Tuesday 19 March 2019

RTE referendum debate sparks nearly 1,300 complaints

Claire Byrne hosted the controversial debate show on May 14. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Claire Byrne hosted the controversial debate show on May 14. Photo: Fergal Phillips

RTE received 1,277 complaints over the Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special.

The controversial programme, broadcast on May 14, stood out because of the often raucous behaviour of the audience.

There were also some fraught exchanges between the panellists - including Dr John Monaghan, Dr Peter Boylan, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and the Iona Institute's Maria Steen.

It was widely accepted afterwards that the No side won the debate - but Taois- each Leo Varadkar suggested in the Dail there was an attempt "to personalise" the campaign by targeting Dr Boylan, who is the chair- person of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The broadcaster declined to reveal details of the complaints in the immediate aftermath of the programme, but confirmed yesterday that it received 1,277 complaints.

Around 92pc related to claims of unfairness towards the Yes side.

In a statement, RTE said the show "gave both the Yes and No campaigns an equal opportunity to air their arguments, which both sides did with commitment and conviction".


"The panel was composed of three speakers on each side of the argument and the aud-ience was completely evenly divided between Yes and No perspectives," it added.

RTE also said that presenter Claire Byrne consistently requested that speakers and the audience show respect for each other's differing points of view.

"Impartial analysis of the programme will demonstrate that, when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the air time afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views," the statement added.

Around 650,000 viewers tuned in during the Monday night programme, although only 359,000 viewers are thought to have watched the full hour-and-a-half.

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