Belfast Telegraph

Heads must roll at RTE after the 'Tweetgate' fiasco

By Bruce Arnold

Action at the top of RTE cannot wait for a public inquiry into the 'Tweetgate' complaints about the Frontline programme and Pat Kenny Live which followed it the next morning.

The prevarication over what happened requires the resignation, or removal, of the chairman of the RTE Authority, the director-general Noel Curran and presenter Pat Kenny.

In an essay he published after he had left politics, Conor Cruise O'Brien, who has been consistently vilified as the enemy of Press freedom, particularly in respect of RTE, said the functions of the Press were threefold: "To inform, to instruct and to entertain."

But he added another function that underpinned the first three: the need to please. He applied this to all media, including broadcasting, and said it was inseparable from the market approach that sells the product.

O'Brien was right and for a long time now RTE has failed lamentably to follow the formula of his three-plus-one objectives. RTE no longer pleases; it displeases. There could be no better example of this than the sorry story of tweets involving RTE staff and members of the public. The faults in the station have much more to do with the state than we think and they involve politicians, legislation, and regulators.

Judging from the results, none have done their job. The complaint I make is of inadequate legislation, defective state administration and weak political will. It has encouraged the self-serving and uncontrolled performance of RTE.

It must lead to an entirely new and stern look at the regulatory body, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and the responsible minister, Pat Rabbitte.

Their standards fall way behind the requirements indicated in recent findings, not just of the Frontline fiasco, but of the Fr Reynolds Prime Time libel.

The central problem is deep-rooted: it is that the authority operates publicly on the primary basis of responding to complaints.

Within this strictly-limited framework, the BAI found "no evidence" that RTE concealed information about the offending and false tweets used in the Frontline programme about presidential candidate Sean Gallagher and "no evidence for questioning their bona fides".

Does it know what it is talking about? Does it know what tweets are - and how they can be highly manipulative?

Constricted within the terms of Sean Gallagher's allegations, the authority was able to turn aside from all of this, ignore the even larger questions within RTE and hope its very limited response would not be challenged.

The RTE authority is hampered by legislation, rather than empowered by it. The broadcasting act is lugubrious and cumbersome. Over the past decade, the BAI and its predecessor - the Complaints Commission - failed to arrest RTE's declining standards, or regulate the station.

Pat Rabbitte has stepped behind the legislation, avoiding responsibility. He either does not want to regulate RTE, or he is frightened to do so.

I hope this does not reflect the view of Enda Kenny's government. No one - either now or over the past decade - is on top of the often complex relationship of RTE with Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

Three main actors urgently need investigating: RTE, Pat Rabbitte and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

They must not be permitted to slip out of the net of public unease and outrage.


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