The political advertising ban rears its ugly head again

Shell to Sea, via their siteI’m sorry I’m coming to this too late to attend the gig, but I’ve only just seen this piece by Lorna Siggins in today’s Irish Times (with added links):

RTÉ denies censorship of Afri advert over Rossport reference

RTÉ has denied that it has refused to broadcast an advertisement for a social event in Dublin tonight that includes a reference to the Mayo village of Rossport.

Justice and peace non-governmental organisation Afri said RTÉ is censoring its attempt to publicise the event, although it is willing to pay for the 20-second advertisement. An advert for the event was carried on the 98FM radio station yesterday.

Health and safety concerns about original plans by Shell EP Ireland for a high-pressure onshore pipeline led to the jailing of five men known as the Rossport Five for 94 days in 2005.

Over two months ago, RTÉ said it had “difficulties” with the wording of an advertisement for the Afri famine walk because of the reference to Rossport.

MidWest Radio had also declined to accept an advertisement for the famine walk from Afri, saying it had to consult the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) on a reference to the Rossport Five. It said it informed the BCI of its decision, which it said the commission supported.

The commission said it gave no formal direction to MidWest. However, it had advised it – when the famine walk was already over – that its decision was a “reasonable interpretation” of the guidelines on political advertising under the 1988 Radio and Television Act [here and here].

RTÉ said that, as with the previous advertisement inquiry, it had asked Afri to clear it with the commission to ensure it complied with the 1988 Act’s guidelines on political advertising.

The advert promotes an Afri gig entitled That’s Gas… in the Sugar Club in Dublin. The wording refers to the title, venue and time, and lists Paula Meehan, Dermot Bolger, Jinx Lennon, members of Kila, Donal O’Kelly, Sorcha Fox, Pom Boyd, Gina Moxley, Vincent McGrath and Pat O’Donnell of Rossport as participants.

Afri described RTÉ’s decision as “a blatant attempt at censorship”. “This is another worrying insight into how our national broadcaster works and how large corporations can use their power to silence voices raised on behalf of justice and human rights,” Joe Murray of Afri said.

As this blog has noted in the past, Irish law does indeed ban political advertising; the current Broadcasting Bill does not purport to change this position; but it remains to be seen whether it can survive challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, there will be absurdly wide definitions of “political” by overly cautious broadcasters, and perfectly innocuous advertisments will continue to be unnecessarily banned.