Irish Olympic target shooting

Prime Time taking the piss

So after waiting for every single last one of the twenty working days they had available (and counting a day that the rest of us were working on as a non-working day), RTE responded after the BAI referral went in, and their response is by turns factually incorrect, deceptive, insulting and cynical:

Dear Mr Dennehy,

Thank you for your email regarding our programme on March 10th 2015 and the item we broadcast regarding proposed new gun laws.

The report in question examined proposals from the Department of Justice and Equality / An Garda Síochána Working Group on Review of Firearms Licensing, in particular the proposals to ban most handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns which are capable of holding more than three rounds. This was made clear in the introduction to the report and in the report itself.

In your complaint you state that “the report failed completely to present the current state of firearms licensing laws, including basic requirements for obtaining a firearms licence”. This is simply not the case. The report included an interview with Des Crofton, National Director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils, who stated “People who hold firearm certificates in this country go through a very rigorous vetting which includes not only the character of the applicant, whether they have criminal records, it includes also for example we have to provide details of our medical practitioners, give access to the Gardai to contact them just in case there’s any doubt or any query about mental state”. Indeed you recognise yourself in your complaint that this was included in the report when you claim “blatant editing was used”. In any report there is only so much time that can be given to someone to explain their position. I am satisfied the excerpt included of Mr Crofton adequately highlighted what he himself described as the rigorous vetting regime already in place.

You claim “the report failed to make clear that the proposals will only affect firearms which are solely used for target shooting and that no proposals have been made regarding the criminal abuse of firearms, or regarding the minimum security standards for firearms ownership”. Our report and the subsequent studio discussion stated the guns used by target shooters would be affected and that, for instance the firearms generally used by deerstalkers and many shotguns used by farmers would be unaffected by the proposals. Our report focussed on proposals that have actually been put forward, rather than ones which haven’t, however we did question Deputy Finian McGrath about whether Gardai should target illegally held guns and not guns used safely by most people.

Your complaint states that “the report failed to permit equal time and equal opportunity for both interviewed guests to make their case, with Deputy McGrath being allowed to ignore the host and speak over Mr.Egan on several occasions for a significant period of time”. Having closely reviewed the debate I’m afraid I cannot accept this. In fact both Deputy McGrath and William Egan spoke for almost exactly the same amount of time during the debate. The presenter challenged both guests on what they were saying and in fact at one stage repeatedly interrupted Deputy McGrath and warned him to let Mr Egan speak.

In relation to the statistics regarding firearms the report included the number of licensed firearms in Ireland and the breakdown of the type of firearms certificates have been issued for. The disputed figures relate to the number of firearms stolen between 2010 and 2014. This was not included in the report but was raised by Deputy McGrath during the studio debate. Mr Egan immediately responded by saying “You’re misrepresenting the statistics – the statistics in fact that have been published – there’s a problem – they’re unreliable in essence – at the end of February statistics were published which suggested that 1,710 firearms had been stolen – that in fact was contested by the sporting associations I’m associated with and within ten days the Minister for Justice had qualified those statistics reducing them by 600”.

Your complaint claims the report “on several occasions displayed airsoft replicas which are not firearms in a way which unfairly portrayed legal firearms ownership”. The context in which these replica guns were shown is in fact the opposite of what you claim. The report stated that anyone can walk into a shop and buy these replica guns which look the part – and that that is an issue the Justice committee will have to take into account when it’s deciding if there is merit in proposals to ban certain firearms. The replica firearms were also shown in the introduction of the report. The script read “Let’s talk about guns. From long rifles to small pistols and everything in between”. The replicas guns were shown as the words “and everything in between” were being said. I cannot accept that this in anyway unfairly portrayed legal firearms ownership.

You claim that the visit of the Oireachtas Justice Committee to the range in Nurney portrayed it as a “happenstance casual visit” and made “no mention” of the members who did not attend. The report clearly stated and showed that three members of the committee attended. It also stated they are among those currently drafting the recommendations on future gun policy. You also allege that the report “contrived, with both sinister sounding music and graphics, to portray the legal ownership of firearms in a negative light” – an allegation I absolutely reject.

