Tuesday 22 May 2018

Varadkar orders review of communications unit

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A general review of the Government's Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) has been ordered after a week of controversy over advertorials for Project Ireland 2040.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has written to the secretary general of his department, seeking a number of changes to the protocols involved in buying up advertising space.

It follows accusations from Opposition parties that the SCU had blurred the lines between normal editorial content and adverts to promote the National Development Plan.

Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin has also complained that a number of Fine Gael politicians, including an election candidate, appeared in some advertorials.

In his letter, the Taoiseach said any sponsored or paid-for feature articles "should continue to be clearly identifiable". He said this was best achieved by including the 'Government of Ireland' logo and stating clearly that the article is 'advertorial', 'advertisement', 'sponsored', a 'commercial feature' or a 'special feature'.

In a change of policy, Mr Varadkar also instructed that where media partnerships or agencies are used, final editorial control or 'sign-off' should remain with the Department of An Taoiseach. He told the Dáil this week that the SCU did not have final sign-off on adverts that appeared in recent days.

The letter also noted that anybody interviewed for an advertorial should be asked for permission to use their name in that context. In a final point, Mr Varadkar said politicians and public representatives should not feature in any paid-for content by the Government other than relevant ministers.

Martin Frazer, the secretary general, is to conduct the general review of the unit and bring further recommendations to the Cabinet.

Irish Independent

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