RTE have made a decision regarding my complaint against Liveline submitted under the recently enacted Code of Fairness, Objectivity & Impartiality in News & Current Affairs.
While the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is responsible for enforcing the code all complaints must first be submitted to the broadcaster involved.
RTE have rejected my complaint principally on the grounds that Liveline is not a news broadcast (See below).
I do not accept RTEs conclusion. I believe Liveline is a news and current affairs programme and is therefore subject to the new code.
I spoke with an official from the BAI and she agreed that Liveline is a news and current affairs programme.
I will now submit my complaint to the BAI.
The following is the full RTE decision.
Dear Mr Sheridan,
Thank you for your mail. I wish to acknowledge your complaint of 29 July in respect of Liveline of 18 July last.
As Liveline is not a news broadcast, Section 21 of the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity & Impartiality in News & Current Affairs does not apply to the programme.
Section 22 of the Code states that:
It is an important part of the role of a presenter of a current affairs programme to ensure that the audience has access to a wide variety of views on the subject of the programme or item; to facilitate the expression of contributors‘ opinions – sometimes by forceful questioning; and to reflect the views of those who cannot, or choose not to, participate in content.
This being so, a presenter and/or a reporter on a current affairs programme shall not express his or her own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated.
The BAI Guidance Notes for the Code) state in relation to Section 22 that:
It is acknowledged that some current affairs output can be synonymous with personalities, where the manner in which the presenter presents or interviews contributors can be keenly anticipated by audiences. Often the nature and style of the presenter is a key factor in what engages audiences and draws them into consideration and debate on matters of public controversy and current public debate.
The audience will also often trust that the presenters’ approach may be instrumental in getting to the heart of the issues at hand.
These factors contribute to some of the key reasons why news and current affairs coverage is trusted to such an extent by Irish audiences.
However, with this level of trust comes a significant level of responsibility on the part of the broadcaster and in the case of these particular rules, the presenter. The Code seeks to prevent a partisan position being advocated by the presenter and to guard against a presenter using his/her programme to pursue an agenda, via comments, choice of guest etc., such that a biased view on an issue is articulated.
When Liveline invites listeners to express their opinions on topics of the day, to encourage participation and discussion the presenter of Liveline certainly gives voice to thought-provoking views from time to time; these are not, however, presented as his personal opinions but as a professional technique required by the format.
In doing so, the presenter is acting in keeping with Section 22 of the Code in ensuring that the audience has access to a wide variety of views on the topic.
He or she is also working a format where, as recognised by the BAI in its Guidance Notes to the Code, the nature and style of the presenter is a key factor in engaging audiences and is also instrumental in getting to the heart of the issues at hand. On this occasion, in the interests of such full debate, the presenter put alternative views to those expressed by the caller.
It is particularly vital in the context of this format that Section 22 of the Code does not simply prohibit the expression of the presenter’s own views but prohibits expression “such that a partisan position is advocated.”
This is in order, as stated in the Guidelines, “to guard against a presenter using his/her programme to pursue an agenda, via comments, choice of guest, etc, such that a biased view on an issue is articulated.”
No such biased or partisan view was expressed by the presenter on this occasion: his responses to the caller were entirely in reaction to that caller’s statements, in the interests of debate, and gave no evidence of any agenda being pursued.
I hope that you will agree that this section of the BAI Code has not been breached in the exchange you quote in your complaint.
However, if members of the public who complain are not satisfied with the response they have received there is a review process available to them within RTÉ. The request for an internal review should be sent to:
Head of Broadcast Compliance
Thank you again for your mail. RTÉ takes very seriously its obligations under this and other BAI Codes and welcomes the opportunity to review our output in this respect.