In your complaint you take issue with the inclusion of relatives of victims of gun crime. The Gardai are on record as saying that one of the reasons they have proposed the stricter firearms laws is because guns have been stolen and used to kill people, for instance (and as stated in the report) the murders of brothers Kenneth and Paul Corbally were carried out using stolen guns. The views of people whose loved ones have been killed by guns (like Christine Campbell) are therefore very relevant to this debate. Gardai have also stated clearly before the Oireachtas Justice Committee that they feel stronger regulation and prohibition of certain firearms is required to prevent massacres such as Hungerford in 1987 and Norway in 2011, where the culprits used their legally held firearms. For this reason we included the interview with Rita Duffy whose brother, James Hughes, was killed by a man using his legally held shotgun. She stated she feels the system as it currently operates is not working. The report clearly stated that there are no proposals to ban the type of firearm used to kill James Hughes. It could in fact be argued that this supports the argument of those who oppose the current proposals, as they would have made no difference in the case of the murder of Mr Hughes. All interviews in the report were edited, including those of the relatives of the victims. All were edited fairly to reflect the views of the participants.

In relation to your complaints about the figures used in the report, they were all official figures and were not used out of context. As with all figures and statistics each side can interpret them differently. The report set out the facts and the arguments of both sides. Each side also had an opportunity to put forward its arguments in studio. William Egan was suggested to the programme by Association of Regional Game Councils as a spokesperson and as I have already explained he had fair opportunity to raise any arguments he wished.

Your complaint alleges that Olympic pistol shooting was misrepresented as having a defined standard pistol. The report in fact featured Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy displaying the only gun that, as the script made clear, he would be happy being in private ownership. Your complaint also takes issue with the absence of an Olympic shooting expert in the report. Prime Time approached a number of such experts, but we were unable to secure an interview for the report before transmission. I understand you yourself were also approached, but were unwilling to take part.

Another element of your complaint related to the portrayal of deer stalking which you claim was shown in a negative light and without presenting the reasons for deer stalking. In fact the report made it clear that the hunting shown was “part of a long standing tradition”. The very first mention of deer stalking in the report describes it as a “valuable tradition”. The report pointed out that it is of benefit to farmers trying to grow grass to feed livestock. Des Crofton in his contribution pointed out that there is an economic reason for deerstalking, to do with commercial forestry and farming. You also claim that it was categorically untrue to state that deer hunting rifles would not be affected by the proposals we were examining. In fact there is no proposal to ban the type of firearms being used by the deerstalkers we featured, (and it was very much the issue of banning certain types of firearms we were examining) although, as we stated, some fear more restrictive laws coming down the line.

Your complaint is wide-ranging and I have endeavoured to address all of the issues you raised. Having reviewed the item in great detail I am entirely satisfied that it was fair and balanced. Thank you again for your email and I hope you will be satisfied with my response. However, if any member of the public is of the opinion that a programme or segment of a programme broadcast on RTÉ has breached a provision of Section 39(1)(a), (b), (d) or (e) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 or failed to comply with a provision of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Codes and is not satisfied with RTÉ’s response they are entitled to make a complaint to the BAI.

Best regards,

Paul Ferris,
Deputy Editor
‘Prime Time’

 

The BAI asked me if, given that RTE had responded, I wished to proceed with the complaint.

Yeah, I think I’ve got to go with a yes there. Sent to the BAI this morning:

 

Dear Jean,

I have examined the response from RTE in regard to this complaint and find it to be unsatisfactory and deficient and request that the BAI consider the matter further.

I request that the complaint and the RTE response and my counter-response below be forwarded to the BAI complaints forum for an independent consideration.

To give more details of these deficiencies:

RTE claim:

The report in question examined proposals from the Department of Justice and Equality / An Garda Síochána Working Group on Review of Firearms Licensing, in particular the proposals to ban most handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns which are capable of holding more than three rounds. This was made clear in the introduction to the report and in the report itself.

This is in fact not the case. At no point in the entire report were the actual proposals from the Gardai examined. Had they been, the inaccuracies in RTE’s claim above would have been apparent. For example, the proposals do not propose to ban shotguns which are capable of holding more than three rounds; they propose to ban shotguns which are manufactured to hold more than three rounds, a critical difference because in Ireland for ninety years we have modified shotguns by crimping or plugging magazines to restrict their capacity to meet the three-round limit and these proposals mean this will no longer be permitted; a proposal which is based on an assumption that licenced firearms holders intend to illegally modify their firearms.

RTE claim:

In your complaint you state that “the report failed completely to present the current state of firearms licensing laws, including basic requirements for obtaining a firearms licence”. This is simply not the case. The report included an interview with Des Crofton, National Director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils, who stated “People who hold firearm certificates in this country go through a very rigorous vetting which includes not only the character of the applicant, whether they have criminal records, it includes also for example we have to provide details of our medical practitioners, give access to the Gardai to contact them just in case there’s any doubt or any query about mental state”. Indeed you recognise yourself in your complaint that this was included in the report when you claim “blatant editing was used”. In any report there is only so much time that can be given to someone to explain their position. I am satisfied the excerpt included of Mr Crofton adequately highlighted what he himself described as the rigorous vetting regime already in place.

