Ireland: Regulator rejects complaints over RTE’s apologies to journalists labelled ‘homophobic’

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Ireland’s broadcast regulator has rejected complaints regarding RTE’s formal apology to journalists labelled “homophobic” by a drag queen.

While appearing on the Late Show in January, drag artist Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill) labelled anti-gay marriage lobbying group the Iona Institute “homophobic”, alongside journalists John Waters and Breda O’Brien.

The broadcaster itself faced criticism after it awarded over €85,000 (£70,000) in damages to the group, and aired a lengthy on-screen apology.

However, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has rejected three complaints that claimed the on-air apology was unfair.

The complaints alleged that the broadcaster was apologising for “what is an accurate and honestly held opinion on a matter of public interest”, and “undermining or impeding democratic debate”.

Rejecting the complaints, BAI wrote: “A broadcaster has editorial independence and has primary responsibility for its programming content.

“For this reason, it is the Committee’s view that broadcasters must be free to take measures to ameliorate the impact of a broadcast that it believes has infringed its legal obligations, including the airing of apologies as a legal remedy to claims of defamation.

“Broadcasters, when covering matters of current public debate and controversy, are required to ensure that those who are the subject of news and current affairs content (…) are treated fairly and honestly.

“It would be problematic if a broadcaster were to unduly circumscribe debate on issues of current public debate and controversy so as to avoid offending those elements of its audience who may not hold the same views as other members of its audience.”

Former Irish Times journalist John Waters defended his decision to pursue legal action against RTE earlier this month.

The 58-year-old Catholic writer opposes equal marriage, describing civil partnership legislation in 2009 as “potentially destructive” to “the very fabric of Irish society”.