Advertising politics; political advertising

It is a bad advert for Irish politics that RTÉ (Ireland’s national public broadcaster) has had to decline to broadcast a radio advertisement for the short film Defend The Pension from the Older & Bolder campaign (above, via Vimeo; see also here, via YouTube). Older & Bolder is an alliance of non-governmental organisations that champions the rights of all older people, and seeks to combat ageism. Defend The Pension is directed by award-winning director Ken Wardrop, who directed the wonderful His & Hers; and it shows a number of old age pensioners standing in the pouring rain explaining why the State pension is important to them and should not be cut.

Section 41(3) of the Broadcasting Act, 2009 (also here) provides

A broadcaster shall not broadcast an advertisement which is directed towards a political end …

According to today’s Irish Times, Peter Feeney, Head of Broadcast Compliance at RTÉ, said that this section forbids all broadcasters from carrying advertisements towards political ends, and that RTÉ has no discretion in this matter. He also said that RTÉ’s copy clearance committee decided the advertisement breached the Act because it directed listeners to a video and website that sought to influence the Government in the formation of December’s budget.

Defend The Pension is powerful, poignant, and arresting; it is exactly the kind of thing that section 41(3) is designed to prevent; and, as Peter Feeney says, RTÉ has no choice in this. The predecessor of this section withstood constitutional challenge in Colgan v IRTC [2000] 2 IR 490, [1999] 1 ILRM 22, [1998] IEHC 117 (20 July 1998), though whether it would survive a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is questionable. More than that, however, this episode demonstrates just what a tawdry provision the political advertising ban actually is. It is what one would expect from a political establishment scared of criticism. It is not appropriate to a mature democracy. And it is shameful that a radio advertisement for Defend The Pension cannot be broadcast.