Within the last week it emerged that RTÉ has instructed members of its staff and others not to comment publicly on the upcoming referendums on marriage equality and the age of presidential candidates.
According to an update last week from RTÉ’s Head of Broadcast Compliance, David McKenna, it seems staff were told they were not to use social media, including Twitter, to promote either side of both referendums.
Mr McKenna said: “RTÉ has an important job to do in hosting and covering a fair debate on both topics - and being seen to do so by the public we serve. That fundamental principle is a fundamental responsibility of RTÉ and an essential contribution to the democratic process.
“As the RTÉ Journalism Guidelines say, we serve the public interest by providing 'a comprehensive forum for public debate.’”
He explained: “In that context, for the duration of the campaign debate, you should not state on social media your views on either side of the two referendums; this includes banners, retweets, twitter avatars, watermarks, and so on.”
The message from Mr McKenna added: “If you feel restrained by this, we would ask you to remember that it is in the name of a principle worth protecting - public trust in our delivery of fair debate and coverage of these referendums on RTÉ.”
The instructions apply to staff members at RTÉ, as well as freelance workers and others contracted by the organisation. Mr McKenna said RTÉ staff and others could be viewed as “community” within the broadcaster.
“What we all have in common is that it is reasonable for the public to view each of us as a member of the RTÉ community. You might hope that a clear distinction can be made between your personal views and your employment in our professional engagement with RTÉ. In the eyes of the public, and other media, that is not the case,” the update explained.
It continued: “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 the topics.”
Encouraging staff and others to confine their support for either side of the two referendums to the ballot box on polling day, Mr McKenna said: “When you walk into the polling station on Friday 22nd of May, you are a private citizen exercising your right to vote, to change or not change the Constitution. For the duration of the campaign debate, your observance of these limits of self-expression is a necessary contribution to that right.”