What’s the deal with complaints about our broadcasters?

With the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland publishing its decisions on recent complaints, Gary Ibbotson explores how the regulator deals with complaints about broadcasts

Recently, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) published its decisions on 19 different complaints about TV and radio broadcasts that recently aired.

All of the complaints, the majority of which were submitted in late 2016, were considered at meetings held by the BAI Executive Complaints Forum and Compliance Committee in January and March of this year.

All 19 of the complaints were rejected by the Authority.

Since the formation in 2009 of the BAI, which replaced the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, members of the public who believe that an Irish TV or radio broadcast does not comply with broadcasting codes and rules can submit an official complaint to the Authority in search of a remedy.

All of the 19 complaints were submitted under section 48 of the Broadcasting Act, 2009 relating to ‘fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs’.

Out of the 19 complaints, Newstalk 106-108 and RTE Radio 1 received seven each.

The only other radio station to receive a complaint was Today FM.

RTE One was the only television broadcaster to receive any complaints with four.

The process

Although the BAI and 2009 Act have been in place for eight years now, details of complaints and knowledge of such a system remain obscure.

If a listener or viewer thinks that a broadcast has broke one of the codes of conduct, he/she is advised to contact the broadcaster prior to submitting an official complaint with the BAI.

According to the guidelines set out by the Authority, if the viewer or listener is not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response, ‘or if the broadcaster does not respond within the timeframe provided for in their Code of Practice (usually 21 days), then the viewer or listener can refer the complaint to the BAI for consideration.’

A viewer or listener can file their complaint to the BAI under three headings: ‘Fairness, objectivity and impartiality; harm and undue offence, including law and order, as well as privacy; and commercial communications, including advertisements.’

In addition to this, complainants must refer to a relevant code that they believe to have been broken by the broadcaster.

These are: the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs; the BAI Code of Programme Standards, or the BAI General Commercial Communications Code / BAI Children’s Commercial Communications Code, respectively.

According to a BAI spokesperson, if the complainant was unhappy with the broadcaster’s response, and subsequently filed a complaint with the BAI, the Authority will review the complaint to determine whether it is valid, i.e. if it can be considered under the relevant code.

Then, if the complaint is deemed valid, it will be passed over to the Compliance Committee who determine whether or not the complaint will be upheld, partly upheld or rejected.

Decisions, decisions…

The Compliance Committee is required to consider complaints regarding the privacy of an individual, complaints that relate to political and religious communication and complaints that may be subject to public controversy.

The Executive Complaints Forum deals with public or private issues that may arise from a successful or unsuccessful complaint, aids the committee in coming to a decision on certain complaints and handles complaints outside the expertise of the committee.

The Compliance Committee and Executive Complaints Forum come to conclusions on complaints on a case to case basis.

RTÉ mast dominates the skyline in Donnybrook, Dublin. Image by William Murphy

One complaint that was rejected by the BAI was brought by a Mr Donagh Ward. Mr Ward complained that an interview with a pediatrician about the HPV vaccine which aired on Newstalk 106-108 FM in October, broke the Authority’s code on fairness, objectivity and impartiality.

Mr Ward claimed that the presenter clearly portrayed his bias while interviewing the pediatrician and his stance on the matter was obvious for all to see.

The Committee found that although the presenter asked some hardline questions to the pediatrician regarding the safety of the HPV vaccine, “he did not, on balance, misuse his role so as to articulate a biased and partisan position on a matter of public controversy and current public debate”.

For cases that are successful, the BAI does not recommend monetary compensation, just a public apology or retraction.

Since 2011, RTÉ Radio One has had 205 complaints filed against the station with 97 of these either being resolved with the aid of the broadcaster, partly upheld or fully upheld.

This is in contrast to Today FM where only four complaints have been submitted to BAI about the station’s content. Three of these were rejected.

Regarding TV broadcasts, RTÉ One received 309 complaints since 2011 with 158 either being resolved with the aid of the broadcaster, partly upheld or fully upheld.

RTÉ Two had 61 complaints filed against it since 2011 with 40 being resolved with the aid of the broadcaster, partly upheld or fully upheld.

On average, about half of all complaints filed against the 40 TV and radio broadcasters since 2011, have been rejected.

The majority of the complaints that were upheld to a certain degree were resolved by discussions between the station and complainant with the BAI playing a mediating role. Only a small percentage of complaints were fully upheld by the Authority.





Featured image by Irish Typepad via Flickr

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