Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Guidelines

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (“BAI”) has published updated guidelines in respect of election coverage (the “Guidelines”). These new Guidelines will apply to the presidential election taking place on 26 October and to coverage of future elections that may arise over the coming years. The Guidelines apply to broadcasters within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland and shall not apply to other services commonly received in this State but licensed in Great Britain and Northern Ireland or in other jurisdictions. The Guidelines apply to broadcast content that makes reference to elections. They provide direction and advice to broadcasters as to how fairness, objectivity and impartiality can be achieved in their coverage of forthcoming election campaigns.

Social Media Contributions

The Guidelines do not regulate content on social media. However, a key development in the Guidelines relates to the on-air contributions from social media. Section 8 of the Guidelines states that when social media is referenced on-air in the context of election coverage, broadcasters must have in place “appropriate policies and procedures for handling on-air contributions via social media.” Broadcasters must now ensure that on-air social media contributions are accurate, fair, objective and impartial.

Editorial responsibility lies with the broadcaster and they must develop an internal process to ensure that they meet the requirements set out in the Guidelines when dealing with social media contributions. BAI Chief Executive Michael O'Keeffe has referenced the issues inherent in broadcasting unverified contributions from social media, as social media can be used to manipulate stories and manipulate situations.[1]

The new Guidelines seek to ensure that social media information presented on-air has been verified and to prevent false information being broadcast to the public. Though not expressly referred to in the Guidelines, they clearly seem to be directed towards avoiding a repeat of the Frontline controversy from the 2011 presidential election.

Programme presenters and social media use

Section 6 of the Guidelines also gives directions regarding programme presenters who reference election coverage on their personal social media accounts. The BAI Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs requires each broadcaster to put in place and implement appropriate procedures and policies to address any conflicts of interest that arise “in respect of anyone with an editorial involvement in any news or current affairs content, whether such person works on-air or off-air”.[2] The Guidelines state that comments made by programme presenters[3] in non-broadcast media, i.e. via social media, in respect of election interests, including candidates, may have the potential to undermine the perceived impartiality of their coverage.

Broadcasters should have a clear procedure in place to inform presenters of these directions in the context of their relationship with the presenter, be it an employee, a contract worker or a volunteer.

Conclusion

The Guidelines seek to ensure that the key objectives of fairness, accuracy and impartiality in broadcasting are not compromised by the increasing use of social media in election coverage. Even private social media accounts owned by programme presenters are subject to scrutiny where they may undermine the impartial nature of election coverage. Further information on the updated Guidelines can be found at www.bai.ie/en/bai-publishes-updated-guidelines-on-election-coverage/.

Data Protection Commission Guidance

The Data Protection Commission has published guidance on data protection rights in the context of electoral and canvassing activities. This aims to inform the public on their data protection rights when such data is being processed for electoral and canvassing activities.

The data protection rights provided under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Acts are not absolute and can be restricted in certain circumstances, including for the effective operation of a democratic society. This is of relevance in the context of elections and canvassing. Electoral legislation allows public representatives, political parties, and electoral candidates access to personal information such as names, addresses and polling stations, to communicate with voters. The marked version of the electoral register can also be accessed under certain conditions and certain timeframes. This register shows whether an individual has voted in an election.

Direct Marketing and Electronic Direct Marketing

While there is a right to object to direct marketing in general, the Data Protection Act 2018 removes the right to object to such marketing when it occurs in the course of electoral activities (e.g. receiving leaflets by post). However, certain information including the name and contact details of the sender, how the information was obtained and what it comprises of, who it will be shared with, how long it will be kept for, what the legal basis for processing the personal data is, and what the data subjects rights are, should be provided.

Rights in relation to electronic direct marketing and canvassing through texts, emails, phone calls or faxes remain in force and the prior consent of the data subject to receive such communications is required. Furthermore, an easy-to-use opt-out should be provided in such instances which allows the data subject to exercise their right not to receive any further communications.

Where information is obtained through door-to-door canvassing, there is no obligation to provide any personal data to canvassers. If information is to be recorded by public representatives, electoral candidates, or political parties, appropriate safeguards must be put in place to accurately record and protect any personal data collected, including your political opinion. Information should be provided relating to how your data is to be managed, why it will be used, who it will be shared with and for how long it will be retained.

For further information on the guidance produced, please see https://dataprotection.ie/docs/EN/09-10-2018-DPC-publishes-guidance-on-data-protection-and-electoral-and-canvassing-activities/m/1788.htm