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TV3 Political Editor told she could cover referendum, if she stayed out of debate

Ursula Halligan is calling for a Yes vote in the marriage referendum, and has praised the broadcaster for re-arranging its coverage to accommodate her.

Fianna FaIl Parliamentary Party Think Ins Ursula Halligan Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

TV3′s POLITICAL EDITOR Ursula Halligan was told by station management that she could continue to cover the same-sex marriage referendum – but that to do so, she would have to refrain from endorsing either side.

The offer was made in the context of talks between the journalist and Ballymount management as she discussed her plans to publicly endorse a Yes vote in the 22 May poll.

Halligan, one of the station’s most familiar faces and a widely-respected broadcaster, won widespread praise for her bravery yesterday – for her op-ed in The Irish Times.

The marriage referendum had encouraged her to be open about being gay, she wrote. In an interview later, she revealed she had only told her family in the last few days that she was gay.

At the end of her Irish Times article, Halligan revealed she had arranged to be taken off referendum coverage by TV3 to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest – and that her employers had been happy to oblige.

I told them my situation, they reorganised their coverage in half a day.

TV3 confirmed in a statement to this website that it had agreed with its Political Editor, ”that she be removed from coverage of the Marriage Equality Referendum” in order to comply with BAI guidelines on referendum coverage.

“Ursula wishes to publicly endorse a yes vote in the referendum which could breach the referendum guideline as it ‘may have the potential to undermine the perceived impartiality of [TV3's] coverage’,” the station said.

TV3 has the highest regard and respect for Ursula’s professionalism and impartiality. Further, TV3 respects Ursula’s personal wishes regarding this issue and her desire to publicly state her views. Ursula will continue to cover all other political issues for TV3.

A spokesperson added that “TV3 has a pool of politically literate reporters who can be assigned to the Marriage Referendum at any time”.

Fianna FaIl Parliamentary Party Think Ins In one of her most memorable TV3 performances - Halligan asks Taoiseach Brian Cowen if he was "either drunk or hungover" during his infamous 2010 Morning Ireland interview. "Absolutely not," was the response. Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

What are the guidelines?

The BAI Referendum Guidelines document states that “it is not appropriate for persons involved with referenda interests to present programmes during the referenda campaign period”.

Section 6, covering conflicts of interest, also states:

Broadcasters should note that that comments made off-air, for example in print publications or social media, by programme presenters in respect of the referenda, particularly presenters of news and current affairs, may have the potential to undermine the perceived impartiality of their coverage.

Earlier this week, satirist Oliver Callan was cautioned by RTÉ after he publicly backed a Yes vote at an Abbey Theatre event. 

RTÉ staff, contractors and freelancers – including presenters and production staff – have also been warned not to air their views on social media, in the run up to polling day.

Read: Oliver Callan gagged by RTÉ after publicly calling for Yes vote in marriage referendum

Read: Marriage referendum encouraged TV3′s Ursula Halligan to open up about being gay

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