Irish BAI updates guidelines in respect of referenda coverage

posted on 27 March, 2018   (public)

Emphasis is on how fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved rather than mathematical allocation of airtime

On 13 March 2018, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has published updated guidelines in respect of referenda coverage.  The guidelines are published in advance of the planned referendum on abortion at the end of May 2018 (on the 36th Amendment of the Constitution) but will also provide guidance for further future referenda on constitutional amendments and reforms to local government.

The guidelines have been developed further to the provisions of the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs published in 2013. The guidelines apply to broadcasters within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland and provide direction and advice to broadcasters as to how fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved in their coverage of forthcoming referenda campaigns.

Among the matters covered in the updated guidelines are:

  • the various ways in which fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved, whereby the emphasis is on how fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved rather than on mathematical allocation of airtime. The guidelines also emphasise that audiences may be better served by an approach to coverage that is not purely adversarial and which places an emphasis on the issues of a referendum,
  • conflicts of interest,
  • the coverage of opinion polls,
  • on-air contributions via social media: broadcasters are required to have in place appropriate policies and procedures for handling on-air contributions via social media to ensure that they are accurate, fair, objective and impartial
  • a prohibition on presenters encouraging listeners or viewers to vote in support of or against any particular outcome in a referendum,
  • the obligation to carry announcements made on behalf of the Referendum Commission.

Broadcasters are also encouraged by the guidelines to include a range of voices and opinions in their coverage, including a mix of views representing gender and cultural diversity.

A moratorium on broadcast coverage will come into effect from 2pm on the day prior to voting and will end following the closure of polling stations on the day of the ballot. Worth noting is that particular care is necessary when commenting upon on covering newspaper reviews, online content or social media as they are not subject to the moratorium.

To promote the guidelines, briefings and workshops will be undertaken for broadcasters.

Additional EPRA Background: Note that the the Role of media regulators in the implementation of Accuracy, Objectivity and Impartiality in practice was the topic of a plenary session In Vienna in October 2017 with the production of a Comparative Background Document. Political communication and the challenges of social media features prominently in EPRA's Work Programme for 2018.

Source: Website of the BAI