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Monday 14 October 2019

TV panellists on abortion referendum debate were not treated unfairly - BAI

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Aoife Kelly and Fiona Dillon

Three complaints related to alleged unfair treatment of TV panellists on the No side of the abortion referendum have been rejected by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

The complaints related to discussions on Virgin Media Television, according to the new BAI report into broadcast complaint decisions.

One complaint concerned 'The Pat Kenny Show - Referendum Special', while the second and third complaints were made against 'The Tonight Show,' which is hosted by Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper.

A viewer complained that Mr Kenny's programme lacked "fairness, objectivity and impartiality" due to the presenter's treatment of the panellists who represented the No vote, who he felt were challenged in a more robust manner.

However, the BAI's compliance committee rejected the complaint, finding that Mr Kenny "moderated the debate fairly", adding they did "not believe that his treatment of any particular contributor indicated bias". They did not find any evidence to support the complaint's view and it was rejected.

Separately, two complaints were made by an individual against 'The Tonight Show', which aired on May 17 and May 21 last year, and these related to a perceived bias in favour of a Yes vote.

However, the BAI's committee did not find any evidence in the broadcasts to support the complainant's assertion that panellists representing the No vote were treated unfairly. The complaints were therefore rejected.

A total of 16 complaints were considered by the BAI in relation to a range of issues, either by its compliance committee or its executive complaints forum. However, all were rejected.

One complainant was of the view "that a comment made by the presenter, Ivan Yates, in which he described people who are interested in the Irish language as 'cultural terrorists' was unfair to Irish language speakers and to the guest Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, who is an Irish language speaker".

The broadcaster, Virgin Media Television, said the format of the programme is one where presenters "often adopt opposite tacks in de-constructing arguments" and that Yates "played devil's advocate" in order to provoke debate on the topic which was whether or not Irish should remain a compulsory subject in schools.

The BAI, which rejected the complaint, addressed the use of the term 'cultural terrorists' in its report and said they were of the view that Yates used the term to "kick-start the debate".

While they noted that this may have offended some viewers, they also noted that "this style is usual for the presenter and regular viewers would have expected the presenter to make controversial comments".

Irish Independent

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