Guidelines for Election Candidates and Broadcasters published by Coimisiún na Meán | Fieldfisher
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Guidelines for Election Candidates and Broadcasters published by Coimisiún na Meán



Coimisiún na Meán ("CNM") has recently published two sets of guidelines in advance of the upcoming local and European elections being held on 7 June 2024. In keeping with its role as both the regulator for broadcasting in Ireland as well as online safety, on-demand services and online media, CNM has published "Guidelines in Respect of Coverage of Elections" and "Guidelines for candidates on keeping safe online during elections".

Election Coverage Guidelines

The election coverage guidelines, published on 30 April 2024, are aimed at broadcasters and are intended to cover General, Presidential, Seand, Local and European elections. They should be read in conjunction with the "Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs", which is available here.

While CNM confirms that the guidelines only apply to broadcasters within the Republic of Ireland, it does encourage broadcasters outside the State to be mindful of the guidelines in terms of their coverage of elections here.

The guidelines emphasise the importance of achieving fairness, objectivity and impartiality in coverage of elections through the selection of contributors, the scope of the debate, the structure of the programme, the presenter's handling of the topic, the composition of audiences or through other suitable means. The guidelines also confirm that decisions in terms of editorial coverage of an election, rests solely with broadcasters.

The guidelines recognise fair allocation of airtime during election coverage as being an essential element. However, while a strict, equal allocation of airtime for candidates and political parties may be appropriate in certain situations, this is not an automatic absolute requirement, and a proportional approach to airtime allocation may be adopted where appropriate.

The guidelines identify several factors which a broadcaster could consider when determining what an appropriate, proportionate approach to airtime allocation might be:

  • current elected representation;
  • the number of first preference votes in a prior election;
  • the presence of candidates that have agreed to campaign on aligned election issues but who are not members of a political party;
  • the number of candidates fielded in a forthcoming election;
  • the need to reflect the diversity of political perspectives amongst candidates/parties participating in elections;
  • the current support for parties/candidates evident from opinion polls or other data sources.

When engaging in audience participation in the context of election coverage, broadcasters should ensure that an appropriate range of views are adequately represented in the questions, comments and issues raised during such programmes. The guidelines also recommend that broadcasters should take reasonable steps to identify any affiliations which any contributors may have, e.g. membership of a political party.

Avoiding conflicts of interests is highlighted in the guidelines as being of particular importance. While the guidelines, uncontroversially, state that in CNM's view, is not appropriate for persons involved with election interests to present programmes during the election campaign period, it is noteworthy that the guidelines go on to recommend that comments made by programme presenters in other contexts may have the potential to undermine the perceived impartiality of their coverage. This indicates that presenters should adopt a neutral and impartial stance both in the context of their role as presenters of election coverage and outside of this on social media, newspaper columns etc.

The guidelines also place significant emphasis on the role that social media may play in the context of on-air contributions. They highlighted that there is an onus on broadcasters to take additional steps to ensure that on-air references to social media content are accurate in order to avoid the spread of misinformation and disinformation.

CNM's guidelines also provide guidance around advertising, political party programmes, the application of the moratorium, diversity and complaints.

The full guidelines in respect of coverage of elections are available here.

Guidelines for Election Candidates

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide information to candidates in elections about:

  • the rights and obligations which apply to election candidates standing in elections in the Republic of Ireland;
  • what candidates should do if / when faced with harmful or illegal online content in the context of elections;
  • the rights of election candidates if / when a post is removed by a social media platform.

The guidelines refer to the various pieces of legislation which protect candidates, and the public generally, from harmful or illegal content or behaviours. These are:

  • The EU Digital Services Act (the "DSA");
  • The EU Terrorist Content Online Regulation; and
  • The Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022.

The guidelines state that if faced with illegal or harmful content online, their first port of call should be to report it to the relevant social media or online platform using the platform's own reporting processes. However, if the nature of the content is such that a candidate is concerned about their safety, they should also contact the Gardaí.

The guidelines also provide practical advice to users when reporting any such content by setting out the information needed to assist the platform. This includes:

  • an explanation of the reasons why you believe the content is illegal / harmful;
  • the location of the content (URLs);
  • your name and address;
  • a statement confirming your honest belief that the information and allegations contained in the notice are accurate and complete.

Once the illegal or harmful content has been reported to the platform, the platform must provide the user with a decision within a reasonable period setting out how the matter was dealt with, including reasons for its decision. Users are entitled to appeal the platform's decision within 6 months if they are unhappy with the outcome. If a user believes that a platform has failed to adhere to these steps, this can be reported to CNM.

Platforms are also responsible for enforcing their own community rules and must provide mechanisms for users to report content that they consider to be in breach of these rules.

Finally, it is important to note that CNM does not have the statutory authority to require that content be taken down solely on the basis that it is misinformation or disinformation.

The full information pack with guidelines for candidates on keeping safe during elections is available here.

Written by: Sinéad Taaffe and Tom Clarke

Areas of Expertise

Public and Regulatory