RTE has removed a ‘Waterford Whispers’ sketch, broadcast on its New Year’s Eve Countdown Show, from the RTE Player in the wake of over 5,000 complaints made to the national broadcaster.
In a statement issued yesterday, RTE maintained that satire “is an important part of the offering to our audience. However, satire, no more than any other aspect of our output, must adhere to our own standards and the standards set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) Codes.”
RTE Director General Dee Forbes said: “We accept the findings of the Editorial Standards Board that this sketch was not compliant with our own guidelines or with our obligations under the relevant codes.
“On behalf of RTÉ, I fully apologise for that. We will now review the processes involved and engage constructively with the BAI.”
The broadcaster said that the sketch hadn’t complied with criteria established by both its own Editorial Standards Board and its Journalism & Content guidelines.
Prior to RTE’s move, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan had called for the removal of the sketch from the RTE Player.
In a letter to parish pastoral councils and parishioners this week, Bishop Cullinan wrote: “during the RTE 1 New Year’s Eve countdown programme, there as a blasphemous clip/fake news item accusing God, dressed up as an old man, of having raped a middle eastern teenager i.e. Our Lady. The very thought of this is revolting and all Catholics and people of faith have been offended by the national broadcaster. It has also used the issue of rape in the context of supposed humour.”
Bishop Cullinan said RTE had issued an “apology of sorts” while noting that “the offending piece remains on the RTE Player”. Asking parishioners to make complaints about the sketch to both RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Bishop Cullinan wrote: “The more complaints that they receive the slower they will be in the future to gratuitously insult our Lady and our God as well as making fun of the issue of rape.”
Former RTE News presenter Aengus MacGrianna, who featured in the sketch, has issued an apology in relation to his role in the sketch via his Twitter feed. “Truly I am deeply sorry for the offence, distress and hurt caused,” he posted. “It was wrong for me. It was wrong of me.”
During the satirical review of the year sketch on RTE One, MacGrianna said: “A shocking revelation this year (as) God became the latest figure to be implicated in the ongoing sexual harassment scandal.
“The five-billion-year-old stood accused of forcing himself on a young middle-eastern migrant and allegedly impregnating her against her will, before being sentenced to two years in prison, with the last 24 months suspended.”
The ‘WWN’ sketch, which has gained massive social media attention, has also been reported upon by international media outlets such as Russia Today (RT) and The Guardian.
RTE is to issue a further public statement and apology “with due prominence” in which it will acknowledge that the sketch didn’t meet its own expected standards.