New broadcast code ‘to guide content and protect audiences’

BAI chief says potentially contentious issues can only be dealt with on individual basis

Broadcasting Authority of Ireland chief executive Michael O’Keeffe. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Broadcasting Authority of Ireland chief executive Michael O’Keeffe. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.


Television programmes which may be considered offensive are often justified by creative and editorial considerations, the chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has said.

Explaining a new seven point broadcast code, Michael O’Keeffe said complaints regarding the coverage of specific and potentially controversial topics require individual consideration.

The newly published guidelines, which comes into effect in March, cover issues such as respect for community standards; respect for people and groups in society; protection of the public interest; and issues of privacy.

The revised Code of Programme Standards, published on Tuesday, updates previous rules in operation since 2007 and is in line with a review required under the Broadcasting Act. Separate rules governing the use of subtitles, sign language and audio-description were also announced.

“We recognise that standards are ever-evolving and we must also facilitate broadcasters in representing diversity, plurality and realities of Irish contemporary society,” Mr O’Keeffe said. “Sometimes this may involve making programmes which may cause offence to viewers and listeners but can be justified for creative, editorial or other reasons.”

He said potentially contentious issues like those surrounding the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris and the forthcoming marriage equality referendum could only be dealt with on the basis of individual complaints.

The latter, specifically, would fall under a separate code of fairness, impartiality and objectivity in news and current affairs, he said.

The new guidelines follow a review of pre-existing measures which were found to require “substantial revision” in order to be more user-friendly. This included a public consultation process that attracted 19 submissions.

“The idea is that if you are offended by something it should be easy for you to get onto the BAI, make a complaint, and we’ll consider it on the basis of the thing that offended you, whatever that might be. That’s the principle behind it,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

In differentiating between “harm and offence”, the BAI has said: “Those matters which cause offence can, and frequently do, differ from person to person and are largely subjective in their nature.

“There is no right to not to be offended and, for broadcasters, it is to be expected that, in fulfilling their duty to provide a diverse range of programming that caters to a diverse audience, there will be programming that causes offence to some members of the audience.”

Pre-warnings regarding content should be offered as well as appropriate scheduling, it said. The code seeks to limit “undue offence”.