This is highly erroneous as Mr.Crofton was cut off long before he had even covered the basics of the current firearms legislation and the ensuing impression from any lay member of the audience (which in this case would amount to over 95% of the audience) would simply not be that sufficient regulation was in place. As the purpose of the report was to report on the regulation of legally held firearms, this is a serious example of biased reporting facilitated by unfair editing of interviewees.

All legally held firearms in the state are governed by extensive regulation. We are, in fact, the most heavily regulated state in the EU when it comes to firearms, and have the fourth lowest ownership level. It was simply not possible to discern this from the RTE report, whose entire tone was sensationalist and inaccurate. For example, in the edited interview that RTE refer to, Mr.Crofton was cut off before even the basic tests in the licencing procedure could be referred to: namely, “does this applicant have a good reason for wanting this firearm, have they a safe place to use it, have they a secure place to store it, can they legally apply in the first place, and would it create a danger to the public or the peace were the licence granted?”. This is such a short, readily understood sentence to describe such a critical and fundamental part of the licencing procedure that it beggars belief to ask anyone to accept that a report into firearms licencing in Ireland could be considered fair and unbiased while omitting it on any grounds.

RTE claim:

You claim “the report failed to make clear that the proposals will only affect firearms which are solely used for target shooting and that no proposals have been made regarding the criminal abuse of firearms, or regarding the minimum security standards for firearms ownership”. Our report and the subsequent studio discussion stated the guns used by target shooters would be affected and that, for instance the firearms generally used by deerstalkers and many shotguns used by farmers would be unaffected by the proposals. Our report focussed on proposals that have actually been put forward, rather than ones which haven’t, however we did question Deputy Finian McGrath about whether Gardai should target illegally held guns and not guns used safely by most people.

This claim is beyond the bounds of reasonableness. A single line, stated quickly and ignored throughout the rest of the report is not sufficient to balance the tone of the entire report, the choice of images, background music and interviewees. No lay member of the audience would have understood at the end of the report that the proposals apply solely to already well-regulated sports equipment after the entire report had focussed on the criminal abuse of firearms (indeed firearms which it is illegal to licence today in Ireland).

RTE claim:

Your complaint states that “the report failed to permit equal time and equal opportunity for both interviewed guests to make their case, with Deputy McGrath being allowed to ignore the host and speak over Mr.Egan on several occasions for a significant period of time”. Having closely reviewed the debate I’m afraid I cannot accept this. In fact both Deputy McGrath and William Egan spoke for almost exactly the same amount of time during the debate. The presenter challenged both guests on what they were saying and in fact at one stage repeatedly interrupted Deputy McGrath and warned him to let Mr Egan speak.

This is simply factually untrue. Mr.Egan was interrupted eight times; Deputy McGrath was interrupted three times. An almost three to one ratio of interruptions is not a balanced interview.

RTE claim:

In relation to the statistics regarding firearms the report included the number of licensed firearms in Ireland and the breakdown of the type of firearms certificates have been issued for. The disputed figures relate to the number of firearms stolen between 2010 and 2014. This was not included in the report but was raised by Deputy McGrath during the studio debate. Mr Egan immediately responded by saying “You’re misrepresenting the statistics – the statistics in fact that have been published – there’s a problem – they’re unreliable in essence – at the end of February statistics were published which suggested that 1,710 firearms had been stolen – that in fact was contested by the sporting associations I’m associated with and within ten days the Minister for Justice had qualified those statistics reducing them by 600”.

This claim is undermined rather completely by the interruption of the host at the point referred to, wherein the host instructed Mr.Egan to stop speaking about the statistic on the grounds that he would “bamboozle us with statistics”. At this point, the report was actively being biased beyond any reasonable point and had strayed into the realm of authored articles without stating that the report was such an article.

Had Mr.Egan been allowed to continue, he could have pointed out that the subsequent raw data released by the Minister in relation to the approximately 1700 firearms mentioned in fact included toy guns, gun safes, non-firing replicas of firearms, and other categories of item which are not legally firearms; he could have pointed out that the figure included several firearms which are not legally licencable by civilians in Ireland and which could only have been owned by the military or police; or he could have pointed out that the nature of the categorisation in the data was very susceptible to inadvertant duplication of reporting and that there were serious concerns as to the accuracy of the data as a result. However, because of the host’s interruption and instructions, none of these points could be raised; nor could the attendant point that the fundamental statistics underlying the proposals being discussed were unreliable and indeed the Joint Oireachtas Committee has since called for an independent review of them with the same concerns in mind.

