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Requirement for 50:50 balance in a referendum inadvertently manipulates broadcast media, IBI Chairman tells Joint Oireachtas Committee

Speaking to the Joint Committee on the Constitution, at its meeting today on the Review of the Constitutional Referendum Process, Mr. Willie O’Reilly, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) said that “a reappraisal of the codes governing referenda coverage is now appropriate”.

“The requirement for 50:50 balance in a referendum inadvertently manipulates broadcast media into becoming a megaphone for any argument regardless of its merit or of the credibility of its proponents”, he said.

According to Mr. O’Reilly, the coverage of the Lisbon Referendum debate ‘showed up both the strengths and the weaknesses of Irish broadcasting’.

“The mere fact of a question being put to the people in a referendum does not mean that genuine balance and effective scrutiny requires both sides be given strictly equal time on air. In fact real balance may mean that the scrutiny of some claims and of some groups requires more time than others”.

“Weak arguments,” Mr. O’Reilly said, “gain traction with repetition and charismatic leaders of doubtful representation are fêted in the media”. The noise is repeated and repeated and with each echo becomes more magnified. It is surely not in the public interest to hand over half the air time automatically to one side in a referendum simply because they show up on the day”.

“The caricature of every coup in a banana republic is that the first thing the insurgents do is to seize the airwaves. In effect this is what the Coughlan judgment does. It hands 50% of the airwaves over to any insurgent group regardless of the merit of their argument, the motivation of their movement or the size of their democratic mandate. It is a cranks charter” he concluded.

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About the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland
The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) is the representative body for Ireland’s independent commercial radio broadcasters. The mission of the IBI is to champion the agenda of independent broadcasters in Ireland and to be a distinct and coherent national voice in the ongoing campaign for competitive equality across the sector.

The independent voice of Ireland, over 63% of the population tune into independent radio on a daily basis. This translates into weekday figures of 2,296 million listeners. With more than 1500 people employed in the sector, independent broadcasters make a significant economic, social and cultural contribution to the Irish economy. The IBI represents 2 national radio stations, 4 regional radio stations and 27 local radio stations.
For more information please visit: www.ibireland.ie

Press Contact – Laurie Mannix, MKC Communications 01 703 8620