From top: Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein TD Louise O Reilly; Anthony Sheridan
I have submitted the following complaint to RTÉ regarding the broadcaster’s disgraceful and disturbing bias against Sinn Féin.
To Whom It May Concern:
Please find complaint submitted for breach of Section 39  [a], [b] of the Broadcasting Act 2009.
Substance of complaint: RTÉ News and Current Affairs is heavily biased against Sinn Fein.
This bias takes several forms, for example:
Stacked discussion panels where Sinn Fein representatives/supporters are ambushed not just by opponents of Sinn Fein, but invariably, by RTE presenters.
The creation of fake news stories which generate a damaging impression of Sinn Fein.
Minimising or completely ignoring stories that favour Sinn Fein, for example, good poll ratings.
Giving precedence to those opposed to [and fearful of] Sinn Fein’s electoral success particularly the centre parties in the republic and unionism in the North.
The following is an example of the creation of a fake news story that was then used to ambush Sinn Féin representatives.
During an interview with the Irish Examiner [5 Jan 2022] Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald expressed the following view regarding reform within the civil service:
“There is immense talent in our civil service, our public service, and our public administration, that’s the first thing that needs to be said. But we have, in many respects, a system that is constipated, a system that is slow, and a system that needs to be jolted into more efficient actions.”
This is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable comment for a politician to make. Nobody can seriously deny that the civil service is in need of radical reform. It is in no way a major story that would warrant further coverage and comment from a national broadcaster such as RTÉ.
But somebody of authority within RTÉ, ignoring the positive elements of the comment, made a decision to select one word, ‘constipation’, and weaponise it to cast Sinn Féin in a bad light – For example:
Today with Claire Byrne [7 Jan] – Ms. Byrne upbraided Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly for the potential offence caused by use of the word. She [Byrne] then invited the [stacked] panel for their opinion, all of which, predictably, condemned Sinn Féin.
News at One [10 Jan] Bryan Dobson, ignoring Ms. McDonald’s reasonable account, repeatedly badgered her with the question – Do you stand over those remarks?
My specific complaint against RTE is as follows:
On Friday May 20 last, An Taoiseach Michael Martin travelled to Belfast for talks with all political parties concerning the crisis surrounding the refusal of the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] to partake in the newly elected Assembly.
The dramatic result of the election saw Sinn Fein become the largest party in the North, a truly historic moment in the history of the province. The Sinn Fein victory was, at least partly, the reason the DUP refused to participate in the new assembly leading to the crisis that saw An Taoiseach travel to Belfast.
Despite the central and important role played by Sinn Fein in these developments, somebody of authority in RTE decided to severely restrict the party’s access to the airwaves over the three days the story remained live.
Friday 20 May
Morning Ireland – RTÉ journalist interviewed by RTÉ journalist on the issue. No Sinn Fein [27 MLAs].
Today with Claire Byrne – No Sinn Féin.
News at One – No Sinn Fein. The programme featured much analysis and opinion with An Taoiseach, Jeffery Donaldson of the DUP [25 MLAs] and Doug Beatty of the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] [9 MLAs].
Drivetime – No Sinn Féin. Programme featured An Taoiseach, a journalist and an interview with the leader of the SDLP [8 MLAs]
Six One News – No Sinn Féin. Programme featured DUP leader Jeffery Donaldson and An Taoiseach
Nine News – Ditto for Six One News – No Sinn Féin
Saturday 21 May
DUP MLA Gregory Campbell facilitated with an 8 minute uninterrupted interview.
This was followed by a brief interchange with the panel which included SF TD Darren O’Rourke.
The last word was granted to Campbell in a two minute, uninterrupted, summing up of his party’s position.
Sunday 22 May
Brendan O’Connor Show – The issue completely ignored.
This Week – Extended interview with Bertie Ahern – No Sinn Féin
The Week in Politics – Relatively brief chat with panel of politicians including Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly.
It is reasonable to conclude from the facts outlined above that Sinn Fein was deliberately excluded particularly on Friday 20 May when the issue was the main news story of the day.
It is also reasonable to conclude that the exclusion of the party was not accidental or due to incompetence. Preparations for such programmes are carefully planned, meetings are held with presenters, producers and other decision makers. Decisions are made about content, questions/issues to be explored and what person[s] parties should be included.
Anthony Sheridan is a freelance journalist and blogs at Back Garden Philosophy