Iona critical of British newspaper's stance on abortion vote
A British newspaper using paid advertising on Facebook to promote an article backing a change to abortion laws has been described as "dangerously close to active campaigning".
A conservative, pro-life group, the Iona Institute, criticised the "deliberate promotion of an article on social media" by 'The Sunday Times' newspaper.
The comments are significant because the Iona Institute is headed by David Quinn, who is a columnist with the British newspaper owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The pro-choice story headlined: "HSE used Eighth to try and force me to have a caesarean" has been appearing as a sponsored post from the paper in Facebook users' feeds.
Concerns were raised about the role of the British newspapper in the abortion debate by Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and Independent TD Mattie McGrath.
The editor of 'The Times Ireland edition' has stated the newspaper intends to openly favour one side of the debate in the abortion referendum - but denied it was using data from the tech giant to influence the result of the upcoming abortion referendum.
However, the Iona Institute says the media must remain objective through the campaign.
Spokeswoman Maria Steen said: "Public trust in journalism requires that reporters and editors strive for objectivity and do not use their privileged position to advance their own personal preferences.
"The deliberate promotion of an article on social media, the subject of which was the release by a campaign group of a pro-repeal video, seems dangerously close to active campaigning."
She added: "The Irish people deserve to hear both sides of the argument and journalism needs to return to objectivity if it is to regain public confidence."
'The Times Ireland Edition' claims the British newspaper's stance on abortion does not affect its reporting on one of the most divisive issues in society.
The newspaper also claims any stories it publishes on abortion will be "factually correct from start to finish".
The newspaper group refused to comment when asked by the Irish Independent if it has ever used Facebook to promote pro-life news stories.
Similarly, queries to 'The Times' head office in London about the stance being taken by its Dublin sub-office went unanswered.
The Irish Independent queried whether Times Newspapers Limited has a policy on the type of articles used in sponsored adverts online.
However, an automatic email reply from its PR team stated: "Thank you for your enquiry. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, we will only be able to respond if we are in a position to help with your request."