‘Significant omission’ in Frontline questioning of Higgins

Michael D Higgins got an easier ride than the other candidates in the RTÉ Frontline debate ahead of last year’s presidential election, a report produced for the national broadcaster says.

The report said in addition to the more controversial flaws in the show, which have already been identified in other inquiries, the failure to subject Mr Higgins to a question from the audience was a “significant omission”. “It was wrong that no direct, challenging question from an audience member was posed to... Michael D Higgins,” it said, adding that while he was challenged in other aspects of the debate, he should not have escaped a question from the floor.

The report also criticised the fact that one of the audience questions came from a person who had a relation in the production team. The questioner was also a member of a political party and this was not flagged. It said the selection of the audience gave undue weight to people who had previously contacted the Pat Kenny radio show on certain issues.

In future the choice of audiences for political election debates will have to be open and transparent.

The report by Rob Morrison, former UTV head of news, and Steve Carson, director of programmes at RTÉ Television , was leaked to the Sunday Business Post.

The station said it had been planning to publish it after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland released its findings later this week.

The two men examined the editorial judgement and not the substance of the fake tweet which derailed Seán Gallagher’s campaign.

Kevin Bakhurst, managing director of RTÉ news and current affairs, said changes had been made to editorial structures because of what happened on Oct 24, 2011.

“RTÉ regrets the mistakes made in the preparation and in the broadcast of the programme. The production was less rigorous than it should have been,” he said.

“However the report has found ‘that the production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate’, and that ‘the mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality’.”

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