Statement by Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, on RTÉ proposals to publish Register of Interests and Register of External Activities

  • 29 Aug 2023

Public Interest not public curiosity must inform policy on RTÉ register.

The National Union of Journalists notes the RTÉ proposals to publish a Register of Interests and Register of External Activities. The scoping document published this morning will be considered by NUJ members and by the RTÉ Trade Union Group in the coming weeks.

RTÉ is also proposing the creation of a Conflict of Interests form and a central Register of Gifts.

At a meeting last week, NUJ members confirmed their commitment to transparency and recognised that greater openness and consistency in the application of policies and procedures is vital if trust in RTÉ is to be restored. Members will have the opportunity to express their views on the proposals and to seek clarification of the measures outlined today.  We will be discussing who is covered by the register, the basis for the policy and the appropriateness of the proposed model. 

In acknowledging the importance of building trust and confidence it should also be noted that RTÉ already has robust Journalism and Content Guidelines which have been enforced by RTÉ News and Current Affairs, in particular.  Many of the proposed measures mirror the requirements of the current policies and build on existing principles.

The purpose of any register must be to serve the public interest rather than public curiosity and we will be discussing the way in which maximum transparency can be achieved having regard to individual rights.  RTÉ will be guided by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the Information Commissioner.   

In the preface to the July 2020 guidelines former director general Dee Forbes states that the guidelines “were designed to protect our editorial independence and trust”. In the public and political discourse on the proposals it is important to note that the damage to trust and confidence in RTÉ is a consequence of the failure of members of the Executive Board to adhere to the standards set out in the RTÉ Code of Business 2022 and the principles which informed the Journalism and Content Guidelines. 

The failure to implement the guidelines across parts of the organisation represent a failure of corporate governance. In News and Current Affairs, the policies and procedures, including external engagements and the requirement to seek approval for outside activities have been applied in a consistent manner.  

It is vital that any new policies are applied across all platforms and enforced in a fair and consistent manner at every level.

Trade unions will also be demanding a more consistent approach to breaches of policies and procedures at all levels within the organisation.

NUJ members are informed by the Code of Conduct which is explicit in its requirements. In the context of the Register of Interests and External Activities Clauses (1), (7) and (9) are especially relevant.

A journalist:

  1. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
  2. Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies.
  3. Differentiates between fact and opinion.
  4. Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means.
  5. Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.
  6. Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.
  7. Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge.
  8. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
  9. Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed.
  10. A journalist shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about her/his welfare.
  11. Avoids plagiarism.

The union will support journalists who act according to the code. The union believes any journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code of conduct.

The union has been campaigning for years for a conscience clause in contracts of employment. This would give a contractual protection against being dismissed when journalists stand up for a principle of journalistic ethics.

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