Broadcasting Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to move this Bill and to set again the rationale behind our proposals and the objectives they are intended to achieve.

First of all I have to say that with some few exceptions, much of the reaction to our proposals has bordered on the hysterical. Much of it has also been quite superficial with no real attempt to analyse the policy objectives I set out last week or the measures we have proposed to meet those objectives. My hope therefore is that we could have a reasoned coherent debate and not just a political point scoring exercise from the benches opposite in which the Deputies seek to be all things to all men — although experience has taught me not to be sanguine——

An OG by the Benches opposite.

A Deputy

The Deputy did not have much to say last week.

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Mitchell and Deputy Shatter, there is no need for disorder now. Let us hear the Minister without interruption. Deputies will be afforded an opportunity of engaging in debate on this Bill, on Second Stage, Third Stage and on remaining Stages. There is no need for disorder now. The Minister without interruption.

Thank you very much, a Cheann Comhairle, I think I have just proved the point. Let us reflect again, therefore, briefly on the broadcasting environment we inherited, the policy objectives we had in responding to that environment and the measures we have taken to meet those policy objectives.

There is no particular need for me to dwell again on the chaos of the domestic broadcasting environment we inherited. The situation was unsustainable purely on technical grounds alone apart from any loftier ideals we may have had in this House about how we wanted to order broadcasting services in this country and what function we wanted them to serve.

May I stress that the situation — where some 60 to 70 pirate stations were operating — was also unreal. It is a totally different matter to operate broadcasting services in a legalised environment from operating in an illegal environment. In the legal environment one cannot get away with working in substandard conditions, paying slave labour rates, ignoring heavy copyright payments, or VAT, PAYE or PRSI obligations, apart from any other obligations we, as legislators, decided to impose on the new broadcasting services. The cost structure involved in operating in a legal regime is quite simply of a different order from what applied in the pirate scene. Yet the "pirate" phenomenon demonstrated one thing, not just in Ireland but throughout much of western Europe which had a more or less similar experience. It demonstrated a dissatisfaction with the monopolistic state-run broadcasting services and a failure on their part to respond and adapt to public demand. It also demonstrated a demand for choice and for access by the public themselves to broadcasting.

We have responded to that situation with a set of clear-cut, coherent objectives and policies. Our primary objective was to put in place the necessary regulatory framework which would allow the Irish public to create their own multiplicity of choice in broadcasting. In that regard, given the pace of developments in international broadcasting, this was probably the last significant opportunity we had to influence in a major way the development of a strong and vibrant Irish broadcasting industry.

A further fundamental objective of the Government's and Fianna Fáil's broadcasting policy was the essential need to provide an alternative to the State broadcasting monopoly, particularly in the area of news and current affairs. Therefore, a critical element of the regulatory framework we sought to put in place was that of creating additional sources of news, information and current affairs. Given the dominance of broadcasting in informing the public, it was central to our thinking to provide the general public with alternative sources of Irish generated broadcast news and current affairs, alternatives which would balance to some extent the multiplicity of external broadcast services to which we are going to be exposed in the coming years.

The need for broadcasting legislation in 1987-88, when we came into power, was not just simply to address the problem of creating a structure for local radio in this country; it was in equal measure a response to the emerging international broadcasting environment. Hence the concept of a new independent national radio service as well as an independent television channel became cornerstones of the new broadcasting structures we created through the Radio and Television Act, 1988.

Other important elements of the Government's broadcasting policy are: to ensure that Irish broadcasting becomes a growth industry in line with the growth of broadcasting seen in all other European countries; ensuring as far as possible that Irish broadcasting remains the mainstream Irish viewers' and listeners' choice; bringing new investment and higher productivity into Irish broadcasting; creating new secure employment in the sector and providing a seed bed for the growth of an independent audiovisual industrial business in the country.

The Government's measures in relation to broadcasting are in line with the European trend and in advance many European countries. The era of national state monopolies is ending in all countries. The demand for growth and for choice has come from the consumer. The transition from state monopolies to a competitive environment in broadcasting is in response to this demand. It is the Government's policy to carry out this transition in a planned manner so as to ensure that the totality of Irish broadcasting is strengthened by the introduction of competition and choice.

Examination of the process of transition from monopoly control or dominant market control to competition in any sphere — and there are numerous examples in the EC context — will show that it requires an increase in regulation and not deregulation. This process is not easy, particularly for the monopoly service, which finds its essentially artificially dominant position and dominant control of its market changing. The need for additional regulation arises, firstly, to allow new players to enter the sector in question and, secondly, to change the dominant position of the former monopolist in order to create a fair competitive environment for all concerned.

This is precisely what we have done through the 1988 Radio and Television Act and what we are doing with this new legislation. The 1988 Act created the arrangements for new entrants to come into the broadcasting sector. Their right of entry and operation was not just determined purely by market conditions, however, because we, as legislators, imposed on them a series of "public interest" obligations in terms of the quality and range of programmes we expected from them as well as in the sphere of news and current affairs.

A logical corollary to the process of opening up the broadcasting sector is the need to establish a fair competitive environment in it. This means that the factors which enable RTE to have an excessively dominant position in a competitive context must be addressed. The future of Irish broadcasting is no longer synonomous with the future of RTE.

A major element which creates a distortion in the marketvis-à-vis competing services is RTE's dual funding. While the primary purpose of RTE's State subvention is to enable them to meet certain public service obligations, the effect of that subvention goes beyond that role. It enables RTE to sell their advertising time at, in effect, “below cost” rates and thereby artificially dominate the market, so the competing independent services, whose legal mandate in terms of public service obligations is the same as RTE's, lose on two scores. They do not have the benefit of licence fee income to help meet their public service obligations or to support and sustain the development of their services or to enable them provide a competitive range of programming. At the same time they must compete with the below cost selling of advertising time and the artificially dominant position thereby created by RTE in the advertising market. And it is not alone the independent broadcasting sector that is affected by this distorted competition; it impacts also on the print media.

There are various courses of action open to me to address this unfair competition. One can go the road of making some of the licence fee revenues available to the independent sector, and the case for doing so, on the basis of enabling those services meet their public service obligations, is every bit as logical and sustainable as that for making those same funds available to RTE. One can alternatively go the road of minimising the distorting effect RTE have on the advertising market by limiting and capping their role in that market.

I have been cognisant over the past week of the reaction and concern about my proposal to make licence fee revenue available to the independent broadcasting sector. I have met and listened carefully to a range of interests including the trade union movement among others and it became clear that there was an objection in principle to the diversion of licence fee revenue to the private sector.

I want to emphasise that I have not been influenced by the more histrionic reactions, particularly from some RTE personnel, who, to put it at its most charitable, were totally onesided on this issue and whose contributions fell far short of the objectivity expected of a public service broadcasting organisation. I have, however, been impressed by the more reasoned arguments from those who are concerned about the potential impact this might have on the very concept of the independence of the new services, on the dangers of ending up supporting inefficiencies, on the general undesirability of opening up new areas of public funding, and the example that such a decision might have for other sectors of the economy. I am also influenced by the consideration that to make available public funding to the independent broadcasting sector could be seen as creating a further distortion between the electronic and print media.

Accordingly I intend, by means of amendment on Committee Stage, to drop sections 2 and 3 of the Bill dealing with the payment of a grant related to licence fee revenue to the commission and the disbursement of that grant. I will also be recasting section 4 along the lines of my original thinking which will be to place some constraints on RTE's role in the advertising market. Specifically I will be proposing: a statutory time limit on advertising on RTE's services of 7.5 per cent of total daily programme transmission time — as against its current limit of 10 per cent — and a maximum of four minutes 30 seconds of advertising in any one hour — as against the current maximum of seven minutes and 30 seconds; a limit on the revenue the Authority may derive annually from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts equal to the amount of the grant paid to them in respect of licence fees in the preceding financial year, and in the period from enactment of the Bill until 31 December a ceiling equal to 120 per cent of the sum that will be payable to RTE in respect of the grant equivalent to licence fees in that same period.

I would expect that the effect of this measure in the current year should be to divert something around £6 million of advertising revenue onto the media market, while in a full year, in current terms, it should lead to a diversion of around £12 million. At the end of the day, it will be up to the different media — and I include the print media — to earn their share of this diverted revenue by proving their own worth and relative attractiveness.

This brings me back to the concern I expressed last week that some of this advertising revenue might leak out to external broadcasting services.

It certainly will.

However, it is my hope that TV3 will be up and running at an early stage and that this service, combined with other Irish media, will absorb the diverted revenues. In any event, the risk of leakage is more acceptable generally than the diversion of licence fee funds to the private sector.

Before I go on to deal with the other elements of the Bill, which remain intact, I would like to refer to my comments of last week on the 2FM service. As anyone who read my remarks of last week will know, I never said that I would take 2FM off the air. I am happy that 2FM is a successful popular music station but I also feel that it should reflect a greater public service ethos which would bring it into line with the standards which are imposed on the independent sector.

I notice that everyone else, both within this House and outside, feels quite entitled to offer views on what various broadcasting services should carry. One need only look at some of the contributions to the debate here last week, not to mention the debate on the 1988 Act, to see that Members are certainly not slow to say what should be broadcast. But when the Minister for Communications offers a view on how 2FM, one of the State's national assets, might be reorientated, it becomes all of a sudden a "gross intrusion into the independence" of broadcasters.

As I said, 2FM is a highly popular service. It is also a purely commercial service with no particular "public service" substance to it — even to the modest extent, as Deputy McGinley pointed out last week, that you will seldom if ever hear even a few words of the Irish language on it, not to talk about meeting the kind of news and informational obligations that the independent sector must meet.

The 2FM service, as I mentioned last week, was set up to meet an obvious demand for popular music which had for a number of years been identified by the pirate stations but which RTE had until then failed to see. Even then the pirate stations continued to flourish.

Notwithstanding the current commerciality of the 2FM service, it is my understanding that for quite a number of years 2FM ran at a loss and was therefore subsidised by the licence grant. Precisely how much was lost or how long the service was subsidised cannot be stated because over the years RTE have either been unwilling or unable to identify the costs and revenues of their individual services. Indeed I was struck over the weekend to see on the same page in the same newspaper a report of an interview with a senior official in RTE claiming that 2FM now makes a profit of £1 million per annum while in a second interview with the director general the 2FM service is reported as having contributed only £250,000 profit to RTE. Obviously there is still some uncertainty within RTE as to how profitable the service actually is.

I will be asking the Authority to ensure that henceforth 2FM with its music content should be seen to operate on a stand alone basis, in other words that separate accounts with a full apportionment of central service costs are published by RTE in respect of the service and that the station meets the same public service requirements in relation to news, current affairs and Irish language content etc., as applies to the independent radio sector. As 2FM is the main competing service with the independent radio sector, national and local, this I believe is the minimum which any fairminded person would consider necessary to ensure fair competition.

At the end of the day it is the Authority who will decide what changes if any should be made to their services. They are totally independent in reaching their decisions and, for those who took the trouble to read my speech last week, it will be clearly seen that it was never contemplated that I would seek or want legislative power to interfere with their autonomy in that area.

To return to the Bill, section 5 deals with codes of standards relating to advertising, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion. The objective of this provision is again to ensure fairness and uniformity of standards across all broadcasting services. For this reason the proposed code of standards will apply both to RTE's services — to which a statutory code of practice does not currently apply — and also to services established under the Radio and Television Act, 1988.

Apart from ensuring that any codes of practice drawn up incorporate various international obligations — such as the extensive provisions on advertising standards in the EC Directive on Broadcasting Activities adopted last October— it would also be my intention to address certain unfair practices — if not abuses — practised by broadcasters in this area, about which the print media in particular have made numerous representations.

