Sound Broadcasting Bill, 1987: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I applaud the Minister's proposals and sincerely hope that local communities will avail of this opportunity to provide a service which will create a greater pride in and awareness of their areas.

I am disappointed that the Minister is recommending that two stations only be franchised in the Dublin area. In so doing I am sure the Minister is not suggesting that community spirit is less in the townships of Dublin than in rural areas. I would ask him to take into account the population figures involved. He has said that he will provide frequencies for rural communities of 1,500 people. Dublin has 12 electoral areas, the smallest of which is comprised of over 20,000 voters, that is probably over 50,000 people. Each of those electoral areas has its individual character and culture, its community news, viewpoints and problems.

I suggest that the Minister consider the provision of frequencies for at least some of these 12 electoral areas. The major factor in favour of such a course of action at this time is that there is need to develop greater civic awareness among all age groups. Local radio provides an excellent medium to achieve this objective. I have no doubt that in each of our electoral areas, there are dedicated people ready and willing to initiate such an enterprise. I can certainly say that this is true of my own constituency of Dublin Central. I have no doubt that there will be no shortage of skills and talents to operate such a service on an entirely self-supporting basis.

This proposal would be of special significance to the youth in the Dublin electoral areas. We need to create an awareness of the needs of our communities and how these are being met. We need to tell our young people how local and central Government works and most of all to instil in them a love of democracy, a strong desire to sustain it and a pride in themselves and their communities.

These young people and their teachers can produce and broadcast programmes which would be very acceptable in their own communities. In so doing they would gain valuable skills and useful experience in communications. They could produce special programmes for schools and the inclusion of these as part of the schools curricula would add a whole new dimension to education in civics — a subject lamentably neglected in our primary schools. Such projects would not be possible in the context of two large commercial stations serving the Dublin area, so I earnestly request the Minister to consider this option.

Quite apart from stations which would serve the rural areas of 1,500 people and the Dublin community stations which I would hope the Minister would support, we will also need to ensure that community affairs form a significant part of all other franchised broadcasting programmes.

I now come to the Irish language. The Minister has decreed that commercial stations should broadcast a minimum quota of news and public affairs. In this he is absolutely correct. On the matter of the Irish language, the Bill contents itself with a rather bland statement: "It is right that we should take into account what applicants propose to offer in this sphere (Irish Language Broadcasting), in the selection of a licensee. We want to ensure that stations operating in the Gaeltacht areas will make their contribution towards the preservation of Irish as a spoken language". No such recommendation is even mentioned in the case of non-Gaeltacht areas and this, I feel, is the loss of a golden opportunity.

We have had the problem in the past in the writing of Irish and indeed in its broadcasting that the total purists created a snobbery about Irish which precluded people from taking an interest in the language, even if they could not speak it with absolute fluency. This has to some extent been overcome by some excellent afternoon programmes on RTE by programmes such as that of Liam Ó Murchú on television, by the much lamented Abbey pantomime and in the past, by some bilingual reviews in Dublin theatres.

Widespread and varied broadcasting offers a wonderful opportunity to popularise Irish on the airwaves with clever and subtle programming. To ensure this it is necessary that guidelines or a time quota should be set for the Irish language in the case of all licensees so that there will be no ambiguity when submissions are being made. Many of those who will apply for broadcasting licences may be quite willing to broadcast Irish language programmes, but in the absence of any guidelines, may have little idea of what is acceptable in the public interest. For this reason guidelines should be offered.

This Bill has the potential to do more for the preservation and expansion of the Irish language, not only in Gaeltacht areas, but in the rest of the country, than any other legislation enacted in this house. Let us not lose this opportunity and let us specify what we feel is required.

When we talk about the "advertising pool" for radio, the current estimate for total spending is £15 million per year of which £11 million goes to RTE and £4 million goes to illegal stations. RTE of course have their annual licence fees.

We must accept that for a period of time advertising revenue to RTE will decline as other stations are established and go into operation. It is generally accepted that advertising expenditure is unlikely to grow for some time. This means that nearly all the advertising revenue taken by new stations will be at the expense of that of RTE. Now, under the Minister's terms, RTE will operate at a disadvantage to the new stations in that they will be allowed a lower quota of advertising time in their programming because the Minister says RTE have the benefit of licence fees.

This may be true, but we cannot have it both ways. We demand that RTE provide national orchestras, national drama and even national comedy and soap opera, thereby providing employment for our artistes and contributing to the cultural life of our country. Why should they be disadvantaged in this way? RTE's costs, if they are to sustain these activities, will be much higher than the costs involved in other stations. Consequently, I submit that the same quota for advertising content should apply to RTE as to all other franchised stations.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on the care and the thought which have gone into the planning of this Bill. The comments I have made are, I hope, constructive and while I share with the Minister the view that overall controls should be as few as possible, I believe that, certainly in the initial stages, guidelines if not actual quotas, require to be established in order to ensure that the franchised broadcasting services will serve the community and the Irish language at least as well as RTE have done for 25 years.

As the same time, I believe that the Minister has faced a modern situation with courage and foresight and that in the long term, the development of independent broadcasting facilities in tandem with the continuation of RTE's services will, in providing a wider choice and in developing competition, provide overall a better service for our people.

