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Register of interests proposal for presenters 'nonsense', says Kenny

VETERAN broadcaster Pat Kenny has described as "nonsense" controversial plans for a public register of interests for broadcasters.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) will contact Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to ask for the introduction of legislation to set up the register.

The idea was included in a draft of the BAI's code on fairness and objectivity in news – but was dropped following data protection concerns.

But the final draft does contain a controversial clause to stop presenters from voicing an opinion on air.

Mr Kenny said he strongly disagreed with the idea of a public register of interests for broadcasters.

He said it was not clear what would be considered an interest that should be recorded and that such a register would lead to spurious complaints.

"For example, if I was a vegan – I'm not by the way but if I was, - would that have to be recorded?" he asked.

"I think it's nonsense, to be quite honest. Overregulation would lead to vexatious and mischievous complaints," he added.

He hoped the BAI would be "protectors rather than policemen" for broadcasting standards.

Mr Kenny did not take issue with the rules forbidding presenters from voicing their opinions. "There's nothing terribly different to the rules and requirements in our contracts, to be fair. It doesn't mean you can't be robust," he said.

Relieved

His views were at odds with those of TV3 presenter Vincent Browne.

"I think that there should be a register of interests and I think it should be public. I believe there should be a register of interests for all journalists, in fact," he said.

Mr Browne said he had apprehensions about what would be in the code before it was published. "I'm somewhat relieved, I thought it would be worse," he said.

He didn't object in principle to the "gag" rule but said that real objectivity didn't exist.

"The idea that there is objectivity is naive – a presenter has a view on the questions that they ask," he said.

Government TDs on the Oireachtas Communications Committee have expressed concerns that the code could "gag" presenters and have promised to raise it at their next meeting.

Fine Gael Limerick TD Patrick O'Donovan said it was important the new code did not attack free speech, as that could "erode democracy".

A number of presenters have opposed the code, including George Hook, who said it was like an attempt "to get rid of one of the pillars of democracy".

Meanwhile, broadcasters will be invited to a workshop next month for advice on how to comply with the new rules.

Alan Cantwell Comment

Irish Independent