Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers (Resumed). - Broadcasting Act.

286.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if he will state the terms of and the reasons for the recent directive issued by him to RTE under the 1960 Broadcasting Act.

287.

asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs if, in the interests of fair presentation of news he will invoke section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 to prevent the interviewing on RTE of members of the British Army serving in the Six Counties.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 287 together.

The terms of the directive are as follows:

"To the Radio Telefís Éireann Authority—In exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, I, Gerard Collins, TD, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, hereby direct you to refrain from broadcasting any matter of the following class i.e. any matter that could be calculated to promote the aims or activities of any organisation which engages in, promotes, encourages or advocates the attaining of any particular objective by violent means."

On 24th June last (Col. 2496/9) in answering a parliamentary question about a radio programme "This Week", the Taoiseach made the Government's view clear that it is not in the public interest that members of an illegal organisation should be permitted to use such a programme for publicising their activities. On 28th September, members of an illegal organisation were interviewed on a television programme "Seven Days" in a way which I, and the Government, considered to be prejudicial to the public interest.

Following full consideration and with the approval of the Government, I issued the direction under section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.

I have no present intention of issuing a further direction under section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.

May I ask why the directive was issued in such vague and generalised terms which must inevitably cause serious difficulty of interpretation and implementation for the Authority and which was the subject of a statement by the Authority and why the organisations or individuals referred to, or which were obviously under consideration by the Government were not named?

If the Deputy could understand the difficulty in phrasing a directive, he would not ask me why this directive was vague—I do not think it was vague. I am quite confident that the Authority will have no difficulty whatever in understanding what is meant and acting accordingly. Regarding the second part of the supplementary question, as to why I did not name individuals or organisations and spell out in black and white—I think this is what he was trying to ask —name these people so that they would be easily recognised, this is not an easy thing to do. As the Deputy is aware, names of organisations can change overnight and the Deputy should also be aware that many of these gentlemen wear more than one hat.

Is the Minister aware that in fact within the RTE organisation there has been considerable difficulty in interpreting the directive and that this was indicated immediately following the issue of the directive?

It is a matter for the RTE Authority to interpret the directive and suitably instruct the members of the RTE organisation.

Having regard to recent interviews by RTE television and radio of members of the British forces, would the Minister not consider in the interests of fair presentation that both sides should have an opportunity to explain or give the facts as they saw them? In the interests of fair presentation would the Minister not consider that RTE should refrain from interviewing British soldiers?

The Deputy seems to be under some delusion here because I have not and I do not intend to prohibit RTE under this section from objectively reporting news.

I tabled this question at a time when two women were brutally murdered in Belfast, and it is now so long since that happened that the question may be irrelevant. At that time the British officer who was interviewed gave his case; and if it was interpreted under section 31 that people who would supposedly give the other viewpoint should not be allowed to give their case on radio or television, would the Minister not consider that this represents an unfair advantage given to the British Army?

I am sure it is part of the responsibility and obligations of the RTE Authority to ensure that its newsroom presents news in a fair and objective manner.

In view of the fact that a directive was issued by the Government in relation to a particular programme, I understand, mainly because of the feeling on the part of the Government that a privileged position was given on that programme to spokesmen of an illegal organisation and that apparently this provoked a reaction from the Government, would the Minister not now consider in good faith, having made the point to RTE under directive, in the national interest and appreciating the difficulties facing the Government and more particularly considering the tremendous difficulties facing the RTE in this matter, withdrawing the directive? Having made the point and acting in good faith could it not be considered that the Authority will continue the general practice—it certainly emanated from the newsroom in many areas—of impartial, objective and thorough reporting of events and that it is undesirable in the public interest that a directive should be of such a general or continuing nature and hang like a cloud over RTE? I would ask the Minister to respond on that basis if he can?

To answer very briefly, I do not think so.

Are we to assume, therefore, that directives are made without time limit, particularly as it now appears that RTE have implemented the directive. Naturally, if RTE failed to take into account the views of the Government in terms of national security regarding the alleged privileged position given in one programme and if there was a recurrence the Minister would be free to issue another directive. I think it is unfair to the whole staff in RTE——

The Deputy may not continue with these speeches.

I think the Deputy is looking for a headline. He is waffling and he knows that very well.

I am not.

(Interruptions.)

Would the Minister not agree that there are men in high places in RTE today who are sympathetic to men of violence and who have glamourised men of violence and illegal organisations on RTE? Would he not admit that the news has been slanted and biased and that, when there was an armed raid in Edgeworthstown recently, when six armed men held up the staff and robbed a bank, it was not mentioned on the 9.30 or 10.30 news.

This has nothing to do with the question which relates to the interviewing of members of the British Army.

No, there are two questions about the order given. I am putting it to the Minister that he was quite right in making this order. This is our country and it is completely wrong when an employee of RTE asks the head of an illegal organisation: "Is it not true that Kevin Boland's father when Minister for Justice put you in a concentration camp?" If she was fair——

The Deputy is making a long speech on this question. I am calling Question No. 288.

In reply to the Deputy, I have heard before what Deputy L'Estrange has said with regard to various people in RTE. Of course the Deputy recognises full well that it is not my function as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to question the political affiliations of these gentlemen or, indeed, ladies. I hope that the RTE authority will see to it that all news will be presented in a fair and objective manner.

And that they will not undermine this State no matter what Government are in power.

I do not want to badger the Minister about this——

I did not say badger. I said waffle.

I suggest to the Minister that to enable RTE to do precisely what he wants them to do, to present the news in a full and impartial and general manner, he should not keep this directive as a total and continuing threat. The North will be with us for many decades to come.

Will the Deputy cease these speeches on every question? This is Question Time. This is not a debate.

It may come down to the South if we are not careful.

Could we get on with Questions?

I am trying to be helpful.

I should like to make it quite clear that as long as I feel it is necessary to have that direction there, and as long as I am in a position to keep that direction there it will remain there.