It is important to make the point that we are dealing here with two Bills — the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill and the Sound Broadcasting Bill. It is significant that very little attention has been paid to the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, the aim of which is to control the unlicensed use of the airwaves. It is also significant that it has not been put into law yet, despite the fact that it was brought before the House on 8 December last and there was an impassioned plea from the spokesman of the Labour Party. He said, and I would have supported him, that the Bill could have been made law that day if there was the will in the House to do so. But the will was not there on the part of the conservative parties in this House because it would have meant the pirate stations would immediately have been illegal. There would have been massive fines imposed on those who continued to operate those stations, on those who continued to provide facilities for them and on those who continued to advertise on those stations. As I said, it is significant that despite the fact that we are discussing two Bills, that Bill has hardly been mentioned in this debate. The fact is those pirate stations, which were flouting the law — the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 — are operating in defiance of that law. Yet nothing is being done to ensure that the law is kept.

When you consider the kind of laws which are very rigorously imposed on ordinary people, particularly in relation to road traffic offences, it leads one to think that if you have money and influence the law has no bearing on you.

I do not know how long this debate will be but I urge that the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill be passed through this House quickly and put into effect. Indeed, if those who continue to operate after the Bill comes into effect apply for licences they should be ruled out on the basis that they have been in breach of the law. It is significant that in the two Bills there is no indication of what attitude will be taken to those who have flouted the law over the last ten years. Various excuses have been made by spokespersons of the conservative parties for those who have flouted the law; they said they had been forced into it. I do not know of any person coming before our courts who has managed to successfully plead that they were forced to break the law and, as a result, were not penalised by a judge or jury. It may have mitigated their sentence but they were convicted because the law is the law. An important amendment to the Bill would be one which ensured that those who have been in breach of the law over the last ten years would have to make a very strong case for licences to be given to them if they applied for them.

To some extent I would soften my position in relation to a number of community broadcasting pirates. They are still in breach of the law and, in many cases, have commercial interests involved with them but in at least one instance of which I am aware, the income they derived was ploughed back into the service and no particular individual benefited financially. However, they are pirates in breach of the law and it is a mockery for this House to make excuses for them. We argue about a host of things in this House from week to week and we cannot advocate respect for the law if those with money and an eye to making a quick buck can simply ignore it.

The Sound Broadcasting Bill is aimed at controlling the allocation of licences for the use of the airwaves. I have heard it argued by spokesmen for the conservative parties in the House that there is no need for an Authority to monitor and control standards in relation to the stations which will be set up under this Bill. Deputy Roche and Deputy Gay Mitchell said that there is no need for an Authority because the print media do not have an Authority monitoring standards and activities. Of course, the print media do not need a licence to operate; anyone with the resources can print a newspaper or magazine, get advertising and hope to sell it. Those Deputies cannot argue on the one hand that the issuing of licences must be controlled on the basis that it is needed — the reasons for licensing have not been clearly expressed so far — and at the same time argue that there is no need for an Authority to maintain and monitor standards because the print media do not have such a procedure. However, I argue that there is a need for licensing and for an Authority in relation to the print media as well. It is not new for people to call for a press council, there is ample evidence of the need for such a body in the State.

I do not propose to go into specific examples but I am sure very few Deputies in this House could not come up with at least one example of the way the media abuse their position. There are libel laws and if a person feels sufficiently aggrieved — and if they have the financial resources — they can go to law, hoping to get compensation. In the interests of the common man or woman, there is a need for a press or media council which would cover the print and the electronic media to ensure that certain standards are met. It is important because there has been a growth in the tabloid press in Ireland of late. It reached a certain pitch in the UK and, while we all have our ideas of good and bad taste, no one could seriously say that the tabloid press in the UK is in good taste. There are worrying signs that that kind of development will emerge to a greater extent in the Dublin area and perhaps in other parts of the country. Unless there is an Authority in relation to the commercial stations proposed in the Bill, we will have the same kind of low standards in that area.

Deputy Roche used a phrase that stuck in my mind, that the Sound Broadcasting Bill provided a free medium of the people, by the people, for the people. It is a very old expression, I think an American President said it first. If the Bill was proposing what Deputy Roche claims for it, I would have no problem in relation to it. However, it does not propose a free medium of the people, by the people, for the people. It proposes a licensing procedure whereby those who have the financial resources to establish radio stations, to win advertising, etc. can provide a station over which there will be no control on standards and over which there will be very little control in relation to what it produces and puts out on the air. If what Deputy Roche claimed were true, very few people in the House would have any problem with it. However, the reality, unfortunately, is different.

There have also been a number of references in the course of the relatively short debate so far to ideology and dismissive comments in relation to it by a number of Deputies from the conservative parties. It is fashionable to dismiss ideology but it strikes me that the people who make these references to ideology are ignorant, deliberately trying to deny the fact that ideology exists or misunderstand what ideology means. Quite simply, ideology means a framework within which a person or a group of persons see the world, read the world, understand the world or which gives some meaning to their lives. There is no doubt whatsoever that Deputy Jim Mitchell, Deputy Roche and others who referred to ideology here in a dismissive way have an ideology. It would be virtually impossible for them as politicians to exist without an ideology, without a framework within which they make their decisions and decide on what is right and what is wrong, as they see it. Of course, it is always fairly easy to dismiss other ideologies when you are working from within the dominant conservative ideologies of the parties of this House and indeed of Irish society. It is quite easy to dismiss other ideologies as nonsense and to deny the fact that ideology exists at all. Their view is that what they believe in is simply commonsense.

