Monday 22 January 2018

'Tweetgate' did not influence presidential vote – RTE chief

RTE director general Noel Curran, left, with the station's head of news Kevin Bakhurst and, right, Rob Morrison, the former head of news at UTV with RTE's director of programmes Steve Carson at Leinster House
RTE director general Noel Curran, left, with the station's head of news Kevin Bakhurst and, right, Rob Morrison, the former head of news at UTV with RTE's director of programmes Steve Carson at Leinster House
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

THE director general of RTE has denied the 'Frontline' presidential debate influenced the outcome of the election.

Noel Curran's evidence before an Oireachtas committee is in direct contrast to comments made by David Nally, managing editor of RTE's current affairs television, last month.

Mr Nally accepted that the debate on the programme had "changed the outcome" of the presidential election. Many viewers decided in the "final few days that it was too big a leap" to take to vote for Sean Gallagher, added Mr Nally.

However, yesterday Mr Curran denied this, pointing out that although 700,000 people watched the programme a further 1.1 million voters had not.

"People outside the media sometimes exaggerate the impact we have," he told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.

The late swing away from the frontrunner Mr Gallagher towards Michael D Higgins could not be attributed to a single programme, he said, adding: "I don't know how you can say that this programme decided the outcome of the election."

He was responding to a comment by Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan, who claimed the outcome of the election had been changed by the broadcast last October.

Mr Curran also told the committee that the identity of the person who sent a bogus tweet broadcast – read out by Pat Kenny during the debate – had never been traced.

The tweet claimed that Sinn Fein would hold a press conference the following day with a person who had given a €5,000 fundraising cheque for Fianna Fail to candidate Sean Gallagher.

Mr Curran said it had not been possible for RTE to trace the source of the tweet, adding: "I'm not sure anyone has."

Meanwhile, an independent member of the review team appointed to investigate the debate has accused the Broadcasting Association of Ireland (BAI) of "insinuating" that there was a cover-up.

Rob Morrison told the committee he had instructed his solicitors to send a letter to the broadcasting watchdog after "every single newspaper carried insinuations that we'd covered something up".

Mr Morrison claimed the BAI had failed to respond to his request that they clarify their statement or "retract their insinuations".

"The BAI did nothing to clarify or retract what would be to anyone an inflammatory statement," he said.

The BAI said it received a letter from Mr Morrison's legal team on Friday, November 23 and responded to it a week later.

The watchdog would not comment on the contents of the correspondence.


Mr Morrison, the former head of news and current affairs at UTV, appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday together with Mr Curran, Steve Carson, director of programmes at RTE Television and Kevin Bakhurst, the new managing editor of news and current affairs, along with other senior RTE executives.

Mr Morrison said he went through a difficult 24 hours after the BAI released its statement on the report, co-written by Mr Carson.

The BAI had called on RTE to release a 27-page working document which was used to inform the final eight-page report into the broadcast in October 2011.

The editorial review found there been a series of failings in the production and broadcast of the presidential debate but concluded the mistakes were not made as a result of bias or partiality.

Among the concerns highlighted by TDs was the relative lack of hard questions put to Mr Higgins. Senator John Whelan also told the RTE representatives that their apology, which had come six months after the Frontline debate, was "grudging".

Mr Curran said there had been "crossed communications" on the night which meant editors were not aware of a second tweet questioning the authenticity of the first. He also said the broadcaster had been caught up in a legal process with the regulator which "complicates" an apology.

Mr Curran said it was crucial RTE learn from the mistakes.

What happened in the 'Prime Time', coming so soon after 'Mission to Prey' has had a "profound impact on RTE", he said.

The very serious editorial failures made in these two current affairs programmes had rightly caused RTE to review and interrogate all of its editorial policy, practices and values, he added.

Time to move on from blaming RTE: Page34

Irish Independent

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