Allegations that RTÉ “attempted to gun down” Sean Gallagher should be dealt with by the broadcasting watchdog, the Taoiseach told the Dáil after the cabinet discussed the controversy.
Enda Kenny said the editorial process on the evening of the Frontline debate is being examined by RTÉ, and the station’s bosses are likely to be pressed on the issue when they appear before an Oireachtas committee in the coming weeks.
He said if, in the view of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, “there is anything new that warrants further comprehensive detailed analysis” it will happen “expeditiously”.
However, the BAI said last night it had found no “direct evidence” that would cause it to review its previous findings about Mr Gallagher on the presidential debate programme.
Last week it found Mr Gallagher had been treated unfairly by a tweet read out on the programme, falsely claiming to be from the account of the Sinn Féin campaign team.
But the BAI said the programme had not deliberately designed the show in a way that lacked objectivity.
It said it will examine the findings of RTÉ’s review of programme-making practices and consider whether any further action is required.
Mr Gallagher wrote to Pat Rabbitte, the communications minister, on Monday, calling for a “full and comprehensive investigation” into the programme, which aired three days before polling day last October.
It followed what he said was fresh evidence from an audience member who told the Sunday Independent he was instructed by the show’s production team to ask Mr Gallagher a difficult question about his job creation record.
The failed presidential candidate told the minister he wanted “full discovery” of the production methods involved in the show.
The Taoiseach said Mr Rabbitte had informed the cabinet of the letter at yesterday’s meeting.
“In the case of the comment made by a member of the audience at this particular debate, there appears to be an allegation that RTÉ in some way attempted to gun down Mr Gallagher. This appears to be the source of an allegation which is disputed, obviously, by RTÉ.”
But Mr Kenny said the BAI “has completely independent and statutory responsibility for the regulation of broadcasting in the country.”
During Leaders’ Questions he said it was “of critical importance for the good of the country and of civil life in the country” that RTÉ adhere to its commitment “that our democratic institutions can be assured of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in respect of dealings with the national broadcaster.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he did not agree with Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, that RTÉ was biased.
He said the Government should clarify that it sees the objectivity of the national broadcaster as paramount.
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