New BAI code means broadcasters must keep own views to themselves


The new Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI) code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in news and current affairs came into effect on Monday.

A key element in the code is that broadcasters in current affairs and news programmes must keep their own views to themselves and that a discussion must be fair to all interests.

An early draft stage proposal that anyone involved in an editorial role in a news or current affairs programme should make public details of any financial or commercial relationship which might be considered to influence their work was dropped.

Robust debates
According to the BAI, such a requirement would raise legal issues around privacy and data protection. It has written to the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte raising the issue.

It’s doubtful that consumers will have noticed any difference in their favourite current affairs programmes this week because they already operate under the Broadcasting Act 2009, which this code underpins.

Also, in the main, they are presented by experienced journalists including Matt Cooper, Claire Byrne, Pat Kenny, Miriam O Callaghan and Sean O Rourke, who are expert at entering in robust debates with their guests – a large part of the reason why viewers and listeners tune in – without expressing their own personal opinions.

The ongoing often heated abortion debate provides strong evidence of just how adept our broadcasters are at keeping their own views to themselves. The code allows that when personal opinions are expressed it must be clear to the listener that it is a personal opinion.

Any “personal, professional, business or financial interest” of anyone with an editorial role in a news or current affairs show, which could call into question the fairness of that programme, “shall be brought to the attention of the audience”.

The code, which stands until 2017 also requires broadcasters to put policies in place for the incorporation of social media content into news and current affairs programming.

Bob Collins chairman of the BAI has said the new code is “primarily, about enabling an audience to repose confidence in broadcast journalism. Audiences develop very close relationships with programmes and their presenters. They come to trust them.”