RTÉ has been ordered to broadcast a correction about news coverage of the so-called Corrib garda rape tape. The correction will clarify the fact that the relevant parts of the controversial tape were not altered before being handed over to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).
It will be broadcast tomorrow evening (Wednesday, December 7) before RTÉ One’s Six One and Nine O’ Clock news programmes.
This is the second time in the last two months that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has upheld a complaint about misleading media coverage about the controversial rape tape. In October the Press Ombudsman ruled that an article by journalist Jim Cusack, also about the rape tape, was ‘significantly misleading’.
The RTÉ correction follows a complaint by one of the women at the centre of the rape tape controversy, Ms Jerrie Ann Sullivan. A Masters student at NUI Maynooth, Ms Sullivan was arrested after a Corrib gas protest on March 31 last. The debacle arose after gardaí, including a garda sergeant, were inadvertently taped joking about raping one of the women.
The gardaí had confiscated a camcorder, which Ms Sullivan had borrowed from NUI Maynooth, and it was left running as they travelled back to Belmullet Garda Station. The women were not present at the time.
The BAI found that two RTÉ television news broadcasts on July 28 last, about the findings of the interim Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) Report on the matter, were in breach of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in current affairs, under Section 48(1) of the 2009 Broadcasting Act.
The GSOC investigation was initiated in the public interest during April last. The interim report, published on July 28, the day of the RTÉ news reports, confirmed the tape had recorded gardaí joking about raping the women if they refused to giver their name and address. However, it found no evidence of criminal offences by the gardaí or of a breach of discipline. It also noted that a number of files on the camcorder were deleted and overwritten. NUI Maynooth academics confirmed these files were not relevant to the inquiry and were erased to comply with research ethics and data protection.
The BAI noted that: “The GSOC report does not state that the files deleted and over-written related to the arrest or to the incident investigated by them.”
It stated that RTÉ’s coverage ‘raise unfounded questions for viewers about the integrity” of Ms Sullivan and was thus in breach of ‘fairness, objectivity and impartiality’ in current affairs’, as defined by the 2009 Act.
The RTÉ studio introduction to Crime Correspondent, Paul Reynolds‘s report stated: “The Garda Ombudsman has found that parts of a recording of the arrests of two women whom the gardaí were alleged to have made sexually threatening remarks were deleted and overwritten. The gardaí will not now face criminal charges. The Shell to Sea group has said it does not accept that the recording had been tampered with.”
Responding to the decision, Jerrie Ann Sullivan said: “RTÉ has been forced to admit it was wrong because, as an MA student, I had the time to write detailed letters to RTÉ and to the BAI, but many people in front-line communities such as those facing Shell in Erris do not have the time to challenge the State broadcaster about every inaccuracy.”
RTÉ has defended the accuracy, impartiality and objectivity of its reportage while the BAI has cited the use of ‘imprecise phraseology’.
RTÉ has since stated it has accepted the findings of the BAI.