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RTÉ assessing each TV news report individually after blurring faces of local election candidates

The broadcaster needs to be “fair and equitable” in its election coverage, a spokesperson said.

Image: RTÉ News

RTÉ WILL EVALUATE each TV news report individually in the run-up to this month’s elections after it blurred the faces of local candidates on Wednesday evening’s Six One News. 

A report on the upcoming local elections showed four candidates’ posters with their faces blurred out.

A spokesperson for RTÉ told TheJournal.ie this was done in order to be fair to all 2,000 candidates running for council seats nationwide.

The broadcaster needs to be “fair and equitable” in its election coverage, they added. 

“Four posters were featured given the context of the story but they were shown in soft focus to be fair to all candidates running,” the spokesperson said. “There are 949 local council seats to be filled in the upcoming election with just under 2,000 candidates running across the country.”

“In the run-up to the elections we will continue to evaluate each news report in the context of the individual story.”

The move comes after it was reported that RTÉ will list all candidates in a constituency whenever one is mentioned on air. 

The broadcaster is ensuring it adheres to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI)’s election rules by listing all candidates in a particular constituency whenever one candidate is mentioned.

Since official election campaigning began on 24 April, RTÉ must adhere to airtime coverage guidelines, set out by the BAI. Among those rules are:

“In terms of airtime allocated, broadcasters must do so in a manner that is equitable and fair to all interests.”

RTÉ has said that listing candidates is just one way it achieves balanced coverage.

“In our coverage on all platforms, we list all candidates if covering a given constituency.”

‘Too narrow’

RTÉ also uses a “stopwatch” or 50:50 time limit where programme makers measure the airtime received during broadcasts by representatives of opposing sides of a debate.

This was used during the Eighth Amendment referendum campaign where a debate featuring a pro-life and pro-choice candidate would aim to allocate both candidates with an equal amount of airtime.

But the BAI has said previously that there’s been a misconception that this type of approach is necessary to adhere to its guidelines, and that if it’s applied “rigorously that it doesn’t do justice to the programming, it’s too narrow”. 

RTÉ has said that it does use a “stopwatch” approach, but it’s “an editorial tool to guide our coverage, and is not the only factor we use”. 

On 24 May, voters will head to the polls to vote on not only which councillors they’d like representing them locally for the next five years, but who they’d like to see take an MEP seat in Europe. 

In total, 59 candidates are vying for 13 MEP seats in three constituencies nationwide. 

Irish people are also being asked to vote on easing the restrictions on divorce while citizens in Limerick, Cork and Waterford will be asked to vote in plebiscites on whether or not to create the office of directly-elected mayors with executive functions.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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