There is a clear ideological split in this House. It is a fairly uneven one because we have the Fianna Fáil Party, the Fine Gael Party and the Progressive Democrats who, by and large, believe in a particular ideology, the ideology of free enterprise, of individualism, of rolling back the State, of a whole range of things. This is a very clearly understood ideology in the political area at least. Then, there are those on the Left who believe in a different framework, who see the world in a different light, who see the world in terms of the collective responsibility of individuals for each other, the collective responsibility of society for those who are weakest and those who cannot make it in the fight of the fittest which we have under capitalism. It is a fairly clear division. The reason I am referring to it is because that understanding comes across very clearly in the Bill on broadcasting. I think Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the idea of deregulation, of not having constraints of any kind on commercial activity, in this case in relation to the airwaves and broadcasting. That derives from the ideology of the conservative parties and likewise the attitude of both the Labour Party and The Workers' Party to this Bill relates to the way we see society and to what broadcasting ought to be about in society.

What I am talking about is probably under scored by the level of debate which has taken place in relation to this Bill. There has been virtually no reference at all to broadcasting as such. There has been a lot of talk about licensing, whether there should be two or three licences in the Dublin area or whether there should be more than one county licence in any particular county and whether they will survive because there is a certain limited amount of advertising available to support them. During my time in this House there has been no debate or at least very little debate either here or outside on the subject of broadcasting. There has been no thorough investigation of broadcasting within the State.

We have had a development of broadcasting under Radio Éireann — as it was known some years ago — since 1926 up to the present day. We have gone from a period where radio was a novelty to a point now where we have radio and television and indeed satellite pictures being beamed around the world. We even have the latest technology where fibre optic cables are being stretched across the Irish Channel and indeed across the Atlantic. Because of this development satellites, in a few years' time, will be rendered obsolete.

There has been no examination as to what effect that kind of development will have on Irish broadcasting or on what broadcasting should be about. What is it in the first place? What is it for and how should it be controlled in a democratic society? How should it be used to further the goals of social and cultural life and how should it be used to further the goals of political life in the broadest sense?

In the Dáil where we are supposed to be entrusted by society with the task of moving people along to common goals, to employment, to job creation, to peace, to justice, to a better life and so on, there has been no debate on how broadcasting can be used to assist us in reaching those goals. Broadcasting, I would argue, is nothing more nor less than the people talking to each other, arguing with each other, getting involved in public argument rather than talking in the old style of argument in the pub or outside the church on a Sunday Morning or wherever, a style which to a large extent has been replaced by the debate that should be taking place on radio and television.

The task of this House should be to see how the airwaves can be used to assist that kind of discussion and that kind of debate among Irish people primarily so that we can talk about our common life and our common ambitions. It is sad to say, but it is a fact, that the major conservative politicians and political parties in this House have again and again decided to ignore that central question of what broadcasting is and have concentrated instead on trying to ensure that the airways are doled out in some way for commercial exploitation so that whatever market is out there for advertising can be exploited by those who have the capacity or the resources to set up stations.

What is needed and which should have preceded this Bill but which at the very least should be done in tandem with the Bill — I am talking specifically about the Sound Broadcasting Bill rather than the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill — is a commission on broadcasting with specific terms of reference which would put broadcasting policy, issues of culture and public policy at the head of their list and questions of cables, frequencies and licences at the bottom of their list. It would be a commission on communications on which nobody would sit who did not have a distinguished track record on communications or on cultural work, for example, poets, artists, broadcasters, teachers, novelists, sculptors and men and women widely acknowledged to be public servants of proven merit in the field of cultural administration. Their brief would be to decide public policy on broadcasting. We do not have any such policy. We have only a series of irrelevant reports describing how RTE do things and, indeed, how RTE ought to do things. We need a report on the principles by which RTE and the kind of commercial stations which are being proposed in this Bill would operate, and how they might do things and by what ends and by what legal cultural and political means they would be regulated. In the absence of such principles to talk of independent radio is a nonsense and simply a cover up for doling out the airwaves to commercial free enterprise in the hope that someone along the way will come up with some little nuggets.

The unfortunate thing is that what is being proposed in this Bill — even though I disagree fundamentally with the approach being taken — in that most of the commercial stations, whether county stations, national stations or otherwise are likely to be wiped out by the kind of competition which the multinationals will be beaming in at us over the next few years by way of satellite, at present and certainly by way of the fibre optic cables which are the way of the future.

There is a lot more to be done than simply agreeing to the share out of the airwaves to the commercial interests. There is the task of defining what is the role of broadcasting in fostering Irish culture, of finding out what is contemporary Irish culture, of finding out how to reach our alienated youth in the urban wastelands where unemployment and crime conspire against them having any hope of a future of educating our people to the practice of pluralism, for instance, and of learning to live with other religious, cultural and political traditions. That is an obligation which is implied in relation to RTE but which is not implied under the Broadcasting Bill before us.

