Complaints over on-air treatment of priest upheld

Two complaints against RTÉ’s Liveline have been upheld by broadcasting watchdog the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) after it found a Catholic priest had been harassed following a magazine article linking the Taoiseach with King Herod.

Complaints over on-air treatment of priest upheld

Both complaints relate to the Mar 5 edition of Liveline, in which a listener complained about an editorial in the religious magazine Alive! on the abortion debate, written by the magazine’s editor, Fr Brian McKevitt.

The on-air row was triggered when a listener, named Joan, said she felt an article in Alive! linking Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Herod was “particularly nasty” and was “anonymous abuse and a form of bullying”.

Fr McKevitt then joined in the debate on-air, with some callers supporting Joan’s view and others backing the priest, who stressed that he was not comparing the Taoiseach with Herod but was simply exploring the reasons why people might make such a connection in the context of the ongoing abortion legislation debate.

The BAI received two complaints about the treatment of Fr McKevitt. The first complainant, Jim McGuinness, claimed presenter, Joe Duffy, harassed the priest on air and that the line-up of callers abused the priest. The second complainant, John Fanning, claimed the on-air debate “degenerated into a character assassination by radio conducted and orchestrated by the programme presenter, Mr Joe Duffy”.

RTÉ denied this and said it exchanges on the programme were “robust” and that Joe Duffy was able to facilitate that process.

In upholding the complaints the BAI said: “In comparison to the treatment of contributions made by those callers alleging that Fr McKevitt’s article had inappropriately compared An Taoiseach with King Herod, the programme presenter interrupted the contribution from Fr McKevitt on a regular basis.”

It also found that Joe Duffy had raised some of the issues discussed, rather than listeners, and concluded: “the manner in which the discussion was handled was not in the interests of listeners and lacked fairness, objectivity and impartiality”.

The BAI’s compliance committee rejected four other complaints — two against Prime Time on its introductions to aspects of abortion and ADHD, and another complaint against Liveline on a guest’s claims about cannabis, and against The Late Late Show and a segment in which George Hook advocated gay marriage.

Eight complaints were resolved by the BAI executive complaint forum, including a quip from TV3 The Morning Show presenter Martin King that the mother of a newborn panda was “hungover” after the previous children’s allowance night, and a Tubridy 2FM segment on sex toys which a complainant heard over the speaker system in a supermarket.

- www.bai.ie

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