Tuesday 20 February 2018

Ray D'Arcy's RTE show criticised over fairness in abortion discussion

Ray D'Arcy Photo: Brian McEvoy.
Ray D'Arcy Photo: Brian McEvoy.
Pictured Presenter Ray D Arcy

Mark O’Regan

A complaint against RTE has been partially upheld by the broadcasting standards watchdog.

The show, broadcast on RTE Radio One on June 9, was alleged to have breached standards of fairness and impartiality.

It arose from an interview with Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland during a discussion on Irish abortion legislation.

A complaint by Elaine Noonan to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Complaints Committee, said she believed the interview was more of a chat between two people, who were “agreeing totally” on the subject.

It lacked any sort of challenging or balanced journalism, she added.

In this regard, the presenter frequently aired his own opinions, which consistently agreed with those of Mr O’Gorman.

Mr O’Gorman was given extended opportunities to talk at length with “no questions or challenges.”

She also accused the presenter of failing to ask Mr O’Gorman for evidence to back up his assertions regarding the law in Ireland and its impact on women’s lives.

She also alleged that despite a claim by the broadcaster, that a statement from Ms. Cora Sherlock from the Pro-Life Campaign was quoted extensively on the programme, in fact this comprised only one sentence, and Mr O’Gorman was allowed to respond at length.

RTE argued that audience participation is the “hallmark” of the show, adding that text and email communication are an integral part of any item.

The state broadcaster also said that some very “robust” text and emails, reflecting unhappiness with the Amnesty campaign, were read out to Mr O’Gorman.

RTE insists the presenter was cognisant of fairness, by putting contrary opinions to the interviewee.

The Pro-Life Campaign was invited to propose a representative to be interviewed on the programme for a similar duration, it added in its response.

In its ruling, the BAI Complaints Committee upheld the complaint in part.

It found listeners to the programme would have concluded that Ray D’Arcy “endorsed” the views of Colm O’Gorman, and was articulating a “partisan position.”

However, it also pointed out that the show included contributions by text, that were critical of the stance of Amnesty International, on Ireland’s abortion laws.

But while noting these other views, it found the programme did not fully meet the requisite requirements for fairness, objectivity and impartiality.

The “presentation of the programme” also contributed to its failure to meet particular broadcasting standards.

Responding to the decision, Sinead Slattery, of the Pro Life Campaign, said it was no surprise that a number of people pursued official complaints against RTE.

“The public are entitled to hear both sides of the story on the abortion issue,” she said.

She accused the Ray D’Arcy Show of failing to seek interviews with women who regret their abortions, or women who gave birth to babies with life-limiting conditions, despite a difficult pre-natal diagnosis. “It’s not good enough” she said.

The Compliance Committee considered six complaints in total.

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