Eh, shouldn’t he have told us sooner?

By | November 12, 2008

From the IT today

“THERE IS no requirement for broadcasters to ensure equal airtime for both sides of a referendum debate, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland has said.

Speaking at the Joint Committee on the Constitution, Michael O’Keeffe, chief executive of the commission, said there was no requirement in its guidelines to ensure equal time for both sides in a referendum, but that there was a requirement for fair and balanced coverage.”

11 thoughts on “Eh, shouldn’t he have told us sooner?

  1. JL Pagano

    I agree. Normally if you want something done, you are meant to lobby your TDs about it. The BCI should allocate time to the various parties based on their representation in the Dail much like they do for party political broadcasts.

    This announcement is clearly paving the way to a second Lisbon referendum, and it will be interesting to see how things transpire especially as Ganley is looking to organise Libertas into a proper political party (even if I use the term loosely).

  2. Damian Hockney

    …but if you allocate time according to the views of parties in the Dail then you will simply blank out coverage of anything the political class do not approve of. What is the point of having a referendum? The media is central to campaigning. The No campaign would have received hardly any (or just biased) coverage if they follow that rule (which indeed some are proposing). Increasingly all parties think broadly the same and have similar policies. Yes indeed this current process is directly intended to constrct a clever way to deny coverage to the No campaign, and that is shocking and shoddy whatever side you are on. Tomorrow, it could be you or your concerns being overridden in this casual but nasty way.

  3. Ferdinand

    There are some flaws in Damian’s argument. First, the rules don’t apply to ‘the media’, just broadcasting. In the printed media, there is no evidence at all that non-establishment views don’t get an airing; generally they get more than a fair share.

    More to the point, however, it seems silly to me that any crank (and this is not a reference to Lisbon) can set themselves up as a ‘side’ to a referendum-related argument and then claim equal coverage. Getting ‘balanced’ broadcasting coverage can give a wholly undeserved platform to people and organisations who may well be distorting information and putting forward wholly untrue arguments. If you put forward your case in scary enough terms, you can persuade large numbers of people to become suspicious of perfectly reasonable propositions. Fair enough, that’s what free speech is about. But it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, mean that any absurd opinion has the right to be equally promoted before the public, getting the same airtime.

    Just before the Lisbon referendum vote, I was stopped on the street by a canvasser who told me that he had ‘proof’ that ‘the Government will use the Treaty to introduce legalised brothels in all major Irish towns’. Are we required to give that equal air time? Where do we draw the line?

  4. Tomaltach

    I can see your point about the cranks, but in reality the stipulation is that both sides of a debate get an equal airing. This does not mandate broadcasters to accept any and all voices from both sides. Take RTE, they can decide, ok, Mr Y is against the proposition, but look, in our judgment he is more suited to standing on a tin can in Grafton street, so let’s take Ms. Y who is also against but has a more reasonable opinion. In that way it is up to the discretion of the broadcaster.

    In the manner of all our EU debates, Lisbon beamed like a full moon and every kind of froth mouthed zombie that opposes everything marched onto the scene. That is not to say there weren’t those who have very valid reasons for opposing the Treaty, but these were outnumbered by the zombies.

  5. Niall

    “Just before the Lisbon referendum vote, I was stopped on the street by a canvasser who told me that he had ‘proof’ that ‘the Government will use the Treaty to introduce legalised brothels in all major Irish towns’.”

    Was he for or against the Treaty?

  6. Fergus O'Rourke

    Ferdinand says that “it seems silly to me that any crank … can set themselves up as a ’side’ to a referendum-related argument and then claim equal coverage”.

    That was never the position. Even if “fair and balanced” has to mean equal coverage – and the onus of proof is on those suggesting otherwise IMHO – the broadcasters can (and do) select the voices they broadcast. Who heard mine ? For that matter, who other than Ferdinand heard about the brothel plan ? As Tomaltach, one of the Irish blogosphere’s sanest voices – his support for Lisbon notwithstanding ! – notes, there were plenty of us with valid reasons for opposing Lisbon. Why is it regarded as reasonable for broadcasters to complain that they had to go outside the disastrously cosy consensus inside the politico-media bubble to preserve balance ?

    If, on the day after the referendum, a General Election had been held, the anti-Lisbon groups that got airtime would not have got 20% of votes, and that is being generous. The broadcasters interpret that to mean that the “no” side of the argument got too much exposure. I interpret it to mean that the broadcasters were too lazy to find the voices of the other 35% plus.