It should be the task of the community radio stations — which again are not in this Bill but for which the Minister told us in his Second Stage speech he would be open to receive applications for licences — the commercial radio stations as well as RTE to foster a pluralist and tolerant view of the very diverse historical traditions which exist not just in this State but on the island as a whole. Indeed, it is time that the existing Broadasting Acts were amended to stress what should be done as well as to stress what ought not be done. A director general of RTE in the sixties said that RTE was not neutral about racism. That is true and should always be true, but should RTE be neutral about sectarianism? There seems to be a view abroad that RTE should be neutral in relation to sectarianism and what is going on in Northern Ireland, that it is very necessary to present one or other view of those who are engaged in a sectarian war in the North and that in some way there should be a balanced view in relation to what is happening there. However, I would argue that they have no right to be neutral on those issues. Indeed, I would argue that any commercial or community radio stations which are set up under this Bill would have no right to be neutral on those issues.

Where is the injunction either in this Bill or in the existing Broadcasting Acts to foster anti-sectarian ideas? Where is the clause in either this Bill or in existing Acts which would ensure the kind of positive approach we need in order to develop a pluralist society and tolerance on this island? Why is it that those that make war on this island get far more attention on the airwaves than those who try to make peace? These principles and questions should matter more to this House than the giving of the airwaves over to commercial interests. That particular failing is the fatal flaw in relation to this Bill. It does not address itself to any of those questions but I hope, in the course of the Committee Stage, to attempt to address those flaws and failings.

Again, I must emphasise that I am referring to the Sound Broadcasting Bill and not to the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, but it strikes me that the Bill would be entirely unnecessary if its only function was to provide for local radio. It has to be said that there has been no demand for the national radio station which has been proposed in this Bill. I am not aware of any group or company who have sought a commercial national radio station. Perhaps, the Minister would enlighten us as to why is it necessary in his view — we already have RTE 1 and RTE 2 — and to have a third national station? The point I am trying to make is that the demand has been for local radio and specifically for community radio. That would have been quite feesable and possible under the present Broadcasting Acts.

There is already adequate provision in law for local broadcasting to be initiated efficiently, quickly and to a high standard as RTE have already demonstrated. There is nothing to prevent the Minister from giving RTE the go-ahead to set up radio stations wherever he pleases. Indeed, it is now some years since RTE made proposals for Radio Dublin and were far advanced in setting up this station when it became plain that the Minister would not give them the go-ahead. It is also clear that Cork local radio, who have been building themselves a reputation down through the years, are being prevented by the Minister from extending their broadcasting hours so as to provide the kind of service which the people of Cork want and are entitled to have. The fact is that RTE are not allowed to broadcast on any wavelength except with the specific permission of the Minister and only within the hours allowed by him. It is clear that the Minister, together with the Ministers who came before him from a variety of parties, is far more concerned with making provision for the allocation of the airwaves to commercial interests than with the provision of a diverse public service broadcasting network.

Over the years RTE have done a very good job in the area of broadcasting, especially in radio. They have shown that there is a good natural audience for reasonably intelligent radio programmes and that there is a demand for something other than a diet of pop and patter. The news at 1.30 pulls in over one million listeners every day and the "Gay Byrne Show" which is largely a speech programme concerned with a vast range of personal, social and consumer issues, brings in an extraordinary 600,000 listeners every day. Perhaps, at some stage in this debate there may be a reference as to whether radio should editorialise. If we take the "Gay Byrne Show" we find a considerable amount of editorialising by the front man of that programme. I have no objection to that because there is the opportunity to respond where one feels they should respond.

It is too simplistic to argue that there should be no editorialising when because of the particular way in which programmes are structured or presented there is an inherent editorial line involved. It would be far better if we acknowledged that there is almost without exception an editorial line in all programmes, be they entertainment programmes, or current affairs, or news programmes.

The Deputy is giving an extraordinary and interesting presentation of the theoretical and philosophical side of broadcasting——

I thought I had moved on from that.

I would just remind the Deputy that he is still in that field. Perhaps the Deputy would now move towards directing himself to what is proposed in the legislation or towards specifying what has been omitted from it.

From airwave to airwave.

Perhaps I misunderstand what a Second Stage speech is all about. I understand that Second Stage deals with the principle of the Bill and gives us the opportunity to express our views on that.

As long as the statement on the principle does not seem to exclude reference to other more particular matters. It is just a reminder which I know the Deputy will listen to.

I accept the point which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is making and I will move along fairly quickly. Many of the problems for which RTE have been blamed have arisen from factors over which they have no direct control. Successive Governments have failed to ensure that RTE received the financial resources they needed to carry the various public service elements which they were obliged to carry under the Broadcasting Acts and successive Government have been reluctant to allow RTE to take the sort of initiatives which would allow them to expand their services. I have already referred to Radio Dublin which it proposed, and the proposed expansion of the services in Cork.

We believe that RTE could have been developed, and a network of genuine local community stations developed under the RTE network, to meet the demand that exists for local radio. However, the Government have chosen not to go down that road and given the position of Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, it must be expected that the House will approve of commercial broadcasting as proposed in the Bill. Obviously, we will try to amend some of its provisions but we may not succeed. If we are to have commercial broadcasting it is essential that the law ensures that the highest broadcasting standards are maintained. We must also ensure that RTE are allowed to compete on equal terms with the new stations envisaged by the legislation.

The Bill fails to pass the test in almost every requirement. The main shortcoming of the Bill is its failure to provide for the establishment of a commercial radio Authority to process applications for licences and to ensure that the highest possible standards are set and maintained for commercial radio. Most of the other shortcomings in the Bill arise from that omission. The proposal in section 4 for an advisory committee is quite inadequate and, indeed, has the potential for serious abuse. The advisory committee which will be appointed by the Minister will have a role only in considering and recommending applications for a licence. I am aware that since the Minister published the Bill he has announced that he will amend the Bill in such a way that he must accept the recommendations of the committee. However, that is not an adequate response to the need to have an Authority which monitors the activities of commercial radio stations and, indeed, community stations. It is not satisfactory that the committee should be appointed by the Minister.

