RTÉ Rip Off programme is biased, says minister

Harry McGee, Political Editor, and Karl Hanlon

Tim O'Malley, a minister in the Department of Health, also accused the programme presented by consumer advocate Eddie Hobbs of 'creative bankruptcy' and said its polemic echoed that of Fine Gael's ripoff.ie website.

Mr O'Malley also indicated that his party, the Progressive Democrats, was making a complaint to the RTÉ Authority.

A spokeswoman for the national broadcaster said yesterday that RTÉ had as yet not received any complaint from any political party. However, RTÉ Authority member Stephen O'Byrnes, who is also a leading figure in the PDs, has already made a written complaint about the political tenor of the show.

The first two live broadcasts of the four-part series, fronted by Mr Hobbs (dubbed 'the people's champion'), has become the hit of RTÉ's summer schedule. More than half a million people tuned in for the first show from the Helix, while the second recorded an audience figure of 677,000 (or 51% of all viewers).

The RTÉ spokeswoman yesterday declined to respond specifically to Mr O'Malley's criticism but pointed out that it would respond fully to any complaint that was received. She added that the programme had looked not only at Government policies but at the role of vested interests, business and the responsibilities of consumers themselves.

However, the perceived dovetailing of the programme's title and content with that of the Fine Gael website campaign has raised the ire of ministers.

Some Fianna Fáil TDs have likened the consumer programme to a "one-hour party political broadcast for the opposition".

The Irish Examiner understands that aides to Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin were also annoyed when Mr Hobbs asked the public to send disposable nappies to department headquarters to put pressurise the minister to revoke the Groceries Order.

One source pointed out that the Groceries Order was already the subject of public consultation and that more than 500 submissions had been received.

Mr O'Malley's broadside was prompted by the second programme. He said Mr Hobbs portrayed Tánaiste Mary Harney's call for consumers to shop around as laughable and ludicrous.

Mr O'Malley told the Irish Examiner last night that the programme had ignored many of the Government's achievements in terms of getting better value-for-money.

He highlighted the lowering of insurance premia, the establishment of the National Treatment Purchase fund and substantial gains in income for workers.

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