The head of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Michael O’Keeffe has confirmed to The Liberal that broadcasters will still have to abide by the statutory requirement to be fair and impartial when discussing same-sex marriage in news and current affairs programmes.
The Liberal asked him to clarify remarks attributed to him in The Irish Times yesterday in a column by Laura Slattery.
Slattery asked O’Keeffe “whether same-sex marriage would still be regarded as the subject of current public debate if the referendum were passed. Could the No side continue to insist, citing the code, that expressions of equality must be countered by faith-fueled pronouncements?”
He answered: “On the assumption that it is passed, then it’s a legal right. For me that should probably be the end of the matter as a matter of public debate.
This would seem to imply that any matter that is subject to a legal right need no longer be debated. For example, the right to life of the unborn has been in the Constitution since 1983 and is constantly being debated.
However, Mr O’Keeffe confirmed that the “BAI’s regulations and their ongoing applicability; the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs will apply to any broadcast content that constitutes news and current affairs. Clearly, the issue of whether the Irish constitution should be changed to permit same-sex marriage (the subject of much recent discussion) is no longer a matter of public debate since the Irish public have decided that it should be changed to incorporate a right for this class of marriage. To this extent, it is therefore now merely a matter of law.”
He continued: “Notwithstanding this, the implications of this constitutional change and discussions about these implications that take place on Irish radio and television in Ireland may constitute news and current affairs. This will depend on the particular issue under discussion. Broadcasters will have to consider the applicability of the BAI’s Code on a case-by-case basis depending on the topic being discussed and whether it constitutes news and current affairs. In this regard, this is no different to any other matter of current public debate and controversy and a cursory review of the BAI’s complaint decisions in recent years demonstrate that matters, such as abortion, are regularly considered by the BAI in the context of its news and current affairs regulations and the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 2009.”
He concluded: “Broadcasters are fully aware of their obligations and in the case of the most recent referenda and more generally in terms of complaints received and considered by the BAI and which deal with news and current affairs, the large majority of these are rejected. We are satisfied that the BAI’s regulations are quite clear and the BAI has taken a number of steps in recent months to highlight the news and current affairs requirements. This has included opinion pieces in national newspapers, interviews in various media, workshops with broadcasters and briefings with different groups, including public representatives.”