Thus for example I will be making sure that cross-service promotions — for example promotion by RTE of its radio services on its TV service — count as advertisements for the purpose of complying with the 7.5 per cent advertising time limit. Likewise promotion of commercial activities — such as theRTE Guide or video-cassette compilations — will count as advertising. RTE have a number of current practices in this area which they do not count as advertising for time limit purposes.

I am also concerned about commercial promotion in the form of prizes etc. made available on programmes which blur the distinction between a programme proper and advertising and to that extent are exploitative of the public. I would envisage addressing such issues in the code of practice to be drawn up.

Section 6 is a provision to enable the Independent Radio and Television Commission to enter into a contract with the proposed operator of the independent television channel, additional to the primary contract, whereby the latter may establish his own conventional television transmission network to supplement the cable and MMDS modes of transmission. The arrangements proposed will create the same legal and licensing conditions for the TV3 operator as exist for radio broadcasters in relation to their transmission facilities under the 1988 Act.

Section 7 meets a demand that RTE have been making for a number of years to be able to appoint their own auditors, as for instance An Post and Telecom Éireann can do. At the moment RTE's accounts must be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General but because of pressure on that Office there can be serious delays in producing RTE's accounts. Indeed RTE have come in for criticism in the past as a consequence of very late publication of their annual report and accounts. This freedom to appoint their own auditors should be helpful in solving that problem.

The provisions in this section relating to accounts to be submitted to the Minister are of the standard variety relating to State-sponsored bodies with the exception of item (c) which requires the auditors to produce a specific statement of revenue derived by the Authority from advertising, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion. This requirement is basically a cross-check on compliance with the advertising revenue cap which I referred to earlier.

Section 8 is an amendment to the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, which extends the ambit of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to cover complaints relating to the assertion of inaccurate facts relating to an individual which affects the dignity, honour or reputation of that individual. A further amendment is proposed requiring RTE to broadcast the decisions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission where the commission find in favour in whole or in part of the complainant and consider it appropriate that their findings should be broadcast.

Apart from being inherently desireable in themselves, these amendments are necessitated in any event by the EC Directive on Broadcasting Activities which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 3 October 1989. The amendments will also facilitate ratification of the Council of Europe's Convention on Transfrontier Television which was opened for signature in May 1989 and to which I have every expectation that Ireland will become a party in due course.

The relevant provisions of the EC Directive and Council of Europe Convention, which come under Articles dealing with the "Right of Reply" read as follows:

EC Directive Provision:

1. Without prejudice to other provisions adopted by the Member States under civil, administrative or criminal law, any natural or legal person, regardless of nationality, whose legitimate interests, in particular reputation and good name, have been damaged by an assertion of incorrect facts in a television programme must have a right of reply or similar remedies.

2. A right of reply or equivalent remedies shall exist in relation to all broadcasters under the jurisdiction of a Member State.

3. Member States shall adopt the measures needed to establish the right of reply or the equivalent remedies and shall determine the procedure to be followed for the exercise thereof ...

Council of Europe Convention provision:

1. Each transmitting Party shall ensure that every natural or legal person, regardless of nationality, shall have the opportunity to exercise a right of reply or to seek other comparable legal or administrative remedies relating to programmes transmitted ... within its jurisdiction .... In particular, it shall ensure that the timing and other arrangements for the exercise of the right of reply are such that this right can be effectively exercised. The effective exercise of this right or other comparable legal or administrative remedies shall be ensured as regards the timing and the modalities.

In the case of the Convention, the explanatory memorandum which goes which it elaborates on the concept of the "Right of Reply" as follows:

Extract from Explanatory Memorandum to Convention:

A right of reply within the meaning of the Convention is a right exercised by a natural or legal person, for example, in order to correct inaccurate facts or information or to make known his/her views on such facts or information, for instance, in cases where such facts or information concern him/her or constitute an attack on his/her dignity, honour or reputation or — in the case of a natural person — an intrusion into his/her private life.

The transmitting parties are obliged to furnish the necessary modalities for the effective exercise of such right ... This includes the timing and other arrangements .... Thus, for example, the context in which the right of reply is exercised should be comparable to that in which the incriminated statement was made.

Under existing arrangements, the findings of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission are only published in theRTE Guide and if they are sufficiently newsworthy, they may make it into the newspapers. In contrast, on Continental Europe, not to mention in the UK, great stress is laid on this concept of the “Right of Reply” and on the need to actually broadcast corrections of inaccurate facts or assertions. Furthermore the notion of proportionality is equally important in providing redress. This means that if an offending broadcast takes place on a peak viewing programme, the redressing of that wrong should take place at an equivalent peak viewing time.

The question arises as to what is the position of the independent sector with regard to such broadcasts. First of all, the two international legal instruments to which I have referred relate only to television services and, in the case of the EC Directive, it will be mandatory to apply all of the provisions relating to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to TV3. The mechanism already exists under section 11 of the 1988 Act to extend the ambit of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to all of the services operating under that Act and it is my intention to do so. In other words, the same rules in this sphere will apply to all broadcasting services in this country, whether independent or RTE services.

I come to sections 9 to 15 which I propose to deal with globally because the sections in question are all related to the one objective. These sections create a series of new offences and penalties relating to various acts associated with the unauthorised interception of cable services and MMDS services.

One of the most persistent problems encountered in the cable industry here — which seems to achieve levels unparalleled in any other country with cable systems — is that of unauthorised connections. In the case of the Cablelink system here in Dublin it is estimated that at present the number of such connections is 12,000. This is after a determined effort costing over £200,000 in the last year to reduce these numbers. This represents a loss of over £600,000 per annum in rental revenue alone.

Apart from the loss of revenue that ensues, as well as the actual damage to the cable system, such activity usually has the effect of seriously degrading the quality of signal available to subscribers downstream of the unauthorised connector. This in turn causes loss of customers, loss of goodwill, refusals to pay, etc., which all add to the operators' and ultimately the paying subscribers' costs. Other cable operators suffer proportionately similar problems.

Existing larceny laws have proven to be inadequate in dealing with such activities because strictly speaking the signal is not actually taken away from the cable operator while the law on malicious damage has proven to be equally ineffective. In response to representations from the cable industry, I have decided, therefore, to propose a specific set of offences for the act of illegally connecting or assisting in illegal connection to licensed cable systems. The same applies to the MMDS distribution system.

Furthermore, in line with developments in cable systems elsewhere, the introduction of encrypted systems involving the use of decoders to offer, for instance, premium services on cable systems is going to become a more prominent feature on cable systems in the coming years. The same applies to the MMDS system where the signals will be sent out in encrypted form.

Experience has shown that where encrypted television distribution systems are introduced, a black economy almost inevitably emerges in the supply of "pirate" decoders. This has been the experience in France for instance where the subscription channel Canal Plus operates and where the administration there was forced to introduce offences and heavy penalties relating to the possession, supply or manufacture of pirate decoders.

Such activities, if they are allowed to develop here, could undermine the viability of the various distribution systems existing or coming on stream here. The penalties we propose for the new offences are similar to those applying in respect of the illegal use of wireless telegraphy under the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 — i.e. a maximum fine of £1,000 and — or three months imprisonment on summary conviction and £20,000 and — or two years imprisonment on conviction on indictment. Provision is also made for forfeiture of any equipment used in connection with the offences in question.

Apart from the criminal offences being introduced we are also providing for a civil remedy process. Under this provision a cable or MMDS operator will be able to apply to the courts for an order restraining the activities in question and also seeking damages for any losses incurred. This is very much directed at persons who actually make a business of offering illegal connections to distribution systems or "pirate" decoders. Our expectation is that this, in fact, will be the provision that will be most relied upon by cable and MMDS operators because it can be a much more speedy process than the process of taking criminal prosecutions.

Section 16 enables the Minister, by positive order, to extend the provisions relating to unauthorised interception to services other than those distributed on cable and MMDS. The most obvious examples are encrypted satellite programme services. In this regard there is an emerging concern at international level in relation to the unauthorised interception of such services which again can undermine the viability of those services. The issue is being addressed by international institutions such as the Council of Europe and it is only a matter of time before some international legal instruments are developed to afford, on a co-ordinated European basis, protection to such services. Section 16, in effect, is anticipating such action.

Sections 17 and 18 are essentially technical amendments to the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, and the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. Section 17 (1) is to remove any doubt that may exist in relation to the right of the Minister to limit the number of licences he may issue in the interests of the orderly and efficient use of wireless telegraphy. The MMDS is a classic example. Under the franchising arrangements only a certain number of licences can be issued because the number of frequencies available is limited. If, for instance, the Minister was required to issue licences to anyone who sought them, the end result would be that the signals from the various transmitters would simply start to interfere with each other so that nothing would be receivable by the subscriber.

Another example is in the mobile business radio area where, for instance, a concept known as "trunking" might be introduced. Without getting unduly into the technicalities of the system, this would involve putting in a transmission infrastructure whereby a series of frequencies or channels would be available to mobile radio users thereby ensuring that anytime they want to use their car mobile radios they would be able to find a free channel rather than having to wait, as can frequently happen, until some other user gets off his channel. However, again because of the limitation on available frequencies, the Minister could only licence a limited number of such systems.

Subsection (2) of section 17 enables the Minister to recognise licences for various types of radio systems issued in other countries. For instance, the relevant European institution, CEPT — the Conference of European PTT Administrations — has drawn up some standardised licences for use on a European-wide basis in relation, for example, to the amateur radio service or CB systems. At present visitors to this country who want to use their radio systems must get a temporary licence for the duration of their stay here. This provision, if enacted, will enable us to recognise such European licences and cut out some of the bureaucracy that prevails in this area.

Finally, section 18 is essentially a correction to the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. Under that Act the various offences relating to illegal broadcasting can be prosecuted within two years of the offence being committed. However, we overlooked extending the same period for prosecutions to the basic offences in the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1926, in relation to the possession, use, etc., of unlicensed wireless telegraphy apparatus. This provision will remedy that.

Those then are my proposals which I commend to the House.

Never before in the history of broadcasting has the Minister responsible been so doggedly and visibly opposed to and angry with RTE. However, this has been the Minister's consistent approach to RTE since he took up office as Minister for Communications three years ago. Indeed, it is well known that on the night of the last election count the Minister promised RTE personnel, off the air, that he would, to use his words, screw RTE.

(Interruptions.)

Having failed to screw them one way his face-saving half baked compromise rightly screws RTE but unfortunately with no advantage to the independent broadcasting sector or the Irish print media. The beneficiaries of this ill-considered climbdown will be UTV, Channel 4 and the satellite stations based in London. It will mean that advertisers will be charged more for their advertising. In his incomprehensive and ill-considered speech the Minister said that RTE are engaged in below cost selling even though their prices for advertising are higher than those of UTV in Belfast. The most important point which emerges from the introduction of this Bill——

The Deputy does not understand——

I would advise the House, as they know already, that communication is best served by non-interference. The Chair is not going to accept interference of any kind from either side of the House. I will not remind the House of this again. Deputy Mitchell must be allowed to proceed with his speech and be given a full audience by the House.

(Wexford): It is hard to listen to him.

I would remind Deputy Browne of that position. Deputy Mitchell, without interruption.

You are being most unfair, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to Deputy Roche. It is well known that Deputy Roche is the Minister's hangman. He comes in here every day of the week to try to defend the indefensible; he is a standing joke in the House. He defended the Minister's proposals last week and I will bet that he is in here today to defend the climb down. I will deal with Deputy Roche later.

Perhaps Deputy Mitchell will carry out whatever proposals he has through the Chair. If I am endeavouring to give you the audience to which you are entitled, perhaps you would address yourself in less provocative terms.

