A top level probe into TV3 has been launched following the St Stephen’s Day- Brian Lenihan cancer story.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is investigating dozens of complaints about the broadcast, which caused Mr Lenihan’s aunt Mary O’Rourke to believe he had died.
Deputy O’Rourke revealed today that she was stunned when she saw the report and heard her nephew being spoken of in the past tense.
“I said ‘he has died', I actually did. I just said ‘he is dead and they didn't get word to us on time', because (the reporter) kept saying ‘he was’ and ‘he was’, there was no ‘is’,” she said.
She condemned the broadcast, telling her local radio station that if somebody close to Mr Lenihan was listening and thought he was dead, "something is wrong with the reporting, isn't it?".
It will be at least two months before broadcasting authorities will decide whether the station will face any sanction.
When TV3 broke the story, the Minister's aides at the Department of Finance had asked for more time to allow Mr Lenihan to talk with his wider family over Christmas.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has been inundated with complaints about the St Stephen's Day report which revealed publicly that the Minister had life-threatening pancreatic cancer.
Station bosses have stood over the report, arguing that they acted in the public interest and gave Minister Lenihan 48 hours to inform family members.
However, yesterday's News @ 5.30 programme made absolutely no reference to their original report.
Speaking yesterday, Minister Lenihan said: "I had always intended to make a statement now because it is in the public interest. I don't see why it was in the public interest to broadcast this information on St Stephen's Day as distinct from the fourth of January.
"I don't believe there was any public interest served in that interim period."
The father-of-two also said that he would have liked a longer opportunity to explain matters to his wider circle of family and friends, but he will not be lodging a personal complaint with the BAI.
The BAI has so far received over 70 complaints about TV3 News by email, with more expected to arrive via post in the coming days.
Members of the public have 30 days to lodge complaints about the programme, meaning the closing date is January 25.
A spokesperson explained to the Herald that BAI staff have already begun sorting through each individual complaint to see which are valid and which are not.
TV3 will have to be notified of each valid complaint and given 21 days to respond.
A copy of their reply, if any, will then be sent to the complainant.
If the reply is not to the satisfaction of the complainant, he/she has up to 14 more days thereafter to submit their response to the Commission.
The lengthy process means that a final decision on the TV3 case is unlikely before March.
"It could be longer. It's depends on the complexity of the complaint and things like if the broadcaster gets back to us on time," the BAI spokesperson added.
TV3's director of news, Andrew Hanlon, has publicly defended the broadcast, stating: "We held it for two days to enable him [Mr Lenihan] to inform his family."
However, the Minister said yesterday that he was not ready for his illness to become a matter of public discussion.
He explained that a number of news organisations had approached his office about rumours on Christmas Eve, but only TV3 ran the story.
Mr Lenihan said he was well aware of the "controversy" that the broadcast has created.
"I know there is a press ombudsman and the question of respect for privacy in relation to medical matters is an important issue but it's not one I'm going to get involved in.
"I'm going to focus on the essentials," he said.
If the BAI finds against TV3, they can request the commercial station to air details of their decision.