New referendum guidelines for commercial broadcasters


COMMERCIAL RADIO and television stations will not have to give equal airtime to opposing sides in debates on the Lisbon Treaty referendum, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) says.

BCI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe issued new guidelines yesterday for commercial broadcasters, which will come into effect from tomorrow.

In a statement the BCI said two changes had been made from guidelines issued ahead of previous referendums.

“Firstly, the guidelines clarify that there is no requirement to allocate an absolute equality of airtime to opposing sides of the referendum debate during editorial coverage.”

It said the guidelines required broadcasters to ensure the proportion of airtime allocated to opposing sides must be fair.

“Secondly, the guidelines clarify the requirement to ensure that the total time allocated to political party broadcasts will result in equal airtime being afforded to parties that support the referendum proposals and those that oppose them.”

According to the BCI, while broadcasters are under no obligation to carry political party broadcasts, those that do must comply with the guidelines.

The changes were welcomed by Willie O’Reilly, chairman of Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, the representative body for Ireland’s independent commercial radio broadcasters.

“It’s an outbreak of common sense.

“This recognises in a formal way that being fair to all sides does not necessarily represent a 50 per cent division of airtime.”

Generation YES, which describes itself as “an independent campaign . . . formed out of a sense of frustration with a political system that failed to engage the younger tech-savvy generation of voters”, said it welcomed the announcement.

The organisation’s director, Andrew Byrne, said: “During the 2008 campaign, mistruths and misinformation were allowed to spread.

“The strict equality rule meant that small, independent groups and well-resourced and financed political parties had to compete for airtime, leaving little chance for a full and fair debate that represented all perspectives.”