BAI rejects charge of ‘stifling’ debate on gay marriage

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has rejected suggestions that recent rulings “stifled” debate on extending marriage rights to gay people.

BAI rejects charge of ‘stifling’ debate on gay marriage

Broadcaster Una Mullally yesterday said BAI findings against radio presenters Derek Mooney and Chris Donoghue denied her on-air publicity for her book In the Name of Love, a history of marriage equality in Ireland.

The BAI recently upheld complaints against RTÉ and Newstalk for comments on marriage equality by Mr Mooney and Mr Donoghue, ruling that their comments breached guidelines on balanced broadcasting.

“I have been told by national radio stations that in order to discuss this history book, there must be someone present who opposes rights for gay people,” Ms Mullally wrote in her Irish Times column yesterday. “These are not editorial decisions. They are instructions from above.”

The BAI yesterday rejected this contention.

“The BAI has, at no time in its engagements with broadcasters, issued any direction requiring that broadcasters must automatically ‘balance’ a discussion with an opposing view,” the BAI said in a statement yesterday. “Neither has the BAI, at any stage, made a ‘ruling on marriage equality’.

“The approach to covering issues, including those of public controversy or current public debate, should be guided by ensuring equitable, proportionate coverage. While there may be some instances where balance may be required, an automatic requirement for balance is considered unnecessary and inappropriate by the BAI. Indeed, the BAI has consistently expressed the view that the application of such an artificial balance can, in and of itself, amount to a lack of fairness in certain circumstances.

“Against this backdrop, it would be a matter of grave concern to the BAI if ‘national radio stations’ or any other broadcasters incorrectly used the outcomes of recent complaint decisions as a basis for their editorial decision-making.”

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, yesterday said the BAI’s actions are “already having a chilling effect on public discourse around marriage equality”.

“This is precisely the absurd consequence which the NUJ warned of in the wake of the original Mooney ruling,” said Mr Dooley.

“We now have a situation where station managements, programme editors, and journalists are being forced to self-censor as a result of the requirement to second-guess the BAI in relation to any issue which may or may not be the subject of a referendum at an unspecified date in the future. This seems to arise from the BAI determination in The Mooney Show and the circular issued in relation to coverage of the referendum on marriage equality.

“It is difficult to see how the public interest is best served by a mandatory adversarial type debate. There are circumstances where a one to one interview may be more appropriate, with the interviewer sometimes placing the role of devil’s advocate in order to tease out issues.

“The Bishop of Elphin is entitled to set out the view of the Roman Catholic Church without automatically having to engage in direct argument with a spokesperson for Glen [Gay and Lesbian Equality Network]. Una Mullally should be allowed to discuss her work without always having to run the gauntlet of an opponent.”

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