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The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) has said that a Draft Code published by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is “regulation for the sake of regulation” and threatens to destroy the value added by independent radio to Ireland’s broadcasting landscape.

In a response to a Consultation Document issued by the BAI on a Draft Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs, the IBI said that the BAI Code would “stifle the news and current affairs sector by creating a strong and over-compensating level of fear at breaching the code resulting in broadcasters not asking the questions that should be asked in the best interests of the public”.

According to IBI Board Member Frank Cronin, “We appreciate that recent RTÉ errors have placed a spotlight on the broadcasting sector in Ireland. We also acknowledge that the broadcast media is powerful in its ability to shape and influence public opinion and, therefore, effective regulation is a critical part of a healthy broadcasting sector. However, we are strongly of the view that the sector is sufficiently regulated”.

Mr. Cronin said that the independent commercial sector has always been governed by codes and rules on balance and fairness in news and current affairs programming, adding that “in the 23 years since the first commercial radio stations began broadcasting various consultations have resulted in little change. This is because the treatment of news and currents affairs by broadcasters and the regulator worked”.

“In its attempt to ensure fairness, objectivity and impartiality the BAI has overcompensated for a set of problems that do not exist”, added Mr. Cronin.

In its response to the BAI, the IBI raised a particular concern with the proposed Register of Public Interests, calling it “dangerous and problematic”.

Mr. Cronin said that “expecting broadcasters to make available to the public a list of their personal, professional, business and financial interests is excessive to say the least and over and above that which is expected of any other group in any profession in Ireland.

If this rule is implemented, according to Mr. Cronin, “broadcasters will be the most exposed group in society with every detail of their lives available to all and the BAI will have given rise to the greatest source of gossip that Ireland has seen since the Valley of the Squinting Windows”.

“The Register as it is proposed constitutes an invasion of privacy for those involved, forcing radio station personnel to divulge information that is private and confidential to them but of no material interest to their job as broadcaster”.

The IBI submission proposed that the rule should be amended to completely remove personal and professional interests from the list, to clearly define the business interests that need to be highlighted by the presenter/reporter and also to introduce financial thresholds below which the potential influence is inconsequential and therefore not for inclusion

The IBI also highlighted concerns with the Code’s restriction on presenters offering their own views arguing that it would be detrimental to the sector and impossible for the BAI to regulate.

Frank Cronin said that “independent radio was established to provide an alternative listening platform for Irish audiences than that which was already available on RTÉ Radio. Neutering presenters on independent stations will result in every programme becoming a carbon copy of RTÉ Radio, thus removing any diversity of choice for the listener”.

“This code would limit the ability of opinionated presenters to allow personality to shape their programmes, something which is obviously of appeal to the listenin public in Ireland, as demonstrated in the JNLR figures”, concluded Mr. Cronin.

A copy of the IBI response to the Draft Code on Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News & Current Affairs can be read here