BAI must be given real teeth to deal with Irish media bias
Every household with a television set in the Irish Republic pays a €160 TV Licence fee to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The vast majority of the TV Licence fee is understood to support the production of "quality" programming by RTÉ.
"Quality" programming, not biased programming.
But, in return for this required fee, biased programming is exactly what the Irish public have been receiving from RTÉ for many years - especially from its News and Current Affairs line-up, and, especially as pertains to news-worthy issues of a controversial nature - like the issue of Abortion and the 8th Amendment.
Specifically, this is in contradiction to Section 4, paragraphs 21 and 22, of BAI's own 'Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs', which echoes the Broadcasting Act 2009:
21. A news presenter and/or a reporter in a news programme may not express his or her own view on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate.
22. It is an important part of the role of a presenter of a current affairs programme to ensure that the audience has access to a wide variety of views on the subject of the programme or item; to facilitate the expression of contributors‘ opinions – sometimes by forceful questioning; and to reflect the views of those who cannot, or choose not to, participate in content. This being so, a presenter and/or a reporter on a current affairs programme shall not express his or her own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated.
In light of the recent Warning Notice handed down to RTÉ by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), upholding a complaint which alleged that the Ray D'Arcy Show had been in breach of the BAI's Code on the issue of abortion, some observations about the BAI's Compliance and Enforcement Policy need to be made.
And then, the petition, which is directed to Mr Denis Naughten - Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Cc'ed to both Mr Jon Williams - RTÉ's Managing Director of News and Current Affairs, and to Dr Pauric Travers - Chairman of the BAI - will ask for three commonsense policy adjustments to be made, so that media bias in RTÉ might be better curtailed.
1) The BAI's Compliance and Enforcement Policy is not well-equiped to quickly address alleged breaches of the Code.
For example, the decision on the complaint made against the Ray D'Arcy Show was published on 21 December, 2016, but, the offending programme had aired on 9 June, 2016 - more than 6 months earlier. By then, the damage of the bias (confirmed by the BAI decision) had taken full-effect, with no immediate consequences for either the producers or the presenter.
2) The BAI is largely seen as a paper tiger, an enforcement body without teeth.
Why? The BAI regularly delivers rebukes to RTÉ presenters and producers over the biased content in their programming. But, what really happens? Relatively little. And so, bias in the Irish media remains. Indeed, the fact that very little ever happens to those responsible for the media bias actually emboldens them.
For example, in the recent Warning Notice issued to RTÉ, the BAI, itself, notes that this was the third instance where a "bias complaint" was upheld on the issue of abortion, as presented on the Ray D'Arcy Show.
3) Whether or not it is the truth, the BAI is seen to work hand-in-glove with RTÉ, not wanting to rock the boat.
For example, even in a case of a chronic offender, like the Ray D'Arcy Show, the BAI stated that its purpose in issuing a Warning Notice is to, "[provide] an opportunity for the BAI and the broadcaster to work together to resolve the issue". It does state that if the matter is not remedied, "to its satisfaction", then an investigation may occur, potentially followed by formal sanctions.
But, no-one, apart from the BAI, itself, knows what those remedies may or may not include. And, whereas RTÉ has subsequently stated that it will supply a plan to the BAI, to ensure that a similar situation does not re-occur, no-one knows what that plan includes, either.
CONCLUSION and PETITION REQUESTS
The BAI must be allowed to react more quickly and forcefully to alleged breaches of its 'Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality' Code.
If, as both the BAI and RTÉ claim, an impartial media is vital to a thriving democracy, then the BAI must be given real teeth to fight bias in the Irish media, and especially in the national, tax-payer-funded, broadcaster, RTÉ.
Taking these observations into account, this petition, therefore, asks the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Mr Denis Naughten, who oversees the conduct of RTÉ and the BAI, to seek the implementation of the following changes in the Broadcasting Act 2009, and or the BAI's Code and Compliance and Enforcement Policy:
- 1) Upon receipt of a complaint which alleges a violation of the BAI's Code of 'Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality', the BAI shall have a maximum of 30 days to render a decision. Such a policy change will ensure a quicker response time, and greater accountability to the tax-payer.
- 2) Should the BAI find a programme in breach of their Code of 'Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality', the producers and presenter(s) of the programme shall be personally liable to a financial sanction. Here are the real teeth which the BAI need, to seriously take on the rampant bias in the Irish media. In respect to RTÉ, the producers and presenters of news and current affairs programming can no longer act as though they are above the law.
- 3) The BAI and RTÉ must prominently publish any plans designed to curtail breaches of its 'Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality' Code. The public deserve to know exactly what steps are being taken by the broadcaster and by the enforcement agency to help rid Irish media of its bias.
The Irish tax-payer is not vindictive - and, would prefer not to see producers and presenters fined for flouting the law - but, at the same time, the tax-payer simply wants the news reported, unembellished. And, the threat of personal financial loss is a strong motivator to obey the law.
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Give BAI real teeth to address media bias in RTÉ