Campaign coverage 'a crank's charter'
INDEPENDENT broadcasters have called for changes to the rules for covering referendums like the Lisbon Treaty -- which they say are a "crank's charter".
Due to a Supreme Court judgment in the wake of the divorce referendum, the 'Yes' and 'No' sides have to get equal representation on radio and television programmes.
The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, which include Today FM, Newstalk and 27 independent local stations, said this meant they were being turned into a "megaphone" for any argument regardless of its credibility.
Its chairman Willie Reilly called for the regulations to be re-appraised to end what he said was a "crank's charter".
"It hands 50pc of the airwaves over to any insurgent group regardless of the merit of their argument, the motivation of their movement or their size of democratic mandate," he said.
New figures from RTE show that Declan Ganley's Libertas group got more airtime during the Lisbon Treaty campaign than Fine Gael, while the People's Movement and Socialist Party got more combined airtime than the Labour Party.
Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe warned that the 50/50 rule might see "the Paedophiles Association of Ireland" getting equal airtime in the forthcoming children's rights referendum.
The committee heard that broadcasters were required to give fair and balanced coverage to both sides rather than equal airtime.
But most broadcasters are using devices such as stop-watches to ensure airtime is shared. Although there were 14 complaints about their Lisbon Treaty coverage, none were upheld.
The committee heard that in Portugal, 50pc of referendum broadcast coverage is given to the government, 48pc to the opposition and 2pc to unelected groups. Several committee members argued that political parties, who are elected by the people, should be given a greater broadcast share.
But Labour Senator Alex White said there was a danger that any changes to the referendum broadcast guidelines would be seen as an attempt to secure a desired result.
"That would be absolutely offensive to our sense of equality," he said.