In a personal capacity and in my own time – my views don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer – I’m writing to you on the matter of liberty and freedom of expression which I believe is under grave threat and where I believe the public need to be more informed. I would ask you to take time to read this email and, if you think appropriate, forward it for consideration to others. The deadline for action is this coming Wednesday. As a broadcaster from time to time I exercise my constitutional freedom of speech to give my view on current affairs topics. I do this because I believe that for too long a perspective of many Irish people – a majority on many issues – has been underrepresented, ignored or vilified and this must be balanced by more fairness.But if draft proposals of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland are implemented, I may lose that right. Also citizens will lose the right to choose to listen to presenters they want and broadcasters like me could lose their livelihood.
Without reading it all – noting the wording of “Rule 2” (p 12) the reference to the European Convention of Human Rights (p 5) and scanning the last 4 pages will suffice (pdf here), There are good proposals in this draft; disclosure of interests, for example. Indeed most of the proposals make sense. But presenters should in my view be free to give their opinions provided they do so transparently and fairly and Rule 2 – which requires that “current affairs” broadcasters should refrain from “any expression of the broadcaster’s own views” – will stop this and return us to the days of monopoly viewpoints determined by faceless producers.
This would be unfair on many levels:
Firstly, in my case and the case of private broadcasters taxpayers are not forced to a 400k RTE style salary. So why has the state any right to censor us? Secondly, while the code applies to all broadcasters it will put private broadcasters at a grave disadvantage to the hugely funded and privileged RTE which has far greater resources with which to implement onerous regulations and restrictions. Thirdly, the proposal gives print media and advantage over radio. John Cooney – religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent and Patsy McGarry – religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times – are free to give their opinions in what they write. Fourthly, given how views of all sorts are now broadcastable on blogsites, facebook and twitter, it is unfair to single out radio for muzzling. But there’s more:
The reference in the Draft Code (page 5) to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) is very ominous: This convention regardsabortion and euthanasia as fundamental human rights (based on the privacy of the person). Regardless of one’s views on the merits and demerits of these controversial issues it is entirely unsuitable for any proposed code of conduct – even if constrained to matters of broadcasting policy – to refer to them or use them as this may be seen to reflect a tacit acceptance of that Convention’s totality on the part of the BAI. Note that I am not here alleging that the BAI or its staff support the ECHR in its totality. Rather I am saying that using this document could lead to the perception of bias which would be unhealthy. Given perceptions by many of a liberal bias in the media of late, this is unhealthy and extremely unwise..Whether you agree or disagree with the points made above I ask you to engage as a citizen and make your views know in a brief submission to the BAI. It doesn’t have to be a tome: Even a few short paragraphs in an email to get across your core views would be a valuable contribution to the debate, whatever side in it you take. You’ll find details of whom to contact to do that here. The deadline for action is this coming Wednesday
Thank you for your kind attention on this very important topic.