Sunday 20 October 2019

Three complaints about RTE Prime Time programme on transgender issues rejected by BAI

Miriam O'Callaghan on Prime Time/ RTE One
Miriam O'Callaghan on Prime Time/ RTE One
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Three complaints about RTE's controversial Prime Time programme on transgender issues have been rejected by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The latest broadcasting complaints decisions were published by the BAI on Tuesday morning.

All three complaints related to the episode of Prime Time broadcast on January 22 this year which focused on young people who wanted to change gender and featured ten contributors representing a range of views on trans rights.

Prior to the broadcast, members of the trans community and their friends and families, objected to the inclusion of a pre-recorded interview with Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, which they deemed offensive.

More than 4,000 people signed a petition calling for Mr Linehan’s interview to be dropped and many people tweeted in support of the accompanying #TurnOffPrimeTime social media campaign.  RTE received around 500 emails regarding the programme in advance of broadcast.

Members of the public who complain to RTE and are not satisfied with the response from the broadcaster to their complaint, can then complain to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

Three people subsequently made such complaints to the BAI.

The first complainant argued that the programme was "not objective based on the mix of contributors and how the discussion was framed".  They also maintained that the programme was harmful to transgender people.

The complainant also said that the discussion should have had a greater focus on human experiences and argued, in particular, that "some contributors did not have any relevant expertise or experience on the subject matter" and that "giving a platform to such contributors resulted in comments being made which were inaccurate, harmful and displayed prejudice against transgender people".

In its response RTE said that it considers it "wrong to limit contributors to people with personal experience or expertise" and added that "contributors represented a range of views on the issues being examined in the programme".

The Compliance Committee of the BAI rejected the complaint, noting that while the subject was of a "sensitive nature", the topic was explored "through interviews with a variety of contributors and a range of views were presented".

Regarding the choice of contributors, the Committee noted that RTE "retains editorial independence and, as such, is entitled to hcoose the contributors who participate in a programme".

It was also noted that the programme presenter had issued a verbal warning, stating that 'some viewers may find the content difficult or distressing'.

The second complainant was of the view that the programme "portrayed transgender people as having mental health problems or as being on the autism spectrum" and therefore they found the programme "unfair and offensive to transgender people, to people with mental health problems and to people on the autism spectrum".

The Compliance Committee rejected the complaint, ultimately finding that the programme did not incite hatred or cause undue offence. 

The Committee also rejected the third complaint, in which the complainant argued that the inclusion of anti-transgender activisits from the UK had been inappropriate and that due care had not been shown by the broadcaster.

A further 12 complaints about RTE and TG4 programmes across radio and television were rejected by the Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI.

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