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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 28 Mar 1924

Vol. 6 No. 33


1. Since presenting its Second Interim Report the Committee has held seventeen meetings, and has taken further evidence bearing on the subject-matter of its inquiry. The Committee has confined itself mainly to evidence on the scientific or technical aspect of the subject.
2. The Committee has taken into consideration also the further reference contained in the Resolution adopted by the Dáil on Wednesday, the 27th February, 1924, as follows:—
"That the evidence and documents submitted to the Special Committee on Wireless Broadcasting at any stage of their proceedings be printed and circulated, except such Departmental Minutes as, in the opinion of the Committee, are not necessary to be published."
The Committee presents in a Volume accompanying this Report— (1) all the evidence taken since its investigation; (2) copies of all documents submitted to it; and (3) Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee.
3. In its Second Interim Report the Committee expressed itself unable, without further evidence and consideration, to give determinate answers to the following questions, viz.:—
(a) Should Broadcasting be a State service purely: the installation of the apparatus and the entire working of it in the hands of the Postal Ministry?
(b) If not reserved as a State monopoly, should it be at least partially so, and in such case to what extent?
(c) If, on the other hand, the provision of a broadcasting service for Ireland be made over to private enterprise, should the concession be given to an individual firm, or to a group of otherwise separate companies associated as constituent units of an Irish Broadcasting Company? And further, how should such Irish Broadcasting Company obtain its revenue?
4. The Committee would draw attention to certain basic considerations affecting any decision in regard to these questions concerning Broadcasting by wireless telephony:—
(a) Wireless telephony, by which everyone within range of a central station (or a subsidiary “relay” station) can hear messages by means of receiving apparatus, depends for its effective range upon the power employed at the station and upon the receiving apparatus used by the listener-in. Thus, for a central station the power usually employed under present conditions is about one and a-half kilowatts, and a “crystal” receiving set (costing from £2 to £3) suffices for a listener distant not more than ten or twenty miles; a “single-valve” set (costing from £5 to £6) brings in listeners up to fifty miles; while more expensive sets employing two, three or more valves, extend the radius of reception to hundreds of miles. The science of wireless telephony is merely in its infancy— it became of interest to the general public in a practical way little more than a year ago, and, so far, its principal application has been to the broadcasting of musical programmes. Of this provision many who live at a distance from the usual places of entertainment have been eager to take advantage.
(b) Already important advances have been made both in the methods of providing entertainment and in the application of Broadcasting in other and more important directions. Whereas at first only musical programmes specially provided for the purpose were broadcasted, to-day actual theatrical performances and operas, concerts in concert halls, lectures and speeches are regularly broadcasted; and in more practical matters meterological information, weather forecasts, markets and trade reports, financial news and lessons on languages form items in the normal programmes of the principal stations. Moreover, improvements in methods, and especially improvements in apparatus are continuous and rapid. The probability, then, is that further great advances will be made in the immediate future, and it is impossible to forecast how important this progress may be, or how much more easily accessible to the general public the advantages of wireless transmission may soon become.
5. Now it is precisely because of these probable developments and their manifest applicability to the national service and expansion that the Committee considers Broadcasting to be of incalculable value; it views the use of wireless telephony for entertainment, however desirable, as of vastly less importance than its use as ministering alike to commercial and cultural progress. It would be difficult to over-emphasise its value as an instrument of popular education. In connection with the spread of the national language and of the phonetic teaching of modern languages, so necessary to commerce, there is no agency which lends itself so readily to the wide and cheap propagation of knowledge; the voice of one teacher may be made clearly audible in every quarter of the country at the one moment; a lecture, which otherwise would require to be repeated at different centres involving no little inconvenience and multiplied cost, can be heard simultaneously in a thousand schoolrooms and in the home of all who desire to learn; an eminent lecturer can put his erudition at the service of every listener-in, with all the added attraction of the living voice as contrasted with the printed page. In this way pupils may learn the elementary principles of hygiene, of gardening, of fruit-growing, beekeeping, poultry-raising and the like direct from men of recognised authority in the subjects. Similarly, exposition of the reasons for and the application of new laws, lessons on the institutions of government and civics generally might be widely disseminated in an attractive fashion. Adult education, more particularly for those obliged to leave school at an immature stage, might well be supplied through the agency of Broadcasting. Its manifold applications in the service of agriculture, industry and commerce have already been outlined. As compared with its power of promoting such valuable ends the Committee regards the employment of Broadcasting for entertainment purposes as quite subsidiary, and worthy of consideration here, rather as a possible source of revenue than as an essential element in the problem.
6. Convinced that these advantages from the installation of a Broadcasting Station would accrue to the Ministries of Agriculture, of Fisheries, of Industry and Commerce, and above all of Education, the Committee returns as its answer to Question (a): Broadcasting should be a State service purely— the installation and the working of it to be solely in the hands of the Postal Ministry.
