Wednesday 24 April 2019

RTE flooded with complaints over 'soft and poor' Michaella TV interview as backlash grows

McCollum is interviewed on RTÉ. Photo: RTÉ
McCollum is interviewed on RTÉ. Photo: RTÉ
Michaella McCollum Connolly walking in Lima after her release from prison in Peru. Pic:Mark Condren
(Back seat on left) An exclusive picture of Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers. Pic:Mark Condren
Michaella McCollum and Scotswoman Melissa Reid stand as they are questioned by police in Lima airport in 2013
Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers. Pic:Mark Condren

Martin Grant and Eimear Rabbitt

RTE has been blitzed with negative comments from viewers in relation to the controversial interview with drug mule Michaella McCollum.

The 23-year-old Tyrone woman's first interview since leaving jail in Peru has created a storm, with many criticising the state broadcaster's "soft" approach and "poor" line of questioning.

Last night RTE confirmed, after persistent questioning from the Herald, that the 83 calls and emails received so far were "largely negative feedback".

In relation to official complaints, RTE said: "We won't be in a position to confirm the number of official complaints until later in the week."

(Back seat on left) An exclusive picture of Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers.
Pic:Mark Condren
(Back seat on left) An exclusive picture of Michaella McCollum Connolly hiding in a back of taxi with her family after running down side streets from photographers. Pic:Mark Condren

It also stated neither McCollum nor any member of her family was paid by RTE.

Sensitive

However, when asked whether expenses to Michaella or her family were paid, RTE declined to comment, describing the issue as "commercially sensitive".

Sunday night's interview was watched by an average of 550,000 people.

Michaella McCollum Connolly walking in Lima after her release from prison in Peru.
Pic:Mark Condren
Michaella McCollum Connolly walking in Lima after her release from prison in Peru. Pic:Mark Condren

"RTE can confirm that neither Michaella McCollum nor any member of her family was paid for the interview," they said in a statement.

"Nor did RTE make any contribution to any fund relating to Michaella McCollum."

The station also admitted that McCollum's story was both "controversial and divisive", but defended the programme.

"This was McCollum's first media interview since her original arrest in 2013 and during the course of the interview she made many frank admissions about the damage her actions may have caused," said an RTE spokesman.

"RTE has a strong track record in highlighting the harm caused to individuals and society by illegal drugs and we welcome the public discussion generated by this programme."

Leading

Meanwhile, the country's leading addiction activists, including Fr Peter McVerry and Gemma Collins, consider the programme irrelevant.

Fr McVerry, who heads Dublin's busiest addiction service, said the interview benefited nobody.

"A programme like that won't have an influence on anybody," Fr McVerry told the Herald.

"Anybody who is thinking that way already knows they can make a lot of money from smuggling.

"Anybody who isn't thinking that way already knows it is a dead road."

Gemma Collins, who works with children addicted to drugs in Dublin's north-inner city, believes the interview "glamorised" drug smuggling.

The manager of the Crinan Youth Project has warned the programme may encourage people to commit smuggling offences.

"I was left thinking if I was a young person watching that, and she is after getting out after two-and-a-half years, I might be thinking it's worth the risk," said Ms Collins.

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