Sunday 19 November 2017

Former presidential candidate goes to war over 'Frontline'

'RTE targeted me to promote Michael D'

Sean Gallagher pictured with his wife Trish.
Sean Gallagher pictured with his wife Trish.

RTE "deliberately" tried to "alter the course" of the presidential election in favour of Michael D Higgins, his defeated rival Sean Gallagher has claimed in explosive High Court documents.


Mr Gallagher, runner-up in the election to Mr Higgins, has significantly upped the stakes in his battle with RTE arising out of a hugely controversial Frontline debate programme.

The former Dragons' Den star has made a series of dramatic claims which RTE sources are adamant will be vigorously contested.

Mr Gallagher has accused RTE of "constituted targeted malice" that effectively took him out of the 2011 presidential race. He claims RTE "deliberately" sought to "promote the electoral chances of Michael D Higgins" and to damage his own electoral chances.

And he accuses RTE of "improper or ulterior motive" to "alter the course" of the election in favour of the President.

Mr Gallagher claims the controversial Frontline programme set out to "damage" his electoral chances, was "grossly unfair" to him and "lacked any objective standards of editorial fairness".

This time last year Mr Gallagher announced his intention to seek a High Court declaration that the programme, aired on October 24, 2011, was neither objective nor impartial nor fair to his interests.

He also said he was seeking damages for alleged breach of statutory duty and negligence and exemplary damages arising out of subsequent comments by Frontline host Pat Kenny.

At the time RTE confirmed that a plenary summons had been received and said there would be "no further comment".

However, in correspondence with Mr Gallagher over a year ago, RTE rejected the substance of his claims and confirmed its intention to contest the proceedings.

Yesterday sources at the national broadcaster stressed that RTE remained steadfast in its intention to contest the proceedings.

Last week the High Court was told that Mr Gallagher was seeking all documents relating to the programme. The discovery application will be heard in full on February 11 next.

A High Court hearing on Mr Gallagher's claims is scheduled to be heard later this year.

In March 2012, the Broadcasting Compliance Committee deemed the RTE broadcast of a "fake" tweet to be unfair to Mr Gallagher. In November that year, RTE published an internal review of the Frontline debate that identified serious editorial failings.

The Sunday Independent now understands Mr Gallagher claims a series of alleged failures against RTE in relation to the broadcast of the fake tweet.

On broader issues surrounding the programme, he claims that RTE interfered with and redrafted questions asked of candidates and allowed the questions to be asked in an unfair and unequal manner.

He claims RTE "organised" the debate so that he was the only candidate to be asked three challenging audience questions, whereas other candidates, such as Michael D Higgins, were asked none.

The debate was organised, he claims, to change the course of the election.

He also accuses RTE of failing to ensure audience members were objectively selected and claims that the method of audience selection was not transparent, systematic and clearly recorded.

He also claims RTE failed to have a senior editorial figure in charge of the debate to ensure editorial and compliance issues during the course of the debate and failed to implement and uphold proper journalistic standards as a national public service broadcaster.

Jody Corcoran

Irish Independent

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