Saturday 1 October 2016

RTÉ must face down Sinn Féin intimidation

Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30

Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. Photo: Reuters
Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams. Photo: Reuters

As the national broadcaster, RTÉ plays an important role in the functioning of our democracy. Checks and balances are put in place to ensure the public is well served, through the RTÉ board and through the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

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The government of the day makes appointments to the board of both organisations.

The TV licence, from which RTÉ derives a majority share of its revenue, is also set by the government of the day.

The cost of the licence currently stands at €160. RTÉ's annual report for 2014 showed total revenue of €328.2m for the broadcaster, made up of €149.6m in commercial revenue and €178.6m from the licence fee.

At election time, the broadcaster's coverage of politics comes under enormous scrutiny.

RTÉ is obliged to ensure its coverage is fair and balanced, whilst also being newsworthy and relevant to its viewers and listeners.

It's a delicate balancing act, but the broadcaster goes to great lengths to try to achieve this goal, with procedures in place involving senior management.

Of course, political parties will have their views on the ebb and flow of the campaign and are entitled to a hearing.

However, Sinn Féin's public attack on RTÉ amounts to an attempt to intimidate Montrose and undermine the broadcaster's independent role.

Gerry Adams's party says it is challenging RTE on "why its choosing of news stories with a slant against the party is being unfairly used to slash its election coverage".

Sinn Féin has form in this area. In the last general election, RTÉ management was alerted to "repeated references to complaints from Sinn Féin supporters". An internal review concluded that there was "a campaign orchestrated by Sinn Féin supporters", with complaints being made about time allocation to the party and its candidates. In fact, Sinn Féin actually received more airtime than was intended over the course of the election.

Same again this time around, except this time the Sinn Féin campaign is more direct.

In the interests of serving the public, RTÉ is obliged to face down this latest attempt to influence its coverage.

Irish Independent

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