" of the 'Frontline' programme in October 2011 which featured all the presidential election candidates.

The minor – some would say, not all minor – errors took second place to the affair of the "false tweet" which, many thought, destroyed the campaign of one candidate, Sean Gallagher. Soon after, they were totally overshadowed by an appalling scandal, the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds.

But they illustrate what are clearly serious faults of long standing, which must make viewers wonder how much they can trust even leading current affairs programmes.

In this instance, the review finds that one audience member was a personal friend of one of the production team. Questions by audience members were rewritten to an extent that could affect their meaning. This is common practice in several countries, but it is obviously open to abuse.

More dangerously – though still, it would appear, innocently – far too many questions were listed. This could affect, even ruin, the balance of a programme.

A "challenging" question on abortion was devised for, but not asked of, Michael D Higgins. Another, on the "Abbeylara amendment" limiting the powers of Oireachtas inquiries, was also considered challenging. At a more worrying level, the report criticises "the lack of a senior editorial figure" to supervise matters on the night, and the fact that "formal training procedures were limited in the current affairs department at that time, and awareness of programme makers' guidelines, and in particular social media guidelines, was low."

This issue of guidelines would come up again in relation to the Mission to Prey scandal. It beggars belief that either the Mission to Prey team, or the 'Frontline' team, could have lacked knowledge of them.

But it seems, sadly, that we must overcome our disbelief and accept that in these and other instances senior RTE management allowed persons who were themselves in responsible positions to ignore basic principles and practices.

The organisation deserves credit for setting up, and publishing, the present review. It remains to be seen whether reform leads to more professionalism. In the wake of the Mission to Prey affair, it appeared that some in high places in RTE were more concerned about their jobs than about gross breaches of standards. This report, though written in mild and cautious language, is a reminder of the hard work still ahead of them.

Irish Independent

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