7. Expenditure of State funds on the installation and the working of a Central Station would be well justified. As a commencement, one station should be equipped in or near Dublin. Thereupon the following practical question arise:—
(i) What would be the cost of setting up and installing such a station; (ii) what would be the annual cost of the station; (iii) what estimate might fairly be made of the number of licences; (iv) from what sources would the broadcasting station draw revenue, and what would be the probable amount of that revenue?
8. Dealing with these questions in detail:—
(i) The Committee is of opinion that for some time, while experience is being gained and further scientific developments awaited, an existing building, the property of the State, should be utilised for a station. Expert evidence estimates the cost of the installation in this manner at less than £5,000.
(ii) The cost of working such station has been similarly estimated at £5,000 a year. The cost of providing concert programmes and such like entertainments would, of course, be extra.
(iii) Witnesses varied widely in their estimate of the probable number of licensees; one per cent. of the population may, however, in view of British experience, be taken as a basis for an estimate. This would mean that the number of licensees within crystal set range of the Dublin station would be about 4,000, and initially, perhaps, there would be 1,000 users of "valve" sets throughout the rest of the country.
(iv) In addition to the revenue derivable from the various Ministries using the service, the licence fees would be one constituent of broadcasting revenue. On the estimated number of licensees £1 per set would produce £5,000 per annum. A broadcasting service in Ireland might, in the beginning at least, have to be run at a loss, unless there were other sources of revenue. But other sources of income are in sight. The user of the installation (worked by the official staff) for broadcasting approved matter at specified times or over prescribed periods might be rented by societies, firms, companies or individuals desirous of broadcasting statements or speeches or advertisements. This would yield income on a considerable scale. Advertising by this method would supplement rather than supersede newspaper advertisement, but even if broadcasting were to become a serious competitor the Committee cannot support the contention that the interests of the newspaper as an advertising medium ought to be protected from competition. So far as regards the broadcasting of certain categories of news some such arrangements as those indicated in the White Paper could no doubt be made with the existing agencies for news collection and distribution.
9. The Committee has considered the Postmaster-General's objection to the establishment and working of a broadcasting station by the Post Office as a State Department and his reluctance to make the provision of entertainments to the public through broadcasting a function of the State; and it does not regard his objection as sound. No new principle would be introduced. The State has for a long time subsidised national culture, combined with entertainment, through its National Library, National Gallery of Painting and Sculpture and National Museum, not to speak of the Tailteann Games, and in the enlightened municipalities on the Continent, the same principle has been applied more directly and extensively to the cultivation of operatic and dramatic art as well.
10. In the present case the Postmaster-General, through the agency of a Director working in conjunction with a non-paid Board, might undertake the provision and control of the entertainment side of broadcasting. This unpaid Board would consist of chosen representatives from various scientific societies and other bodies interested in the diffusion of knowledge, from linguistic, musical and other cultural associations—with possibly representatives of licensees. The salary of the Director, who would be charged with the duty of preserving a proper standard of taste and morals, as well as an adequate and continuous programme, should be met out of the funds of licence fees. The power of appointment and dismissal of this Director should be exercised by the Postmaster-General in consultation with the Board. The task of the Director in securing a continuous and regular programme would be considerably lightened—indeed reduced to a comparatively simple matter—if arrangements were made to supplement the Irish programmes by "relaying" suitable items broadcasted from other stations; it is probable that on the scientific side there would be no difficulty in the way of such "relaying."
11. Should the recommendation of the Committee in respect of Question (a) be not acceptable to the Dáil it would become necessary to refer explicitly to Question (b). In such event the Committee would recommend, as next best to the State-owned station, that broadcasting should be developed by means of a Company in which the State would have, directly or indirectly, a controlling interest. To the Postmaster-General falls the task of framing, for submission to the Dáil, the conditions under which such a Company could be given the Broadcasting concession, whether it were a Company specially formed for the purpose, part of its capital publicly subscribed and part provided by the State, or an existing company conforming to conditions imposed by the State; and in this connection the Committee suggests that fuller consideration be given to the scheme propounded in the documents Nos. 28 and 44 of the Appendix I. of the accompanying volume. It believes that with some modification such a scheme might be advantageous to the country and would safeguard the national interests. Over any such Company the Committee considers it essential that full State control should be insured, and it would approve of a Company which over and above the mere promotion of broadcasting would develop Irish electrical industry in general.
12. As its answer to Question (c) the Committee recommends that Broadcasting should not be handed over to enterprise wholly private.
13. By the original terms of reference the Committee was asked to report on the White Paper proposal as to a Clearing House. As the Committee does not recommend that a tax on the sale or manufacture of apparatus should be sanctioned for the benefit of a company, the question of a Clearing House of the kind proposed in the White Paper, therefore, does not arise. If, however, there were question at any time of imposing such a tax it should be discussed as a fiscal tax and as a matter of fiscal policy.
26adh Márta, 1924.

