With the changes forced by the COVID restrictions, RTÉ has held consultations regarding coverage of Political Party conferences, in respect of qualifying parties, for the calendar year 2021.
Given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, RTÉ examined what kind of coverage might be possible in circumstances where it is anticipated any conference will primarily be a virtual event.
RTÉ believes the following coverage offers qualifying parties a fair and comprehensive approach that reflects the unique circumstances in 2021.
The RTÉ Steering Group has approved coverage for political party conferences in 2021 to include:
- RTÉ will offer a live Leaders’ Address broadcast on RTÉ One and RTÉ News channel between 5.00pm – 5.30pm and will also stream the speech live on social media platforms. Allowing for the challenges of a virtual conference, the coverage of a Leaders’ Address will take the form of a Special News broadcast. This will allow RTÉ to provide a secure studio back-up in the event of any technical issues. It is envisaged the opening will be a brief introduction to the programme before taking a ‘live feed’ of the speech.
- RTÉ will also offer each qualifying party an uncontested Party Message broadcast of a maximum of five minutes duration leading into the Nine O’Clock News on RTÉ One. The precise time of this news programme may vary, subject to scheduling. This broadcast may include pre-recorded key points from the Leaders’ Address, a mix of this plus other content similar in style and format to a Party Political Broadcast but broadly reflective of the conference themes. This broadcast must comply with RTÉ’s legal obligations and be cleared in advance.
- Qualifying parties will be offered an interview with party spokesperson on RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday with Katie Hannon programme
- Leaders’ interview on The Week in Politics and RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme on the Sundays.
For the purposes of 2021 there will be no traditional ‘live’ Leaders’ address between 8.30pm – 9.00pm and no ‘live’ coverage of conference proceedings between 11.00am – 1.00pm on Saturdays. The period for conference coverage will be post Easter to mid-July and beginning October to end November/ early December. RTÉ will not provide conference coverage on the weekend prior to and after the Budget as comprehensive political coverage is provided at this time.
The coverage will be for the duration of 2021 – it will not be changed on the basis that COVID restrictions might be relaxed at a later date.
Background to RTÉ Political Party Conference coverage
There is no statutory obligation or requirement for RTÉ to provide coverage of a party conference, but this has been a feature of RTÉ’s political coverage.
RTÉ has applied qualifying criteria for party conference coverage to ensure a qualifying party has a reasonable level of national representation.
A basic requirement is that a party must be registered on the Dáil register of political parties and, as a benchmark of reasonable national representation RTÉ has previously applied a requirement that a party have 7 TDs elected to Dáil Eireann. The figure of 7 was selected as an objective measure and was based on the requirement under the Standing Orders of Dáil Eireann to form a group in the House.
In the current Dáil, the Standing Orders have set 5 TDs as the minimum to form a group and RTÉ will apply this threshold for 2021.