Minister to ease rules on broadcasting of ‘offensive’ comments

TV and radio stations may be less likely to face sanctions in future under the Broadcasting Act for remarks made on air.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has indicated that he favours relaxing current strict guidelines which deem “offensive” comments culpable and replace them with sanctions that only apply to remarks causing either “undue” or “grave” offence.

Mr Rabbitte said, under 2009 broadcasting legislation, the current test to determine when not to broadcast an item or opinion may be too rigid.

“It seems to be a very rigorous test and one that can be objectively difficult to ascertain,” Mr Rabbitte said at the launch of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s three- year strategy statement.

The proposal does not affect 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.

His remarks follow controversy surrounding a TV appearance by gay rights activist Rory O’Neill, whose comments on homophobia resulted in RTÉ paying an €85,000 legal settlement.

Mr Rabbitte said he wished to see the current definition be changed to “undue offence” or, as in the case of the Press Ombudsman, “grave offence”.

BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe said it had received more than 300 letters in response to RTÉ’s apology over the homophobe remarks.

The BAI outlined seven goals it has set for itself until 2016, including ensuring diversity and plurality; facilitating learning; promoting responsible broadcasting and strengthening governance.

“We want to look at our role as being as positive as possible,” BAI chairman Bob Collins said.

Mr Collins and Mr Rabbitte spoke of the enormous changes in Irish broadcasting over the past five years, with Mr Rabbitte saying that the Act may be out of date in some respects.

One of the issues concerns the imminent arrival of UTV. The section of the Act under which it has received its licence does not require it to pay a broadcasting levy as the existing terrestrial broadcasters do, but a much smaller fee.


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