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RTÉ report on Corrib tape breached ‘fairness’

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

THE BROADCASTING Authority of Ireland has upheld complaints about RTÉ television’s reporting of an investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission into the Corrib tape controversy.

The authority found two RTÉ television news broadcasts on July 28th, 2011, on the findings of the interim Garda ombudsman report, were in breach of “fairness, objectivity and impartiality in current affairs” under section 48(1) of the 2009 Broadcasting Act.

The complaints against RTÉ about the news reports were lodged with the authority by Jerrie Ann Sullivan, one of the two women arrested after a Corrib gas protest on March 31st, 2011.

The ombudsman investigation was initiated in the public interest in April, after a camcorder borrowed by Ms Sullivan from NUI Maynooth, which was confiscated at the time of the arrests, was left switched on in a Garda car and recorded comments made by gardaí travelling to Belmullet.

An interim report released on July 28th confirmed that the tape had recorded gardaí joking about raping the women if they refused to give their name and address.

The report found no evidence of a criminal offence having been committed by gardaí and no evidence of a breach of discipline. A final report has yet to be issued.

The interim report noted a number of files from the camcorder were deleted, overwritten and unrecoverable. NUI Maynooth academics said they authorised deletion of material unrelated to the inquiry in line with research ethics and data protection.

In response, RTÉ said both the studio introduction and the reports were “fully accurate and there was no breach of impartiality or objectivity”. It also said it believed there was “no breach of any requirement in regard to the giving of harm or offence”.

But the authority cited “imprecise phraseology” in RTÉ 1’s Six One and 9pm news reports. This, combined with “the inaccuracy in the introduction to the news report, would have reasonably resulted in the viewer inferring that the recording of the incident investigated by the Garda ombudsman was tampered with”, the authority said. This inference was “not supported by the Garda ombudsman’s report”, it said.

Inaccurate impressions of the outcome of the investigation would have been reinforced by RTɒs use of part of an interview with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and a statement by Shell to Sea, the authority said. It found both news reports caused “undue distress and harm” to the complainant and requested that RTÉ issue a statement on its findings to be read on air. RTÉ said last night it accepted the decision.


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