The most important point which emerges from the introduction of this Bill has nothing to do with broadcasting and everything to do with judgment. It is a very long time since a Bill was introduced which so incensed the entire Opposition, most Government backbenchers including, I presume, Deputy Roche, the newspapers and every single interest group. Many will wonder how a Government not yet a year old could so speedily lose touch with public opinion. However, some others will say that the Government are not out of touch with public opinion but are merely trying to control the organs of public opinion.

The failure to understand public sentiment is compounded by the attempt of the Coalition parties to come up with a face saving compromise. The two main provisions of the Bill are fundamentally wrong in principle and are incapable of wise amendment, and without these two points there is no need for the Bill, which should be withdrawn immediately. That point is made yet again by the Minister's proposals here today. The Bill should be withdrawn because the proposal to alienate any percentage of the television licence fee on a permanent basis to sustain commercial radio stations is a fundamentally bad principle and will also be bad in practice. Second, the proposal to incorporate power to restrict and divert advertising from RTE is a fundamentally bad principle and will also be bad in practice. The probability of subsidising and encouraging inefficiency among independent broadcasters is very real. The Minister has now apparently seen the light in that respect and is prepared to withdraw one section of the Bill that makes no sense. Both the first and second penalise RTE for endeavour and success and dilute their motivation and their ability to hold their corner with international competition which the Minister scarcely referred to.

What the Minister proposes today is a revision to his original madness which is even worse than the proposals contained in the original Bill. UTV, Channel 4 and the satellite channels will be the main beneficiaries of a hasty Bill and an even more hasty climb down. I can assure this House that Fine Gael will even more vigorously oppose the latest ill-considered amendments than they have already opposed the original folly.

What the Minister is presiding over is a shambles of a broadcasting policy. The most objectionable part of the package was not in the Bill at all. The directive by the Minister to the new RTE Authority to convert 2FM from the station of the happy to a station of the cross is the first ever by a Government Minister to deliberately order one of the State companies to go out and fail.

When we consider these three main points together they certainly represent a landmark in the affairs of semi-State companies. They are to be praised for endeavour and success. For decades the very name of semi-State company symbolised inefficiency and lossmaking. Now because of the scarcely appreciated revolution in the semi-State sector which was brought about by the Government of which I was a member, the semi-State companies are largely profitable and vibrant and apparently they are to be attacked for that. RTE, expanding and profitable like Aer Lingus are, because of their semi-State status, anathema to the Progressive Democrats' philosophy and to Fianna Fáil's business friends. No face-saving compromise can alter the fact that the Government partners have sought and continue to seek to penalise a State company for their success. The hostility of the Progressive Democrats to State enterprise is well known and they have justified this stance over the years on the basis of inefficiency and lack of competition. In this case RTE have improved their efficiency and their profits and have reacted deftly to competition. Now it is to be plundered. I bet a pound to a penny that as a result of the measures made today, RTE will be back in a lossmaking situation within a year and the same Progressive Democrats will be hounding and heckling RTE for their failure. Although I do not advocate it, indeed I would strongly oppose it, RTE and their personnel would almost be better off privatised than plundered. I suppose then the Progressive Democrats would be really happy, but what about the motivation of Fianna Fáil? From all I know, I cannot but come to the conclusion that, however extensively it is masked powerful friends of Fianna Fáil have to be protected, and if this can only be achieved by brazen effrontery, so be it.

The issue addressed by this Bill is an important one but it is not urgent. The only urgency which attaches to the present situation is the plight of Century Radio and the ironic impact of what the Minister proposes today is to make assistance to Century almost impossible. So it seems that the Minister, because of his hamfisted proposals and his hamfisted climbdown, now makes it extremely difficult for Century to survive. If it transpires that Century cannot survive it will be the Minister who conceived it who alone can be blamed.

The Minister's proposals were misguided from the start. To solve the minor crisis of Century — and it is minor in the overall context — the Government knowingly or unknowingly have set out to subvert the profit-orientated psychology which has been painstakingly developed over the past six years since the collapse of Irish Shipping. Let it not be forgotten, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that in 1982 when we came to office every single State company, without exception, was lossmaking. RTE had been lossmaking for several years but by 1987 almost all of them were higher in profit or well on their way to being in profit. This did not happen by accident. Now, however, by accident the message is sent out loud and clear that profits only mean trouble for State companies. With the onset of commercial competition RTE have the excuse of relapsing into losses and pressing for licence fee increases. Indeed, one of the recommendations of the consultants I appointed to look into RTE was that the licence fee be indexed linked. In my discussions with the then chairman of the RTE Authority I undertook to embrace the report of the consultants and the indexation of the licence fee. In fact, I was criticised by a columnist in what was supposed to be an independent feature on this question last week. That columnist knew that I had made such an offer and that RTE said they did not want a licence fee to be index linked. He knew they said they would do without it but why did they say that? They said that because as the chairman of the Authority said, index linking of the licence fee would only induce inefficiency in RTE and they did not want to relapse into that mould which had afflicted them for many years.

Without any licence fee increase since 1986 RTE have sustained their annual profits, reduced their borrowings and, at the same time, have expanded their home produced output and broadcasting hours. The Bill, even today's compromise, represents an undermining of the entire State sector and the country will rue this day for a very long time. As I have repeatedly made clear over the past five months, I fully acknowledge that there are important questions to be addressed. As I see them, they fall into a certain sequence. First, there is the immediate problem of Century Radio, and a once-off Fóir Teoranta type package to assist Century Radio, and any local broadcasting stations in financial difficulties, is desirable because competition is good. It is desirable and justified because many of the problems affecting Century Radio and, perhaps, one or two local stations, were inflicted on them, at least in part, by the State.

It is well known that in the case of Century Radio the Minister pressed them to a premature launch against their better judgment. Having forced Century Radio on to the air before they were ready he gave them a mish-mash of wave lengths which made it impossible for them to market their product and, because of other technical difficulties, even the wave lengths they had were very frequently not received in the areas they were supposed to. On that basis, a once-off Fóir Teoranta type assistance would have been justified but, instead, the Minister has brought in a juggernaut to crack that relatively minor nut.

That minor problem could have been tackled in the way I suggested today, and previously, but there is a second problem and it is the question of the future relationship between newspapers and State and commercial broadcasting. Essentially, this relates to a question of funding. Therefore, it is inextricably bound up with foreign-based competition, electronic and print, which has a growing potential to penetrate the Irish audience and, therefore, the Irish advertising pool. We must address the fairness of the ground rules for internal competition without adversely affecting our ability to cope with and conquer foreign competition.

For a few moments I should like to deal with that question because in all the hullabaloo and political exchanges in the media coverage of the controversy in the last two weeks there has been very little time for calm reflection or analysis. The real issues have not been addressed. Indeed, I did not see in any newspaper the terms of the motion we had before the House last Tuesday and which led to this issue being brought to the boil. We suggested that an independent review body should be established to examine the complex question before us, and they are complex. We acknowledged in our motion that commissions can be an excuse for inaction but we put a six month time limit on their report. In asking for a review body I was very cognisant of the fact that as cable and MMDS expand, and as direct broadcasting satellites multiply our small market will be increasingly penetrated. The Irish audience will have access to a greater number of channels.

We are aware that these developments are taking place at a time when the Council of Europe are dealing with broadcasting issues on a pan-European level and at a time when the Commission of the European Community are dealing with them on a European Community level. We are aware that a fundamental aspect of proposals produced by those organisations will be uninhibited access to the airwaves not only for programmes but for advertising broadcasts. Our nearest neighbours, the British, who worry us most, in their White Paper on Broadcasting, which resulted from the Peacock report, emphasised their commitment to uninhibited access of advertising. It is because they have, and will have more satellite channels than we could ever hope to have, if we ever have satellite channels, that they are penetrating our market. Due to the terrestrial nature of our channels now, and in the foreseeable future, we have little hope of penetrating to any extent the British market and, therefore, there will be a one-way flow from our advertising pool.

We cannot even penetrate the Northern market because of the lack of co-operation from the British authorities, even during the discussions leading up to the Anglo-Irish Agreement when I pressed the issue. In most of Belfast, an acceptable RTE picture cannot be received and in the north-eastern corner of Northern Ireland it is impossible to get RTE. What chance have we of reversing the flow into our market by getting our stations to penetrate the British market? We could do that if we could afford to get involved in satellite broadcasting but we cannot do so.

Our newspapers, RTE, and the independent broadcasting sector, who largely depend on the Irish advertising pool, have a very legitimate and fundamental interest in this question. Today's proposals from the Minister, far from objectively analysing, actually worsen the position. The Minister is rationing advertising in RTE. He has not said anything about price and, as The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in the course of an urgent message to me this morning confirm, this will cause inflation. All it means is that the price of advertising in RTE will go up as that station clamour to maintain their revenue but that in turn will lead to a leakage to UTV where advertising is already cheaper. There will be a bonanza in advertising in Belfast today and there will be a bigger bonanza for Sky Channel, Super Channel and the other satellite channels that are so avidly watched on our cable systems.

It is clear that what the Minister is doing is madness. It is ill-considered and the Minister does not know what he is doing. The Minister has failed, and the compromise fails. The rubic cube has been moved to get the Century square in place but all the other squares have been moved with it and discommoded. The compromise is just another turn of the rubic cube and the squares have again been disturbed but their relationship to each other is still far from correct.

I acknowledge how hurt and embarrassed the Minister must be at the very strong and united opposition of every aspect of public opinion to his original proposal. He must feel how unfair fate is as a Minister who had gone in with energy and enthusiasm to sort out the broadcasting mess, with some success. Instead of rushing in on the basis that he has got it right all the time or playing safe because of a little embarrassment about Century, it would have been better for the Minister to acknowledge that there had been some mistakes which should not be further compounded by rash and ill-considered action.

The Minister's earlier proposals — and the latest ones — do not take into account the views of the RTE Authority or those of The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland. I met a deputation from that institute although the Minister refused to do so. In a letter dated 6 June regarding section 4 which the Minister proposes to retain they state:

Subsection (1) is particularly dangerous in that any reduction in RTE advertising minutage will have the following effects: (a) a steep inflationary increase in TV advertising rates, and (b) loss of advertising revenue to outside TV channels, i.e. UTV, Channel 4, Sky, etc.

Formerly the Minister was taking provisional power in section 4 and the use of that power was to be subject to a definite and positive order of this House. In the original Bill it was only a contingent power but, according to what the Minister said today, the power will be immediate. Instead of the threat of capping RTE's advertising revenue some time in the future the Minister will cap it here and now. That is a very fundamental change in section 4 and he has already removed sections 2 and 3.

The present difficulties of the Minister are only a temporary embarrassment which I have enjoyed no end, it would be unnatural if I had not, but they are of minor consequence compared with the long term issues. The legacy which the Minister should want to leave when he is no longer Minister for Communications is that he sorted out the pirate radio mess. He should also like to leave the legacy of laying the ground work for lasting, vibrant broadcasting in the State sector and RTE and, in the process, lay down well considered rules which are fair to the independent broadcasting sector, RTE and our newspapers who are vitally interested in this matter. In that process he would like to be able to say that he did not clobber the State sector and send out the signal to all the State companies saying "for God's sake, whatever you do, do not make profits because, if you do, they will be taken from you".

The whole question of how the political establishment relate to the broadcasting establishment is a very important aspect which has not been given enough consideration. The law requires RTE and independent broadcasting companies to be politically balanced. Why have the Government gone out of their way to load the IRTC and the RTE Authority with an overwhelming Fianna Fáil majority? I did not appoint the outgoing RTE Authority and the interim commission on the basis of political affiliation and I can say the same about the boards of other State companies I appointed. In all State companies we do not need people who are interested in politics, we need business people. Because the broadcasting field is central to the way democracy works and because the law requires balance, it breaks the spirit of the law to appoint an authority or commission who are blatantly politically one-sided. I thought we had matured enough to kick that habit but we have reverted to it when dealing with broadcasting and State sector companies which were in place before 1982.

