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Referendum Commission praises 'civic-minded' broadcasters for extra time

Over 60 broadcasters accepted a request from the Commission to devote extra time to its impartial broadcasts on Saturday’s vote.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE CHAIRWOMAN of the Referendum Commission overseeing information on this Saturday’s vote on children’s rights has praised the country’s broadcasters for their “civic-minded” decision to devote extra broadcasting time to its campaign.

Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan had written to broadcasters last month expressing fears that the unusually one-sided nature of the campaign for Saturday’s vote could mean broadcasters might overlook the vote in their news coverage.

Geoghegan had asked the broadcasters to devote extra time to the impartial information bulletins prepared by her Commission, which are carried on radio and TV in advance of referenda since the Commission was first established in 1998.

This was because “the amount of airtime and space being given to discussion of the referendum proposal in all broadcast and print media appeared to be considerably less on this occasion than in relation to many previous referendums”.

This morning the Commission said every single radio and TV broadcaster in the country had acceded to the request, meaning every broadcaster in the country was devoting more time to its broadcasts than was necessary.

“Our representatives have been in contact with each of the stations over the past few weeks and all have agreed to give more time to our information broadcast,” Finlay Geoghegan said.

The judge praised the broadcasters for their “overwhelmingly positive and civic-minded response” to her request.

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It is thought that RTÉ and other broadcasters were reluctant to give significant coverage to the referendum due to the near-universal support for the measure among political parties, which meant the minority of voices supporting a No vote would have been given larger individual coverage than those on the Yes side.

The Commission’s broadcasts offer a happy medium to this, as the Commission itself puts forward a summary of arguments in favour of both a Yes and a No vote, and removes the requirement of broadcasters to engage with outside speakers.

The Referendum Act 1998 allows the government to order broadcasters to allocate time to the Referendum Commission’s broadcasts, but does not specify a minimum amount – meaning the quotum of time is only agreed by negotiation between the Commission and the broadcasters themselves.

The Commission’s gratitude to broadcasters comes as the Supreme Court begins to hear an appeal against the content of the government’s separate information campaign on the referendum.

The High Court last week rejected a claim by Mark McCrystal that the content of the government’s informational website and literature was biased in favour of a Yes vote.

RTÉ News points out that the Supreme Court has agreed to give priority to the appeal, given that the referendum itself is due in just four days’ time.

Read: Call by Catholic Bishops for a Yes vote in Referendum welcomed

More: What do the children’s referendum posters mean?

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Gavan Reilly

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