Following an article in The Times that claimed phone-in questions were provided to Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin before a post-Budget interview on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, the public broadcaster has hit back at the piece, calling it “factually incorrect”.
The piece by journalist Ellen Coyne was published on The Times website late last night and claimed that the ministers had known the questions before going on air. She wrote that she had witnessed this after being mistakenly ushered into a room full of RTÉ staff and Department of Finance officials. The article goes on to describe how an official demanded access to the phone-in questions and made calls to prepare for them.
Then all hell broke loose. One of Mr Noonan’s advisors appeared and bore down on one of the producers of the Today programme. With all the charm of an autocrat, he explained that neither the finance minister or the public expenditure minister would so much as breathe on a microphone unless all phone-in questions were made available beforehand.
RTE hesitated diplomatically, but were shut down by the official’s insistence.
Usually The Times runs behind a paywall but the publication made the decision to allow 24 hour access to the story as it gained traction across social media.
RTÉ have since released a statement, saying that there was no threat made by ministerial press advisers to pull out of the show, calling the article “factually inaccurate”. However, the statement also confirms that RTÉ did give advance access to audience questions “as standard practice”.
This morning’s article in The Times is factually incorrect. At no time was a threat delivered that a Minister would not appear on the programme as a result of his press advisers not seeing the questions in advance.
In the case of yesterday’s programme, advance access to audience questions on specific individuals’ circumstances post-budget queries was given to ministerial advisers as standard practice. The primary purpose of the post-budget programme is to enable the more detailed, personal and specific queries raised by individual voters and businesses to be addressed to the most accurate degree possible, and that requires some research to be done by government advisers on the individuals’ specific questions.
This protocol was agreed in advance as has been standard practice for years and there was no debate about access to the questions prior to going on air for that specific programme.
We would like to reiterate that RTÉ does not advise Ministers or guests of questions in advance of interviews. The Today with Sean O’ Rourke editorial team have complete and total editorial control of the programme and only they determine which calls go to air and in which order.
The editor of the Irish edition of The Times, Richie Oakley, said that the publication stands over the story 100% and accused RTÉ of “trying to shoot the messenger”.
The report in the Ireland edition of The Times is accurate. Our reporter was there. She was in the room. She witnessed what happened. She reported it honestly as we felt it was in the public interest to do so. I am disappointed that RTE has chosen to shoot the messenger. I have asked RTE to reconsider its statement.
[Image: Fine Gael]