The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has launched a new Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs.
The Broadcasting Act 2009 requires that broadcasters ensure that all news broadcast is reported and presented in an objective and impartial manner, without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views.
The Act also requires that the treatment of current affairs programming, including matters which are either of public controversy or the subject of public debate, is fair to all interests concerned and presented in an objective and impartial manner without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views.
The code sets out the underpinning principles and a range of more specific rules that have been developed by the BAI. The principles deal with such matters as fairness; objectivity and impartiality; accuracy and responsiveness; and transparency and accountability.
A draft code was published in February 2012 when the BAI launched a consultation process inviting responses from broadcasters, journalists, political parties, voluntary and professional organisations and members of the public. Some 79 submissions were received and, in addition, the BAI commissioned a representative survey of public opinion on the proposals contained in the draft code.
The draft code and the submissions received were considered by the Authority at a number of meetings. The final code – being published today – contains some modifications to the February 2012 draft and reflects a number of the suggestions made during the consultation process.
The following are some of the changes made:
Conflicts of Interest: The proposal contained in the draft code, which would have required each broadcaster to maintain a public register of interest – in which personnel with an editorial role in news / current affairs would be required to enter details of financial / commercial relationships that might be perceived as representing a material influence on them – is not being proceeded with. This decision has been taken in the light of concerns raised in the consultation process which were discussed with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and were subject to legal review. The matter of possible legislative change to enable the future establishment of a public register of interest will be pursued with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
The final code includes a more general rule for the management of conflicts of interest, incorporating a general principle of avoiding conflicts of interest. In instances where conflicts of interest arise, there will be a duty that relevant individuals and the public are made aware of such conflicts, as appropriate. Broadcasters will be required to determine whether the interest concerned is of such extent as would warrant the withdrawal of any person from further involvement in the programme or item.
Presenters’ Own Views: Some changes have been made to the wording that was presented in the draft code to clarify the intent of guarding against the development of a partisan position on the part of a presenter in relation to matters of public controversy or matters of current public debate.
The prohibition on the expression of the presenter’s own views has been qualified in the final code.
Social Media: A new rule has been added to the final code which will require broadcasters to put in place appropriate policies and procedures for handling contributions to current affairs and news programmes via social media.
Speaking about the launch of the new code, Chief Executive of the BAI, Michael O’Keeffe, said: “I am confident that this code will assist broadcasters to meet the statutory obligations placed on them by Section 39 of the Broadcasting Act by providing them with a clear set of principles and rules relating to fairness, impartiality and objectivity in news and current affairs content.”
“In preparing this code, the BAI has tried to balance the right of broadcasters and journalists to present news and current affairs in a stimulating and robust manner that promotes the public interest, with the need to ensure fairness, objectivity and impartiality for those who may be the subject of such broadcasts.
“Critically, the code is designed to promote audience trust in the broadcast media. In the context of a huge growth in the diversity of sources in which the public can obtain news and current affairs, this code offers a framework in which Irish broadcast media can maintain a unique position of offering news and current affairs which is fair, objective and impartial.
“The code facilitates provocative and difficult questioning by presenters. It is not error-proof, but it does provide a framework in which broadcasters can operate with the best interest of their audiences at heart,” he said.
The BAI will shortly publish guidance notes on the code as an aid for both broadcasters and members of the public in understanding the intent of the principles rules and the matter of their application in a broadcast context.