Special Oireachtas Committee urgently needed to examine RTÉ’s editorial bias 

The RTÉ Investigates programme on abortion that just aired made a total mockery of public service broadcasting. 

The real investigation that needs to happen is into how RTÉ gets away with producing programme after programme on abortion that present a thoroughly distorted and one sided take on what’s actually happening.

In a highly partisan and sensationalised way, RTÉ chose this evening to focus on the very small number of cases (<2% of all Irish abortions) where women still travel abroad to access late-term abortions, while the programme completely overlooked the significance of the massive increase in abortions that has taken place since the law changed in 2019. To present things in such an inaccurate way to viewers exhibits contempt for the public and is an abuse of taxpayers’ money.

Where was RTÉ’s investigation following on from the research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology detailing how under Ireland’s new abortion law babies are sometimes born alive after botched abortions and left to die unaided? How can RTÉ possibly justify turning a blind eye to such a grotesque and truly appalling situation that senior politicians swore to voters would never happen if they voted for repeal? 

Where was RTÉ’s investigation into the horrific case of the young woman who was locked in a room and forced to take an abortion pill against her will? Other media outlets covered the case. Why did RTÉ ignore it?

Where was RTÉ’s investigation on foot of the evidence presented by Oireachtas members in the Dáil and Seanad that the State funded My Options pregnancy hotline was advising callers to book their first abortion appointment even where the women made it clear they were unsure if they wanted to have an abortion? What’s RTÉ’s excuse for ignoring this scandal? Why does RTÉ zero in on isolated incidents regarding counselling organisations that always depicts the pro-life movement in the most negative light possible? Why should we trust that RTÉ is even presenting how these groups operate in a fair and accurate way?

Where is RTÉ’s investigation into the massive increase in abortions that has taken place since the law changed, with the soon to be released figures for 2023 expected to exceed 10,000 abortions in one year, based on information contained in recent HSE replies to parliamentary questions? Where is RTÉ’s interrogation of these figures and why are they withholding from the public the truth of what’s happening under the new law? 

On this evening’s programme, when covering the three-day-wait before an abortion, why did RTÉ run with the Irish Family Planning Association’s figures on the number of women who changed their minds between the first and second abortion consultation and chose to continue their pregnancy? Why did RTÉ Investigates not present to viewers the figures drawn from HSE replies to parliamentary questions that reveal a significantly higher number of women who didn’t go for the second appointment, highlighting the benefit of the three-day-wait as a life saving provision? 

Why didn’t RTÉ Investigates challenge Marie O’Shea (Chair of the Three Year Review and also a contributor on this evening’s programme) over her answer at a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee where she admitted that before recommending scrapping the three-day-wait, she never interviewed any of the several thousand women who availed of it? Was that not a glaringly obvious question for RTÉ Investigates to ask given the way the three-day-wait was being attacked on the programme by her and others?

Evidence published in the Irish Medical Journal on 21st March detailed how a woman in Limerick nearly died following an abortion due to the presence of an undetected ectopic pregnancy. The research paper makes clear the situation wouldn’t have arisen had the woman been given an ultrasound. Back in 2018, when TDs like Carol Nolan warned that situations like this would arise if the Government refused to accept amendments to include provision for the proper roll-out of ultrasound machines, they were dismissed out of hand. Why did RTÉ bury the Limerick story and refuse to challenge the government for ignoring the warnings given to them when the bill was going through the Dáil and over the role of telemedicine abortion in negatively impacting women’s health and lives?

There are so many other examples of RTÉ’s one-sided coverage that could be cited but it would not be time well spent to do so here. The evidence has been presented before and nothing has changed. 

In 2021, then Director General of RTÉ Dee Forbes received over 4,000 individual communications from concerned citizens about RTÉ’s slanted coverage on abortion. Despite repeated requests, the Director General didn’t even give people the courtesy of an acknowledgement let alone reply to the concerns raised. 

The time for editorial accountability from RTÉ has long since passed. It’s time for programmes like RTÉ Investigates to take a step back to give way for an Oireachtas investigation into RTÉ itself – over its non-existent editorial standards when it comes to issues like abortion. 

The Pro Life Campaign will be calling on members of the Oireachtas to initiate such an investigation.