On a number of occasions the Minister said he did not want an Authority set up because of the expense involved which would arise from the need to have staff and so on but the Authority could be financed by the charging of fees for licences and by levying the stations in the longer term to provide ongoing finance. We believe that if we are to have commercial radio it is essential that there should be a proper Authority to set and monitor standards. It must be a genuinely independent body and we will seek to amend the Bill to ensure that such an Authority is established and is independent of the Minister.

We would like to see specific terms of reference for the Authority with specified bodies such as trade unions allowed to nominate persons to the Authority. Another matter which I believe to be of vital importance is that the Authority, rather than the licensees, should own and ultimately control the transmitters which will be used. Private ownership of transmission equipment would be bound to confer an unfair advantage when licences come up for renewal. While the Minister has agreed to shed the power to grant licences the Bill gives him the power to withdraw licences without any apparent right of appeal by the licensee. Just as it is undesirable for a Minister to be able to grant licences so it is undesirable that he should have the power to take them away. We can all imagine what might arise if a particular Minister did not approve of the way a certain radio station treated coverage of his own or his Governments performance. We are all aware of the attempts that were made to interfere in the internal affairs of RTE and, given the powers that the Minister will have under the Bill, the attempts to interfere with commercial radio stations would be likely to be even greater.

In relation to community radio, it is unfortunate that there is no specific reference in the Bill to the establishment of community radio stations. The initial demand for local radio came from communities who felt there was a need for them and a gap to be filled. We will be putting forward amendments to fill that gap. It is amazing that there has not been any provision by the Minister to specifically exclude those involved in the running of pirate radio stations from qualifying for licences for the new commercial stations. The fact that successive Governments failed to ensure that the law in relation to illegal broadcasting was observed has brought our legal system into disrepute. Are we now going to compound this by allowing those who thumb their noses at the law, and make large amounts of money in the process, to be free to qualify for licences for the new stations on the same basis as those who scrupulously observe the law? What sort of example will that be for the Oireachtas to give to the public?

If we are to have commercial broadcasting a most important requirement is that RTE should be allowed to compete on an equal basis with the commercial stations. The Bill only goes part of the way in that regard. While the obligation is there to comply with the requirements of section 31 and while the same standards and complaints procedures will apply there are other matters we expect of RTE. There is no indication that the commercial stations will be expected to provide the whole range of public services that RTE provide at present. For instance, RTE have a symphony orchestra and we are all aware of the RTE Players. The station must maintain and support them. RTE provide a whole range of programmes in the area of farming, drama, for the disabled and for minority tastes in sport, music and so on but there is no indication that that kind of obligation will be on the new commercial stations. I am not suggesting that each commercial radio station should have a symphony orchestra or, indeed, a drama group but surely it is reasonable to ask them to collectively provide some cultural services and facilities. RTE also provide educational programmes and special programmes for the elderly and so on and while many of them may not draw huge listening audiences they are important for the people at whom they are directed. I am sure there would be a public outcry if RTE were to withdraw those programmes but is it fair to ask RTE to carry such programmes when no such obligation will be placed on the commercial stations?

At present RTE have a policy of playing a minimum percentage of Irish produced records. That has been important for the development of an indigenous music industry which is now the most significant sector of the broader entertainment industry. Pirate radio stations have generally shown no such commitment to Irish produced products and I wonder if it would not be reasonable to ensure that RTE and the commercial stations have similar obligations in this area. The points I have raised are arguments for the establishment of an independent Authority. Without it the Bill is not satisfactory and, in my view, is positively dangerous.

RTE, in conjunction with Radio Luxembourg, propose to establish a long wave radio service based in Ireland with the United Kingdom being the main market. That proposal involves the building of a very high transmission tower in the vicinity of Summerhill in County Meath, an area where there is a substantial rural population. Quite a number of houses have been built in that area. Meath County Council, in their various county development plans, have stated that the area is already over developed as a rural area and yet RTE, in conjunction with Radio Luxembourg, propose to erect this large transmission tower there. Concern has been expressed by residents about the effect on the environment in terms of appearance and of the radiation that will arise — not nuclear radiation — as an intrinsic part of the operation of a transmitter of this size. It is strongly contested by many of the local residents who do not wish to see this intrusion into the rural setting of that part of County Meath. The whole basis for the project rests on commercial considerations. It is to be a pop music station, but there is no particular need for another pop music station in this State. We are already amply served and, as a result of this Bill, will be even more amply served with a variety of national and local stations producing that type of music all or part of the time. The essential rationale for this proposal, which will have considerable disruptive effects in County Meath, is a commercial one. It is a commercial judgment made by the Government, RTE and the trade union movement, who have endorsed theProgramme for National Recovery, an appendix to which contains a proposal to build this mast to facilitate the radio station.

The Minister for Communications stated quite frankly during the budget debate last week that the rationale for the proposal is the prospective advertising revenue which will accrue. The station will not be able to turn for support to licence fee revenue but will depend exclusively for its commercial survival on its ability to sell advertising within the UK. The market for this station does not exist in Ireland alone; it is basically targeted at the United Kingdom.

