Monday 17 June 2019

Revealed: The six-figure sum paid to Gallagher by RTE over Tweetgate error

Sean Gallagher
Sean Gallagher
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

RTÉ has agreed to pay the former presidential election candidate Seán Gallagher "substantial damages", believed to be in the region of €130,000, to settle his 'Tweetgate' action against the broadcaster.

The former 'Dragons' Den' investor also received a lengthy apology over the incident on the 'Frontline' presidential debate programme, which he alleged contributed to his loss of the 2011 election to Michael D Higgins.

The settlement is also believed to involve RTÉ paying some of his legal costs.

In a statement read to the High Court, RTÉ said the production of the programme "fell significantly short of the standards expected by the public and required by law".

The settlement brought an end to protracted proceedings initiated by Mr Gallagher in 2013. At a scheduled pre-trial hearing yesterday, Mr Justice David Keane was told by Jim O'Callaghan SC, for Mr Gallagher, that the matter had been resolved.

The size of the settlement was not disclosed in court.

Political duel: Sean Gallagher and Martin McGuinness during the controversial 2011 presidential debate.
Political duel: Sean Gallagher and Martin McGuinness during the controversial 2011 presidential debate.

Mr Gallagher sued the broadcaster for damages over a tweet read out by presenter Pat Kenny during the debate, which was broadcast three days before the election.

A Twitter account with a user name similar to that of the official Martin McGuinness campaign, but not actually linked to Mr McGuinness, said a man who claimed he had given a €5,000 cheque to Mr Gallagher would appear at a press conference the next day.

Mr Gallagher, who was seen as the frontrunner at that time, lost the election.

He successfully complained to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland about the reading out of the tweet, with the BAI finding it had been "unfair" to him.

Mr Gallagher had sought a declaration that the programme was unfairly edited, presented and directed by RTÉ in order to damage his electoral prospects. RTÉ rejected the claims.

However, a statement read to the court by a barrister for RTÉ apologised to Mr Gallagher and acknowledged that it had made mistakes and failed to comply with section 39 of the Broadcasting Act, which imposes a duty to ensure the broadcast treatment of current affairs is fair to all interests concerned.

"RTÉ acknowledges that it should have verified the origin of a tweet to which reference was made during that broadcast and that the tweet should not have been erroneously attributed to another candidate's Twitter account," the apology said.

"RTÉ acknowledges that it should not have broadcast the tweet and, when it became apparent during the programme that it was false, it should have immediately corrected the fact that the provenance of the tweet was mistaken. As a result, RTÉ failed in its obligations to Mr Gallagher."

Mr Gallagher was not in court, but his solicitor said that his client was satisfied RTÉ had acknowledged it had failed to show him fairness and impartiality - and that this acknowledgement had been "supported by the payment of substantial damages".

He added: "Seán Gallagher's motivation in taking this case has not just been about addressing the unfairness done to him, but also about protecting the integrity of the democratic process, ensuring that what happened to him will not be allowed happen again," he added.

Irish Independent

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