Media balance in referendum campaigns

Referendums, in the aftermath of Brexit and with the rise of populist movements worldwide, are viewed with a renewed scepticism. An acute concern is the promulgation of misinformation and alternative facts, as voters struggle to distinguish the signal from the noise in the face of new media. In Ireland, where referendums to change the constitution are very regularly held, there has been for many years constitutional and legal rules attempting to regulate debate in referendum campaigns. But even with more traditional media, these rules struggle with concepts like balance, impartiality, neutrality, and limiting the influence of government on campaigns. New media – a topic largely unaddressed in Ireland's rules – will exacerbate all of these challenges and add new ones. In this paper, I wish to discuss the difficulties that have emerged with Ireland's rules over time, and how this bodes ill for the prospect of combating future problems.