The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has issued a formal 'Warning Notice' to RTE against The Ray D'Arcy Show's coverage of the abortion issue.
The notice from the broadcasting watchdog follows a third complaint against RTE, relating to its coverage of the campaign to change Irish abortion laws and the discussion of abortion.
The decision has been welcomed by the Pro Life Campaign, who declared it “significant” in the ongoing campaign against media bias on the abortion issue.
It has called on RTÉ to “finally admit there is a serious problem regarding bias at the station and that it’s time to demonstrate how concrete and verifiable steps will be taken to address the situation.”
In a statement the Pro Life Campaign said: “The dual issues of accountability and impartiality runs much deeper than The Ray D’Arcy Show. For example, from June - July 2016, RTÉ Radio 1, afforded 81 minutes airtime to the pro-choice side and a pathetic four minutes to the pro-life viewpoint. With each new instance of one-sided coverage, public trust in RTÉ is evaporating. RTÉ’s refusal to address the problem is also doing a huge disservice to those working in RTÉ who take care to be impartial.”
The complaint relates to an interview from June 9 in which Irish couple Gaye and Gerry Edwards discussed travelling to England for an induced delivery after their son was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.
The BAI concluded that the audience of The Ray D’Arcy Show should have been made aware that the interviewees were members of a campaigning organisation seeking to change lrish law and not simply people telling their personal story.
RTE said in a statement today that "it notes and accepts the decision of the BAI. As required".
"RTÉ will provide the BAI with a plan to ensure there is no re-occurrence of the issues identified."
In its latest decision, the BAI pointed out that this “was the third occasion on which complaints have been upheld” in respect of abortion coverage on The Ray D’Arcy Show. They described it as “a matter of concern for the [BAI] Committee.”
Formal sanctions may be made against the national broadcaster if the matter is not remedied by RTE to the BAI's satisfaction.
The BAI concluded that the broadcast did not comply with the fairness, objectivity and impartiality requirements of the Broadcasting Act 2009.
The Committee also rejected RTÉ’s contention that a subsequent interview on The Ray D’Arcy Show corrected any imbalance that may have occurred, noting that this later interview did not touch on the abortion debate in any meaningful way.
Earlier this year, the BAI upheld a complaint relating to Ray D'Arcy's interview with Graham Linehan and his wife Helen last October, in which the pair discussed their abortion experience.
Two complaints were lodged with the BAI, the first of which stated that "the presenter promoted his personal view in respect of abortion" and added that his guests' comments on abortion should have been challenged. Another complained that D'Arcy was "completely unfair and biased" during the interview.
The couple spoke as part of Amnesty International’s She’s Not a Criminal campaign, which is seeking to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution.
The BAI said the interview breached its code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs.
It also upheld complaints against the show last December following an interview with Amnesty International director Colm O'Gorman, also regarding the issue of abortion.
In a statement the state broadcaster said: "RTÉ notes and accepts the decision of the BAI. As required, RTÉ will provide the BAI with a plan to ensure there is no re-occurrence of the issues identified."
Amnesty International have since released a statement on the ruling, saying they are "deeply concerned".
Their statement reads; "Decisions like what has been reported today do not serve that function [broadcasting serves the public interest, including people’s right to seek information], and are deeply unhelpful,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
“Ireland has finally begun to have a vital national conversation on the issue of abortion," it said.
"As the Citizens’ Assembly deliberates on this issue, the media should seek to discuss it in a way that ensures the public get the accurate information they need.
"Most importantly, women with personal experience of abortion must be given an opportunity to share their stories.
"Women like Gaye Edwards who bravely shared her experience in order to encourage much needed law reform.
"Discussions such as those which took place on The Ray Darcy radio show are sorely needed. The BAI should be encouraging and supporting such discussions, not seeking to stifle them. It is time for the BAI to deliver on its mission to regulate, foster and support broadcasting in the public interest on the subject of abortion,” he added.