In October 2017, Communicorp Group Ltd. (“CGL”) issued a press statement in which it indicated that it was prohibiting contributors from The Irish Times newspaper from appearing on any of its radio stations*.
Following a request from the Authority, the BAI Compliance Committee considered whether any issues arose in respect of compliance by the contractor stations with the statutory provisions and the terms of the individual contracts held with the BAI. The Compliance Committee considered these matters at its meetings in November and December 2017 and again in January 2018.
Following this process, the Committee concluded that, while the prohibition put in place by CGL is regrettable, no compliance issues arose from the prohibition in the context of the provisions of the five contracts held by CGL, the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the principles and rules set out In the BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs. In particular, it was the opinion of the Committee that there was no evidence to support the view that the prohibition was an impediment to the ability of the contractors for the five services in question to meet their programming commitments or the warranties set out in each contract.
While the Committee determined that the current contractual and legislative framework had not been infringed as a result of the actions of CGL, it was of the view that the decision to introduce the prohibition was contrary to the spirit of one of the key components of the BAI Mission to “promote a plurality of voices, viewpoints, outlets and sources in Irish media”. In noting its unease and regret at this outcome, and to ensure powers are available to address such a situation in future, the Committee asked that the Authority give consideration to any measures that could be adopted to strengthen the regulatory framework to ensure that this broader plurality concern is addressed.
At its meeting on 26th February 2018, the Authority considered the outcome of the Compliance Committee’s deliberations as outlined above. The Authority agreed with the findings as presented and also shared the unease expressed by the Committee on the situation that had arisen and the fact that it remains ongoing.
As the regulator for the broadcasting sector, the BAI is committed to the facilitation of a mix of voices, opinions and sources of news and current affairs. The Authority has decided that it will seek to address the question of the operation of prohibitions of this nature in general policy terms through the proposed introduction of the BAI Plurality Policy and revision of the current Ownership and Control Policy. The drafts of both of these policies will be the subject of public consultation later this year prior to their introduction in early 2019.
The BAI notes that CGL has previously indicated a willingness to engage with The Irish Times with a purpose of resolving the issue between the parties. The BAI would encourage both parties to consider entering into discussions to seek a resolution to the matter.
*Through its subsidiaries, CGL holds contracts for five sound broadcasting services with the BAI: two national services, Newstalk FM and Today FM; two music-based services operating in Dublin city and county, 98FM and Spin 1038; and, a regional, music-driven service for the south-west, Spin South West.
Contact: Tony Heffernan / Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-2399508 / 087-3239496