Broadcasting Complaints Decisions March 2014

Rejected by BAI Compliance Committee
Complaint made by: Mr. Pat Murphy Ref. No. 96/13
Station: Newstalk 106
Programme: The Pat Kenny Show
Date: 06 November 2013


Complaint Summary:

Mr. Murphy’s complaint is submitted under the Broadcasting Act 2009, Section 48(1)(a)(fairness,
objectivity and impartiality in current affairs) and the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality
in News and Current Affairs – Rule 4.1.

The complainant claims that while interviewing Deputy Jerry Buttimer on the subject of the
proposed Referendum on Gay Marriage, the presenter effectively communicated to the audience
his personal views on this matter of public importance when he asked Deputy Buttimer whether he
intended to get married “when this passes” i.e. when in the presenter’s opinion, the proposed
Referendum passes. The complainant states that in framing of that question in that manner, the
presenter left the listening audience in no doubt as to his personal views on the proposed
Referendum. The complainant believes this is an infringement of the requirement that the
presenters in current affairs programmes remain impartial.

The complainant claims further evidence of this infringement is apparent in the interview when
Deputy Buttimer praised the presenter for his support etc., in previous times. While noting that the
presenter cannot be held responsible for Deputy Buttimer’s assertion that the presenter would be
supportive of the proposed Referendum passing, the complainant states that the presenter made
no attempt to state that as a presenter of a current affairs programme, he must remain impartial on
the issue. The complainant believes the whole interview was a ‘free advertisement’ for the Yes
side in the proposed Referendum. He states that there was no alternative voice and no indication
that any other person on the No side was to appear on the programme.

Broadcaster’s Response:

Initial response to complainant:
The complainant did not receive a response from the broadcaster.

Response to BAI:
Newstalk state that the introduction to the item in question makes it clear that the issue of gay
marriage has yet to be decided in a referendum:

“A referendum on gay marriage is going to be put to the people. The government
announced a constitution day where a number of issues discussed by the Constitution
Convention will be voted upon”.

Newstalk claim that the presenter made it clear in the course of the interview that the
Referendum was not a foregone conclusion:

“when the issue comes to be debated on programmes like this one, it will be clear, do you
want same sex marriage or do you not”.

The broadcaster states that the presenter also made a point of mentioning that the alternative
side of the argument was on Newstalk when he said to Mr. Buttimer:

“Pat Deering, your colleague was on Newstalk Breakfast yesterday and he was saying
that he didn’t think this was a good idea as it would be difficult to bring people around to

Newstalk claims this was a fair and balanced interview.

Decision of the Compliance Committee
The Committee considered the broadcast and the submissions from the broadcaster and the
complainant. Following its consideration of the material, the Committee has decided to reject the
complaint. In reaching this decision, the Committee had regard to the following:

  • The context for the interview was the decision of the Government, announced on the day prior to the interview, to hold a referendum in 2015 on the issue of gay marriage. Jerry Buttimer T.D. was interviewed by the presenter with a view to providing his perspective on this decision as a gay man and as a leader of the LGBT group in Dáil Éireann;
  • The Committee found, upon reviewing the broadcast, that the discussion did not have the political elements of this decision of the Government as its principal focus, but instead had a human interest focus and examined the personal views and experiences of Jerry Buttimer T.D., the attitudes of his political colleagues and friends to the decision of the Government and the personal disposition of An Taoiseach to this issue;
  • In this regard, the Committee found that the bulk of the conversation was on Deputy Buttimer’s personal experience of being a gay man, including issues such as his desire to get married, attitudes to society on the issue of gay marriage and whether society was likely to be supportive of a change to the constitution, having regard to recent opinion polls and how much they can be relied upon;
  • The Committee also noted that the date for the referendum is mid-2015, nearly two years from the date of the interview about which the complaint has been made and no specific proposal has been published. Given this, the interview and the views of the presenter could not reasonably be considered as advocating a particular output to the referendum. While the presenter made a reference to the passing of the referendum, it was the Committee’s view that this single remark within the interview as a whole could not be considered evidence of a lack of fairness, objectivity and impartiality on the part of the presenter. Moreover, the Committee noted that the interview included a discussion of the wide range of views on the issue of gay marriage, including issues such as the differences between sacramental and civil marriages and questions relating to the raising of children by same sex couples;
  • Accordingly, having considered the broadcast as a whole, the Committee has decided to reject the complaint;
  • Further to section 47 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, broadcasters are required to give due and adequate consideration to a complaint received and to assess such complaints in line with its Code of Practice for Complaints Handling. The Committee noted with disappointment that the broadcaster had failed to respond to the complainant in the first instance. This matter will be addressed directly with the broadcaster.


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