During the proceeds of the marriage equality debate the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has encountered criticism for some of its rulings. Most notably on the Derek Mooney show where it ruled that the host breached the guidelines for fairness and objectivity. Such a ruling gave the impression the BAI would be strict on infringements for the duration of the debate. Hence I find a recent ruling very baffling.
There was a debate on marriage equality during the Saturday Show with Brian Dowling on November 1st of last year. During the discussion the presenter put the following question to Senator Ronan Mullen.
“And just on one point, Ronan, I want to ask you, when this debate gets up and running in the weeks and months ahead, is the issue around children in a gay parenting marriage compared to a biological union, is that going to become a big issue in your view particularly around – I know that groups like the Iona Institute have cited research that suggests that those children who might be from gay parenting unions that they would be disadvantaged vis a vis their educational situation, vis a vis they might be prone to or statistically more subject to being abused psychically, mentally or sexually – do you think those issues are going to form part of the campaign”.
Since The Iona Institute has never cited such research nor does any such research exist, it appears the presenter may have breached Rule 4.19 of the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality which states “views and facts shall not be misrepresented or presented in such a way as to render them misleading. Presenters should be sensitive to the impact of their language and tone in reporting news and current affairs so as to avoid misunderstandings of the matters covered”.
A complaint was filed by Paul Moloney as he felt the presenter mislead the listeners to believe said research actually existed. Also as the claims are quite serious in nature the presenter was not being sensitive as to the impact such falsehoods could have on the LGBT community and their children.
RTE responded by citing the research the presenter was apparently alluding to and highlighting the fact “the presenter did not endorse or support the views expressed by The Iona Institute in these publications or the research cited by the Institute in the publications.”
But the publications RTE refer to, Child Abuse by Family Structure and Made For Children, say nothing of nor have they studied children raised by same-sex parents. The publications studied children raised by married biological parents, other married parents (step parents, adoptive), unmarried parents, single parent with a partner, single parent with no partner, and neither parent.
Since neither study makes any claim about children raised by LGBT parents then the presenters claim that Iona have cited research showing children raised by gay parents suffer physically, emotionally and educationally is factually wrong. The research cited by Iona says no such thing.
As RTE rebuffed Paul Moloney’s original complaint he decided to appeal and he made it explicitly clear that the research cited by Iona does not suggest what the presenter said it did: “None of the evidence presented by Iona “suggests” anything about gay parents as the research didn’t include themselves; it is misleading for a neutral presenter to say this research “suggests” such a connection.”
The research cited by Iona and then referenced by RTE to defend the presenters claim suggests children raised by married biological parents are least likely to be abused and generally have better educational outcomes. However, this is only compared to the other family types studied in the research, none of which were same-sex parents.
The presenter made a specific claim: research cited by Iona suggests children raised by LGBT couples are disadvantaged educationally and more prone to abuse. The research cited by Iona makes not such statements therefore the presenters claim is demonstrably false and misleading.
Yet, despite these facts the BAI, which has just recently come to a decision, have unanimously rejected Paul Moloney’s complaint. Both he and I are flabbergasted by the decision. The debate is going to be fiercely contested and has already been hard enough on LGBT people and their children without people falsely claiming research exists that suggest that children of LGBT parents suffer negatively. I do not believe the presenter did this on purpose; it was probably a simple misreading of the research actually cited by The Iona Institute. However, I emailed the show following the debate informing them they quoted the research incorrectly and invited them to discuss the research in detail, specifically research that actually has studied LGBT parents. I did not receive a reply, nor did RTE feel fit to admit their mistake when highlighted by Mr. Moloney. Instead they defended the presenter by highlighting research which clearly does not say what the presenter said it did. Worse again, the BAI which is responsible for ensuring that facts are not misrepresented as they were in this case failed in its duties.
As it currently stands, the BAI has ruled that it is not permissible for an LGBT person to go on the radio and speak about their hopes and aspirations for equality, to be allowed married a loved one, to have greater legal protections for their children, unless there is a no campaigner there to tell them otherwise. But it is acceptable for a presenter to claim research exists that suggest children of LGBT parent suffer emotional and physical abuse despite this not only being false but also contrary to what the research actually says: there is no difference in outcomes between children raised by heterosexual parents or same-sex parents.
I would be very interested to hear how the BAI arrived at their decision despite the facts being laid out for them.