Media manipulation by politicians is unhealthy in any democracy but a central purpose of the Minister's approach was — and still is — infiltrate control of the media. This infiltration is not confined to the electronics sector. The Minister, by announcing his intention at the annual conference of the National Newspapers of Ireland made it appear that he would do them a favour and, understandably, the newspapers reacted the next day with laudatory editorials. The outlook for them is not as rosy as they first thought. The Irish newspapers will not benefit from the Minister's compromise, the electronic media based outside the State will benefit. In any event, the day that newspapers become reliant on the Government is the day they compromise their independence. Any development along those lines is sinister and any advantage is short-term.

The great value of a review body is that the newspapers, as well as other key interests directly affected, would have the opportunity to put their case and have it considered objectively without political strings. I have no doubt that the newspapers have a good case and that their long term interests would be better served by the approach I advocate instead of that advocated by the Minister.

Every interest group have come out strongly against the Minister's proposals. I anticipate that the reaction today by interest groups will be as vehement and clear-cut as the reaction to the Minister's original proposal. The National Union of Journalists are handing out leaflets outside this House today, one of which was handed to me in the last few minutes. I will quote from it:

Should the Minister exercise the new power of capping advertising revenue RTE could lose a further £10 million to £12 million per year. This power amounts to a direct intervention by the Minister in the free market process and will amount to a commercial restriction on RTE, penalising it for being financially successful. The existence of legislative power to cap advertising revenue will amount to a big stick in the hands of the Minister who could, if he wished, use it to curtail the independence of RTE by threatening to further restrict its earnings. A mix of both these measures would radically alter RTE's ability to compete and lead to the axing of more than 200 jobs.

There are other considerations which must be raised in the course of this debate. Of course, we have not heard what are the Minister's intentions in regard to the licence fee, to which the Minister made no reference in the course of his introductory remarks this morning nor in his contribution on my Private Members' motion last week. Is the licence fee to be maintained or is it to be increased? Can we foresee circumstances in which RTE — forced into large losses on account of the control of their advertising — must resort to the Minister and this House seeking a large increase in the licence fee? That would appear to me to be the only alternative open to them to avoid a continuous loss-making position. Would the Minister clarify the position in relation to the licence fee? Would he state how much of an increase will be required to fund the £12 million per annum which he estimates will be diverted from RTE through his "capping" of their advertising? I would speculate that the increase in the licence fee would amount to more than £10 because there are at present 800,000 licence fees issued; £12 million divided by 800,000 would represent an increase of the order of £14. Therefore, in order to recoup their losses RTE——

There will be no increase in the licence fee.

For the present?

Full stop.

What the Minister is doing amounts to the equivalent of increasing the licence fee by approximately £14 per week. It is easy to calculate the sum — 800,000 multiplied by 14 gives one the approximate sum the Minister wants to take from RTE in a full year. The Minister interjects — in his usual, well considered way — to the effect that there will be no increase in the licence fee. Let me ask the Minister another question when perhaps I can provoke him into another answer. RTE's profit this year will be of the order of £5 million. If they are to be deprived of £12 million, if 2FM are to be required to broadcast extra public service programmes and be profitable on a "stand alone" basis, how will the Minister bridge the gap for RTE? If £12 million is to be diverted from RTE next year and they make only £5 million this year, it is easy to translate that into a loss of £7 million before adding the extra cost the Minister now wants to impose on 2FM by insisting that they broadcast a like amount of public service news and other programmes as the independent sector, which, on the face of it, is a reasonable proposal. Will the Minister tell me: if there is to be no £14 increase in the licence fee, does that mean retrenchment in RTE? Does it mean fewer hours of broadcasting, less home-produced programmes, more cheap, Dallas-type programmes? How else can RTE avoid being plunged back into incurring the same type of losses Fianna Fáil left in 1982? It becomes increasingly clear, the more questions one poses, the more ill-considered are the Minister's proposals.

There are many other questions that must be answered that have not been addressed by the Minister's introductory remarks this morning, by the Bill, by the Bill as proposed to be amended, or in anything the Minister has said in the last few months. They are the implications for Irish broadcasting of the increasing internationalisation of broadcasting. I have already spoken about the implications for advertising and the advertising pool in this State. What about other questions which arise in the international context, which are inevitably different and must be viewed differently than from within the narrow, national context, a luxury we have enjoyed to date? For example, what happens to the provisions of section 31 in an era of satellite broadcasting? What happens to other questions in relation to public order, morality and taste? What happens to consumers' rights in an era of increasing foreign-based advertising? What about alcohol and cigarette advertising? What about advertising that would fall below what we would consider to be good taste, good moral standards? Of course, there are profound questions affecting actors, actresses and other performers with regard to the question of performing rights. There is also the question of copyright.

Any fair analysis of the overall position would lead to the conclusion that the time is opportune for a new, objective review, a new analysis, being undertaken of the future of broadcasting. Any such analysis should not examine merely how we will survive in the new broadcasting era but how we can prosper. For example, how can we overcome our disadvantages in penetrating foreign markets compared with our market's exposure to foreign penetration? Are there any steps we can take to allow RTE, TV3 and Century to penetrate the British market in particular, or do we have to sit back while they rape our market, leaving us with no hope of access to theirs?

I would urge the Minister to think again. He may feel he is in a corner; he may feel it would constitute too large a loss of face to abandon even this latest hotch potch of proposals. In the interests of Irish broadcasting I would plead with him to agree to the establishment of the review body proposed in my Private Members' motion last week, and which would be an infinitely better and wiser course of action. It is a course of action which would afford us the opportunity of building foundations, of taking on board the legitimate interests of newspapers, advertisers, the independent broadcasting sector, actors and actresses and RTE. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for us, by way of calm reflection, to get the rubic cube right.

I rise to speak in this debate this afternoon with a certain sense of anger and frustration about what has been happening and the manner in which this House has been treated by the Minister and the Government in relation to this Bill. As was said on the Order of Business this morning, I contend the House has been treated very shabbily indeed in regard to the presentation of this Bill and what has happened subsequent to its presentation. Unfortunately that point seemed to be lost completely on the Taoiseach this morning on the Order of Business, when he continued to defend what I would have perceived to be the indefensible.

However, I might compliment the Minister on one thing: had he deliberately set out to unify the Opposition he could not have done so more successfully. As a bonus, in addition to unifying the Opposition parties in this House and outside bodies, such as the ICTU, the NUJ and RTE, he has also managed — or certainly did for a number of days — to put the Progressive Democrats on the Opposition benches. Indeed for a period it looked as though half the Fianna Fáil Members were rushing back to the Opposition benches. By virtue of a series of meetings which have taken place within the last week it would appear — though the numbers are quite small behind the Minister at present — that Fianna Fáil Members are prepared to come back.

The number of Labour Deputies in the House is not large.

How many are behind Deputy Spring?

I trust the gentleman will not take advantage of the fact that Deputy Tunney has left the Chamber.

In his school masterly fashion he would make the Deputies behave themselves.

The Deputy can be assured that the present Chairman will keep order here.

I never doubted a Wicklowman's ability to keep order. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted——

Apologies, Deputy.

Accepted. The Minister has managed in a haphazard manner to unify the Opposition both inside and outside this House on his ill conceived and ill thought out proposals on broadcasting. As I said at the time, and as is indicated on the Order Paper by another party, I believe the Minister has little option at this stage but to do the honourable thing and resign from his portfolio. At the outset, I call on him to do so. I do not make that call lightly. I have always been treated with dignity and indeed courtesy by this Minister and I know that he is an extremely hardworking and diligent man. But everyone in this House knows, I think, that the Minister for Justice and Communications has carried out his master's bidding once too often with the publication of this Bill.

On the day that this Coalition Government was put together, I indicated in the course of my contribution in this House that I wished the Government well and I even tried to identify some of the tasks facing them. At that time I said:

Over the next months and years, two main questions will preoccupy the political system of our country. At least, these two questions ought to be among the principal issues that we face and deal with. It may well be that these issues will be ignored, and that they will be settled by default. It may well be that the politicians we have elected to Government will simply turn a blind eye to them, and allow them to be decided by faceless, anonymous people. If that were to happen, the result would be disastrous, as it has been disastrous in other countries where these issues have arisen.

The questions I posed at that time were as follows:

First, how are the fruits of economic growth to be distributed? And second, who is going to wield the power and influence of ownership in Ireland in the future? These are huge and difficult questions. They may not seem at first glance to be the most obvious ones that arise on a day like this. But if recent political experience has shown us anything, it has shown us that issues like these must be put to the centre of the political stage.

Too much of our recent experience has been tied up with defending people against the callous and unthinking consequences of an ill-considered approach to policy. Too much of our recent experience has been tied up with unscrambling the consequences of secret deals and political cronyism. We cannot, as a community, allow the style and substance of this kind of Government to continue.

Subsequent to that, including my contribution to the budget debate, I instanced some of the evidence that was available to suggest, unfortunately, that the style and substance of a Government committed to political cronyism was alive and well, despite what might be regarded by some as the better influences of the Progressive Democrats, when they choose to appear.

I referred, for instance, to the Fahey and Foxe deals — which were prominant at that time — and to the widespread unease which exists about the possibility of corruption in our planning process, and to the privatisation by stealth that has been a feature of the Government's approach. Many Deputies, too, will be aware of my repeated efforts to secure a debate in this House on the wide ranging implications for our political system of the Gallagher merchant banking scandal — and they will be aware of the stone wall of silence with which those requests have always been met by the Taoiseach. Nowhere, unfortunately, is the smell of political cronyism and jobbery more rank than in the handling of the Communications portfolio. As I said yesterday, in three short years this portfolio has been dragged from the Department of Energy to the Department of Industry and Commerce and now to the Department of Justice. In that time, we have had a part-time Minister for Energy, which was one of the reasons it has taken so long for the Radiological Protection Bill to be published, and one of the reasons that the Minister habitually forgot to raise the Sellafield issue with his British counterparts. We had a part-time Minister for Industry and Commerce while industrial policy was in a shambles, and we have had a part-time Minister for Justice while overcrowding and ill health in our prisons has led to an explosive and dangerous situation.

However, we have never had less than a full-time Minister for Communications, who has seen it as a job from the day he was appointed to that portfolio to engage in a war of confrontation with the national broadcasting company. It has been one of the unstated and secret items on the Fianna Fáil agenda — even though, as the previous speaker said, the Minister in a very ill-considered remark on the night of the election of the Fianna Fáil Government made his views on RTE very well known in the RTE studio — for the past three years that RTE was to be destroyed and curbed. The present Minister for Communications was hand picked for that job. At the same time, he was given instructions that commercial radio and television was to be got up and running as soon as possible, and no obstacle was to be placed in the way of their being as lucrative as they could possibly be.

The way in which he went about those twin tasks makes an interesting recitation. In the case of radio he saw it as his first task to assign licences, originally with the help of a spurious advisory board. When that did not wash with the Dáil, and bearing in mind the then minority position of the Government, the Minister backed down, and agreed to the appointment of an "independent" radio and television commission. The day that commission was appointed, we pointed out the fairly obvious fact that with the exception of the chairman, it was loaded to the gills with prominent Fianna Fáil activists. That did not deter the Minister who insisted stoutly that it would be both independent and authoritative in the carrying out of its duties.

