It was revealed last April that Sinn Féin Chairwoman Mary Lou McDonald had launched a High Court case against RTÉ, seeking damages for alleged defamation. At the time, the National Union of Journalists called their decision “worrying” and warned it could have “canceling effects on press freedom.” So what are we to make of a decision by RTÉ last week not to air a taped interview with former Minister Shane Ross, a columnist for that paper, who has just published an unauthorized biography of McDonald, a politician aspiring to Taoiseach be?
Today, Ross explains how RTÉ set certain terms ahead of the interview, to which he agreed. For example, the recording would be cleared in advance by RTÉ’s lawyers, which is reasonable; Sinn Féin would have a right of reply; but unusually, RTÉ gave Sinn Féin this right to reply before the interview was even broadcast.
RTÉ has defended its decision not to air the interview for the Today with Claire Byrne Program stating: “Broadcasters have editorial independence to decide what to cover and broadcast. This is a principle that the BAI recognizes. With many competing stories and articles every day, it’s not uncommon for a taped interview not to be broadcast. In this case, we chose other editorial priorities.”
Ross describes RTÉ’s statement as “undiluted, meaningless mumbo-jumbo”. He also points out today that the national broadcaster refused his request for a copy of the recording or a transcript of the interview. Of course, it is up to RTÉ to make its own editorial judgement, just as it is for all other broadcasters and other media. Ross has been interviewed extensively elsewhere in relation to his recent biography by McDonald, in any case without such limitations as pre-established by RTÉ.
McDonald’s defamation lawsuit against RTÉ relates to a discussion about Tomorrow Ireland in February, which referred to the treatment of women sexually assaulted by members of Sinn Féin and the IRA.
The discussion followed a controversy over the barring of government politicians from speaking at a rally organized by the National Council of Women. Sinn Féin has declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying: “This is now a legal battle in the courts and it would be inappropriate to comment.”
Last year, Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire settled a High Court defamation lawsuit against RTÉ for an estimated sum of more than €150,000 after debate live line.
The McDonald biography was officially launched last week by former RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke, who pointed out a lack of openness – “that omerta” – at Sinn Féin that he described as deeply troubling.
He also asked, “What does that tell us about what to expect from Sinn Féin in government? For example, how would she control her embassy and fill sensitive positions in the leadership of broadcasting?”
Editorial independence notwithstanding, the decision not to air the Ross interview needs clarification by RTÉ in the context of McDonald’s defamation lawsuit.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/editorial/rtes-decision-to-pull-shane-ross-interview-is-troubling-42051149.html RTÉ’s decision to pull an interview with Shane Ross is disturbing