RTÉ has received 700 complaints about its coverage of one of the most tumultuous weeks in Irish history, including its decision to end its live broadcast of last Sunday's bailout press conference in Government Buildings before it was over.
"In general this week, there have been complaints that we are too soft on the government and also that we are too negative about the economic situation," an RTé spokeswoman said. "However, RTÉ senior management believes our coverage this week of the crisis has been fair, even-handed and authoritative and whilst we recognise that emotions are running very high within the country we believe directing anger towards RTÉ, which like other media is trying to cover a fast-evolving story, is misplaced."
Controversy over the station's coverage reached its height after a live feed of Vincent Browne questioning Taoiseach Brian Cowen was cut to cover in-studio analysis, despite the fact other news outlets such as Sky News and BBC News continued to air the confrontation.
Within hours of the broadcast, online campaigns were set up urging Irish viewers to complain to both the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and to the RTé complaints department.
The BAI has received 51 complaints over last week's RTé news coverage of the bailout conference. A spokesman for the BAI confirmed that the authority was still receiving complaints in relation to the coverage. "We would like to stress that there is still time left, 30 days from the broadcast in question, in which viewers can make their complaint," he said.
Despite the complaints, ratings for current affairs programmes reached record highs in recent days.
Almost a million people watched Six One News last Monday, the day the Greens called for a January election. The last edition of The Frontline drew 630,000 viewers, its highest audience yet, despite competition from The Apprentice and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here on TV3, while a Prime Time special on the economic crisis drew 643,000. TV3's Tonight with Vincent Browne drew an average of 300,000 throughout the week, an increase on the norm.
Meanwhile, the BBC said it received a "handful" of complaints over a montage on current affairs show Newsnight depicting British chancellor George Osborne dancing over images of the Irish countryside. It used a Celtic-type font to display comments by Osborne about Britain supporting Ireland through its financial crisis while soundtracking the piece with traditional Irish music. Viewers complained the coverage was "racist".
A spokesman for the BBC apologised for any offence caused. "The sequence in question was pointing out that in 2006 the UK chancellor, George Osborne, had characterised the Irish economy in very positive terms. It was a lighthearted attempt to visually represent his view of the Irish economy at the time. We did not intend to cause offence by it."
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