RTE claim:

Your complaint claims the report “on several occasions displayed airsoft replicas which are not firearms in a way which unfairly portrayed legal firearms ownership”. The context in which these replica guns were shown is in fact the opposite of what you claim. The report stated that anyone can walk into a shop and buy these replica guns which look the part – and that that is an issue the Justice committee will have to take into account when it’s deciding if there is merit in proposals to ban certain firearms. The replica firearms were also shown in the introduction of the report. The script read “Let’s talk about guns. From long rifles to small pistols and everything in between”. The replicas guns were shown as the words “and everything in between” were being said. I cannot accept that this in anyway unfairly portrayed legal firearms ownership.

This is beyond ridiculous. It is downright insulting to claim that this was apparent in the context of the video. It is not even accurate to state that airsoft replicas are between long rifles and small pistols, no matter how much leeway is given to the program for inaccurate language (as “long rifle” and “small pistol” are not terms used either in the law or the sport). The fact is, the report showed airsoft replicas with altered lighting which made it almost impossible to read the labels on those items that would have identified them to a lay audience as the toys they are; nor was it mentioned at any time how the law regards such items or what the controls in place on their purchase and sale and use are.

RTE claim:

You claim that the visit of the Oireachtas Justice Committee to the range in Nurney portrayed it as a “happenstance casual visit” and made “no mention” of the members who did not attend. The report clearly stated and showed that three members of the committee attended. It also stated they are among those currently drafting the recommendations on future gun policy. You also allege that the report “contrived, with both sinister sounding music and graphics, to portray the legal ownership of firearms in a negative light” – an allegation I absolutely reject.

This is factually inaccurate. The RTE report clearly states in narration that “the day we visit is the day three members of the Oireachtas Justice Committee drop by”. In actual fact, both the RTE team and the Justice Committee were invited to a planned event to demonstrate the sport and the equipment and facilities used in the sport. No mention is made of the fact that this visit is an integral part of the current review of the firearms legislation; no mention is made of the fact that the majority of the committee, including the later guest on the programme, did not attend the visit (indeed the guest chosen was one of the most biased and one of the least informed members of the committee).

Further, while I accept that RTE reject the allegation of deliberately portraying the legal ownership of firearms in a negative light through the use of sinister sounding music and graphics, merely rejecting an allegation is not a refutal of that allegation. My allegation stands and I do not accept that RTE have even put forward a defence against that allegation.

RTE claim:

In your complaint you take issue with the inclusion of relatives of victims of gun crime. The Gardai are on record as saying that one of the reasons they have proposed the stricter firearms laws is because guns have been stolen and used to kill people, for instance (and as stated in the report) the murders of brothers Kenneth and Paul Corbally were carried out using stolen guns. The views of people whose loved ones have been killed by guns (like Christine Campbell) are therefore very relevant to this debate. Gardai have also stated clearly before the Oireachtas Justice Committee that they feel stronger regulation and prohibition of certain firearms is required to prevent massacres such as Hungerford in 1987 and Norway in 2011, where the culprits used their legally held firearms. For this reason we included the interview with Rita Duffy whose brother, James Hughes, was killed by a man using his legally held shotgun. She stated she feels the system as it currently operates is not working. The report clearly stated that there are no proposals to ban the type of firearm used to kill James Hughes. It could in fact be argued that this supports the argument of those who oppose the current proposals, as they would have made no difference in the case of the murder of Mr Hughes. All interviews in the report were edited, including those of the relatives of the victims. All were edited fairly to reflect the views of the participants.

Firstly, this claim utterly misrepresents my complaint in as negative a light as the author could draft.

Secondly, my original complaint was that as the proposed changes to legislation only affect licencing decisions and not issues like security measures or public safety, there was no basis for such extensive interviews with victims of crime about the emotional impact that crime had on their lives. Had the report examined the firearms used in these crimes and where they were sourced from, that would have been relevant to the discussion. However, this was not done. Anyone watching the report would have no idea after watching it where the firearms used in these murders came from. They would be left with an impression that entangled those firearms and legally licenced firearms. However, the murders in question were carried out with pistols; and no legally licenced pistol has ever been used in Ireland in a murder, either by it’s original owner or someone who stole it from them.

Thirdly, in both Hungerford and Norway, it was established in subsequent investigations that the shootings could have been prevented by more competent police work and the enforcement of existing legislation; this was not mentioned at any point. The events themselves were simply held up and the audience was cynically expected to automatically associate these events with a need for stricter regulation of firearms because of past media portrayls of these events.