The environmental considerations are quite serious and the grave concerns to which I have referred are currently the subject of an appeal to the Planning Appeals Board. I do not propose to go into the matter in any detail, beyond saying that the burden of proof in a case like this should rest on those promoting such a development, not on those objecting. It is up to the promoters to prove that there is not a danger in this development. In the nature of the Planning Acts the burden normally is in favour of those who wish to make a development and it is up to those who wish to stop it to show there is a problem. In this case I believe the burden of proof should be reversed and that it should rest on those wishing to promote the development to show there is no danger. I have a worry that the Planning Acts as currently framed will not allow the Planning Appeals Board to take a properly balanced view of the matter in that the Planning Acts have in the past tended, in the absence of clear evidence either way, to favour those wishing to go ahead with a development. That is not as it should be in a case like this. Hence I am worried that the grounds on which the county manager decided to allow this proposal within the strict interpretation and confines of the Planning Acts will be ones that will constrain the Planning Appeals Board in their decision.

Perhaps Deputy Bruton will assure me that this is all leading to a wider contribution on the Bill.

I believe there are wider considerations and a wider context in which the burden of proof is on the developer which should be taken into account by the Minister who is ultimately the owner of RTE, the promoter of the project. The basic commercial rationale for this proposal does not seem to make sense. It has strong prospects of being another electronic white elephant. Let me demonstrate why.

Is all this relevant to the present legislation?

Yes. The Sound Broadcasting Acts established RTE. This Bill is designed to amend the Sound Broadcasting Acts. RTE propose to be a joint venture partner in this project, which will be in competition with stations established under this Bill. Hence it is relevant, I submit.

The Chair will acceptpro tem the Deputy's refined logic.

I cannot see how this project can survive, given that the British authorities are proposing to establish three new commercial radio stations in Britain which will be coming on stream at the same time as this, domestically based in Britain and surviving on advertising revenue. The Minister and RTE are asking us to believe that this project, jointly funded by Radio Luxemburg and RTE, will be able to win advertising revenue in competition with three new radio stations established in Britain in their own market. There is only a limited market for commercial advertising anyway. This project is backed by RTE which in turn is backed by the Irish taxpayer. We are being asked to use our money to put a new station working in the British market, attempting to win additional advertising revenue at a time when that market is about to be flooded not only by three new commercial stations being established on a national scale in Britain but by between 400 and 500 new commercial local radio stations also coming on stream in Britain at about the same time. This station will be going into a market which itself is limited since it is in competition with the printed media and with television in terms of advertising. It will be entering that market at a time when the British authorities will be launching on the same market three home-grown national commercial stations plus between 400 and 500 local commercial stations. This Bill is proposing to launch a proportionately similar number of stations on this market which will also be competing for advertising with this long-range station.

In addition we have the development of cable television on this and the other side of the Irish Sea which will also be competing for a virtually fixed amount of advertising. It will be competing with existing radio, with 503 new British-based radio stations, 26 or 27 new radio stations being established by this Bill, a new commercial television channel being established by the Minister in this State, plus this panopoly of cable television which is surviving on the basis of advertising, all looking for a share of the same advertising manager's budget in a similarly confined number of firms that are involved in the sale of consumer goods. This is the precise time we choose to get into this. I could see some sense, perhaps, in RTE having gone into this market ten years ago before the British were on their way with their commercial outfit and when all these stations were being established, but I cannot understand the commercial justification for it just now.

Apart from environmental considerations I question whether this makes commercial and economic sense at this time. The burden of proof is on Radio Tara and ultimately on the Minister who in every speech he made in this House cited the Radio Tara proposal with approval. The Minister's local party colleagues are taking a diametrically opposite view to him. I do not know if they ever discuss matters like this at party meetings, but seemingly they are going in diametrically opposed directions on this issue. That is nothing new, it is part of their technique. I do not know whether it comes from the Carr School of Communications or if there is an older form of advice being offered to Fianna Fáil which is that one runs a little bit of the road with every dog and hopes that the other person is not looking while one is doing it.

I have to inform Deputy Bruton that he cannot run much further with that particular dog. As I see it, what we are dealing with here is broadcasting within certain areas within the State.

This radio station——

Your dog has no tail.

I submit that this station will be in competition with the stations to be established under this legislation and is being promoted by an entity, namely RTE, whose existence derives from the principal legislation to which this legislation is an amendment.

I thought the Deputy indicated that the purpose of this proposal was to beam out programmes to the British market.

And to the domestic market. In any event it is being established by RTE in a joint venture. I fear that if the operation folds up, RTE being established as a subsidiary company would find themselves having to pick up the tab.

The Deputy has given it a fair airing. I have scanned the legislation and I do not see its relevance to what is proposed here. The legislation specifically describes an area being supplied as an area in the State and earlier the Deputy indicated quite clearly, in making the case for the illogicality of it, that it was contesting with that which was already provided for by the British market.

It will also be broadcasting within the State and will be attempting to survive commercially on the basis of selling advertising in competition both with the radio stations established under this Bill within this State and in competition with all the national and local commercial radio stations being established in parallel in the UK. I have asked the question and I expressed serious doubt as to whether this project which is causing so much aggravation, fear and worry to people in south Meath is itself even within its own commercial terms actually justifiable. That is a consideration which arises quite independently of any consideration of the planning appeal, in that the Planning Appeals Board will not concern themselves with whether or not the thing is commercially viable. They will simply look at it within the constraints of the Planning Act. It is in this House or somewhere else that the commercial wisdom of such a project must be questioned. I am availing of the first available opportunity to me to question it in this debate. I thank the Chair for his indulgence in allowing me to do so.

