Pat Rabbitte plans to relax law on 'offence' by media after Panti row
A PROPOSED amendment to the Broadcasting Act is to make it less likely that broadcasters will face sanction for remarks made on air.
A new requirement that broadcasters should avoid causing "undue offence" – as opposed to mere "offence" – is being proposed by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte as an amendment to the Act.
The proposal does not interfere in any way with the public's right to take a case for defamation but makes it less likely that a broadcaster would face sanction by the Broadcasting Authority.
Mr Rabbitte – in an address to the Seanad – said the current Act required every broadcaster to ensure that nothing is broadcast that might reasonably be regarded as causing offence.
"This seems to me to be an unfeasibly rigorous approach. We all know how easy it is for some people to be offended – even where offence was not intended and is not objectively ascertainable," he said.
Mr Rabbitte said he would shortly be proposing miscellaneous amendments to the Act, including one which would "require broadcasters to avoid causing undue offence".
"That seem to me to be more objective and more in tune with the realities of public debate," he said.
In relation to the recent homophobia controversy, Mr Rabbitte said he had sought to avoid intruding into the RTE decision to pay out €85,000 in the Panti Bliss row.
The broadcaster paid out €85,000 and issued an apology after an appearance by drag act Rory O'Neill last month.
Mr Rabbitte stressed that RTE "made a commercial decision, as it does frequently, in the face of contemplated defamation actions".
He also called for an examination of the 50-50 time allocation by broadcasters at referendums, saying that the rule offered "a perverse political incentive to oppose constitutional amendments, given the almost guaranteed access to the airwaves that will follow".