Complaints to RTÉ describe Claire Byrne debate as ‘a circus’

One of RTÉ’s televised debates on the abortion referendum was “an absolute circus”, “out of control”, and “unbalanced”, according to complaints received by the State broadcaster. The vast majority of complaints claimed the show was unfair to those advocating a ‘Yes’ vote.

The abortion referendum debate on Claire Byrne Live, on May 14, received 1,277 formal complaints, from viewers who alleged there was a lack of balance, and who criticised the behaviour of members of the audience.

The debate featured speakers advocating both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote, as well as contributions from the audience.

While RTÉ previously revealed the number of complaints about the debate, its reply to the Freedom of Information by this newspaper reveals a summary of the complaints.

RTÉ also previously stated that 92% of correspondences were complaints that the programme was unfair to the ‘Yes’ vote. However, a breakdown of the complaints released to the Irish Examiner

shows that of the 1,277 complaints, just one claimed a bias against the ‘No’ side, while 57 complained of a general lack of balance, and 47 correspondences were categorised as ‘feedback’ and not complaints. The total number that said the show was biased against the yes side was confirmed as 1,172.

Complaints that the programme was biased against ‘Yes’ referred to ‘airtime being grossly uneven’, that ‘Yes’ speakers were ‘interrupted or cut short’, and the ‘majority of the show was given to the ‘No’ side panellists and audience members’,” RTÉ said in its summary.

“These complainants described the programme variously as ‘unbalanced’, ‘an absolute circus’, and a ‘heated, contentious debacle’. The debate was referred to as ‘out of control and disrespectful’.

“The complaint that the programme was biased against ‘No’ said that, at one point, the presenter’s ‘interjection amounted to censorship and showed a clear bias in favour of the ‘Yes’ side’.”

RTÉ said it also received communications about the programme of a more general nature, many referring to the behaviour of the audience and the occurrences of ‘clapping and jeering’ and ‘disrespectful language’.

RTÉ has defended the programme, insisting both sides were given a fair opportunity and that Claire Byrne “carried through on her responsibility, under the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs, to put challenging questions to both sides of the argument and showed absolutely no bias or partisan view whatsoever.”


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