In a move that will have critics and allies of RTÉ alike questioning the journalistic standards of the station Dr Peter Boylan has made the claim that Jon Williams, the managing director of RTE News, and presenter Claire Byrne made a pledge to him that he would be given a right of immediate response to anything that arose during the Claire Byrne Live debate in the abortion referendum.
Dr Boylan makes the claim in his new book, but that has now become the subject of legal action.
If the assertion were true it would effectively have given the doctor nearly total control over the programme as he would have been able to cut off his opponents any time they made a statement or claim he would rather they not be allowed to make. If it is the case that such a pledge was made to him a serious question will now hang over the commitment of RTÉ to impartiality on political affairs, particularly as the claim involved the man overseeing the production of news for the station.
The debate in question was considering the worst showing of the usually self-assured Boylan during the referendum, with Boylan at one point making claims about the contents of the proposed legislation and then, after questioning by Maria Steen, having to admit that the content he was referring to was not actually in the legislation.
The humiliation appears to have an impact on Boylan, as he talks about his appearance on the debate at length in his book, mostly so he can blame everyone but himself for how badly it went. He even complains that ‘there were no sociable drinks in the Green Room’ after, which may give an idea of how Boylan was treated, and expected to be treated, by the media during the campaign.
Claire Byrne has denied Boylan’s claim, said they would never give such a pledge, and has sent a solicitor’s letter to Boylan’s publishers demanding that the book be corrected and that a donation be made to a charity of her choice. The publisher is understood to have agreed to make changes to the book.