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Broadcasting watchdog to probe ad campaign on Hillsborough deal

By Noel McAdam

The broadcasting watchdog is to probe the campaign by the First Minister’s office to canvass views on the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, it has emerged.

Ofcom said it would assess a complaint from hardline unionist Jim Allister that the initiative by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness steps over the boundary between public information and political advertising.

The Traditional Unionist Voice leader argued: “If I, as an opponent of the Hillsborough deal, sought to air adverts of opposition on radio or television they would be blocked under the Communications Act, so why should DUP and their partner Sinn Fein be treated any differently?” The £20,000 drive, launched yesterday, includes adverts headlined ‘Securing a better future for all’ which are being placed in print and broadcast media.

The DUP leader and senior SF negotiator said they wanted people to take time to read the full Agreement, designed to bring policing and justice powers to Stormont and chart a way forward on other issues, including parading — and then give their verdicts.

Respondents can write to the co-equal First Ministers at Stormont Castle, Belfast, BT4 3TT or e-mail their views to Agreement@ofmdfmni.gov.uk ahead of a cross-community vote on the handover of the powers over police, prisons and courts expected on March 9 followed by the formal transfer of powers from Westminister on April 12.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “In accordance with Ofcom’s statutory duty we will now assess whether the advertisement raises issues against the requirements of Section 321 of the Communications Act 2003 — which prohibits the broadcast of political advertising.”

View the agreement at belfasttelegraph.co.uk/agreement

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