Other people had other ideas. For instance, three months before a single licence was issued,The Cork Examiner quoted one Mr. Oliver Barry as announcing that Frank Sinatra was coming to Dublin, and that the Frank Sinatra concert would be used as the launching pad for Mr. Barry's new national radio station. Mr. Barry at least was not at all surprised when several months later the “independent” Radio and Televison Commission announced that the national franchise was to go to Mr. Barry's consortium, Century Radio, even though, alas, the management skills employed by Century proved inadequate to the task of getting Mr. Sinatra and the station on air at the same time.

On 20 November 1987, this Minister, who was then in charge of Energy and Communications, was moving the Second Stage of the Sound Broadcasting Bill in this House. In the course of his speech, he said:

In the current economic climate, where the Government finds itself having to make major savings in the provision of services which have a higher priority than broadcasting, and where it is finding it necessary to abolish or rationalise various State agencies, it would be unacceptable to provide public moneys to finance a new broadcasting regulatory authority.

Later in the same speech, the Minister added:

The Government also questioned whether radio services actually need the degree of regulation which would warrant the creation of a new State structure, given the trend internationally towards less or lighter regulation in the broadcasting sector. We decided on the minimalist approach. The new services to a large extent will be self-regulatory. Their sole source of income will be from advertising, which will only be available if they have a substantial audience.

Fighting words on that occasion, but unfortunately the winds did not last long in those sails.

The Minister has just told us in the House today that there will be no increase in the licence fees, but I wonder if we will be back in two years' time saying that on this day, the Minister said there would be no increases in licence fees but the inevitable has happened.

In 1987, this Minister believed in a noninterventionist approach where commercial radio was concerned, at least on the surface. The reason is simple. The Minister's friends were at that time advising him that all he had to do was to give the green light for commercial radio, create the right sort of commercial climate in the community at large, and it would become a licence to print money with, no doubt, great spin-off benefits for everyone involved.

The reality has turned out to be rather different. It would appear that the Minister's friends were much better at advising him about politics than they were at running a radio station. Century Radio was started with highly professional and committed staff who were prepared to work long hours to make a success of their station. The news service provided by Century Radio, in particular, quickly gathered a reputation as being highly professional. I know for example, that their main news bulletin in the middle of the day was listened to avidly by the RTE newsroom. It probably is not possible to pay a higher compliment to the professionalism of Century staff than that.

But from the very beginning, the station was under capitalised and badly marketed by its proprietors. The station got off to a bad start as a result of the row involving its transmission facilities, and the management appeared unable to determine what audience they should be aiming for. It was a station without any particular role or niche in the marketplace.

And so, inevitably, the Minister's friends had to go back to him and tell him that they were unable to make a go of the station. He was probably very surprised — after all, he had already intervened with RTE to force RTE to charge a lower than economic fee for transmission facilities, and had generally kept the RTE Authority very busy responding to his instructions and demands. For example, he had refused to allow RTE Local Radio in Cork to broadcast around the clock, and had insisted that the station sell a substantial proportion of its shares in Cablelink, thereby affecting RTE's cash flow and potential surplus for years into the future. But whatever else may be said about this Minister, it has to be said that he is loyal to his friends. He immediately set about putting together the package which he unveiled last week. It did not appear to matter to him or to the Taoiseach that that package flew in the face of both logic and fairness. The bottom line for this Minister and for this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government is that their friends must be looked after.

The details of the package have already been widely discussed. They boil down to two elements. The first element of the package was to take a share of the money which every licence payer contributes to public service broadcasting and to put it into the back pockets of a small number of private investors. No matter what way you examine that element of the proposal, no other outcome is possible — if private investors do not have to spend money on meeting the public service obligations they freely entered into, that means more money for them. There are no strings attached to that money. They have to provide no additional service in return for their share of the licence fee, nor have they to give up any element of the ownership and control of their stations. For these reasons, it cannot be seen as acceptable to transfer any element of the licence fee, no matter how small, to private individuals with no strings attached.

Lest there be any misunderstanding about this, let me say here that the Labour Party have never supported, and will never support, such a "free transfer". The transfer of the licence fee from a station owned by all the people of Ireland to stations owned by a small number of individuals, is tantamount to a Government subsidy for wealth. I am glad the Minister has been forced to drop that proposal, and only sorry he was unable to see for himself how unacceptable it was.

The second element of the package was effectively to close down what is currently the most successful radio station in the country in order to create a place in the market for the least successful. We are not told that that element of the package is unlikely to be proceeded with because of its manifest unpopularity. But what about the lack of basic common sense in the proposal? If this Government were bringing before this House a proposal to close down Aer Lingus in order to make room for a small private airline which had three good pilots and a Tiger Moth, they would be rightly judged as having lost their grip on reality. The proposal they unveiled last week is precisely the same in economic terms, albeit on a smaller scale.

Now we are told that instead of the effective closure of 2FM, it is to be hived off from RTE and forced to stand alone as a virtually independent company. No doubt when we have a chance to examine the small print, particularly the implications of the phrase "full apportionment of central service costs", the Minister's continuing intention to make 2FM nonviable will become even clearer. There can be little doubt that such is the Minister's intention — he has now merely decided to be a little more subtle in his approach in the interests of keeping his back benchers and the Progressive Democrats on side.

There is, of course, another element — the proposal to cap RTE's advertising revenue appartently in the hope that revenue lost to RTE will flow to the other Irish media. We can now see in this Bill the full scope of the Minister's intentions. Even though there has been no independent evidence in support of this proposition — indeed, all the evidence available suggests that the idea would lead to revenue being lost to the country as a whole — he still proposes to proceed with the removal of revenue from RTE. Some calculations suggest that perhaps as many as 500 jobs will be lost in the advertising and film industries as a result, with no benefit to anyone other than Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television. What possible sense can there be in that?

Finally, the Minister has made it clear that it is now his intention to force RTE to provide transmission facilities for TV3. No doubt, in the fullness of time, he will intervene to ensure that those facilities are provided at whatever price TV3 can afford, in exactly the same way as he did with Century, and when TV3 fall behind in the payment of their bills to RTE, as Century have done, no doubt the Minister will be totally silent.

In any consideration of the logic of the Minister's approach, regard must be had to the mandate of RTE. RTE are the property of the Irish people. They are charged, on behalf of the people, with providing a comprehensive range of services, and with doing so without losing money. If they make a profit, that profit is either reinvested in the station or recovered by the Exchequer. The advertising revenue they generate, in addition to the licence fee, is used to finance drama, the development of musical interests among young people, the support of Ireland's only symphony orchestra, the promotion of Irish writing, the fostering of our language and a range of other public service interests.

On the other hand, any profit made by commercial radio is re-invested in the wellbeing of its proprietors. I have no objection to that — after all presumably no one would take the risk of investing in the first place if there were not potential rewards. But surely the whole point of the exercise is that commercial radio is a risky business. At least, it was a risky business until the Minister decided to do whatever he could to generate a profit for the friendly investors. In his own parlance, in his efforts to level the playing pitch, he has done quite the contrary. He has cut down the goal posts, ploughed up the playing surface, knocked down the stands and even turned off the lights.

It can clearly be seen that the Minister's approach is not based on any commercial or economic logic. One must, therefore, question the Minister's motivation in taking the action he has taken. As I have already said, a decision by any Government to close down the most successful radio station in the country in order to try to bail out a failing commercial enterprise would be inexplicable. When that failing enterprise is run and managed by political associates of the governing party, the decision becomes deeply suspect and unsustainable.

I charge the Minister with failing in his national responsibilities, and I have to say in all gravity that I believe he has been motivated by base and unworthy considerations. His decisions, supported by the Government, stink of the rankest political cronyism. I have now reluctantly come to the belief that the reason this Minister has carried the Communications portfolio through three separate Ministries, all of them important in their own right, is that he has been charged with ensuring that the political friends of Fianna Fáil are thoroughly set up with their licence to print money.

One has to ask where this leaves the Progressive Democrats, who are seldom to be seen in this House at present. How is it conceivably possible that the party which publicly pride themselves on their integrity can stand by and allow these decisions to be implemented in their name? The Progressive Democrats are known throughout the length and breadth of the land as the party that believe in the free play of market forces. One has to ask: where were they last week when these decisions were being made? Were they in Government at all when the matter was being discussed?

The Leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy O'Malley, was forced to shrug his shoulders in this House not so long ago, and point out to the House that nothing could be done about the closure of Sunbeam Wolsey since that was the result of market forces at work. Yet, as a member of this Government, he appears to be able to stand over the baling out of Fianna Fáil supporters at the expense of public broadcasting.

The Labour Party do not intend for one moment to allow this matter to drop. The issues involved are simple. They are issues of principle. If a commercial enterprise is to be supported with public money, there must be good and valid reasons for it, and the public money must never be given free of conditions. We have never, and will not now, stand over a situation where presents are given from the public purse to private individuals. If Century need to be baled out, let the Minister come here with an honest proposal which will involve Century in giving over to the people of Ireland a share in the future wellbeing of the company. Because he is not prepared to do this, and because he has behaved in a manner which makes him unfit to discharge the public trust, as I said at the outset, he should resign.

But I believe that the time has come for us to go further. I said at the start of this contribution that this Minister was only carrying out his master's bidding. As long as he does so, and is seen to deliver, it appears that his career will prosper. He may not always have been on the same side as his master in some of the internal Fianna Fáil battles that have gone on in the past, but he has nevertheless always managed to hold down senior positions of trust. When things go badly wrong, as they clearly have on this occasion, his master lets him be hung out to dry in this House.

But if the Minister for Justice and Communications has been to some extent a puppet in this affair, what can we say of the puppetmaster? It is quite clear, and has been clear to anybody involved in public life in Ireland, that the Taoiseach has long harboured an antipathy to RTE. It is well known that he holds RTE responsible for having the audacity to report on the deep and widespread anger in the community over health cuts in the last election. In a classic piece of political self-delusion, he appears to believe that it was the reporting, rather than the anger in the streets, that cost him an overall majority in the general election. And of course in this case the puppet-master was pulling more than his Minister's strings. He would have been aware that the idea of diverting part of the licence fee to the Radio and Television Commission came originally from the Fine Gael spokes-person, when he was dealing with the legislation as a Minister. He clearly thought that he had the Leader of Fine Gael in his backpocket after their covert meeting the week before last, and that he was at last free to take the kind of actions that he has always wanted to take, with no more than token opposition from the largest opposition party.

It is perhaps not surprising, given this background, that the Taoiseach was so hurt in this Chamber last week when this particular house of cards began to fall down around his ears. I believe the reason for that was much more than pride or the prospect of political embarrassment.

I believe that to find the explanation for the Taoiseach's discomfiture we must go back to the question I raised at the start of this contribution. This issue, in a very real and significant way, is inextricably bound up with the question of who is going to wield the power and influence in Ireland in the future.

The first issue that arises is the future of a small commercial company. I have already spelled out my view that a small radio station which has failed to attract an audience, despite the best efforts of a professional staff, has no right or entitlement to support from public money. But the real issue here, in the medium term, is not the future of Century Radio. Every Member of this House knows that the viability and profitability of commercial television is where the real interest of the Fianna Fáil Party lies.

Fianna Fáil, and it must be said Fine Gael too, have already made it abundantly clear that they want commercial television to have every possible advantage that this House can give them. That much was clear in the debate over the televising of the proceedings of this House, when an unholy alliance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies made it clear, right from the start, that there was no way RTE were going to get that franchise, no matter what proposals they made.

There was nothing to choose between the submission made by RTE in terms of facilities, expertise and cost and other submissions. In fact, if cost factors had been the only consideration, the advantage would have been on the side of RTE. It was clear from the report laid before the House in respect of the televising of the Dáil that the net cost of the proposal by Windmill Lane, the winner, was only cheaper than RTE's because Windmill Lane were including estimated marketing income of £280,000. RTE made their submission on the basis that they would be supplying a free feed to other Irish stations, and to European stations as part of their EBU obligations. If RTE had assigned any income to their proposal, the net cost of what they put forward would have been significantly cheaper.

