Broadcasters who actively campaign in the forthcoming referenda should not be on air during that time period, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has said.
Announcing its guidelines for the forthcoming referenda on same-sex marriage and lowering the minimum age for the presidency of Ireland from 35 to 21, the BAI stressed that it was up to broadcast companies themselves to decide whether a presenter should be on air or not.
“It is a matter for broadcasters to decide on a case-by-case basis the appropriate arrangements in the context of the contractual or employment relationship between the presenter and the broadcaster and in the context of their statutory obligations,” the BAI stated.
There was no “legal obligation for balance” in any individual item, the BAI added. However, the authority stressed that it was critical for broadcasters to be fair to both sides in the forthcoming referenda.
The BAI also stressed that not all debates in relation to the same-sex marriage referendum have to be adversarial. For instance, an exposition of the Catholic church’s view on marriage could be made without necessarily getting an opposing view.
Criticism of BAI
The BAI was heavily criticised following a ruling which it made last August in relation to The Mooney Show. It held that a programme in which Derek Mooney spoke to former newsreader Michael Murphy, who had entered into a civil partnership, and Tiernan Brady from the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) was not impartial as it did not give an opposing view on same-sex marriage.
In response to suggestions from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) that the ruling would have a “chilling effect on public discourse around marriage equality”, the BAI then responded by stating that broadcasters were incorrectly using the outcomes of recent complaint decisions as a basis for their editorial decision-making.
In its guidelines, the BAI stated that while there was no guarantee of absolute equality of airtime for both sides during coverage of the referenda, “the approach taken must be equitable to all interests and undertaken in a transparent manner”.