The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has found against RTÉ in it’s unfair coverage of two MEP candidates, Bríd Smith and Paul Murphy..
Here’s an extract from decision of the Compliance Committee. All spelling and formatting errors are their own.
The Committee considered the broadcast and the submissions from the broadcaster and the complainants. Having review the material, the Committee has decided to uphold the complaint in part. In reaching this decision, the Committee had regard to the following: As independent media organisations, broadcasters have editorial discretion in terms of how they choose to cover news and current affairs content. This includes discretion in terms of the angle taken on such content, the contributors chosen to participate on-air and the duration of the item, Nevertheless, this discretion does not abnegate the obligation, placed on broadcasters by the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the BAI Code of Fairness, Obiectivity and tmpartiatity ln News and Current Affairs, to ensure that its coverage is fair, objective and impartial. These requirements are particularly important in the case of coverage of elections and in this context, the BAl’s Guidelines rn Respecf of Coverage of Local and European Elections require lhat”Broadcasfers that cover elections must ensure fairness, obiectivity and impartiatity in the exposure given to candidates and/or political pafties fielding candidates in an election”. ln this regard, the Committee noted that the majority of the report in question focused on the results of the Sunday Business Pos V Red C poll in each of the constituencies where voting would take place in the forthcoming European Elections, and that the report examined in particular the poll results in respect of those candidates which the broadcaster interpreted as those leading the poll at the time that the survey was undertaken.
Having considered the broadcast in this context, the Committee did not agree with the complainant that the approach taken to the reporting of the poll was undertaken on the basis of an arbitrary 10% cut-off in terms of poll results. ln addition, the Committee agreed with the broadcaster that coverage of every element of the poll is not an obligation, in principle, so as to ensure compliance with the requirement for fair, objective and impartial coverage of news and current affairs. However, it was the view of the Committee that the exclusion in the reports of poll results in respect of Councillor Bríd Smith and Mr. Paul Murphy M.E.P. was unfair to these two candidates. The Committee has reached this view having had regard to the approach taken to the analysis of the poll results in the broadcast, in particular the decision to report on the prospects of Fianna Fáil’s Pat’The Cope’ Gallagher M.E.P, and Senator Thomas Byrne in the Midlands North West Constituency.
ln this respect, the Committee noted that in examining those candidates in the lead in this Midlands North West Constituency, the report included reference to the combined results of the aforementioned Fianna Fáil candidates and had implicit regard to vote transfers between these two candidates and the consequence of these transfers on their party’s potential electoral performance in the Constituency. The Committee also noted that a formal transfer pact is in place in respect of Cllr. Brfd Smith and Mr. Paul Murphy M.E.P. Having had regard to this transfer pact, to the fact that the Sunday Business PosURed C poll results indicated that the combined potential level of electoral support for Cllr. Bríd Smith and Mr. Paul Murphy M.E.P. was higher than a number of those Dublin candidates that were featured in the report, it was the Committee’s view that their exclusion in the report was unfair to these two candidates in circumstances where similar results in respect of the Midland’s North West Constituency were included and considered relevant to the focus of the report on those candidates identified in the broadcast as leading in terms of voter choice at the time of the poll. Furthermore, it was the Committee’s view that the context for the broadcaster’s analysis of the results of the poll was insufficiently transparent for viewers, contrary to the requirement of the BAI’s Guidelines in Respect of Coverage of Local and European Elections. This was evident to the Committee from the handling of transfers as set out above and their impact as well as the analysis of the report with reference to a range of other seemingly unrelated factors, including political party performance in some constituencies and individual and party performances based on external factors in the case of other constituencies (such as the impact of the arrest of Gerry Adam’s T,D. and comments made by Phil Prendergast M.E.P. in respect of her party leader).
Accordingly, in excluding the poll results in respect of the above candidates, the broadcast was found to infringe the requirement for fairness in current affairs (including that element of Rule 4,1 of the BAt Code of Fairness, Objectivity and lmpaftiality in News and Current Affairs pertaining to fairness in current affairs). The broadcast was also found, in respect of coverage of these two candidates, to infringe Rule 27 of this Code (requirement to comply with the BAl Guidelines in Respect of Coverage of Local and European Elections).
The Committee found no evidence, on the basis of this report, that would support those elements of the complaint which argued that the approach taken to the report was an attempt to influence public opinion in respect of these two candidates or that the approach taken by the broadcaster to the report lacked objectivity or impartiality in terms of news or current affairs content and these elements of the complaint were rejected by the Committee.
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