TV bosses 'uneasy' at Harris on Late Late
SENIOR management at RTE have admitted to feeling "uncomfortable" when watching journalist Eoghan Harris passionately defend Bertie Ahern's financial affairs on 'The Late Late Show' just days before the general election.
However, director general Cathal Goan categorically denied yesterday that he played any part in the removal of outspoken cancer specialist Professor John Crown from a separate 'Late Late' panel.
The defence by Mr Harris, who was later nominated to the Seanad by the Taoiseach, was viewed by some observers as a turning point in the election, while there were suggestions that Prof Crown was dropped from the debate on the health service after political interference.
Speaking before the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, RTE management stoutly defended its political balance on television and radio, but drew the line at Mr Harris's appearance on the 'Late Late' less than a week before the election.
"There was a formal complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and their view was that it didn't break obligations for balance," Mr Goan said, adding that he was loath to say they shouldn't have debates about current issues.
"But in this case, that close to an election, in retrospect I'm not comfortable with that," he admitted.
RTE's director of news Ed Mulhall said that he too "was uncomfortable with that programme". In the discussion, Mr Harris launched a passionate defence of Mr Ahern, saying his finances were not an election issue.
In August, Mr Harris was nominated by the Taoiseach to the Seanad. Some observers felt the defence was a significant point in the election race but Mr Mulhall said that it was impossible to know what impact it had, adding that Mr Harris had not seemed to win the support of the audience.
The dropping of Prof Crown from a debate on the health service last November also resulted in heated exchanges yesterday.
"A lot of rubbish has been written about this," Mr Goan maintained, saying it was "completely untrue" that he had intervened.
The broadcaster said at the time that managing director of television, Noel Curran, received no contact from any political source before asking that a panel containing Prof Crown be altered.
Mr Goan said yesterday staff on the 'Late Late' had made the decision to drop Prof Crown in the interest of balance. Prof Crown, a long-time critic of Government health policy, alleged political interference at the time.