[04/05/2006] EU Commission Office in Dublin induces Irish broadcasters to act illegally

Huge sums of EU political advertising to influence Irish voters in next EU Treaty referendum


The EU Commission Representation in Ireland has induced Newstalk 106 and local community radio stations across the country to act illegally during March and April by carrying daily political advertisements aimed at influencing voting behaviour and party attitudes in the upcoming referendum on the proposed EU Constitution, or an alternative Treaty based upon it, within the next year or so.
It is illegal for Irish broadcasters “to accept any advertisement directed towards any religious or political end” under the provisions of the Radio and Television Act 1988, s.10(3),which governs local broadcasters, and the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, s.20(4), which governs RTE.*
The advertisements. which were paid for by the Commission Representation in Molesworth Street, Dublin, are one-sided propagandist statements of positive-sounding facts about the EU that are capable of influencing people’s attitudes and votes in a future referendum on the EU Constitution or other Treaty aimed at increasing the powers of the EU and its institutions, among them the Commission itself.
The advertisements are ostensibly aimed at telling people of the existence of a “Europe Direct” information centre, which people are urged to contact if they require further information on the EU or wish to obtain a speaker on it. Each reference to “Europe Direct” is preceded by a potent and one-sided propagandist statement about the merits and benefits of the EU, which is certainly capable of influencing attitudes and votes, and the views of political parties and the party allegiances of citizens, under the guise of providing objective information from and about this information service. On any fair and objective assessment this March-April advertising is directed towards a political end and is therefore illegal in Ireland.
Here are examples from the series of 10 or so different advertisements:
“Do you know that since 1973 Ireland has received over 5.5 billion euros from the European Community? To find out more about the EU, contact Europe Direct…” (phone number follows) (Mon.10 April, Newstalk 106, 7.15 a.m., During the Eamon Dunphy Breakfast Show)
“Do you know that as a citizen of the EU you are guaranteed the right to buy goods in any of the EU Member States? What’s more, the introduction of the euro enables you to compare prices and get the best value for your money in the EU. To find out more, contact Europe Direct etc.” (Tues. 11 April, 8.30 a.m. and Wed.12 April, 8.15, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that the EU has an expert panel of speakers available to speak on EU policies and development? To hear a speaker, contact Europe Direct etc.” (Sat. 8 April, South-East Radio, lunchtime)

“Do you know that telephone calls cost less because of the EU?” (Sun. 9 April, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that there is EU legislation to ensure the food you eat is safe?” (Tuesday 18 April, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that the EU is the largest contributor of development aid to poorer countries?” ( Newstalk 106, Mon. 20 March)

Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy stated at the launch of this advertising campaign in February: “Following rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001, Ireland knows only too well the importance of communicating Europe. After the French and Dutch rejections of the Constitution, all of Europe knows it now. This campaign wll not only inform people of the different information sources available but will also show the benefits of EU membership, and provide very practical advice on how to avail of European laws to protect their rights.”

