Dr Martin McAleese’s reputation ‘damaged by BBC’

The Department of Justice accused the BBC of damaging the reputation of Martin McAleese in an 11-page complaint about its “seriously flawed” documentary on the Magdalene laundries broadcast last summer.

Dr Martin McAleese’s reputation ‘damaged by BBC’

The complaint, by assistant secretary, Jimmy Martin, and partially released under FoI, related to the Hidden Bodies, Hidden Secrets programme broadcast by the BBC in September last year.

The letter was written in December of last year, after a series of communications from Mr Martin to the Department of Justice press office, the minister for justice’s office and the BBC in relation to a specific allegation made in the broadcast. These were not released.

In the complaint, Mr Martin said the broadcast was “seriously flawed”, contained “a number of serious inaccuracies, as well as unclear and misleading statements” in relation to the McAleese report and “damaged the reputation of Dr Martin McAleese and others”. The complaint accused the BBC of failing to put the “serious allegations” in the broadcast to either Dr McAleese or the Department of Justice “either directly or indirectly”.

The complaint details a lengthy list of concerns about the broadcast, including how the Magdalene survivors who spoke to the programme were selected — stating that there were “questions about the extent, if any, of fact-checking performed by the programme makers in relation to the contributors prior to broadcasting their stories”.

The concerns of the department in relation to the information supplied by the Magdalene survivors to the BBC have been redacted but the letter states “all this reinforces our contention that your programme was unfair, lacked impartiality, contained serious inaccuracies and demonstrated serious breaches of your guidelines”.

The complaint concludes with the request for the following list “as soon as possible”:

  • a series of appropriate corrections and apologies receiving similar prominence as the Hidden Bodies, Hidden Secrets programme and transmitted at the same times in the different time zones as that programme variously transmitted;
  • a similar correction and apology to be broadcast on BBC 2’s Newsnight;
  • the removal of the programme and associated article from BBC online and YouTube and the removal of all references to the programme and associated article from any other websites.

In a lengthy response in March, the BBC robustly defended the broadcast against each of the points raised by the department. It outlined how it had sought a response from Dr McAleese, the Department of Justice and the Department of An Taoiseach, before offering it the option to take the complaint to a different section within the BBC.

Mr Martin responded on May 19 expressing disappointment at the rejection of the complaint and stated the department had “no confidence in further internal BBC appeals” and that “a further appeal to the BBC Trust would not serve any useful purpose”.

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