BAI to act in wake of Communicorp ban on Irish Times journalists

Broadcasting regulator to introduce plurality policy and revise ownership and control policy

Communicorp Media welcomed the finding that no compliance issues had arisen from the ban in the context of its contracts with the BAI. Photograph: The Irish Times

Communicorp Media welcomed the finding that no compliance issues had arisen from the ban in the context of its contracts with the BAI. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

A “regrettable” ban on Irish Times journalists appearing on radio stations owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp Media group will prompt the introduction of stronger regulations on media plurality, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has said.

The broadcasting regulator plans to introduce a new plurality policy and revise its current ownership and control policy “to ensure powers are available to address such a situation in future”.

The drafts of both policies will be subject to a public consultation later this year and introduced in early 2019, it said.

Its move comes after the nine-member authority asked the BAI’s compliance committee to examine the ban, announced by Communicorp in October 2017 in the wake of a column by Fintan O’Toole that argued its station Newstalk was “systematically sexist”.

O’Toole’s column had been sparked by comments made on-air by presenter George Hook that implied women who are raped bear some responsibility for the crimes committed against them. Hook was temporarily suspended by Newstalk as a result.

The BAI committee found “no compliance issues” had arisen as a result of the ban, either relating to the terms of the five radio licence contracts held by Communicorp, the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 2009 or the principles and rules set out in the BAI code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs.

No evidence

After discussing the prohibition at three monthly meetings, the committee concluded that there was no evidence to support the view that the ban was an impediment to the ability of the stations – Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM, Spin 103 and Spin South West – to meet their programming commitments or the warranties set out in each contract.

But the committee was also of the view that the decision to introduce the ban was “contrary to the spirit” of a key component of the BAI’s mission to “promote a plurality of voices, viewpoints, outlets and sources in Irish media”.

It noted “unease and regret” at the outcome of its deliberations and said the regulatory framework should be strengthened “to ensure powers are available to address such a situation in future”.

The authority, chaired by Dr Pauric Travers, agreed with the findings of the committee and said it “shared the unease” that the situation had arisen and remains ongoing.

As the regulator for the broadcasting sector, the BAI said it was committed to the facilitation of a mix of voices, opinions and sources of news and current affairs.

“The BAI would encourage both parties to consider entering into discussions to seek a resolution to the matter.”

Communicorp Media welcomed the finding that no compliance issues had arisen from the ban in the context of its contracts with the BAI.

The broadcasting regulator’s statement follows the ruling of the Press Council that The Irish Times “took sufficient remedial action” to resolve a complaint made by Communicorp about O’Toole’s column in September 2017 when it published a right-of-reply by Newstalk’s managing editor four days later.