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NUJ challenges Mooney programme ruling on same-sex marriages

19 August 2014

The National Union of Journalists has written to the chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority Of Ireland expressing concern at the decision of the BAI compliance committee to uphold a complaint against the Mooney Show (RTÉ Radio 1) following a discussion on civil partnership and civil marriage equality.

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, said the advisory note issued by the BAI ruling has implications for radio and television coverage of a wide range of current affairs issues and effectively seeks to ensure that discussions take place in an adversarial environment, with programme makers forced to find alternative spokespersons to preserve the concept of "balance" normally associated with electoral and referendum coverage. He said:

"The requirement of fairness, objectivity and balance has now been interpreted to mean that broadcasters are required to seek out alternative views in a range of programme settings. Any matter 'of current public debate', to quote the phrase used in the BAI note, is apparently deemed so sensitive that researchers, producers and presenters have to make contingency provision for the expression of a counter-opinion in all settings.
"This represents an extension of the Guidelines in respect of Coverage of Referenda beyond the period of the referendum campaign in a manner which is inimical to the public interest.

"Our members, researchers, producers and presenters, are now put in a very difficult position in evaluating stories and, in particular, studio interviews. The BAI would appear to be singling out discussion on so called same-sex marriage, imposing restrictive conditions even before the government has provided wording on a possible referendum on civil marriage equality, never mind setting the date.

"Every interviewee likely to expression an opinion in favour of civil marriage equality must automatically be confronted with the alternative viewpoint. Likewise, a guest likely to oppose civil marriage equality cannot be interviewed without an advocate of civil marriage equality.

"Given that the proposed referendum springs from the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention there is a compelling logic that the same rule should apply to any subject discussion by the convention which may in the future be the subject of a referendum or even further debate. This would include any discussion touching or likely to touch on: 

(i) reducing the Presidential term of office to five years and aligning it with the local and European elections;

(ii) reducing the voting age to 17;

(iii) the Dáil electoral system;

(iv) giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise;

(v) the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life;

(vii) increasing the participation of women in politics;

(viii) removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution

and any debate on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as abortion and the establishment of a unified patent court.

"According to a report in The Irish Times on 14th August, 2014, the Government is planning to hold a number of referendums next year, including a reduction in the voting age to 16, a reduction in the age at which candidates may be nominated for the presidency and the establishment of a unified patent court.

"It appears that, in a briefing note to the minister for the environment, community and local government, a fifth referendum is also recommended but details have been redacted. In the circumstances I have asked the BAI to clarify if other topics likely to be the subject of a referendum are covered by the circular and we await the response with trepidation."

Read the BAI determination.

Tags: , broadcasting, ireland, Broadcasting Authority Of Ireland, press regulation, mooney programme, current affairs, rté, referendum ireland