RTÉ executives to outline referendum coverage plan


THE RTÉ steering group of senior executives is to meet tomorrow to discuss coverage of the forthcoming referendum on children’s rights, which takes place on November 10th.

The normal approach in referendums is to give equal representation to both sides. However, the low profile of the No side has raised issues as to whether this approach is appropriate on this occasion.

This matter will be discussed by the steering group, which includes director general Noel Curran, director of news and current affairs Kevin Bakhurst, head of current affairs television David Nally and head of current affairs radio Tom McGuire, among others.

Informed sources said the forthcoming referendum was “fairly unique” and that it was difficult to remember any other poll where there was “virtual unanimity” on one side of the question among elected representatives and lobby groups. The difficulty in allocating coverage arose because “the No side is just so small and so much on the margins of society”.

It is considered likely that RTÉ will curtail its coverage by comparison with other referendums because of the difficulty in organising debates and discussions.

Broadcasting legislation requires that coverage must be fair but it does not specify a 50-50 balance between the two sides.

Nora Bennis of the Alliance of Parents against the State, set up last month to oppose the amendment, said: “RTÉ should give equal time to both the Yes side and the No side.” She said this was in line with the McKenna judgment which highlighted the need for balance between the two sides of the argument in a referendum campaign.

“We are a democracy and both sides have a right to be heard,” Ms Bennis said.

“How do they know the No side is so small? I believe the No side will win. I deal with people on the ground and I know what people are saying,” she added.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Robert Troy is tabling amendments to the referendum wording in the Dáil this week.

“The draft article 42A.1 should be amended so that it is consistent with the constitutional protection given to citizens under article 40.3.1. That article provides that ‘the State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.’

“Fianna Fáil believes that a similar level of protection should be afforded in the new article concerning children and that it should therefore read: ‘The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and guarantees, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate those rights.’

“This amendment will ensure the same protection for children as is provided to the citizen referred to in Article 40.3.1,” Mr Troy said.