A Labour party delegation proposed the introduction of shorter US-style political advertisements in place of the staid party political broadcast format during a meeting with RTE Executives in the dying months of the last government.
“We feel that there is merit in shorter more frequent broadcasts. This is something that would be worth examining in greater detail in the context of the next general election,” a party spokesperson said this week.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show a Labour party delegation suggested “moving party political broadcasts from fixed three minute slots around news to something closer to 30 second slots which could then be scheduled throughout the schedules (ie something closer to adverts).”
The proposal was recorded in a memo written in RTE after the meeting. The Labour party delegation was made up of then communications spokesperson Liz McManus, former press director Tony Heffernan, who worded on the successful Michael D Higgins presidential campaign, and Mark Garrett, a special advisor to tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
They were met by current affair editor Ken O’Shea, Prime Time producer Tara Peterman, and head of broadcast compliance Peter Feeney.
Party political broadcasts are regulated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), which requires that no preference should be given to any party in audience terms.
However the BAI Code – last updated in September 2011 during the runup to the presidential election – does not specify the times at which the party messages are broadcast, or their duration, so long as their timing is “aimed at achieving a similar audience for all such broadcasts.”
The Labour delegation also argued for a three-way debate along with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders, as all thee parties had support levels between 20% and 30% at the time. This would generate “phenomenal interest” and was “a broadcasting opportunity for RTÉ,” they argued, pointing to the impact television debates had in the recent UK general election.
An offer from RTÉ of three debates, the first between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour, the second involving Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens, and the lastly between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, was rejected by the delegation.
The party also argued that with exit polls showing one quarter of voters only made up their minds in the final week of an election campaign, “excluding Labour from the last debate sent out a signal that was detrimental to Labour.
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times.