There was, of course, another question mark about these costings, particularly about the Windmill submission. The estimated income in the Windmill proposal was comprised of an expected income from RTE in respect of the feed of £130,000, and expected income from TV3 of £150,000 for the same feed. The motion we passed on the issue made it clear that the feed would be supplied to RTE, and placed no obligation on RTE to pay more than a contribution to production costs. If RTE take the view that they were prepared to supply a free feed, they would surely be entitled to the view that they should not be expected to pay another contractor more than a nominal sum. That puts a big question mark over the £130,000 of purported income.

Secondly, there is no TV3 at present, and no certain knowledge of when TV3 will be established, or what the financial arrangements of that company will be. At present all we know for certain is that the front runner for the franchise appears to be a company in which Windmill Lane, the company to which we have now consigned the contract for televising the Dáil, will be a major share-holder. It is possible therefore that Windmill Lane will find themselves in the position, if their plans work out, that they are relying for a substantial part of their revenue in respect of this contract on income from a broadcasting company in which they are a major shareholder.

We can be absolutely certain that, at best, several years will elapse before any new television company will be on a sound financial footing. In the interim, there is the possibility at least that Windmill Lane, now that they have been awarded the contract to televise the Dáil, will find themselves confronted with a difficult conflict of interest. On the one hand, if they are to honour their contract, they must extract £130,000 in revenue from TV3. On the other, they must ensure the survival of TV3 through their difficult early years.

I think we can now be fairly certain that this Taoiseach and his Government fully intend to ensure that TV3 succeeds in their commercial objectives. A substantial proportion of the licence fee they are now proposing to divert will go to that purpose. In addition, if necessary, more money will be pumped into the Dáil broadcasting operation, to ensure that the share-holders of TV3, who are also to be the providers of Dáil broadcasting, will never be out of pocket as a result of that operation, and forced to rely on income from TV3. In short, I confidently predict that TV3 will never be asked to pay a penny towards the Dáil feed they receive, and that the broadcasting of the Dáil will end up as an operation totally financed by public money.

The proprietors of TV3, whoever they turn out to be in the end, will have one thing in common with the proprietors of Century Radio. They will be friends and associates of Fianna Fáil. The establishment of TV3 will have about it the same smell as is very evident in this House today. The undermining of RTE will continue, and the concentration of power and influence in a small number of hands will be accelerated as TV3 goes on the air. All of that is very clear to me.

There is another thing that is clear. The attack on RTE has had another angle to it. I refer particularly to the decision of the Government to force RTE to sell their Cablelink shares to Telecom. The purpose of fleecing RTE in this manner has a sinister side to it. RTE will lose several million pounds a year in current revenue, and many millions more in potential revenue, and they will be forced to return any capital windfall they secure to the Exchequer.

But in the process, they will be inadvertently assisting in the fattening up of Bord Telecom. There is no doubt in my mind that the essential purpose of this exercise is to prepare Telecom to be sold off, and that in due course it will become the property of Irish and foreign speculators, who will then own an asset into which the Irish people have poured hundreds of millions of pounds of their money in the last number of years.

The Minister for Industry and Commerce is, I believe, conscious of the hidden agenda behind the fattening up of Bord Telecom, and that is why he has entered his reservations about the sale of these shares. I hope the Minister contributes to this debate, and I call on him now to make his real reservations clear when he does speak and to explain to us his activities in Cabinet last week and what happened at his meetings with the Taoiseach in relation to this matter in the course of this week.

In overall terms, this entire issue has revealed a great deal about the attitude of Fianna Fáil in particular to the preservation of their political friendships and contacts, no matter what the cost to the public purse. When a party are prepared to go to the lengths that this party have gone to prop up some of their cronies, and to secure the future for others, there is only one word that can be applied and it has been applied already in the course of this debate. That word is corrupt. We have had revealed to us — not for the first time — the corrupt side of Fianna Fáil. I believe this has provided a salutary lesson for people inside and outside this House. The corruption that has been revealed has been compounded by the complacency of one of the Government parties and by the ineptness of one of the Opposition parties.

But we have, I think, learned a lesson. The lesson is that Fianna Fáil have forfeited the confidence of this House. They appear to have lost the confidence of their own backbenchers in the course of their contributions in the media during the past few days. The Taoiseach and his Minister for Communications have betrayed the public trust and have attempted — and are still attempting even with the changes made and announced by the Minister in the course of his address to the House this morning — to pervert their mandate to ensure the commercial survival and prosperity of their political friends. Such a Government do not deserve to survive for a moment longer.

In opposing this Bill at every stage we, the Labour Party, want to send a stronger message to the Government than just opposition to an unsavoury piece of legislation. We want to say to them that they were never given a mandate for political cronyism. They have betrayed the mandate they were given and have even betrayed their own honourable history in building up a strong indigenous public broadcasting sector. The unsavoury events of the last couple of weeks have ensured that Fianna Fáil no longer have the trust of the people. We will oppose this Bill on every Stage despite the Minister's attempts to get it back on the rails.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann, believing that the main provisions of the Broadcasting Bill, 1990, including the proposals to divert licence revenue to privately owned radio and television stations and to restrict RTE's right to earn advertising revenue will seriously undermine RTE's public service broadcasting role and represent an unacceptable misuse of public funds, declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill.".

Because of the contemptible way in which the Minister and the Government have treated the House in forcing it to deal with the Bill today rather than deferring it to enable the House consider whatever amendments the Minister is proposing to introduce, it might be said that most Deputies will address the Bill having only heard this morning the Minister's speech in which he indicated the changes he has negotiated behind closed doors with the Progressive Democrats and, according to himself, with others as well.

The publication of the Bill on Friday last should have removed any lingering doubt that the real motive of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Communications is to destroy RTE and public service broadcasting generally and to rescue their poitical supporters in privately owned radio stations from the results of their commercial mismanagement and misjudgment. What they were talking about in the original Bill, which the Minister is now proposing to amend, was the making of a gift of a large amount of public money to some of the wealthiest business people in the country. Not only was public money going to be used to subsidise unsuccessful commmercial radio stations but it was also being set aside to prop up TV3 which has not yet been set up.

The changes announced by the Minister do not alter the intent of the Bill to undermine and damage RTE. All that has been changed is the extent of what the Minister, Deputy Burke, and the Taoiseach now believe they can get away with, and this is only being done because of the unprecedented public opposition to their plans. If the Minister and the Government succeed in diverting a significant chunk of revenue away from the national broadcasting service, this will spell disaster for the future of quality broadcasting in this State. If RTE are also compelled to forfeit advertising income, as is proposed in the Bill, the Minister will be guilty of a treacherous death blow to RTE's ability to compete in the highly competitive international broadcasting market.

We have all witnessed the Minister's blind faith in the MMDS system, his assurances that his friends in private radio would stand on their own feet, his public insistence that the licence fee was not under threat, his public condemnation of too much speech on RTE radio, but in all these arrogant outbursts the Minister has been proved wrong. Let there be no doubt that if the capping of RTE's advertising revenue does not have the desired effect the Minister will come back into the House to try to divert RTE's licence money away from them. We need have no doubts about that at all. His continued rejection of the need for an independent report on the future of public service broadcasting proves that his one mission is to destroy the fabric of one of the most successful public services built up over several years against strong international competition.

This Bill does not make sense except as a cynical smash and grap raid in the pursuit of the only remaining core value of the Fianna Fáil Party and presumably of the Progressive Democrats — that they will look after their wealthy friends at all costs come what may. It has been universally condemned as damaging the fabric of public service broadcasting. Former chairpersons of the RTE Authority have been joined by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, leading figures in business and culture and the general television and radio audiences in condemning what is a blatant example of political cronyism.

By publishing the Bill the Minister has given a public display of what has been going on behind the scenes during the past few years. The Minister and the Government press secretary have been privately boasting for some time that they would take revenge on RTE for their role in exposing the sharp practices of Fianna Fáil, particularly during the GUBU period. It took some years to groom Fianna Fáil's friends in business to the position where they could hand over the loot. What the Minister did not bargain for is that his arrogant bullying would be rejected by the public who have rallied to the defence of our public broadcasting system and what the private sector friends of Fianna Fáil did not bargain for was that their own lack of professionalism would be shown up by the dynamic and profitable public sector company.

In 1985, the previous Government sent in Peat Marwick Mitchell, the foremost international consultants to the broadcasting industry, to sort out RTE, as they said then. Their report gave RTE a clean bill of health on all the major aspects of business efficiency. Although it was the Minister who ordered in the consultants it was RTE who were forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds for the report. Since then RTE, in preparation for the intensely competitive challenge from their traditional rivals, the BBC and UTV, and the new challenge from satellite broadcasting have set about increasing home production by over 40 per cent while at the same time introducing new technology and new work practices and reducing staff numbers.

These achievements were not easy for the workers in RTE. During the past few years there have been concerns that this massive increase in productivity would affect the quality of output. In spite of this, there was the satisfaction that audience share had increased and the company were making a modest profit, amounting to almost 5 per cent of turnover. In turn this profit was reinvested in more home production and in the state of the art production equipment and a boost given to the public service elements of the station's operations.

The symphony orchestra has been brought up to full international stength and Irish language services, such as "Cúrsaí" and "Iris", have been given the same resources as the total current affairs or sports departments. These programmes have been given prime time transmission slots. Radió na Gaeltachta, religious programmes and the coverage of a great variety of public events ensure that the daily lives of the audience and their cultural and other interests are adequately reflected.

The increased profitability of RTE in recent years was not achieved on the backs of the licence payers. In spite of the consultants' recommendations, the licence fee has not kept pace with inflation and has not been increased since 1986. Likewise, RTE have not had to resort to the taxpayer to fund their development. The workforce in RTE has not been paid any productivity increase with wages being tied to national agreements.

The proposals in this Bill will inevitably impact on new programme development. New weekly programmes such as the medical programme, "Check Up", the arts programme, "Arts Express", the books programme, "First Edition", the science and environmental programme, "Face of the Earth", and the business programme, "Marketplace" as well as many documentaries, all testify to RTE's use of the licence fee to develop new programmes to cater for all interest groups. In addition, the expansion of the regional network of studios to new locations, such as Athlone and Dundalk, underlines RTE's commitment to a comprehensive regional coverage but all this is threatened by the Bill before the House.

This process will inevitably lead to the undermining of the quality of public service broadcasting which has been developed over many years. This is not to suggest that RTE are perfect in any way or beyond criticism. Much remains to be done. The total lack of coverage of social affairs is reflected in the absence of a news correspondent dedicated to the coverage of social, educational or health issues. In contrast, the business, economic and agricultural sectors are all well catered for. If RTE are to continue to compete with foreign stations in the news area they must devote more resources to the coverage of international affairs.

Given that the independent consultants and even the Minister accept that RTE are run efficiently, how can he justify the withdrawal of funds from this public service broadcasting company?

The Minister talks about a monopoly and how monopolies must be broken up, how the experience of the EC indicates how that is done and — this is quite a turnaround — how we must have an increase in regulation rather than deregulation in order to achieve this. This is extraordinary. For the last few years we have been told how the economy must be deregulated and how employment in particular must be deregulated, but now when there are friends of Fianna Fáil to be protected we must have greater regulation to ensure the spoils are spread a bit more evenly and their friends get a share.

