Officials must face Dáil committee over ‘advertorial’

The Government’s most senior civil servant and the head of the strategic communications unit (SCU) must face Dáil committee questions over claims the decision to pay for Ireland 2040 “advertorial” in newspapers has blurred the line between news and spin.

Officials must face Dáil committee over ‘advertorial’

Fianna Fáil and Labour demanded the meeting amid a growing controversy over the placing of two-page articles drawn up by the SCU in national and regional newspapers last week and disputed claims some editors were pressurised to ensure positive coverage.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy confirmed she has made a complaint to the Advertising Authority of Ireland over the matter. She said there is a need to protect “genuine independent reportage”.

Fianna Fáil and Labour said the secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach, Martin Fraser, and SCU chief John Concannon should appear before the Oireachtas communications or public accounts committees over the matter.

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday insisted reports any official put pressure on regional editors to ensure coverage was positive are untrue, the opposition parties said this must be clarified in the committee.

“I believe the Government is attempting to exploit the difficulties many local and regional titles are facing to promote their party interests,” said Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley, a view echoed by Labour’s Alan Kelly.

Mr Varadkar said there is no truth to claims newspapers were pressurised to publish the positive news. “Project Ireland 2040 is a €116bn investment in our future as a nation as was the case with the last [National Development Plan] back in 2007 there is an information campaign that is happening.

“I checked up on them [the advertorial stories] today and I can confirm that there was no direction from my department or any official in my department to people or to editors to blur the lines between news and an information campaign.”

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