Government had no input into tech giant's decision to ban referendum ads

The Taoiseach says private companies can refuse whatever adverts they want

Government had no input into tech giant's decision to ban referendum ads

File photo | The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Liberty Hall, Dublin, 25-11-2017. Image: Artur Widak

The Taoiseach has said the Government had no input into the decision by online media companies to ban Eighth Amendment adverts.

Speaking in front of an Oireachtas committee this morning Leo Varadkar noted that Google and Facebook are private companies that can refuse whatever adverts they want.

He was speaking after Google banned all ads relating to the upcoming abortion referendum and Facebook banned ads that were paid for outside of Ireland.

Twitter has also confirmed it is not accepting referendum ads as per its existing policy.

Mr Varadkar said the Google decision went further than he had expected.

 "I was a little bit surprised that they decided not have any ads at all from either side," he said.

"That is ultimately their decision; they are a private company and like any private company, whether it is a newspaper or a website, they can refuse ads if they want to.

"Nobody is forced to accepts ads; that is the right they have.

"But there hasn't been any contact between government and Google or Facebook on this - it is a decision they have made by their own volition."

Regulation

He rejected calls for new regulations regarding which ads media organisations should accept.

"I suppose the question I would ask is what rules would we set?" he asked.

"Internet media and social media is new - but it is just a new medium; why would the rules be fundamentally different?

"So if we were to apply some rule across the board - and I think it would have to apply across the board - the Oireachtas or the government would be saying, 'you must accept ads.'

"I don't think I would do that."

Reaction

The decision has seen different reactions on both sides of the referendum debate with 'Yes' campaigners welcoming the move towards a 'level playing field' and 'No' campaigners claiming it is an attempt to 'rig the referendum.'

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, a Together for Yes supporter, said it is the right choice:

"The reality is that, if you were to argue the censorship route, you would have to stand up the case that Google are being somehow selective here - and they are not," he said.

"It is off-limits for both sides of the argument and I think that is helpful considering there isn't the same level of regulation as there is across other media in this country."

The Google decision will not affect search results and only targets adverts that would previously have been promoted.

However, Cora Sherlock, spokesperson for the LoveBoth Campaign said 'everyone should be worried' about the internet giant's decision.

"This is Google saying Irish organisations cannot advertise their position on the referendum to Irish people," she said.

"That is censorship; that is the very definition of censorship.

"The fact that it affects us all doesn't really matter so much as the concern about where this decision has come from.

"Was it made in America?

"If it was made in America, then it actually amounts to foreign interference in our referendum."

Yesterday Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin labelled suggestions the referendum was rigged, "quite ridiculous."

The Google ban comes into force from today.