RTE Challenges Religious Imagery Decision

RTE News
July 29, 2008

RTE has begun High Court proceedings against the Broadcasting Complaints Commission over a decision made against the station in its coverage of the report of the Ferns inquiry into sexual abuse.

The court heard that the BCC upheld a complaint made by one viewer about a background image using religious symbols in a report on the findings of the Ferns inquiry.

The viewer had complained about what he claimed was a 'profane use of the sacramentals' referring to the appearance of rosary beads, a priest's collar and a bible or breviary as a background.

The BCC upheld the complaint on the basis that it offended taste and decency.

RTÉ rejected the complaint and said the images used were entirely appropriate and not unfair. It wants the High Court to quash the decision of the BCC, arguing that it acted beyond its powers in making the decision.

The court heard that the report of the Ferns inquiry into sexual abuse by Catholic priests was the subject of news and comment for several days after its publication in October 2005.

Opening the case for RTÉ today, Paul O Higgins SC said it was an unusual case with a flavour of the 1950s.

Mr O'Higgins said the BCC had adjudicated on a complaint made by one person out of possibly hundreds of thousands of viewers.

He said the decision was taken on the basis that the images were inappropriate and therefore likely to cause offence contrary to taste and decency guidelines.

Mr O'Higgins stressed the guidelines applied to matters of violence and sexual content and that the BCC had no jurisdiction to rule on the use of imagery in this case.

He said the BCC had not found that the images were tasteless or indecent but rather sought to exercise a refined editorial judgement which it was not entitled to do. He said to do so amounted to giving the BCC a form of censorship not previously known in the history of the state.

The BCC is defending the action and the case is expected to last two days.


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