Is feidir linn indiú an tuarasgabhail deiridh ar an gceist seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Geobhfaidh lucht na Dála imleabhar on Choiste indiú agus ins an leabhar san geobhfaidh siad an fiadhnaise uilig agus na paipeirí uilig a bhi os comhair an Choiste. Tá an leabhar beagnach réidh anois agus cuirfear idir lamhaibh agaibh i gcionn cupla uair. Bhi 36 cruinnithe ar fád ag an Coiste agus tugadh a lán fiadhnaise. Ar an gCoiste bhi Teachtai a bhi an-gnóthach acht d'fagadar a g-cuid oibre ar leathtaoibh chun bheith i lathair ag cruinnithe an Choiste. Ba mhaith liom a rádh fosta go n-dearn na Tuairisgeóiri Oifigiula a gcuid oibre go maith agus go cúramach. Mar a dubhras cheanna, tugadh a lán fiadhnaise agus chuir sin obair trom ar na Tuairisgeóiri. Ta fhios againn uilig an meid oibre ata ar na Tuairisgeóíri le dheanamh. Tá orra a bheith i lathair ag cruinnithe na Dála agus cruinnithe an t-Seanaid agus tuarasgabhail ar imheachta an dha thighe a chur isteach. Taobh amuigh de sin, rinneadar an obair seo go beacht, cúramach. Ta athas orm an meid sin a rádh.

I wish to state at the outset that this Report will be circulated to Deputies during the course of the Sitting, with the mass of evidence and documents that came before the Committee. A recommendation was made by the Dáil to the Committee to delete certain Departmental files from the volume, but we thought it well to publish every single document that came before the Committee, and that has been done. As this Report is in the hands of Deputies, it will not be necessary for me to read it through. I must say that a few members of the Committee, who are amongst the busiest members of the Dáil, left aside other important work of their own to come and devote their energies to the work of the Committee.