How can the Minister claim that RTE work as a monopoly? Has he not heard of UTV, BBC 1, BBC 2, Channel 4, Sky and Super? All these stations are in competition with RTE. RTE do not have a monopoly. Now that this new principle has been created, will the Minister cap the sales of Guinness in order to give Murphy's stout a better leg up in the market? It is a totally crazy principle, particularly in a market the size of the Irish market, that the Minister can talk about monopolies. RTE are not an organisation the size of the BBC or any of the other European broadcasting organisations. In fact, contrary to what the Minister is claiming, the other member states of the EC are avidly trying to protect their national broadcasting systems and not attempting to break them up and destroy them. They are seeking to ensure that the EC will guarantee and protect the output of their national broadcasting stations. No matter what way the Minister twists, the reality is that this Bill is intended to damage RTE out of spite and to assist the business friends of the Fianna Fáil Party.

What of the independent private broadcasters who were to have received a share of the licence revenue in the Minister's original Bill? Most of them have never asked for any such share or, indeed, expected it. Most of them are making profits from playing records 80 per cent of the time and knew full well if they applied for a licence they would have to cover the cost of a news and current affairs service.

The trouble at Century Radio is regrettable. I repeat what my party have said several times in the past few weeks. We have no wish to see Century Radio going off the air, but their problems relate to their failure to win an audience, no more, no less. No audience means no advertising which means no profits. It is as simple as that. If they need assistance to bail them out it must not be at the expense of RTE. Why should legislation not be introduced which would require all successful stations to pay a levy from their profits to the IRTC which could then be used to assist stations such as Century who might be experiencing temporary difficulties?

I draw the attention of the House to a statement made by no other than Deputy Haughey, current Taoiseach, who was the leader of Fianna Fáil in Opposition in 1985 when we were discussing the Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1985, on 27 March 1985, and I quote from the Official Report, column 710, volume 357:

We were also very clear in our minds that this situation would not involve the taxpayer. The private financial sector is the strongest, most privileged and prosperous sector in the entire economy. It earns large profits, has access to vast resources, has adequate reserves and has a very special legally protected position. If a mistake is made involving major losses, then those losses could and should be borne by that private financial sector and not by the taxpayer. It would be an absurdity, an unacceptable injustice and totally ridiculous if the general public, the great majority of whom have never benefited one iota from banking profits and many of whom have had very unhappy experiences at the hands of bankers, were asked to step in and take up an additional burden because of someone else's mistakes — mistakes made in this very specially privileged sector of our economy.

He goes on in that vein, talking about the banks on that occasion, but the principle surely remains the same. What has happened to Fianna Fáil that has changed that principle? Of course, we must assume that the only principle that remains valid for Fianna Fáil, the only core value, is their commitment to their financial friends.

In any event, any public money that goes to Century should be as a loan directly from or guaranteed by the Exchequer, repayable if and when the station starts to make a profit. Obviously, if it does not start to make a profit it must go out of business. It should be conditional on constraints being applied. The Government should be entitled to appoint a number of directors to the board of the company. Independent auditors should be appointed with the approval of the Government to produce independent accounts. All moneys owing to the public sector, including the £250,000 owed to RTE, should be paid in full. There must be full disclosure of all the beneficial owners of Century.

At this point I must ask the Minister for Communications or the Taoiseach to indicate and clarify whether a close relative of the Taoiseach is involved as a beneficial owner of Century. I think that matter is pertinent to the discussion that is taking place in this House. Respected financial journalists in this city are claiming there is such a relationship, and I think it is incumbent on the Taoiseach to state in this House whether that is so.

Furthermore, moneys advanced should be used to fulfil the obligation Century undertook in their submission to the IRTC regarding their programme schedule. Their present schedule is totally at variance with the one which resulted in that company being granted the licence. Clearly the IRTC were misled by Century.

In recent days the financial press have reported that one shareholder of Century, Mr. Jim Stafford, has asked for £1.25 million for his stake in the Century company, a stake which cost him £400,000. If such a deal takes place on the back of this House moving and adopting legislation which caps RTE's ability to gain revenue, then it is tantamount to naked corruption. It was claimed in theSunday Business Post last Sunday that the Century promoters misled their investors. How do we ensure that this House is not misled also?

What about the decent independent television producers? Are they to suffer too? If RTE lose millions of pounds in income, inevitably the first to suffer will be bought-in services; in other words, an independent commissioning of programmes from small independent producers on which RTE spend over £2 million will be hit almost immediately.

This Coalition and the previous Coalition have publicly dedicated themselves to the independent production sector. What was not declared was that this dedication was restricted only to Fianna Fáil's friends in Christchurch Place and Windmill Lane.

There are those who argue that RTE need no licence fee at all. They point to the UK as an example where the BBC have only the licence fee and ITV have only advertising. The important distinction here is that the population size is vastly different. There are more than 20 million licence payers in the UK compared to one million here. To put it in perspective, the BBC spend over £100 million sterling on their news service alone. RTE provide not just news, but two complete television channels and several national radio services for less than £100 million. As regards the funding of broadcasting in Europe, the UK is the exception and RTE are the norm. Nearly all small and medium size countries finance their national broadcasting by a combination of licence fee and advertising.

The Minister's decision to stick with the proposals in this Bill to cap RTE's advertising income is born out of the malice that I referred to earlier. The fact that RTE may at any time expose the wrangling of powerful vested interests is a good thing. It is essential in a democracy. Even a semblance of a threat that RTE's political masters can cripple them financially at the stroke of a pen is anti-democratic. How can a democracy survive when a Government Minister takes it upon himself to be the day-to-day paymaster of the nation's most influential news and current affairs reportage?

RTE have their advertising revenue because they have painstakingly built up their audience over the years. They have done so against the toughest competition in the world — the BBC and ITV. They suffer the disadvantage of having to serve a small population. I am sure that RTE recognise they will have to fight hard to maintain audiences against all competition.

Has the Minister no confidence in the ability of his friends in Windmill Lane to do likewise? They will get the advertising if they get the audience, the same as radio. If the Minister's friends are running scared, why do they not come up with some proposals other than dismantling one of the best broadcasting companies in Europe?

The proposal on advertising does not even make business sense. The advertisers are not fools. They are served by professional agencies, backed up by the TAM rating system. They follow the audience. As long as RTE or anyone else wins the audience, they deserve the fruits of their labour. In RTE's case, these fruits are reinvested for the public good.

If RTE's advertising is capped as proposed, it will ultimately go to the next best option, which is currently UTV, Channel 4, Sky and HTV. Revenue lost to RTE will leave this country and create wealth and jobs abroad.

What is the Minister's response to that view? He stated in his speech as follows:

This brings me back to the concern I expressed last week that some of this advertising revenue might leak out to external broadcasting services. However, it is my hope that TV3 will be up and running at an early stage and that this service, combined with other Irish media, will absorb the diverted revenues. In any event the risk of leakage is more acceptable generally than the diversion of licence fee funds to the private sector.

The Minister is telling us that come what may he will attack RTE and deprive them of income, whether by the device of diverting licence fees or depriving them of the ability to raise revenue through advertising. He is not too concerned that the effect of this will almost certainly mean that the moneys spent on advertising will be diverted to stations outside the State.

The national newspapers have backed this proposal in the misguided belief that a significant share of the television advertising revenue will fall their way. All leading spokespersons in the advertising industry reject this flawed supposition. Most international brands of consumer products conduct television campaigns in each national territory. When MMDS comes on stream, UTV will provide the only other option for these international advertisers. They invest millions in a 30-second commercial. They will not be directed to advertise where the Minister wishes. The newspaper industry in this country is generally vibrant, profitable and expanding all the time. They point to RTE's dual income from the licence fee and advertising. The newspapers too have a dual income — with a cover charge and advertising. RTE's cover charge, the licence fee, amounts to less than 20p per day, and is good value at that. The cover charge forThe Irish Times is 65p, 60p for the Irish Independent, and 50p for the Irish Press. The newspapers must realise that no country has managed to divert advertising from broadcasting to the print media in this way.

Similarly, the proposals to restrict RTE's capacity to promote their own programmes and activities is beyond belief. Are RTE to be penalised for promoting the symphony orchestra at a time when it often plays to a half empty, publicly funded, National Concert Hall. If the BBC and the Independent Newspaper Group can cross-promote their publications, why not RTE?

This brings me back to where I started. The Bill is motivated by malice and political cronyism. Even the provision to exclude the privately owned station from the rigours of the broadcasting complaints process is a blatant double standard.

The Minister got his answer on the 2FM issue. Last weekend 2FM were about their normal professional broadcasting business. It was not just non-stop record playing. The Beat on the Street gave open air entertainment in Ennis; the 2FM roadcaster outside broadcast was in Tralee. There was a Lark in the Park in Cork and the station co-promoted the Billy Joel concert in the RDS. This week 2FM is carrying special bulletins on the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations. This is public service broadcasting — reinvesting profits in serving the customer, building the audience and reaping the rewards.

How can RTE survive this Bill? How can they plan for the future if they cannot plan their income? How can they plan their output of programmes, their investment strategy, their marketing strategy when their capacity to win advertising within the limits in existing legislation is being changed?

The Minister, in a recent television interview, told RTE to stop worrying about domestic competition and look at the fierce competition from overseas. Given the developments in Europe, it may become necessary for RTE to acquire a strategic stake in another broadcasting company — say UTV — and I understand that this has already been considered by the RTE Authority. How can they think strategically or plan for the future, when this Bill gives the Minister the power to confiscate advertising revenue?

The Bill fundamentally alters the broadcasting landscape, confiscates the licence fee and advertising income, forbids marketing and innovative commercial ventures and dictates the broadcasting schedule of 2FM, and eventually Network 2. Its aim, in other words, is to destroy RTE.

If the Minister intends to do to Network 2 what he tried out on 2FM, he should inform the House. Does he intend to instruct RTE to carry the proposed Irish language channel on Network 2? In this Bill, he has given the only available transmission system to TV3. Will the third national television channel go out to tender again, given that the rules of the game have been so fundamentally altered? Or will the Minister protect his friends, now that they are fixed up?

Any Minister, holding any portfolio, should be able to boast at the end of his term of office that he served the public interest well and developed the well being of those institutiions for which he had responsibility. This Minister will be able to boast only that he served the financial interests of his friends well, and that he tried to destroy the fabric of a fine broadcasting organisation.

The House should reject this Bill and in no way give any succour to the Minister. He should resign.

I have listened for almost two hours to a tirade of venomous abuse from the Opposition benches. I will resist the temptation to spend all my time replying to the various assertions but I will reply to the most blatant.

In the welter of publicity surrounding these proposals the basic underlying philosophy has been lost sight of. All types of arguments, comments, suggestions, queries and questions have been raised by a wide variety of people across the social and political spectrum. There is one argument which nobody dared make. Not even the most blatantly biased broadcaster in RTE has sought to argue that the present situation where RTE have a monopoly on news and current affairs should or could be allowed continue.

People have damned the Minister with faint praise. They have suggested that his proposals get away from this situation, that it is right to break the monopoly. Even though they have said the monopoly should not exist they have cast scorn on his proposals to break it. This must force one to the conclusion that their real intention is to allow the monopoly to continue. Even though they state the monopoly should be broken many of these people have not advanced any alternative suggestions as to how the Minister should proceed. Other commentators both inside and outside this House have put forward suggestions which range from the impractical to the positively asinine. However, all this is being done under the umbrella argument that it is wrong for one broadcasting company to have a monopoly on news and current affairs and this should be changed. We all know — I think this is accepted by all sides of the House — that the argument in favour of the present situation and letting one company have a monopoly on broadcasting news and current affairs is unsustainable and does not stand up.

