Broadcasters don't have to give 50:50 time coverage to abortion debate, BAI advises
BROADCASTERS have been advised to focus on fairness rather than clockwatching while hosting debates on the abortion referendum.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has today issued guidelines which will come as a relief to TV and radio hosts, as well as the Government.
A number of ministers had privately told Independent.ie they were concerned the conversation on the Eighth Amendment could be damaged by attempts to balance speaking time regardless of the facts.
Speaking at the launch of the guidelines, Chief Executive of the BAI, Michael O’Keeffe said: “The guidelines published today include a strong emphasis on how fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved, and how this is broader than a consideration of airtime for campaign groups.
“The BAI is keen to emphasise that this does not include a requirement for artificial balance.”
It has been decided that a moratorium on 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. Although the referendum date is yet to be confirm, Health Minister Simon Harris is understood to be targeting May 25.
The guidelines warn broadcasters to have appropriate policies and procedures for handling on-air contributions via social media.
“These policies and practices must be applied where social media is referenced on-air in the context of referenda coverage.
“Given 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,” they said.
Among the matters covered in the updated guidelines are the various ways in which fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved, conflicts of interest; and the coverage of opinion polls.
The BAI warn that where opinion polls are used “coverage must be accompanied by information to assist viewers/listeners to understand the significance of the opinion poll”.
“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.”
Other matters addressed include a prohibition on presenters encouraging listeners or viewers to vote in support of or against any particular outcome in a referendum, and 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.
Mr O’Keeffe said: “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. The approach set out in the guidelines enhances that taken in respect of the coverage of the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015.”