You’ll probably remember the advertising campaign – the Power to Power Ourselves – which aired early in 2016 just before the election campaign: it featured audio clips of JFK addressing the Irish parliament. If not, you can view it here.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), at their June compliance meeting, upheld a complaint against the broadcast by RTE and TV3 of the Power to Power Ourselves advertising campaign. An advertising campaign which the BAI found was intended to influence government policy in respect of energy.
The Broadcasting Act 2009 and the BAI General Commercial Communications Code prohibits persons and organisations from using radio and television advertising to influence government policy, even in the case of causes and issues which might be supported by some or indeed a large portion of the population.
The Complaint: ad politically linked to policy development and wind energy guidelines
Mr. Francis Clauson complained to both RTE and TV3 and subsequently to the BAI that this campaign which had been coordinated by the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), was clearly political advertising and is prohibited by law in Ireland.
It is important to note that political advertising is not limited to adverts aired by, or on behalf of political parties, but also encompasses advertisements which have the objective of procuring changes in the laws of this country, or countering suggested changes in those laws and/or advertisements which have the objective of procuring a reversal of government policy or of particular decisions of governmental authorities. This was confirmed in an Irish high court case of Colgan -v- IRTC  IEHC 117.
Mr. Clauson in his complaint described IWEA as the national body representing the wind energy sector in Ireland, who are committed to promoting the use of wind energy in Ireland. He highlighted wind energy is currently a matter of significant political dispute and that campaigns are underway to oppose the further development of wind energy within the country. He also argued that the political element of the advert included the ongoing review of the wind energy guidelines being undertaken by Government; the review and proposed revision to the wind energy guidelines has at its heart a battle to set safe setback distances/noise limits between homes and wind farms, something which the IWEA has vehemently opposed.
Both RTE and TV3 denied that the advertisement was prohibited and the matter was then determined by the BAI Compliance Committee.
BAI confirm is a political advert – intended to influence government policy
In their determination of the complaint it was the view of the BAI that, on balance, in respect of the content of the advert, the context in which it was broadcast and the objectives of the advert and the advertiser were such that the advert met the criteria as one having the objective of being directed towards a ‘political end‘, specifically, one intended to influence government policy in respect of energy.
Reasons cited by the BAI for this finding include:
- that in respect of the content of the advert, the Committee noted that it included content intended to promote wind as a source of energy and as an avenue to energy independence. It also included an implicit criticism of current energy policy in Ireland. These aspects of the advert were evident from the text included in the advert which stated:- “Why do we import 85% of Ireland’s energy needs, producing only 15% domestically, when we’re surrounded by a resource that could move us towards energy independence. “
- that in respect of the advertiser (IWEA) and the aim of the campaign, the Committee noted that an objective of the advertiser (IWEA), is to lobby government with a view to supporting the development of wind energy and renewable energy sources in Ireland.
- that a stated objective of the campaign was to, amongst other things, highlight Ireland’s wind and renewable energy resources as well as our dependency on energy imports. This was emphasised in the text of the advert and also via the #eightfive15 twitter account. It was the view of the Committee that the aforementioned implicit criticism of this dependency was also allied to a call for change.
This is both an embarrassing and expensive blow for IWEA and their backers, who include Bord na Mona, Coillte and the ESB (the campaign cost €500,000). The wind energy and IWEA brands shall now be subjected to the broadcast – at high profile time slots – of the findings of the BAI in upholding the complaint. Wind energy being associated with unlawfulness and this being broadcast at peak viewing times, on RTE and TV3, is not what the industry sought from this campaign, which was devised by Rothco.
What RTE and TV3 do with the revenue earned from running unlawful advertisements raises another interesting question; the money should be spent objectively investigating the impact of wind farms on communities and presenting the significant medical evidence out there in tandem with the evidence in relation to continuous acoustical impact and annoyance. We understand that Mr. Clauson is writing to TV3 and RTE asking them to use the funds to produce a joint program investigating the negative impact of wind farms on local communities and receiving environments.
The determination also means that in Ireland, at least on national broadcasters, such overtly political campaigns promoting wind energy will no longer be run, and the industry may think twice before running such a campaign in future.
Well done to Mr. Clauson – keep up the good work; as always we are here to help.