Station: RTÉ Radio 1
Programme: Tonight with Vincent Browne
Date: 22 June 2005
Mr. Connor’s complaint under Section 24(2)(a)(impartiality) and (b)(law & order, incitement to hatred) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001 relates to 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' programme. During this programme, Vincent Browne had a long interview with Kathy O’Beirne, author of the book “Kathy’s Story – a Childhood Hell inside the Magdalen Laundries”. She told him a long story of 12 hour working days, abuse, and rape in two Magdalen laundries. Mr. Connor states Vincent Browne did not attempt to question this story. His interventions were limited to single sentences such as “My God, what a story”. Vincent Browne allowed vicious and lying allegations to be broadcast concerning Catholic priests and religious. He made no effort during the programme to test these allegations or to present the other side of the story. Since he was specifically interviewing Kathy O’Beirne about her book, he cannot claim to have been taken by surprise. Mr. Connor queries whether RTÉ would broadcast similar allegations against a Jewish institution in Ireland? Would they broadcast without checking the facts beforehand and then claim afterwards that it is up to the Jewish community to prove its innocence? Would RTÉ set the claims of anti-Semites and Jews against each other and say both are equally valid? Mr. Connor believes it is self-evident that bogus allegations of child abuse and child murder tend to incite hatred against those accused. Accordingly RTÉ are also in breach of their statutory duties in relation to law and order and specifically the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act.
RTÉ in their response state that the production team responsible for the 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' programme was approached by a publicist working for the publishers of a book of interest to an Irish audience. The book, written by Kathy O’Beirne, was published by Mainstream Publishing, a reputable company and associate of the renowned publisher Random House. The team had no reason to question the bona fides of the company or indeed the author. The assumption is made that the publishers have authenticated the work of the authors. A decision was taken to invite the author on to the programme where she was afforded the opportunity of outlining the contents of her book. This happens on a very regular basis on RTÉ. If subsequently, in the particular case of Ms. O’Beirne’s book, evidence were to be produced which challenged the authenticity of Ms. O’Beirne’s claims, RTÉ would of course look at the possibility of revisiting the matter. Mainstream Publishing has informed RTÉ that it is standing over all claims made in the book. RTÉ believe the interview gave a harrowing account of institutional abuse and therefore a more interrogatory tone from the programme presenter would have been intrusive and offensive given the experiences being described. No institutions were identified in the broadcast. RTÉ rejects Mr. Connor’s claim that the programme breached its obligations under the Broadcasting Act. Furthermore, RTÉ cannot see how the programme could possibly be construed as inciting hatred. If anyone has evidence to challenge the author’s claim, RTÉ state there are means of drawing such evidence to public attention. None of this however, has anything to do with incitement to hatred.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission rejected the complaint made by Mr. Connor. The Commission was of the view that RTÉ did not infringe the impartiality or the law and order regulations. In assessing this complaint, the Commission only took into account issues directly relating to the programme broadcast. References to comments made in the print and electronic media were not considered. This complaint relates to the section of the programme in which a guest gave an account of her life story as detailed in her biography. The listener was at all times aware that the account was from her own perspective, as she experienced and remembered it. Her tone was controlled and at no stage did she advocate hatred against any religious group. The presenter let her tell her story. Such subject matter is of public interest and its inclusion in a programme is a legitimate editorial decision. Following this piece, two further guests on the show spoke about the abuse of power in other types of institutions, perpetrated by other bodies and sections of society. The issue of abuse is an emotive one, which was dealt with in this programme in a grave and responsible manner. There was no evidence of incitement to hatred in this programme. Also, there were no individuals or institutions named. Therefore, no unfairness to any individual or institution could be discerned. The complaint was rejected.