Here are the updated broadcast guidelines ahead of the Eighth Amendment referendum
THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland (BAI) has released an update of its referenda guidelines ahead of the proposed Eighth Amendment referendum.
The guidelines are there to âassist broadcasters in decision-makingâ as they have an âimportant role in influencingâ the information that citizens get ahead of referenda.
The guidelines are for radio and television broadcasters in the Republic of Ireland, but donât apply to social media (eg Facebook Lives, tweets, etc).
The BAI said that international media organisations such as Sky News have âhad regardâ to the media guidelines in the past, despite being under no legal obligation to do so.
The updated guidelines refer to how social media, opinion polls and advertising (among other features) should be treated by broadcasters such as RTÃ, TV3 and Newstalk.
BAI CEO Michael OâKeefe said that the biggest challenge for broadcasters with regards to the Eighth Amendment referendum was that this is a âcontroversial Amendmentâ with âstrong views on either sideâ which might lead to âadversarialâ rather than informative debates.
The BAI also added that the biggest number of complaints received during referenda have been in relation to presenters giving an opinion prior to referenda being called.
OâKeefe said that itâs their view that if a presenter is âactively engagedâ in one side of the campaign they âshouldnât be on airâ.
Although the BAI has general rules that state âevery broadcaster shall ensure that all news broadcast by the broadcaster is reported and presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcasterâs own viewsâ, this update ha s been made with specific regards to upcoming referenda.
Hereâs a look at some of the rules which have been clarified by the broadcast authority ahead of the Eighth Amendment referendum.
Issues of Balance
The BAI clarified that balance isnât necessarily achieved with a âstopwatchâ approach to airtime given to both sides:
âFairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved during programming by including referenda interests from both sides of the debate. It may also be achieved effectively by the input from the programme presenter playing the role of âdevilâs advocateâ.
It may be further achieved via inputs from other contributors who may not be campaigning for a particular outcome in a referendum/referenda but who may articulate the views of one or other side of the campaign in the course of a programme discussion or a debate drawing on their expertise or experience.
As suc h, there is no obligation to automatically âbalanceâ each contribution on an individual programme with an opposing contribution and fairness may be achieved in a range of ways.
The BAI said that where opinion polls related to the topic of the referendum are referenced, the âsignificanceâ of the poll should be explained to the audience.
Information on the details of the date of the poll, by whom it was commissioned and/or paid for, the company/organisation who conducted it, the number of people polled and their location must be provided on air.
âIn addition, while it is legitimate to have due regard to the weight of public opinion as indicated by poll results, broadcasters should also be mindful of the fact that while public opinion may favour a particular position, this does not make the opposing position less legitimate simply on the basis that a majority view persists.
Although the BAI said that its statutorial powers donât stretch to how social media is used, it said that broadcasters should have âpolicies and procedures for handling on-air contributions via social mediaâ.
These policies and practices must be applied where social media is referenced on-air in the context of referenda coverage.
âGiven the importance of referenda, additional steps should be implemented by broadcasters to ensure that on-air references to social media are accurate, fair, objective and impartial.â
With regards to adverts, the standard guidelines in place state that âa broadcaster shall not broadcast an advertisement which is directe d towards a âpolitical endââ.
It said that it considers the content, context and aims and objectives of the advertiser when deciding of an advert complies with their advertorial rules.
In this context, broadcasters shall ensure that advertising is free of material that could be interpreted as content that addresses referenda issues or which might be reasonably considered as being directed towards a âpolitical endâ.
âThis prohibition also applies to advertising for events, notices regarding meetings or other events being organised by referenda interests as part
of their campaign.â
Diversity of views
As part of their role to âfoster a media landscape that is representative ofâ¦ the diversity of Irish societyâ, the BAI wants broadcasters to include a wide variety of voices during the referendum debate.
âIn this context, broadcasters are encouraged to include a mix of voices and opin ions in their coverage, including a mix of voices representing gender and cultural and social diversity.â
âThe BAI also encourages English language services to provide opportunities to cover referenda in the Irish language.â
Radio and television broadcasters shall observe a moratorium on coverage of referenda. The moratorium shall operate from 2pm on the day before the poll takes place and throughout the day of the poll itself until polling stations close.
The moratorium doesnât apply to social media.
The complaints procedure is handled in the same way as normal BAI complaints, which includes not accepting complaints prior to a broadcast.
The guidelines will come into effect 6-8 weeks ahead of the referendum, the BAI said.
You can read the updated guidelines on the BAIâs website here.