Reporter Ursula Halligan: news alert

TV3 management has apologised to its staff over the way it handled aspects of the announcement of Brian Lenihan's cancer diagnosis and has set up a special telephone line to deal with the deluge of complaints from irate members of the public.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that chief executive David McRedmond, deputy director of news Bob Hughes and public relations manager Maureeen Catterson, addressed station staff at a series of specially convened meetings last Tuesday.

While they stood by the decision to reveal during a special St Stephen's Day news bulletin that the minister for finance had pancreatic cancer, they said they "regretted some aspects of the coverage", according to station sources. This "regret" is believed to have stemmed from the manner in which the news was reported, which has been widely criticised as being triumphalist.

The station issued an email "news alert" to national newspapers in advance of the broadcast, announcing that the station would be "running a news story of national importance, in our 5.30 bulletin" and also carried a live interview with cancer specialist Professor John Crown in which he discussed pancreatic cancer in general.

It is understood that the station has received hundreds of complaints from viewers furious that TV3 chose to break the story during the Christmas period, giving Lenihan just two days to inform his family about his illness.

The station has not been able to cope with the sheer volume of calls and has been forced to set up a special phone line. However, no staff will man the line and the station is not giving any commitment that it will phone people back to discuss their concerns.

In an email to all staff about the special "comment" number, management said: "We have set up a TV3 comments line which you can transfer callers to. These comments will be screened, but we are not giving any guarantee of reply. Comments will
be forwarded to the appropriate department."