herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

RTE's gagging order: Broadcaster warns staff not to make comment on marriage referendum

keep quiet: State broadcaster warns its staff not to make any comment on the marriage equality referendum

Rte 2fm's Nick Byrne Show with Jenny Greene celebrated its 1st birthday with a special broadcast from The Bridge 1859, Ballsbridge
Rte 2fm's Nick Byrne Show with Jenny Greene celebrated its 1st birthday with a special broadcast from The Bridge 1859, Ballsbridge
2fm presenter Eoghan McDermott pictured at the Rte 2fm Summer launch at Rte Radio Studios in Donnybrook, Dublin.

RTE has warned staff not to publicly express their personal views about the upcoming marriage equality referendum.

Presenter Eoghan McDermott was recently forced to pull out of presenting DIT's Stand Up For Love event as a result of the broadcaster's neutrality guidelines.

It comes as it emerged that RTE staff were sent a memo warning them not to discuss the issue.

Eoghan said RTE also reminded him of his obligations.

"I had agreed to do that event when I was between contracts, then I signed a contract so I was bound to neutrality," he told the Herald.

"It wasn't a big scandal or anything. I wasn't contracted when I agreed to do it.

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"They saw that I was attached to it and reminded me of the broadcasting guidelines.

"They said, 'We see you're doing that event but you're contracted now and these are the guidelines'. They didn't come down hard on me or anything like that. I didn't know actually that that was the case, to be honest. I didn't realise you were bound to neutrality."

However, Eoghan, who is a co-presenter on the Voice of Ireland and has been filling in for Louise McSharry on 2fm, said he understands RTE's policy.

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"It's fair enough. I don't disagree with the principle. I think RTE is still the most trusted institution in the country so it's fair that it should have impartial debate or people should feel that it has impartial debate for national decisions," he said.

"You can still express your constitutional right to vote on the day, which is the most important thing."

Earlier this week, David Mc- Kenna, the head of broadcast compliance, sent a memo to all staff, independent production companies and freelancers warning them against discussing the issue.

"If we express on social media a position on either of the referendums - even if we say that our opinion is entirely personal - we contribute to the perception that the organisation has a point of view on these topics," he wrote.

"For the duration of the campaign debate, you should not state on social media your views on either of the two referendums; this includes banners, retweets, Twitter avatars, watermarks and so on."

DJ Jenny Greene - who co-presents the Nicky Byrne Show on 2fm - has been with her girlfriend Kelly Keogh for two years and has previously spoken in favour of marriage equality. However, she recently told the Herald that she was not allowed to discuss the referendum in any interviews because she worked at RTE.

"I can't talk about it at all. That's the only rule that I have as far as I know," she said. "Apparently, because we work in RTE we're not allowed."

However, she did go on to make a passing reference to the referendum in a later interview with the RTE Guide.

impartiality

"I definitely would get married. We both would and I don't see why we shouldn't be allowed," she said.

"I'm not saying that if the marriage referendum goes through that we would get engaged the following day, but I would like to know that I can."

In a statement released yesterday, RTE said that staff are routinely reminded about guidances in the run-up to elections and referendums.

"Fairness and impartiality is at the core of our obligations to the audience," it said. "It is an important principle in facilitating national debate on important issues.

"It means assuring audiences, contributors, and commentators that RTE will play a fair role in the impartial coverage of a diversity of views and opinions."

hnews@herald.ie

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