Claim RTÉ is trying ‘to shoot the messenger’

A publication has claimed RTÉ is “trying to shoot the messenger” after the state broadcaster denied a report it told two senior ministers what questions would be raised before a supposedly transparent post-budget phone-in show.

The digital-only Irish edition of The Times of London reported last night that it would ask RTÉ to “reconsider” its statement after the station said that the revelation Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin were given questions in advance after pressure from Government advisers is “factually incorrect”.

On Wednesday morning, 24 hours after the widely-leaked details of budget 2016 were officially announced, Mr Noonan and Mr Howlin attended the traditional post-budget phone-in programme on RTÉ’s Today With Sean O’Rourke. The show is set up to allow the public to put their questions directly to the coalition’s two most senior finance ministers, with issues such as homelessness, funds for the elderly, and rent all raised.

During the airing of the programme Ellen Coyne, a reporter for the Times — who was covering the ministers’ appearance — was accidentally allowed into a room alongside officials from the Department of Finance and RTÉ.

She subsequently reported that before the programme was aired “one of Mr Noonan’s advisers appeared and bore down on one of the producers of the programme”.

“With all the charm of an autocrat, he explained neither the finance minister nor the public expenditure minister would so much as breathe on a microphone unless all phone-in questions were made available beforehand. A producer relented and handed over the questions,” she said, meaning the ministers had answers prepared before they were questioned on air

RTÉ moved to insist the claim was factually incorrect. “At no time was a threat delivered that a minister would not appear on the programme as a result of his press advisers not seeing the questions in advance,” a spokesperson said. While confirming “advance access to audience questions on specific individuals’ circumstances post-budget queries was given to ministerial advisers as standard practice”, they said the only reason this took place was to allow for “more detailed” answers and has been “standard practice” on the post-budget show “for years”. The spokesperson said “there was no debate about access to questions”.

However, last night the Times editor, Richard Oakley, said the outlet “100% stands over our story” and that he is asking RTÉ to “reconsider its statement”.

“It was clearly stated the ministers would not be going on air unless their advisers got to see the questions first. RTÉ is trying to shoot the messenger. Our reporter was there. She witnessed what happened,” he said.


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