Broadcasters welcome Lisbon ruling

BROADCASTERS have welcomed clarification of their responsibilities ahead of the Lisbon Referendum and regulatory clearance not to be compelled to split coverage 50/50.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) has ruled there is no need to divide coverage in equal time slots, although the content must be fair.

Broadcasters said this was reflective of their general policy to maintain balanced commentary without having to place a stopwatch on contributors.

Peter Feeney, head of public affairs policy at RTÉ, said while the broadcaster is currently not bound by the BCI guidelines, it did take on board its policy.

He said in practical terms it would not affect its editorial decisions as the station would continue to bring both sides of the debate in advance of October’s poll.

Mr Feeney said journalistically it was right to put forward both arguments and although the no camp did not have an electoral mandate it could be argued the rejected referendum had given it one. RTÉ will not be bound by such guidelines until the new Broadcasting Authority assumes power from the BCI.

Newstalk said it welcomed the BCI document and similarly it would continue to make time available to all sides.

“We feel that the removal of the requirement to allocate absolute equality of airtime to opposing sides of the referendum is a positive one. We will cover the campaign in a fair and transparent manner giving all sides an opportunity to put their views across,” it said.

The BCI said the guidelines do not make any significant changes and are designed to clear up confusion that had been raised following the first Lisbon vote.

It had been felt a 50/50 division between the yes and no campaigns was disproportionate because anti-Lisbon advocates had a limited electoral mandate.

No such 50/50 requirement existed but individual stations used it as a guide to bring balance.

A BCI spokeswoman said it would be up to individual editors to ensure they adhere to the principles of fairness and balance and implement whatever system worked. However, each station must be able to show, in a transparent fashion, how it policed both sides during the campaign if the BCI requests it, she said.

Andrew Byrne, the director of the pro-Lisbon lobby group Generation Yes, said the guidelines were a boost for independent yes campaigners not aligned to political parties.

“The BCI Lisbon Referendum Guidelines for 2009 are a triumph of equity and fair balance and means that smaller independent organisations will have a voice in the debate,” he said.

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