On behalf of the Minister for Communications I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their thoughtful and helpful contributions to the debate on the Sound Broadcasting Bill, 1987 and the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1987. For obvious reasons, the debate has in the main concentrated on the Sound Broadcasting Bill which proposes a legal regime for radio services additional to those of RTE. The debate has highlighted the legitimate concerns of Deputies in this area and also the difficulty of accommodating all of the very laudable ideals that could be striven for in such a Bill.

I am glad to note that there is universal support for the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1987. As the Minister said when introducing the Bill on 8 December last, it was presumed that in terms of its principles it would find general acceptance in the House as it is precisely the same as that circulated by the previous Government in the Seanad in 1985.

Turning to the Sound Broadcasting Bill I welcome the fact that Deputy Richard Bruton and Deputy Pat O'Malley can, on behalf of their respective parties, support this Bill on Second Stage. I note, however, their desire for extensive amendment on Committee Stage. At this stage I would like to outline again the Minister's objective as laid down in this Bill. The desire is to create a legal regime under which radio services additional to those of RTE can develop and flourish. There is no need for a heavy-handed and costly approach to the regulation of those services. The Minister's approach reflects two major and connected developments. The first is that frequencies for broadcasting, particularly on VHF, are no longer in such scarce supply as to require that independent radio stations should be compelled to be all things to all men as in the "public service broadcasting" concept that originated in the 1920s at the birth of sound broadcasting. At that time technology and our ability to maximise the use of the radio spectrum was such that the diversity of choice possible today could not be imagined. The second development is closely related to the first. The earlier concentration in Europe as a whole on structures, controls and regulation is no longer relevant and in large measure has disappeared.

In this connection it is perhaps worth noting that since this debate started in the House the British Home Secretary with responsibility for broadcasting in the UK, which I think would be accepted as the cradle of "public service broadcasting", in a written statement to the British Commons on 19 January 1988 stated that his aim is to provide alongside the existing BBC services opportunities for national commercial radio and for the expansion and deregulation of local radio, that all these services would be free of the existing constricting statutory requirements which have applied to independent local radio in Britain. Programme operators at national and local level will be subject only to requirements of accuracy, balance and decency.

The Minister has already accepted the argument that the licensing process should be seen to be administered fairly and it is the Minister's intention on Committee Stage to bring forward an amendment which will require the Minister to accept the decision of an independent body as to who should get a licence. The Minister of the day will have no say in who gets a licence. In the context of the introduction of an amendment, the Minister has also indicated his willingness to study the amendments that Deputies propose to put down on Committee Stage and to accommodate them if possible.

When introducing the Bill the Minister referred to the fact that he was particularly appreciative of the response from the National Association of Community Broadcasting who were encouraged by the progressive nature of the Bill and its key elements of flexibility and openness. The Minister has looked again at section 3 (4) of the Bill as it stands and he accepts that there is a need to highlight the importance of the community element in radio. Accordingly, on Committee Stage he will be introducing an amendment to provide that, in considering applications for licences the independent body, in addition to the criteria already provided in the section, will take into account the extent to which the applicant proposes to serve a recognisable local community or communities of interest and the arrangements proposed to ensure that the sound broadcasting service is controlled by groups which are based in the area and are representative of the community or the communities of interest concerned.

Many Deputies have referred to the position of RTE in relation to this Bill. Concerns have been expressed about the impact of independent radio on the Authority's finances, about the Authority's continued ability to provide the range of public service sound broadcasting to which we have been accustomed and for which we are grateful. There has also been a concern that RTE should not be excluded from local radio. The Minister wishes to assure the House that all these concerns were taken into consideration in detail when the Government decided to introduce this Bill. There is a mentality abroad which seems to be convinced that both RTE and public service broadcasting will be dealt a death blow if competition in broadcasting is allowed. First of all let us be clear about the slice of the cake that RTE have — two national television services, three national radio services including Raidio na Gaeltachta and Cork Local Radio. They continue to have the security, under legislation of a grant-in-aid equivalent to net television licence fee receipts which in 1988 is estimated at approximately £42 million. Radio advertising revenue — about £11 million — accounts for about 12 per cent of the organisation's income.

The most informed estimates suggest that independent radio will generate about £6 million in advertising revenue per year in the medium term, £4 million of which is already absorbed by the pirates. At worst, therefore, we are talking about an impact equivalent to about 2 per cent of the organisation's income. I am quite sure that even more stringent financial control and more efficient use of existing resources can ensure that such an impact has no effect on the quality of RTE's broadcasting services. On the television side RTE have successfully competed against the best in the world. I have no doubt they can do the same against independent radio here and can I emphasise that I am echoing the Minister's views when I say this?

May I reiterate that the desire is for the regime that is light to touch in relation to independent radio? Against this objective the Minister will look most sympathetically at the arguments Deputies have made and at any amendments Deputies may put forward for Committee Stage, but I would urge Deputies, as the Minister did when opening this debate, to use the acid tests of realism, practicality and workability in submitting amendments.

