RTÉ accepts findings of the Report on The Frontline
18 November 2012: RTÉ accepts findings of the Report of the Editorial Review of The Frontline Presidential Debate; Report recommendations fully implemented
RTÉ has today released the Report of the Editorial Review of The Frontline Presidential Debate. The report, authored by Rob Morrison, former Head of News & Current Affairs, UTV, and Steve Carson, Director of Programmes, RTÉ Television, is a review of the editorial processes of The Frontline programme of 24 October 2011, and was commissioned by RTÉ following the decision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to uphold a number of complaints against the programme, and in response to concerns raised about the programme elsewhere.
The report did not consider the specific issue of the Tweet that was included in the programme. This was the subject of a separate decision by the Compliance Committee of the BAI, who upheld complaints connected to the Tweet. RTÉ has accepted those rulings.
Commenting on the report, Kevin Bakhurst, Managing Director, RTÉ News & Current Affairs, said: “RTÉ regrets the mistakes made in the preparation and in the broadcast of the programme. The production was less rigorous than it should have been. However the report has found ‘that the production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate’, and that ‘the mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality’. This echoes the BAI’s finding ‘that there was no evidence to question the bona fides of the programme presenter or the production’.”
He added: “RTÉ now has in place best-practice rules, procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of any recurrence of the mistakes that were made. Recent debates on the Fiscal and Childrens’ referenda have seen these new rules in action. This is essential to ensure the newly invigorated current-affairs schedule on RTÉ Television is underpinned by the soundest of foundations.”
RTÉ undertook to publish the Report of the Editorial Review of The Frontline Presidential Debate (the first such report co-authored by an external party to be published) some weeks back, and had planned to do so once the formal BAI process had concluded this coming week. RTÉ is disappointed that key findings of the report were made public ahead of the completion of the BAI process and the publication of the report.
RTÉ has accepted, in full, the findings of the report.
The report is critical of the programme format, procedures around audience selection, procedures around the preparation and allocation of questions, of the standard of editorial supervision, and of the standard of training on key matters such as social media. However the report concludes that “the production team had worked conscientiously to deliver a robust but fair debate”, and that “the mistakes made in the programme were not the result of bias or partiality.”
- The report is critical of the omission of an audience question for Michael D. Higgins. However the report acknowledges an “unusually challenging environment for the production team” and concludes that “the absence of a direct audience question did not mean that Mr. Higgins was unchallenged during the debate. The presenter did put questions directly to him and followed up his answers. Two of the general ‘panel’ questions were put to Mr Higgins first.”
RTÉ has accepted in full the recommendations of the report, and has worked over recent months to ensure the recommendations have been implemented.
In addition to the introduction of new Journalism Guidelines, with training sessions for over 500 staff to date, social media guidelines have also been revised. An internal Editorial Standards Board has been established to maintain and monitor content standards across RTÉ. The new Programme Makers' Guidelines, currently being finalised through a process that began in February under Mr. Stephen Whittle, former Controller of Editorial Policy, BBC, will be published by year-end.
- Finally, specific recommendations in the report around the structure of live debates have been implemented on broadcast debates for both the Fiscal and Childrens’ referenda.