Ciaran Brennan  – The Burkean –

Control over the public airwaves was a key feature in the Troubles and looks set to play a similar role in the fight against populism in years to come, as RTÉ’s recent submission to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) attests.

The submission (suspiciously scrubbed from the BAI website) was obtained by The Burkean and reveals a conscious effort by the state broadcaster to alter the rules on election reporting, likely to stack the deck against populist outsiders as well as to lobby for the gnarliest of hate speech legislation imaginable.

A strategically important but oft forgotten agency, the BAI functions as an Irish equivalent of the British Ofcom or the American FCA, regulating and setting the tone on broadcasting nationwide. Many progressives have previously appealed to the BAI to implement hate speech rulings even without British style legislation on the books. 

Accused by some of engaging in a power grab with the advent of hate speech legislation, the BAI has found itself as the financial alms giver to struggling media outlets with the government’s covid support schemes. 

Written as part of the BAI’s review of its strategy statement, the authority’s pro-hate speech outlook was articulated in a 2019 document

Some of the pertinent points from the RTÉ submission to the organization are as follows.

  • Changes to Rule 27 governing the amount of airtime given to a political party, granting the broadcaster more discretion as well as to favour past electoral performance over levels of support for a given party. Aiming to reduce the chances of litigation, these changes arguably present another barrier to smaller or outsider parties.
  • Support for the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill with a particular focus on the aspects of the Bill focusing on clamping down on hate speech. The submission positively remarks on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s support for a wide definition of hate speech that prioritises the victim’s perception over more objective measures. 
  • An addition to the BAI’s Programme of Standards to better cover issues like racial discrimination. Quoting from the submission,’the BAI should reflect more forcefully provisions relating to hate speech’ 
  • That the BAI would better cater for the rights and complaints of minority groups in order to ‘ensure any harmful or prejudicial language is not allowed or legitimised through use in the media’

The broadcaster’s rather excessive pro-diversity outlook was further outlined in a 2021 report on diversity in the media as well as RTÉ’s own policy documents on promoting multiculturalism in their broadcasting. 

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