Monday 21 October 2019

Sharon Ni Bheolain makes a formal complaint to RTE

News anchor 'feels credibility would be eroded'

COMPLAINT: RTE news presenter Sharon Ni Bheolain
COMPLAINT: RTE news presenter Sharon Ni Bheolain
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

RTE news anchor Sharon Ni Bheolain has made a formal complaint to RTE bosses after refusing to go on air following a disagreement in the newsroom, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

Ms Ni Bheolain, one of the most recognisable and experienced faces at the national broadcaster, and a 20-year veteran at Montrose, has concerns over a number of issues which have emerged since she moved from co-anchor on the Six One news to a new role as sole news anchor on the RTE News: Nine O’Clock.

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The main catalyst for the formal complaint, however, occurred in the newsroom on Wednesday,

December 12 — the day on which the British Conservative Party voted in Westminster on a motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Sunday Independent understands Ms Ni Bheolain was in Montrose when she was told informally by a colleague that the 9pm news that evening was to be co-presented from London by Six One news co-anchor Catriona Perry.

Sources say Ms Ni Bheolain felt blindsided by the decision and immediately approached senior management figures in the newsroom to object in strong terms.

She is believed to have had a strong verbal disagreement with superiors in which she made clear that she felt that a joint news presentation with her Six One news colleague reporting from London undermined her authority and position as anchor of RTE News: Nine O'Clock.

After raising her objections, Ms Ni Bheolain had a further meeting in the office of Jon Williams, managing director of news and current affairs, during which both exchanged strong views.

The Sunday Independent understands that after that meeting Ms Ni Bheolain told a number of colleagues she wasn't going to willingly allow herself to be effectively "demoted on air".

Sources say the entire news team became aware of the drama as it unfolded over the course of the day.

They described Ms Ni Bheolain as being "infuriated" that the decision hadn't been discussed with her.

"What we heard afterwards is that Sharon felt that to ask another presenter, who is relatively new to her job as co-anchor on the Six One news, to handle the main breaking news story of the day on the 9pm main bulletin - which is not co-anchored - would completely erode her credibility with viewers," a source said.

The source continued: "Some people thought it surprising that Sharon was being so assertive in defending her patch. Sharon is tough and assertive but, in fairness, in all the years she's always been cool about programme decisions, so it must have really annoyed her. When she didn't present the Nine O'Clock the following evening or on Friday, everyone was talking about it."

The co-anchored format of the Six One programme means presenters often broadcast from locations outside Montrose. Nine O'Clock news is usually anchored by one presenter in the studio.

Ms Perry had been sent to Westminster to co-present news from the vote of no-confidence in Mrs May, which was being held from 6pm to 8pm. The news of the vote was therefore set to break on the 9pm news, which would have allowed Ms Ni Bheolain to take over from the studio in Dublin. Ms Ni Bheolain is believed to have made it known that if RTE had wanted a presenter in Westminster, she would have been happy to go to London on the day.

An RTE source said: "Everything had already been set up over there for the Six One news so there was no additional cost to the station - it would have literally been the price of a plane ticket on what could have been one of the biggest stories of the year, if Mrs May had lost the vote."

However, Montrose bosses are understood to have made the decision to use Ms Perry on both the 6pm and 9pm bulletins to make the best use of resources.

The Sunday Independent understands Ms Ni Bheolain made contact with Ms Perry after the disagreement in the newsroom to stress that the dispute was not in any way personal and that she was merely protecting her position as the 9pm news anchor. The two presenters enjoy a cordial personal and professional relationship.

Shortly before her move to the Nine O'Clock programme, the Sunday Independent revealed there was a significant pay gap between Ms Ni Bheolain and her colleague Bryan Dobson, with Mr Dobson, now on Morning Ireland, earning between €60,000 to €80,000 a year more than his female co-anchor.

The Sunday Independent revelation become the catalyst for a formal investigation into the gender pay gap in RTE.

Ms Ni Bheolain is said to have informed senior bosses that she believes she has not been given opportunities to advance her career.

A source close to Ms Ni Bheolain said: "She's quite low-key and hates being the focus of the news. She finds all of this mortifying but she has real concerns about the way she has been treated over the last while.

"What happened on December 12 was, for her, the last straw and now she wants this looked at in a fair and comprehensive way through the complaints procedure."

When contacted by the Sunday Independent yesterday morning, Ms Ni Bheolain said she would not comment, explaining: "I can't comment as there is a formal procedure under way."

A spokesperson for RTE said: "No comment."

Sunday Independent

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