RTÉ‘s head of news and current affairs has disciplined several staff and apologised over the glaring blunders that marred last year’s infamous Frontline presidential debate.
Kevin Blakehurst admitted today that “serious errors in judgement were made” in reference to the show which utilised a risky new format, whereby Presidential candidates were pitted against each other in a wacky and outrageous race against the clock to win prizes. In the controversial show, presidential candidates were required to use their mental and physical skills in order to win points and spot prizes which would climax in the ultimate winning of the ‘Power Prize‘: the Irish Presidency.
However, the show was broadcast live on October 24th 2011 and featured a large number of flaws, gaffes, blunders, boo-boos, upsets and improprieties on the part of RTÉ’s production team which – according to Sean Gallagher – cost him the presidency.
A bogus tweet red out to Gallagher, claiming to be from Sinn Fein, said he had not collected a Skiing holiday prize as he slid down the ball tube when in fact the prize tag had been grabbed by Gallagher but had become caught in his pants.
“I needed the Skiing Holiday to push me into the lead, and I felt confident when I grabbed it on the way down the tube on my way to the gunge pit that I was firmly in pole position” said a dejected Gallagher after the show.
“When the announcement came over the speakers stating that Sinn Fein claimed I didn’t get the prize at all, and that I was cheating and a liar, I really lost my flow. I felt all listless and lacking confidence and, when I got to the large foam gears, I could barely push my way through. I trudged through the tunnel of balloons and when I came to this big red slide covered in slime and glitter and I just thought ‘bollocks to this'”.
RTÉ were heavily criticised when it transpired that the tweet was a fake, invented by producers to ‘pep-up’ the show, the pace of which was understandably compromised by a compliment of contestants with a combined age of 447 years old racing breathlessly through a large foam house wearing big helmets and collecting prizes. It had been billed by RTÉ as “Áthas at the Áras” and had been the subject of a large promotional campaign – at a cost of €6 million to the license payer – as well as having been sponsored heavily by Paddy Power bookmakers, taking large odds on Rosemary “Dana” Scallon to excel at the Go-Kart round thanks to her low centre of gravity.
Blakehurst refused to divulge details of the disciplinary action taken against some members of staff involved in the programme, which was presented by Pat Kenny.
“All I can say is there was a number of individuals, there were sanctions against some of those individuals, but we’re not going to get into details of the individuals or what their sanctions were.” he added, helpfully.
His comments came after a damning report strongly criticised RTE bosses for
- A lack of staff training
- Inability to think clearly
- Inability to use “joined-up thinking”
- Inability to gauge the likelihood of a possible backlash from their incompetent and profoundly poor decision making
- Inability to use intelligence or discretion or ‘good thoughts’
- Gross inability to managing budgets
- Shirking of health and safety responsibilities
- Extreme ageism and humiliation of Michael D. Higgins by dunking him like a biscuit into a pool of gunge despite his enduring & eloquent protests
- Inability to make decisions that were not unbelievably terrible
- Inability to correctly do something very simple and straightforward
- Flaws in editorial responsibility
- Serious flaws in audience selection.
Despite the strong criticism of the programme, the RTÉ-funded probe determined that there was no bias shown by editorial staff and no lack of judgement by RTÉ.
An internal editorial standards board will now monitor and maintain content standards across all RTE platforms for as long as RTÉ deem it necessary. However, according to senior sources in RTÉ, this monitoring “is very unlikely not to not possibly unhappen”.