Extra radio and TV time sought for broadcasts

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS REFERENDUM:THE REFERENDUM Commission has written to radio stations and television channels asking for “significant additional time” for its broadcasts given an expected low level of debate on the children’s rights vote.

Chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said the concern was there might be a low voter turnout in view of limited public discussion on the 31st amendment to the Constitution.

The referendum, if passed on November 10th, will introduce an article into the Constitution, article 42A, and will remove article 42.5. Its aim is to strengthen the rights of children.

An information guide produced by the commission will be circulated to just over two million homes in the Republic over the next 10 days.

So far, there has been a consensus among the main children’s groups and political parties in support of the referendum. Those against it have included Alliance of Parents Against the State, an organisation fronted by former MEP Kathy Sinnott.

Speaking at the launch of the commission’s public information campaign yesterday, Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan said it appeared the amount of broadcast time and media space which will be given to debate and discussion on the issues may be less than in other recent referendum campaigns.

The commission was aware “there has been limited persons who have participated in a public debate arguing against the proposed amendment”.

In light of this, she had written to all broadcasters to ask them to “increase significantly” the amount of time they give to commission broadcasts.

“The concern is that people will not be aware and will not turn out to vote,” she said.

RTÉ had already responded “very positively” and would allocate a substantial increase in time.

Speaking on the referendum amendment, Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan said “slightly unusually for the Constitution”, the amendment “actually requires and obliges the State to pass legislation”.

It would be a matter for the legislature as to what the terms of that legislation would be subject to it being consistent with the entire Constitution, she said.

The chairwoman also said the commission expected all of the literature coming from the Government, which intends to circulate information to all homes promoting the amendment, to be “clearly attributed to the Government or the minister in question”.

She also said if an issue arose in the course of the campaign on the meaning of the amendment that was causing public confusion, the commission would issue a statement or put up information on its website to clarify the matter.

But it was not a matter for the commission to comment on claims being made by either side about how the amendment would be put into effect.

There will be an extensive public information campaign in all media to explain the referendum and encourage people to vote, said Ms Justice Finlay Geoghegan.

The central message was people should read the guide, inform themselves, check the register and vote.

Polls will be open on Saturday November 10th, from 9am to 10pm.