Watchdog Meeting To Investigate Claims Of RTE Audience Manipulation

Allegations of audience manipulation during the final television debate of the presidential election last year are expected to be discussed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland today.

The compliance committee of the authority will meet to begin finalising its investigation into the Prime Time programme that defamed Galway priest Fr Kevin Reynolds.

A source close to the BAI said last night the committee would also likely discuss a claim by an audience member that RTÉ staff prepared a “hostile” question for him to put to candidate Seán Gallagher in the presidential debate on The Frontline programme.

RTÉ denies the claim made by audience member Pat McGuirk and, in a statement last night, it reiterated that the question printed for him on the night of the broadcast was based on conversations he had with Frontline staff.

Mr Gallagher yesterday wrote to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte urging him to consider a “full investigation” so that “unanswered questions arising from the progamme can be examined fully”.

Mr McGuirk’s allegation placed renewed focus on editorial standards at the station after last week’s decision by the BAI to uphold Mr Gallagher’s complaint about unfairness in the Frontline debate.

The authority said the station had made “no apparent efforts” to verify the source and accuracy of a bogus tweet broadcast during the programme, which put Mr Gallagher under increased pressure to explain his past links to Fianna Fáil.

In a statement last night RTÉ provided further details of steps it was taking in connection with the Frontline programme.

It said the station’s director general Noel Curran had instituted a full editorial review of programme-making practices and risks in response to last week’s adverse BAI ruling and other issues that had emerged since.

The review would “give significant attention to the production of live audience-based programmes and to the selection of audience members and questions, including the Frontline presidential debate.” It said senior editorial management had also initiated a “personnel investigation” in regard to the tweet issue.

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