Professor Colum Kenny, from Dublin City University, and member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland
Last week Seamus Dooley, from the National Union of Journalists, criticised the ruling by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland concerning an item on same-sex marriage on the Derek Mooney show on RTÉ Radio One, which was broadcast in January.
A listener who complained said the programme breached the guidelines for fairness and objectivity. The BAI upheld this.
In response, Mr Dooley criticised the ruling, saying:
The BAI would appear to be singling out discussion on so called same-sex marriage, imposing restrictive conditions even before the government has provided wording on a possible referendum on civil marriage equality, never mind setting the date. Every interviewee likely to expression an opinion in favour of civil marriage equality must automatically be confronted with the alternative viewpoint. Likewise, a guest likely to oppose civil marriage equality cannot be interviewed without an advocate of civil marriage equality.
He also said, because the proposed gay marriage referendum came about because of the Constitutional Convention, journalists will now have to apply the same rule to any subject that was discussed at the convention and gave rise to a future referendum.
Further to this, Dublin City University Professor Colum Kenny, who is a member of the BAI, wrote to the National Union of Journalists challenging Mr Dooley’s criticism.
From his statement to the NUJ, Mr Kenny said:
The NUJ thinks that “the requirement of fairness, objectivity and balance has now been interpreted to mean that broadcasters are required to seek out alternative views in a range of programme settings.”
In fact, assuming that alternative views are voiced, any member of the NUJ involved
in broadcasting should know that this has been required ever since RTE was founded
more than half a century ago. Guidelines that RTE and other broadcasters issue to
their employees have long cited that law (most recently enshrined in S.39 of the
Broadcasting Act 2009). The legal requirement has never been confined to referendum campaigns.
The NUJ is wrong to imply that the Mooney show discussed same-sex marriage in a manner somehow removed from the fact of a planned referendum. The programme participants did not seem to share the NUJ’s degree of uncertainty about the planned poll or about its central question, and had a view on how people ought to vote. Mr Mooney himself expressed his opinion in the matter.
The NUJ does not refer to another recent BCC decision concerning also the Mooney Show’s treatment of matters relevant to what the NUJ oddly terms “so called same-sex marriage”. In its earlier decision the BCC rejected a complaint by Catholic Democrats. I recommend that people read these two decisions online at bai.ie.
When rejecting the earlier complaint in June, the BCC found that that particular Mooney Show consisted largely of a factual discussion of Civil Partnership as it related to same-sex couples.
Regarding pungeant comments made by Mr Michael Murphy on guidance provided by the Roman Catholic Church in respect of the pastoral care of homosexuals in the Church, the Committee was of the view that “his interpretation of the teachings was reasonable and did not require a counterbalancing perspective”. But in its more recent decision the BCC found against RTE because, among other things,
“… the programme guests favoured such a change [in the Constitution] … and the
presenter stated similar views. It was the view of the Committee that in the absence of alternative views on this topic, a matter of current public debate and controversy, the role of the presenter was to provide alternative perspectives to those of his guests and that this requirement was not met on this occasion.”
In issuing its criticism of the BCC, the NUJ has unwittingly lined up with those who would like to dismantle the legal requirement for fairness in broadcasting. In the USA forces that included right-wing Republicans and big business succeeded in having the Federal Communications Commission’s “Fairness Doctrine” overturned. Among the fruits of their efforts have been shock-jocks and the kind of reporting that one sees on FOX NEWS.
Those who want “cranks” and others whom they regard as “unreasonable” excluded from the airwaves ought to bear in mind that they themselves might be regarded as “nutters” next time around. The NUJ Code of Conduct rightly states, “A journalist strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.” And fair is fair.
Previously: That Loony Mooney Ruling