The broadcasting regulator has found that two programmes broadcast by Newstalk FM breached the Broadcasting Code in relation to impartiality because the presenters expressed their own views and advocated a partisan position on abortion.
The Newstalk Breakfast show breached the broadcasting code, when presenter Ciara Kelly expressed strong support for abortion provision, the regulator found.
“I would completely disagree with you. I actually believe that the Eighth Amendment was something that controlled and regulated women’s bodies in a way that was entirely inappropriate, and it was something I wanted very strongly for my 18-year-old daughter that we would have an Ireland that was tolerant and compassionate towards women in crisis pregnancies,” Dr Kelly said on the programme.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) investigates complaints made regarding breaches of the broadcasting code which requires “Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs”.
It also found that the presenter of The Hard Shoulder adopted a partisan position on the abortion question when he commented that there was an upcoming review of Ireland’s abortion law and asked the contributor, “Do you envisage that you’re going to have another battle on your hands to get it [abortion law] where it should be or get it where, actually, those of us who voted in favour feel it already is.”
On this issue, the presenter, Mark Cagney, also commented, “there is still a lot more work to be done” and at the end of the interview said, “And the job isn’t done yet, folks.”
Considering the context of these comments and taking the programmes as a whole, the BAI Committee found that the presenters had expressed their own views on the subject such that a partisan position was advocated.
The complaint to the BAI concerned discussions and interviews in four Newstalk programmes regarding the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution in 2018. The complainant was of the view that coverage of the issue across the programmes was not objective, impartial or fair to all interests.
The Committee, by majority decision, concluded that content on Newstalk Breakfast and The Hard Shoulder infringed rule 4.22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs.
Pro-life advocates have complained that media bias across many establishment platforms is unfair to the pro-life position. The BAI has previously found on numerous occasions that shows such as the Ray D’Arcy Show were not impartial and advocated in support of abortion.
In contrast, the regulator has never found that any media programme was biased against abortion or in favour of the pro-life position. No surprise there.
Newstalk had argued that it set out to assess the impact of the referendum outcome two years on, and that because the programmes were reviewing a past event, the code regarding news or current affairs did not apply.
However the BAI said it was “satisfied the programmes were thematically linked by the topic and could be considered related broadcasts as provided for in rule 4.18 of the Code, meaning that the requirements of fairness, objectivity and impartiality could be met across these programmes as a whole.”
Other parts of the complaints regarding robust questioning and bias in language were not upheld by the regulator.