Controls on religious ads for broadcast to be relaxed


MINISTER FOR Communications Eamon Ryan will soften current restrictions on religious advertisements that are broadcast on television and radio.

The move follows a controversy at the end of last year when a Christmas radio advertisement by Veritas, which is owned by the Catholic bishops, was banned by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI).“We want to allow more freedom and flexibility in order to be more sensitive around the issue of religious advertising,” the Minister told The Irish Timeslast night.

“Advertising shouldn’t be used for promoting a particular religion or as an agent for recruitment. At the same time, I don’t want to completely restrict advertising that has a religious connotation.”

The Broadcasting Bill 2008 is scheduled to begin report stage in the Dáil today.

The Minister said the Broadcasting Act 2001 had sometimes been interpreted in a narrow way.

Existing regulations may have encouraged a situation whereby the legislation was applied in a disproportionate manner, he said.

Current legislation does not allow for the broadcast of “an advertisement which addresses the issue of the merits or otherwise of adhering to any religious faith or belief or of becoming a member of any religion or religious organisation”.

The Minister will propose that this overarching restriction will remain in place. However, it is understood that legislative changes being proposed will result in lighter restrictions on religious advertising.

They aim to encourage a focus on the content of advertisements, rather than on whether the body behind the advertisement has objectives of a religious nature.

The Bill also proposes amalgamating the BCI and Broadcasting Complaints Commission into a new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. This will regulate both independent and public sector broadcasters, and will be directed to develop clear guidelines to interpret the new legislation.

In December of last year, an advertising agency acting for Veritas made three unsuccessful bids to meet BCI wording requirements for an advertisement.

The BCI deemed that certain lines, including “Christmas: aren’t we forgetting something?” and “Why not give a gift that means more?” went against legislation.

A leading Catholic theologian, Fr Enda McDonagh, described as “ridiculous” and “plain silly” the decision to ban the advertisement.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also criticised the ban. “I sincerely hope there is room in legislation on broadcasting currently before the Oireachtas that will see an end to bizarre interpretation of rules around religious advertising,” he said at the time.

Before Christmas 2007, at BCI instigation, Veritas had to remove the word “crib” from an advertisement before it could be broadcast.

The Department of Communications held a public consultation on the ban on religious advertising on radio and television in January 2004. Over 150 submissions were received by the department.

At the time, the BCI offered the department assistance on the issue but felt it was outside its remit to suggest a legislative change.