Wednesday 19 December 2018

RTÉ whistleblower makes explosive 'insider' claims about election coverage

A whistleblower claiming to be a senior and long-serving RTE employee has contacted 11 members of the Oireachtas with explosive new claims about the broadcaster’s coverage of the 2011 Presidential election. Stock photo
The RTE building in Montrose
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A whistleblower claiming to be a senior and long-serving RTE employee has contacted 11 members of the Oireachtas with explosive new claims about the broadcaster’s coverage of the 2011 Presidential election.

In a 4,000-word statement, the whistleblower outlined a series of serious allegations about the national broadcaster’s approach to the election and its response to the fake tweet controversy which engulfed the station after the result.

In the statement, which has been seen by Independent.ie, the RTE employee said it was “critical” that a fresh investigation takes place into what went on in 2011 and the events that followed.

This whistleblower said they have “agonised personally” over the station’s coverage of the election for seven years and feel “cowardly” for not speaking out sooner.

“I could see what was happening and I failed to shout stop. It is a regret that has sat with me to this day. Perhaps this document is part of an admission of my own role in it,” the whistleblower wrote.

The whistleblower claimed to have had a major role in the election coverage and maintained that Sean Gallagher, David Norris and Martin McGuinness did not get fair coverage during the campaign in comparison to the ultimate winner, Michael D Higgins.

The whistleblower said issues around election coverage extended beyond the controversy surrounding the final RTE Frontline televised debate hosted by Pat Kenny.

The whistleblower told Independent.ie they sent an email last week to seven national politicians who were members of the Oireachtas Communications Committee in 2012 when senior RTE officials were questioned over the incident involving Sean Gallagher during the Frontline televised debate.

Three members of the committee yesterday confirmed they had received correspondences from the person purporting to be an RTE employee.

Fianna Fail communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said he was contacted by the whistleblower. Former Communications Committee chairperson John O’Mahony and Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis also said they received an email from the alleged RTE employee.

Separately, the whistleblower said they contacted four other members of the Oireachtas who were provided with the 4,000-word statement and internal RTE documents which allegedly support the serious claims about the station’s coverage of the election.

One of the politicians, who personally met the whistleblower, told the Sunday Independent that he will be bringing the allegations to the attention of the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten.

This politician said the whistleblower asked him not to speak publicly over fears it would identify the RTE employee.

“Eleven Oireachtas members have been approached by this individual within RTE and four Oireachtas members have spoken to this person over the last week,” the politician said.

In the statement to politicians, the RTE insider said that “while it would be unlikely to cost me my job, it would most certainly impact upon my career” should their identity become known, and added: “I have a family to consider.”

The statements also contained an expression of concern that attempts may be made to “discredit” the whistleblower.

Yesterday an RTE spokeswoman said: “RTE has a clear and established policy around protected disclosures for any member of staff who wishes to raise confidential concerns. No allegation has been raised by any individual to current RTE News and Current Affairs management.”

The whistleblower claimed: “I am one of two whistleblowers that have come forward with internal RTE information, documentation, notes, emails and associated material. I am a current RTE employee, the other whistleblower is not. In the past week, I have met with or spoken directly to four Oireachtas members in relation to the contents of the document obtained by the Sunday Independent.”

Last Thursday, the whistleblower claimed to have met with a “Government Oireachtas member” and provided the politician with what were described as copies of minutes and notes from RTE meetings during the 2011 Presidential election.

Last Friday, the whistleblower said they met with an Opposition Oireachtas member and gave them what they claimed were a number of previously unpublished internal RTE reports. Yesterday afternoon, the whistleblower said they met with a fourth Oireachtas member and claimed to have provided them with copies of a large number of internal RTE emails concerning this matter.

“I gave them permission to submit them to the Minister and the Government, or to put them into the public domain, so long as my identity and the identity of the Oireachtas member in question was not made public,” the whistleblower said.

In November 2012, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Compliance Committee found that the production of the RTE Frontline programme “fell significantly short of the standards expected by the public of Irish broadcasters”.

It also highlighted “the serious and significant editorial failings” during a debate of “utmost public importance and interest” and found that these failings related to the “fundamentals of journalistic practice” and could have been avoided had the broadcaster applied established good practice in the conduct of a news and current affairs debate.

Regarding the Today with Pat Kenny broadcast, the committee’s view was that those parts of the programme dealing with Mr Gallagher exacerbated the unfairness evident in the Frontline debate.

However, the BAI also said there was no evidence that the broadcaster, presenter or production team deliberately concealed information relating to the initial or second tweet or constructed the programme in a way that lacked objectivity or impartiality.

An RTE spokeswoman said: “Providing news and current affairs that is fair and impartial, accurate and challenging is at the heart of RTE’s editorial mission. RTE accepted the upholding of a complaint by the BAI regarding the Frontline programme, acknowledged it made mistakes in relation to the debate, and brought in an external expert, Rob Morrison, the former head of News & Current Affairs at UTV, to conducted a review, the findings of which were all published at the time.

“RTE also brought in new sets of journalism, programme making and social media guidelines since 2011.

“Since the last presidential election, RTE has covered a general election, European election, and local elections in addition to a range of referendum coverage including a number of live TV debates - all of which have been fair and impartial.”

Sunday Independent

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