    If an issue is important enough to require a referendum, there will always be people to argue both sides of the issue. If broadcasters are finding it difficult to cope with that, there is something wrong with them, not with the rules.

  7. Andrew Lawlor

    With regard to Damian’s reference to ‘the political class’ ; I am always amused by this them and us mentality. The political class, or classes as others might have it, are citizens who have put themselves forward for election. They only become the political class when enough of their fellow citizens deem them to be up to the job and vote them in. If they fail to get elected they revert to working class or middle class or whatever. I keep saying it, in a democracy we get the government we absolutely deserve.

    It is nice, though, to see the Lisbon debate hotting up again. The blogosphere has been a little dull of late with only the collapse of capitalism to feed the flames. I heard that nice Mr. Ganly on The Right Hook this evening and, damnit, he just sounds so bloody reasonable all the time. He keeps pushing the button marked ‘the people have spoken and must be respected’ when we all know that Libertas would be the last people to go quietly into the night if the referendum had been carried. The people have spoken and I believe that the people got it wrong, just as the people got it wrong in the citizenship referendum a few years ago. I do, however, agree with Ganly when he says that the no vote was not a result of not understanding what we were told. The people understood fully what they were told but failed to understand that what they were being told by the No campaign was often untrue. The intoduction of abortion without recourse to a referendum, Irish kids being drafted into a European army, the harmonisation of taxes throughout the union and now brothels in every Irish town (thanks for that, Ferdinand), were all falsehoods diseminated by the No cmpaign and had a major impact on the vote.
    I didn’t read the treaty, but I read a lot about the treaty and I cast an informed yes on polling day. Most of the electorate simply voted against that which frightened them the most without bothering to find out if it was actually true. Sophisticated electorate my arse.

  8. Ferdinand

    I’m actually not too concerned in my comments about Lisbon. Important and all though that is and was, it’s not the only issue ever likely to see a referendum campaign. I actually think this touches on our understanding of what constitutes freedom of speech and of the press. This is a complex right, but what it doesn’t particularly mean is that every opinion on every subject deserves or is entitled to media dissemination. The only thing that matters is that it is not the Government of the day that determines which views get an airing and which ones don’t.

  9. FutureTaoiseach

    Methinks the Cmttee are splitting hairs and in practice the courts will take a dim view of trying to differentiate the 2. Instead of respecting the peoples’ decision, the political-elites have decided to approach this question from a “what went wrong” angle, as if the people are naughty children who need to be taught to do what their told. Well we are not, and we do not. The political elite are discreditted from years of corruption scandals, and Ganley’s position as not being one of them played well with a public cynical about elected officialdom and their sleazy ties with builders and vested interests. Another point I would make on 50:50 airtime though is that it didn’t even exist on RTE until the last week or 2 of the campaign. Most of the discussions on their panels about Lisbon had only token-representation from the no side. Panels on Saturday View sometimes had no representation at all from the no campaign. This was acheived via multi-topical discussions whereby the Lisbon issue could be slipped in there with the pretence that this was not circumventing the rules. There was no 50:50 airtime on RTE. Admittedly there was on other channels some of the time. Personally I think TodayFM had the fairest coverage, especially “The Last Word” presented by Matt Cooper. The reaction of the political-class underlines that the public’s cynicism of them is justified. Instead of standing with the people and defending their sovereign and constitutional right to the final say on matters of foreign-policy as mandated by the Constitution, and their right to self-determination in Article 5 of the Irish Constitution, the elite try to find ways around the no vote, whether via violating the spirit of the Coughlan and McKenna judgements which gave us the notional right to not having our taxpayers’ money used to blitz us with propaganda in a referendum campaign, or by hinting at legislative attempts at ratification in defiance of the people’s decision. Any attempts to pursue such tactics must be challenged in the courts, and constitute attempting to change the rules of the game after you’ve lost. It’s just sour groups and is a sign of a sore-loser.

  10. Ronald Binge

    Two things come to mind.

    When the referendum to permanently abolish the death penalty was run a few years ago why did we not have all this bellyaching about providing equal time for supporters and opponents of the death penalty on television? I remember well the folorn figure of Robert Ballagh attempting to campaign against the Good Friday Referendum in 1998 for an example of having to fill airtime under the Crotty/McKenna provisions.

    Secondly, will the result of the second divorce referendum be challenged by those who who oppose another referendum on any altered Lisbon provisions? After all, the people can speak only once, apparently. There’s sour “groups” (sic) for you.

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