Saturday 24 February 2018

Tanaiste: RTE has developed a sense of excitement about water charges

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Niall O'Connor and James Nolan

Tanaiste Joan Burton has accused RTE of focussing their Irish Water coverage "almost exclusively" on anti-water charge campaigners.

Ms Burton today waded into the row surrounding RTE's coverage, calling on the national broadcaster to show balance, fairness and impartiality.

The Labour Party leader said TDs who are against the rollout of water charges have "dominated" the media and that RTE "seemed to leave aside" the opposing view.

She was responding to an report which detailed the extensive interview opportunities afforded to TDs such as Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Ruth Coppinger.

Read more: Anti-water charge TDs make most appearances on flagship RTE shows

Ms Burton said RTE appeared to have developed a "sense of excitement" about water charges and that this has affected its coverage.

"The spokespeople for the anti-water charges case have dominated the media. I think as far as most ordinary people are concerned, it has seemed at times like it was about the water protest  charges and nothing else. So we would like like to see balanced, impartial and fair coverage from RTE," Ms Burton said.

The Dublin West TD was speaking at an event in Dublin City to mark the fall in the live register to 10pc for the first time.

Read more: Don't let the facts get in the way of a rant, Mr Rabbitte

Asked whether RTE's coverage has been unfair, Ms Burton said:

"I think at a certain point, RTE's sense of excitement perhaps about the water charges seemed to mean their focus was almost exclusively on the people who were making the case for not paying, and they seemed to leave to one side those huge numbers of people who have decided that they need a proper form of infrastructure in this country."

RTE this afternoon released a statement on the issue, saying that its core guiding principle is "impartiality".

"There has been much comment in recent days on RTÉ’s coverage of water charges, with suggestions that RTÉ has been biased or imbalanced in its coverage in favour of those against the charges. A snapshot of the issue for the month of March, as published in a daily newspaper today, shows that 19 representatives spoke against the issue of water charges on RTÉ over a 4 week period, with 16 speaking in favour. Some were individual interviews; others part of a panel. In an intense news period when the issue of water charges was very much a public concern, with public marches and the imprisonment of protesters, RTÉ is satisfied that there was a proportionate representation of the range of views and opinions as driven by the topical news agenda."

The statement added:

"RTÉ’s core guiding principle in this matter, as in all, is impartiality. Fairness, including balance, is a very important element of that. RTÉ aims to represent the full range of views, to ensure vigorous and fair exchanges, to offer objective and interrogative debate.

RTÉ cannot treat topical news stories in the same manner as referendums and elections, where appearances are strictly monitored. News stories are by their nature event-driven. If RTÉ is to provide news, then strict numbers – whilst useful as one tool – are not the sole measure of impartiality or fairness. Just yesterday, RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland featured an extensive interview with an Irish Water representative on the specific issue of leakage (the interview was not included in the figures above, issued earlier in the week)."

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