I now want to deal with a number of contributions that were made during the early morning and afternoon. Deputy O'Sullivan spoke of the absence of a philosophy in the Bill. The Deputy is not correct in this respect. The Minister clearly set out the philosophy which determines his approach in the course of his opening speech on Second Stage. The objectives are several-fold. first, we wish to respond in a realistic fashion to the demands of the public in the sphere of broadcasting and at the same time to provide for the maintenance of basic standards. Secondly, we want to ensure that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to enable maximum involvement by the public in the provision of the kind of radio services which they themselves want, be they commercial, community or a mixture of both. Our task as legislators is to create the environment in which this involvement can occur. We ourselves must be careful to avoid dictating what precisely the public can have or can do in the sphere of broadcasting. This is where we differ very fundamentally from the Labour Party perspective. If I am to judge from Deputy O'Sullivan's and Deputy Higgins' contributions, they want to be able to dictate in precise detail, through the legislative process, what kind of services the listening public can have, with no assurance, of course, that those diktats could actually be translated into a reality. We have more faith in the public themselves. We believe that they are well capable of identifying their own needs and providing for themselves the kind of services which will answer those needs. They will have ample opportunity to do so through the various tiers of stations which we envisage being established, ranging from county to town to neighbourhood stations.

I should like to thank Deputy Jim Mitchell for his very useful contribution to the debate, a contribution which was clearly borne of his experience as a former Minister with responsibility in this area and who himself sought to grasp this difficult nettle. The Deputy made several specific points which I shall endeavour to address. He spoke of the need to have a separate independent Authority to select broadcasters and regulate the services and he argues that the cost can be quite small. The Minister has already announced his willingness to address some of the concerns that exist in this area, but I must insist that we have to see a practical and pragmatic solution to it.

The Deputy, more so than many other Deputies because of his involvement in this area, must fully understand the difficulties that lie in this area. He is well aware of the financial concerns that his own interim Local Radio Commission foresaw for themselves, and they saw themselves as being a very small operation with no more than six heads of permanent staff. Yet the Deputy will recall that in order to secure the financial viability he was having to consider options such as a diversion of some of RTE's licence fee revenue away from RTE towards the support of the commission. This in effect would be a State subsidy. We have firmly set ourselves against any State financing of private broadcasting — not least because we think it is both unacceptable and unnecessary in these days of economic stringency when services of more critical concern to the public have to be cut back.

The Minister in his opening speech set out very clearly the costs associated with establishing a regulatory Authority such as that in previous Bills. It is a matter of some disappointment that none of the Opposition Deputies has really sought to address these aspects in their calls for a separate regulatory Authority. As I have already said, we will endeavour on Committee Stage to address the fundamental issue which lies behind these calls. A clear separation of the selection process from the political level will be established but it must be in a practical and sensible way.

The Deputy raised one or two other issues which he sought to have addressed in the closing stage speech. He spoke of the new international dimension of broadcasting and of the fact that we are fast approaching a situation where national parliaments will not have the sole say in the way broadcasting is developing. These issues are having now — as the Deputy recognised — to be addressed at European level in both the Council of Europe and the EC. I can confirm to the Deputy that the work in these two fora is proceeding at a satisfactory pace and there is every prospect that it will be finalised during the current year. By international standards, the progress on this work has been fast, bearing in mind that one is endeavouring to reconcile the many disparate views and practices in the broadcasting sphere in the whole of Western Europe.

The Deputy asked for clarification as to how it was proposed to deal with the closing down of illegal stations and the phasing in of new stations. This indeed, will be a thorny problem and while we would wish to avoid any hiatus between the two, we will nevertheless face up to it if it is the price which has to be paid to get legal stations on the air. Following enactment of the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, one will allow a certain period of time before it takes effect to enable illegal stations voluntarily to go off the air. We will then proceed to implement the Bill in its full rigours. In fact, the task may not be that difficult because since it will then be an offence to advertise on a pirate station one will find that the funds of many of them will dry up and they will be forced automatically out of business.

The Deputy referred to the situation in which some stations may go bankrupt or into receivership and wondered what would be the position in the areas served by such stations. We do not believe it would be realistic for the regulatory Authority — whoever it may be — to take over the operation of such a station. Our objective in those circumstances would be to refranchise the area as soon as possible. If it is the case that a radio station is simply unviable in a particular area, the question of integrating that station into an adjacent area will be considered.

The Deputy also referred to the importance of radio stations complying with appropriate technical criteria to avoid interfering with other radio services. The relevant technical criteria will be specified in the licences governing the various services, such as was envisaged in the Deputy's own Bill, and it will be the responsibility of the Department of Communications ultimately to ensure compliance with those criteria. It will be noted incidentally that the power of the Minister to call for an investigation into the operations of a radio service embraces the technical element and it is envisaged that technical audits will be called for from time to time to ensure compliance.

In relation to Deputy John Bruton's final query, I want to inform the House that in the dying days of the last Administration the former Minister for Communications and Transport sanctioned Radio Tara. All the information which is referred to by Deputy Bruton was available to the then Government at that time. I should like to thank all the Deputies on all sides of the House for their contributions and I look forward to a further very helpful debate on Committee Stage.

Question put.
The Dáil divided. Tá, 81; Níl, 15.

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Ray.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Malley, Pat.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Swift, Brian.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl

  • Bell, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and Briscoe; Níl, Deputies Bell and Howlin.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

This day week, subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 17 February 1988.