RTE claim:

In relation to your complaints about the figures used in the report, they were all official figures and were not used out of context. As with all figures and statistics each side can interpret them differently. The report set out the facts and the arguments of both sides. Each side also had an opportunity to put forward its arguments in studio. William Egan was suggested to the programme by Association of Regional Game Councils as a spokesperson and as I have already explained he had fair opportunity to raise any arguments he wished.

This is again factually incorrect. The official figures have had serious issues found within them, as detailed above. At no point was this reported in the initial report; and when the matter was about to be raised in the subsequent interview, discussion was stopped by the host and the interviewee instructed to cease speaking on the topic after the incorrect statistic had been quoted by one side but before it could be rebutted and it was implied that the interviewee was attempting to “bamboozle” the audience.

RTE claim:

Your complaint alleges that Olympic pistol shooting was misrepresented as having a defined standard pistol. The report in fact featured Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy displaying the only gun that, as the script made clear, he would be happy being in private ownership. Your complaint also takes issue with the absence of an Olympic shooting expert in the report. Prime Time approached a number of such experts, but we were unable to secure an interview for the report before transmission. I understand you yourself were also approached, but were unwilling to take part.

This is again inaccurate. Chief Superintendent Healy did not in fact state that the pistol shown was the only one he would be happy to see in private ownership; he in fact stated that it was the only pistol *on the table in front of him* that he would be happy to see in private ownership. In point of fact, all the pistols on that table except for the Walther GSP in question were pistols that are not legally licencable in Ireland today and which had been confiscated from criminals. This point was not made in the report.

Secondly, this claim does not address the complaint that the report claimed there was a standard Olympic pistol (speaking as an ISSF-qualified judge with twenty years of experience, there is no such thing).

Thirdly, I was indeed approached before the programme was filmed and I did indeed decline to appear on the show on the grounds that the last time Prime Time reported on my sport, the report was so poor I was compelled to complain to both RTE and the BCC. However, I did speak with the RTE reporter for over an hour and gave her as much background information as I could and explained the current situation to her quite clearly. The end report bore no resemblence to the current situation and none of the factual points I explained were related, and in fact the report deliberately obfuscated or misrepresented several of these. I know the other experts RTE approached personally, and their reasons for refusing to appear were the same as mine – nobody trusted the Prime Time team to produce a fair, unbiased or accurate report of the situation and our mistrust has since been shown to be well-founded. Further, the mere fact that RTE raise this point is indicative of their bias on this topic in that they are seeking to imply that our refusal to trust their reporting (despite our past history not giving any grounds to do so) is in some way a defence against complaints over the quality of the report. RTE had all of the information necessary to present a balanced and fair report, much of which came from the target shooting community despite our misgivings; they failed to use this information and instead produced a report which was unfair and biased and sensationalist in nature.

RTE claim:

Another element of your complaint related to the portrayal of deer stalking which you claim was shown in a negative light and without presenting the reasons for deer stalking. In fact the report made it clear that the hunting shown was “part of a long standing tradition”. The very first mention of deer stalking in the report describes it as a “valuable tradition”. The report pointed out that it is of benefit to farmers trying to grow grass to feed livestock. Des Crofton in his contribution pointed out that there is an economic reason for deerstalking, to do with commercial forestry and farming. You also claim that it was categorically untrue to state that deer hunting rifles would not be affected by the proposals we were examining. In fact there is no proposal to ban the type of firearms being used by the deerstalkers we featured, (and it was very much the issue of banning certain types of firearms we were examining) although, as we stated, some fear more restrictive laws coming down the line.

This does not address the complaint and is factually inaccurate – in point of fact all of the firearms used in deerstalking will be affected by several of the proposals, most notably the new grounds being sought on which to legally refuse licences.

This claim also does not answer the obvious question of why, if RTE believed that these firearms were not affected, the segment on deer hunting and the killing of a deer was included in the first place. The only reasonable reason to show a lay audience the killing of a deer when that audience is not accustomed to seeing animals killed for food, is to prejudice that audience by shocking them and hoping that the shock will be associated with all the firearms shown in the report, even though the majority of those which the proposals seek to ban cannot legally be used for deer hunting in Ireland.

RTE claim:

Your complaint is wide-ranging and I have endeavoured to address all of the issues you raised. Having reviewed the item in great detail I am entirely satisfied that it was fair and balanced.

RTE have spoken about, but not adaquately responded to, seven of the twenty-seven specific complaints made regarding the report. Their response is inadaquate, deficient and is in fact ad hominem in several parts, as detailed above.

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