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Varadkar review of spin operation “not good enough”

2 March 2018

The decision of the Taoiseach to order a review of the Irish government’s Strategic Communications Unit and to initiate new guidelines for state sponsored advertorials has been welcomed by the NUJ.

Earlier this week Leo Varadkar had sought to dismiss concerns at the manner in which national and regional newspapers were advised to present paid for copy regarding the newly launched national plan, “Project Ireland 2040”.

He had also publicly challenged the veracity of the Sunday Times (Ireland) story highlighting the fact that media organisations had been given directions to present advertorials in a manner which suggested they were news reports.

On Tuesday, Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley called for an review of the media advertising campaign and suggested that an external media expert should be asked to carry out an evaluation of the tendering process; the instructions given to and by the ad placement agency and the release of requests or instructions given to media organisation in relation to advertorial copy and the layout of all reports.

Last night An Taoiseach announced that he has asked the secretary general to the  government to carry out a review. While welcoming the review the Irish Secretary said it would be better if there had been “an external evaluation” of the campaign so far. He said:

“The public is entitled to know why paid for copy was not branded as such and to a full explanation as to who precisely was involved, directly and indirectly, in the decision making process.
"The public unease at public use of money to promote a government initiative is shared by journalists and editors who have a genuine concern at the potential damage done to trust in the media.The review should not be confined to Project Ireland 2040 but to all public information campaigns.

"The announcement is especially welcome given the attempt by An Taoiseach to dismiss the initial story in the Sunday Times.
"Media organisations, editors and journalists must be vigilant in ensuring that copy presented as editorial material is accurately presented. The NUJ will continue to support any journalist who refuses to co-operate with the false presentation of advertorials as news reports.
"Media organisations must adhere to the specific provision of the Press Council of Ireland code."

Principle 2 − Distinguishing Fact and Comment (2.3)
2.3 Readers are entitled to expect that the content of the press reflects the best judgment of editors and writers and has not been inappropriately influenced by undisclosed interests. Wherever relevant, any significant financial interest of an organization should be disclosed. Writers should disclose significant potential conflicts of interest to their editors.

Tags: , ireland, Strategic Communications Unit, Leo Varadkar, Project Ireland 2040, Sunday Times (Ireland), advertorials, advertising, Press Council of Ireland