Belfast Telegraph

RTE makes apology and payout to former presidential candidate Sean Gallagher

RTE has apologised and paid "substantial damages" to former Irish presidential candidate Sean Gallagher.

The broadcaster's Frontline debate in October 2011 dealt a hammer blow to Mr Gallager's chances of victory in the election after it broadcast a tweet from someone falsely claiming to represent rival candidate Martin McGuinness.

The tweet, which was not sent by Mr McGuinness's campaign team, claimed a man who allegedly gave Mr Gallagher a cheque for a Fianna Fail fundraiser would be presented at a Sinn Fein press conference the following day.

This heaped pressure on independent candidate Mr Gallagher to explain his past links to Fianna Fail.

A statement read out in Dublin's High Court on Tuesday said: "RTE apologises to Mr Gallagher for its failure to comply with section 39 of the Broadcasting Act and for the failings identified in the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) and internal RTE editorial review.

"RTE acknowledges that the production of the programme fell significantly short of the standards expected by the public and required by law."

The broadcaster admitted it made mistakes.

"RTE acknowledges that it should have verified the origin of a tweet to which reference was made during that broadcast and that the tweet should not have been erroneously attributed to another candidate's Twitter account.

"RTE acknowledges that it should not have broadcast the tweet and, when it became apparent during the course of the programme that it was false, it should have immediately corrected the fact that the provenance of the tweet was mistaken.

"As a result, RTE failed in its obligations to Mr Gallagher."

RTE has previously revealed there was a series of failings in the production and broadcast of the Frontline presidential debate, but a probe concluded the mistakes were not made as a result of bias or partiality.

In court on Tuesday the broadcaster acknowledged it failed in its obligation of fairness to Mr Gallagher under the Broadcasting Act and in particular in the broadcast of the tweet without verification; failed to provide clarification on the provenance of the tweet within the same programme; and failed to provide clarification of the provenance of the tweet on the Radio One broadcast of Today with Pat Kenny on October 25 2011.

A statement by Mr Gallagher's lawyer said: "Sean Gallagher is satisfied that RTE have, before the High Court today, acknowledged their failure to treat Mr Gallagher with due fairness and impartiality in the preparation and broadcast of the presidential debate in 2011, which has been supported by the payment of substantial damages."

He hoped the apology would lead to significant improvement in procedure and protocol for the next presidential debate next year.

"Sean Gallagher's motivation in taking this case has not just been about addressing the unfairness shown to him but also about protecting the integrity of the democratic process and ensuring that what happened to him will not be allowed to happen again."

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