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BAI upholds Sean Gallagher complaint over Frontline tweet

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THE BROADCASTING Authority of Ireland (BAI) has upheld a complaint made by former Presidential candidate Sean Gallagher over the Frontline Debate Broadcast on RTE One television on October 24 last.

It also upheld complaints about the Today with Pat Kenny radio programme broadcast the next day.



Mr Gallagher argued that the broadcast of a tweet from what had been wrongly described as the 'Martin McGuinness for President Campaign' was unfair.



During the debate, Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness said that Mr Gallagher had called to the home of a businessman to collect a cheque for €5,000 for Fianna Fail – a claim denied by Mr Gallagher.



Later in the programme Mr Kenny addressed Mr Gallagher and said the “Martin McGuinness for President” twitter account (not the official one) had tweeted “Sinn Féin are saying they are going to produce the man who gave you the cheque for five grand”.



But later a tweet from the official McGuinness campaign stated: “We have made no comment on the Gallagher FF donation issue”.



Mr Gallagher argued in his complaint that the Frontline programme coupled with a subsequent interview during the Today with Pat Kenny programme were in breach of the section of the Broadcasting Act dealing with fairness, objectivity and impartiality.



The Compliance Committee of the BAI has upheld the complaint.



It also said the broadcast of the tweet incorrectly attributed to the official Martin McGuinness for President Twitter account was unfair to Mr Gallagher.



In its decision, it said that verification of information is an important role for broadcasters, particularly in the context of news and current affairs and coverage of national ballots.



Reacting to the decision, businessman Mr Gallagher, who has also featured as a presenter of RTE’s Dragon’s Den, welcomed the development.



“It confirms my view that there was an institutional failure by RTE,” he said.



“ This public service broadcaster introduced, in a grossly unfair manner, a controversial and bogus tweet into a crucial and live Presidential Election debate, just days before polling, without first having verified where it came from, and whether it was in fact genuine.”



He thanked the BAI and its compliance committee for its decision.



RTE Director General Noel Curran expressed the organisation’s regret at the failures identified by the broadcasting regulator.



But he added that, contrary to Mr Gallagher’s view, “there was no evidence… that the broadcaster, presenter or production team deliberately concealed information regarding tweets or constructed the programme in a manner that lacked objectivity or impartiality.”



RTE also said that it was the BAI’s view “that there was no evidence that would lead one to question the bona fides of the programme presenter or the production team in its approach in the programmes that were the subject of the complaints.”