This political advertising campaign is the first time that the EU Commission, through the office of its Dublin Representation, has financed anything of this kind in this country. It is possible that the Commission and its Secretary-General in Brussels are unaware that its Irish Representation is encouraging Irish broadcasters to act illegally.
On the other hand, if the Commission Representation in Ireland, or its superiors in Brussels, can get away with these political advertisements on the pretext that they are only providing “information” and stating objective facts, the citizens of Ireland may as well throw their hats at any attempt to protect their democracy from external, politically motivated manipulation from now on. They will be exposed to having their political attitudes to the EU and its affairs moulded by a self-interested Brussels Commission with effectively limitless amounts of money at its disposal to influence the voting intentions of Irish citizens in future EU-related referendums here, thereby increasing the Commission’s own powers.
The background to the emergence of the EU Commission as a major political advertiser in Ireland, and as a direct player on the local political scene is this:
The EU Commission has been allocated some 200 million euros to spend in the current period to encourage “reflection” on the situation regarding the proposed EU Constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters a year ago. The ratification process of The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe**, to give it its proper title, has now been resumed, as if the French and Dutch referendums had never happened. Belgium decided to ratify the EU Constitution in March. Finland is expected to do so by parliamentary vote next month, before it takes over the six-month EU Presidency in July. The remaining parliamentary ratifications will then follow, with possibly an Irish referendum at their end, so that by this time next year all EU States will have ratified the EU Constitution with the exception of France, the Netherlands, Britain and possibly Poland. Germany will then be in charge of the EU and a new French President will be in office, and steps will be taken to finesse the French and Dutch Nos and put maximum pressure on the countries still to hold referendums.
This is the real reason for this EU-funded political advertising campaign that has commenced in Ireland at this time. The Commission’s 200 million euro “information” budget is being targeted mainly at the countries where referendums on the EU Constitution are necessary, with a view to influencing eventual voting behaviour there. While pleading that it is providing “impartial information” through its betwork of some 300 Europe Direct Centres across the EU, the Commission is in fact producing potent propaganda – all as part of the real-politik of reviving the EU Constitution.
If an Irish political party such as Fianna Fail or Fine Gael sought to advertise the existence of a party information line or speaker-service on Irish radio, or to used advertisements to tell people that they had done such-and-such when they were last in Government, broadcasters would immediately refuse such advertisements as illegal. The EU Commission, a much more powerful body than any Irish political party, must not be allowed to use its virtually limitless funds to subvert our democracy in this way.
Unsurprisingly, the advertisements for “Europe Direct” do not draw public attention to less palatable facts about the EU: For example that only one-third or so of our laws now originate with the Oireachtas, the rest coming from Brussels Š Or that Spanish and other EU fishermen have the same legal entitlement to exploit Irish fishing waters as Irish fishermen do Š Or that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy raises food prices for families and discriminates against Third World agriculturalists Š Or that it costs Irish taxpayers so many millions to adapt the country’s bridges and roads to accommodate the 50-ton lorries permitted by EU law.
Patricia McKenna, former Green Party MEP, is making representations to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and to the RTE Authority, asking them to take steps to ensure that Irish broadcasters cease breaking the law in this matter, as they have been doing, perhaps unwittingly, by carrying these EU-funded political advertisements during March and April. She is also making representations to the Secretary-General of the EU Commission in Brussels to take steps to prevent the officials of the Commission’s Representation in Ireland from abusing their responsibilities by encouraging Irish broadcasters to act illegally and misusing EU funds for purposes that are illegal under Irish and possibly EU law.
Patricia McKenna comments: “If the EU Commission is allowed to get away with this type of political advertising at taxpayers’ expenses, including Irish taxpayers, it will undermine the entire thrust of the Supreme Court’s 1995 McKenna judgement which was supposed to protect people from having their money used to persuade them to vote in a particular way.” In 1998 Patricia McKenna made representations to the EU Commission in Brussels which led to its telling its officials in the Commission Representation in Dublin to desist from disseminating one-sided pamphlets geared at influencing Irish citizens to vote Yes in the Amsterdam Treaty referendum as being in contravention of both Irish and European law.
Ms McKenna can be contacted for further information if need be, at (01) 8300818 or 087-2427049
We appeal to all Irish democrats, whatever their vews on the EU, all fair-minded citizens and all responsible media bodies, to raise their voices on this matter.
If you should hear any of these broadcasts on your local community radio station, please phone the station to tell those in charge there that they are acting illegally by broadcasting it, and then inform the local police that the sttaion in question is breaking the law.
(Signed)

Anthony Coughlan,
Secretary (01-8305792 /6081898)


* A discussion of the case-law on this topic up to 2003 may be found in Marie McGonagle, Media Law, Round Hall Press, 2003. There have been some further relevant cases since the latest edition of this book.

** The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe would repeal all the existing EC/EU treaties and establish what would be legally quite a new EU, based like any State upon its own Constitution. It would give the EU the constitutional form of a supranational State for the first time and would make us all real citizens of that, owing it our obedience and allegiance, rather than be notional or honorary EU “citizens” as at present. It would give the EU a political President, a Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps and would increase the EU’s policy-making powers in nearly 100 new areas.

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