It is also well, in face of the large amount of evidence that has been taken and the number of documents and papers that are being produced, to pay a tribute, of behalf of the Committee, to the excellent manner in which the Official Reporters did their work. We all know that these Reporters have very heavy duties. They attend here in the Dáil and in the Seanad. I regret the volume is not already in the hands of Deputies, but it will be before the Dáil rises this evening.

I suggest that the Deputy should read it.

I am afraid if I were to read it the Sitting to-day would be a rather long one. When Deputies have an opportunity of reading this volume they will be able to appreciate the very heavy task which was thrown on the Official Reporters, and I think that their work does them credit. It will take Deputies a certain amount of time to read through this volume, and I am suggesting, therefore, that it would be well to postpone discussion on this matter until, say, Tuesday week. I beg to move the following motion:—

"That the Final Report of the Special Committee to consider the Wireless Broadcasting Report be received, and that Tuesday, the 8th April, be fixed as the date for its consideration."

I second.

It seems to me that this large volume which is going to reach our hands will create very little interest. I have had an opportunity this morning of reading through the Report of the Broadcasting Committee, and that seems to contain, within its four corners, the whole essence of the matters that are important as far as we are concerned, and to expect that any more than a controversial interest will centre around the documents ordered to be published by the Dáil is to expect something that I think will not be realised. It seems to me that in this Report the Broadcasting Committee have dealt very comprehensively with the general position, and I think we ought not to delay longer in considering the Report than is necessary—certainly not for such a length of time as would enable us to absorb this volume.

The proposal is that the consideration of the Report be taken on Tuesday week. Will the Deputy suggest an earlier date and if so what date?

I think some day early next week.

It is merely a matter for arrangement. There is nothing particularly controversial in the question of dates.

I think it depends very much on how much Government business there is next week and whether any new Bills will be brought in. There does not appear to be an enormous amount of business, unless we get back the Courts of Justice Bill and the Ministers and Secretaries Bill from the Seanad.

There is not much business next week up to Thursday or Friday, but I do not know whether we would be in a position to discuss it because we have not considered it at all yet.

The simplest thing would be to fix next Thursday. Deputies will in the meantime receive the volume containing the evidence and the documents, and if any considerable body of opinion wants to have an earlier date fixed the order could be discharged and another date fixed. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is not standing on any particular date.

We have no objection at all. The object of the Committee was to give Deputies an opportunity of going through this volume.

I think I have some responsibility for suggesting to the Chairman that Deputies should get an opportunity of perusing the heavy volume of material contained in this Report. After all, if it was found necessary for a Committee of the Dáil to sit on well over a score of occasions, possibly nearer to two score of occasions, to thoroughly understand this subject and to enable them to arrive at what in their opinion was a satisfactory conclusion in relation to the subject, then I venture to say it is the duty of Deputies in this House to take sufficient note of the contents of this volume to be in a position to give an intelligent view on it. It is not sufficient, I submit, for the Committee merely to put forward the report. The Committee's report is in direct conflict with the representations submitted by my Department. For that reason there necessarily must be two sides to the question, and it should not be assumed that the matter is not worthy of being carefully considered, or one that should be rushed. But a few weeks ago every one was satisfied the subject was of some importance to the country. I do not think its importance has diminished in the interval, and I respectfully suggest to the Dáil that a few extra days will, perhaps, be of advantage in enabling Deputies to come to a more mature opinion upon this subject.

There has been already a great deal of delay in dealing with this matter, and I do not think there should be any further unnecessary delay.

I take it that Deputy Hewat moves as an amendment to substitute "Thursday, the 3rd of April," for "Tuesday, the 8th April."

Amendment put and agreed to.
Motion, as amended, put and agreed to.
Consideration of Final Report of Special Committee on the Wireless Broadcasting Report ordered accordingly for Thursday, April 3rd.