The 10 questions RTE must answer
Before the campaign gets under way, it's worth pausing to ask a few questions regarding George Lee -- about the precise circumstances of his departure from RTE, the tone of his reporting over recent months and the impact of all this on the national broadcaster's claim to be politically neutral.
1 How could RTE have been caught on the hop so badly? Right up until the morning of Lee's announcement, the station insisted that it was all just a rumour.
He himself says he'd been quietly considering it for a month or two -- but he was first approached by FG in 2002 and there have been rumours linking him with the party ever since.
Why did nobody in RTE ever ask him for a straight answer about his intentions?
2 Is it really acceptable for somebody to work for the state broadcaster one day and be a Dail candidate the next? Shouldn't there be a quarantine period of at least a few months, to protect such people from the accusations that they've been using their position in RTE as a platform for their political views?
3 If Lee loses, where exactly will he stand with RTE? Is it true that he will be entitled to the same salary and pension, even though he admits he would be unable to return to his old job and might have to lick stamps instead? Wouldn't this be as blatant an abuse of taxpayer's money as anything Lee has reported on over the last few years?
4 How does being a neutral economics editor square with making a documentary called How We Blew The Boom, which bitterly condemned the government and could have been produced by the FG press office?
Do remarks such as "This is the same rubbish we have been getting from the beginning... We still don't know a shagging thing!" really sound like a man with no political axe to grind?
5 Why was Lee allowed to blur the boundaries between reporting and commentary more than any of his predecessors?
Other RTE correspondents such as Ingrid Miley on industrial affairs and Emma O'Kelly on education report the facts without ever expressing an opinion about government policy. Was there some reason why these rules did not apply to Lee?
6 Will Lee's successor as economics editor be given the same freedom? If he or she thinks the government is doing a wonderful job and should be re-elected, will they be allowed to say so?
7 Radio One's Drivetime now broadcasts regular "radio diaries" from Fergus Finlay, Joseph O'Connor and Olivia O'Leary -- all left-wing and all extremely hostile to the current government. Given such a clear example of bias, does RTE really have any more right to call itself "fair and balanced" than Fox News?
8 Which RTE presenters are allowed to express opinions and which aren't? Why can Pat Kenny say exactly what he thinks about the issues of the day, while Sean O'Rourke's lips are sealed?
9 Do RTE management feel any sense of unease that relations between the station and FF are at an all-time low?
Can they really say, hand on heart, that the Opposition's policies are scrutinised just as rigorously as the Government's on political discussion programmes?
After all the bad blood created by the ambush of Willie O'Dea on Questions and Answers, the inaccurate report that the IMF was coming in to rescue the economy and the newsroom's apology for reporting the nude Brian Cowen paintings, shouldn't some sort of meeting be held to clear the air?
10 Isn't it time for RTE to publish clear guidelines about all of these issues, so that in the post-George Lee era we all know exactly where we stand?