Communications Minister Alex White has weighed in on Labour’s claims that RTÉ’s coverage of Irish Water has been imbalanced and signalled that more analysis of water services is needed by the media.
Mr White, as the minister responsible for RTÉ, said he would not interfere with their independence.
However, he also said that responsible coverage did not just mean “having talking heads in studio”.
His comments came as his predecessor and party colleague Pat Rabbitte stepped up his attack on RTÉ and management at Montrose. He told a Dáil debate last week that RTÉ was acting as a “recruiting sergeant” for those opposed to charges and had produced “lopsided coverage”.
Speaking to the broadcaster yesterday, the former communications minister said there had been a constant stream of negative coverage on RTÉ over water charges.
“Citizens are going to be left with accumulating debt that they need not have incurred. It happened in the case of the bin charges… ordinary law-abiding citizens are being led into a situation where they are going to accumulate debt that they need not have incurred. It’s irresponsible leadership and it is being stimulated by the lopsided manner in which RTÉ has covered this issue.”
Former press ombudsman John Horgan said that, without sufficient evidence, it could not be decided if RTÉ was imbalanced. However, he conceded Irish broadcasting in general was negligent in covering issues in-depth.
Mr Rabbitte said it would be easier for Irish Water to do their job if they “weren’t treated in the fashion they’re treated by some interviewers in RTÉ”. He said RTÉ got €150m in public funds a year and was obliged to drill down into matters.
His stance on RTÉ’s position has drawn criticism from the Opposition who have called the Labour TD’s remarks “bizarre” and “smacking of desperation”.
RTÉ has said it absolutely refutes the claims of imbalanced and biased coverage and insists that its work on Irish Water has been “proportionate and objective”.
The broadcaster has also faced criticism from water charge campaigners who claim its coverage has been pro-Government. Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley yesterday said his party had not been given balanced coverage.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr White said nothing he would do or say would seek to interfere with RTÉ’s editorial independence.
However, he added: “I have no wish or interest to disturb that fact that RTÉ should remain absolutely independent. That shouldn’t mean that it’s immune to criticism, it’s open to criticism.”
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