I have a good relationship with RTE. I am not anti-RTE and I do not believe the Minister or the Fianna Fáil Party are either. On many occasions in the past — I am sure there will be similar occasions in the future — when the general public showed serious signs of forgetting about me RTE were always happy to come to my rescue and save me from the oblivion to which I would otherwise have been consigned. As I have said, I do not think the Minister has anything personal against RTE. This legislation does not propose to do down, emascualte or interfere in any way with RTE. Neither does the legislation propose to prop up any individual independent station, whether national or local. This legislation is designed to bring to an end the undesirable situation whereby one broadcasting corporation have a monopoly in the presentation of news and current affairs.

One can argue about monopolies in the economic field but a monopoly in the broadcasting field so far as news and current affairs are concerned is unhealthy, undemocratic and wrong. This is why nobody has sought to argue that RTE's monopoly in this area should be allowed continue.

What other countries allow one broadcasting station to have a monopoly on news and current affairs? This is allowed to happen only in countries whose economies are so undeveloped that they do not have a coherent national broadcasting service established yet or in totalitarian dictatorships of the Left or Right. The broadcasting of news and current affairs was done by one organisation in Ceausescu's Romania and by one organisation in Pinochet's Chile. The people of this country, having developed economically, are entitled, at the beginning of the nineties, to have an alternative news and current affairs broadcasting service available to them. This is no more or no less than what the sophisticated Irish electorate of the nineties deserve.

As I have said, I have a good relationship with RTE. Like every other Deputy in this House I need RTE — they have been good to me — but my answer to the question of whether I am prepared, as a Deputy, to countenance a situation where we will have a national broadcasting setup which one normally finds only in countries governed by totalitarian tyrants or tin pot dictators, is an emphatic, ringing and resounding no. The Minister is right to try to change that situation. This has nothing to do with RTE, Century Radio or anyone else.

There is a perception outside this House that the Fianna Fáil Party are in some way anti-RTE. There is also a perception in some sections of the Fianna Fáil Party — I want to be frank and honest about this — that RTE have not been entirely fair to Fianna Fáil. I reject that notion. I do not believe that and I do not think the Minister believes it either. I am sure other political parties have complaints about RTE's coverage of matters from time to time — I have heard them voicing those complaints——

Not all parties, Deputy.

We have to concentrate our minds on the fact that this legislation has nothing to do with RTE as such; its simple, fundamental and logical objective is to ensure that the alternative source of news and current affairs broadcasting set up by the Government is allowed continue.

Deputy Mitchell, Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Spring and others referred to the advertising market. Markets can operate smoothly only if the objective conditons are fair. The objective market conditions in the context we are talking about are not fair, first because RTE have enjoyed a monopoly for 50 years which puts them in a very powerful position to take on newly established competitors, secondly because RTE enjoy revenue from licence fees to the tune of almost £50 million — this in itself distorts the market as it means RTE can sell advertising at below the market rate — and thirdly because RTE have rightly used their dominant position to establish a second radio station which ensures their dominance and allows them to dominate a particular identifiable market. I am not querying this in any way; the strong survive and the weak go to the wall.

All these points demonstrate that the playing pitch is not level. In order to level the playing pitch and help those outlets which are going to provide us with this desired alternative of news and current affairs broadcasting — if we believe what they say this is desired by all sides of the House — the Minister outlined certain proposals last week. These proposals were two-fold. He sought, first, to divert a share of the RTE licence fee to the independents and, secondly, to restrict the advertising revenue of RTE which would hopefully benefit the independents.

It was not my belief — I do not think, on reflection, that it was the Minister's belief either — that both courses were necessary. I regarded them from their inception as alternative courses and I did not think both were necessary. Having listened to suggestions, comments and arguments and studied the situation in the meantime, the Minister has opted for the second rather than the first alternative.

I do not have any great hangups about which alternative the Minister should have opted for. As I have said I regarded them as alternatives and not conjunctive proposals. I want to put it on the record of the House that despite the misconception which has been created among the public and the campaign of misinformation which has been spread, there is no such thing as an RTE licence fee; the licence fee attaches to the actual television set and is a form of poll or apparatus tax which the person who is in possession of an apparatus, as defined by the Act, has to pay. When it is paid it is allocated by the Minister for Communications, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to RTE. There is a widespread misconception about this licence fee and I have no doubt this arises largely from the distorted broadcasts, comments and criticisms made during the past week by broadcasters in the national broadcasting station. For example, on "The Gay Byrne Show" on 30 May 1990 the great man himself, Gay Byrne, referred to the proposal to divert licence fees. He referred to it as RTE licence money paid to RTE by RTE licence holders and intended to go to RTE which was being simply dipped into and being handed over to commercial radio. That statement was made by a broadcaster who has a vast national following, and for very good reason; I listen to him myself and he is a very compelling, talented broadcaster. We must remember, however, that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country hanging on Gay Byrne's every word. They believe that whatever emanates from Gay Byrne is holy writ and for Gay Byrne to make a statement like that which is totally at variance with the facts means that the public are getting a very distorted view of the realities of the situation.

Deputy De Rossa and others have argued that diverting the licence fee would involve handing over public money to the private sector, but do we not hand over money to the private sector all the time? Where have these people been since the foundation of the State? Have they never heard of industrial grants, tax concessions, etc.? We are handing money over all the time and nobody has argued that it should not be handed over by way of industrial grants and tax concessions in certain areas of the economy that we want to develop. The reason these industrial grants and tax concessions exist is to create employment and prosperity. Everybody agrees that employment and prosperity are good things and should be created.

The proposal to try to sustain those organs which are to give us an alternative source of news and current affairs broadcasting goes to the very roots of democracy itself because it is my opinion, and that of many more experienced commentators in this field, that an alternative source of news and current affairs is one of the fundamental underpinnings of a democracy. We often hear the argument in the economic sphere when talking about grants, tax concessions and so on, that we must create employment and wealth, as otherwise the very foundations of our democracy are threatened. This goes directly to the foundations of our democracy. People have qualms about the State handing over public money in the broadcasting sphere to private operators, but if those private operators happen to make a profit and become a commercial success those same people would have no qualms about the State taking their money by way of taxation. We need to get our minds straight on this. In the last five years RTE have been handed £213 million by the licence-holders of Ireland. This handout has allowed them to sell advertising space below cost, distort the free market and engage in practices which make it well nigh impossible for fledgling commercial stations to survive.

Let us just look at the figures for the last year so that this becomes a bit clearer. RTE received £45 million by way of licence fees last year. They say they made a profit of £6 million. What about the other £39 million? Are we to take it that there was an ordinary trading loss of £39 million? The proponents of RTE say that is not the case, that they have an obligation to be involved in public service broadcasting. The cost of RTE's public service broadcasting is not impossible to estimate and the best estimate we have suggests that it is about £8 million. Let it be £8 million or even £10 million. Are we then talking about an ordinary trading loss of £30 million? If we are — and if somebody can explain the figures to me better I am prepared to withdraw my view on that — how in the name of goodness do we expect newly established commercial enterprises to survive in that sort of market, particularly in view of all the advantages that RTE enjoy already?

Some of the arguments advanced here today seem to overlook these fundamental facts, and that is what worries me about them. In so far as the alternative proposal is concerned, namely, the proposal to cap the advertising revenue available to RTE, that is the road the Minister has gone. I wish him the best of luck. I hope the new commercial enterprises survive because this country needs and has the right to an alternative source of news and current affairs.

As regards the second proposal advanced by the Minister which will now be contained in the Bill as amended of course, if licence money is now diverted to the commercial sector something will have to be done to enable these new commercial stations to compete with RTE on level ground. A certain amount of balance must be introduced. Maybe all those geniuses outside and inside this House who are pouring scorn on the Minister and criticising him can tell me something different, but as far as I am concerned the only way I can see of resolving the situation and bringing about some balance to ensure the survival of the new commercial sector is to attempt to divert some of the advertising revenue which is currently available to RTE towards the commercial sector. Deputy Mitchell and others made the point that it is an operation that will have to be carefully monitored, and I agree with them. Admittedly foreign stations can penetrate the advertising pool that is available here. Admittedly there is a danger of leakage of advertising revenue out of the country. We admit all those things and agree that the situation will have to be monitored carefully, and if there is a substantial loss or leakage of advertising revenue out of the country I am sure the Minister, given his past record — a record of achievement — will make appropriate proposals to stop that continuing.

I listened carefully to Deputies Mitchell, Spring and De Rossa, and I wonder if they have any better way to do it. I listened to a lot of abuse and accusations which those Deputies would not be in a position to make outside this House given the libel laws of this country. One thing I did not hear, however, is a positive suggestion about how we can have an alternative source of news and current affairs broadcasting here.

RTE had a monopoly for 50 years. Therefore they have a powerful position established in the market-place. In addition to that now they will have 100 per cent of the licence fees which the public pay. Unless something is done on the other side, those factors must allow RTE to continue the practices which have distorted competition in the past. When the Minister announced a few months ago that he would introduce quantitative restrictions on RTE advertising, the national newspapers went into paroxysms of delight. Deputy Burke, Minister for Communications, was a hero. They could not say good enough things about him. When he failed to impose those expected restrictions straight away, however, and merely produced legislation which gave him the power to do so, the response of the newspapers suddenly became overwhelmingly negative.

I cannot see the logic in that. I am driven to the conclusion that the attitude of some of those in the print media is dictated by greed rather than logic. The organisation that represents most national newspaper publishers in this country have campaigned — they have written to me and, I am sure, to every other Deputy in this House, and have used the fact that they are connected with the media to campaign in the media — to have controls and restrictions placed on RTE sponsorship in order, in their own words — I do not think the Minister was the originator of this phrase — to level the playing pitch; I heard that phrase long before I heard the Minister for Communications, Deputy Burke, uttering it. Now that an attempt is being made to level the playing pitch we have nothing but negative tirades of venomous abuse. Frankly, the logic of it escapes me. I am prepared to support the Minister in the alternative he has gone for. I certainly hope it will work because it is essential for democracy here that it does and that it preserves a viable commercial sector which will be able to comply with the Government's requirements on news and current affairs broadcasting. We will have to watch to ensure that whatever loss of revenue RTE suffer will be balanced by a corresponding gain on the other side.

We have a successfullocal radio station operating in my constituency and I know some of the principals involved. I might add that they are not Fianna Fáil hacks; they are well known people in Limerick and I am aware, from conversations I have had with them, that far from competing for the advertising pool the success of the station has increased the pool and generated more advertising.

If we establish the commercial broadcasting sector on a sound footing and they move into profit in the next few years one of the beneficial offshots will be an increase in the advertising pool here. One of the arguments against the Minister's proposals to cap the advertising revenue of RTE is that such a move would distort the market. People throw that argument out like a shibboleth and expect us all to recoil in horror. What do they mean by saying that it distorts the market? Are they not aware that the amount of time RTE can devote to advertising is restricted? Are they saying that because of that the market is distorted? Are they saying that the Minister's proposals will further distort the market? I do not understand their argument but people throw it out and expect us to lie down and die. Those who say that the Minister's proposals will distort the market should explain what they mean and in order to do that they will have to get their own thinking clearer.

It is obvious that the Minister's intention is to close loopholes he has found. If a national radio or television station is told that they can only devote a certain amount of time to advertising, they can find loopholes by introducing promotional activites. For example, if RTE run a quiz show with a motor vehicle as the prize they can concentrate on the qualities of that vehicle on several occasions during the show. In effect, that amounts to advertising. I am sure the station could come to an arrangement with a company about that. We must ensure that when the Government say that the amount of time devoted to advertising must be limited, that is the case. We must see to it that the term "advertising" is not taken to mean everything and that products are not promoted in a different way.

Many suggestions have been put forward as to what the Minister should do, but most of the proposals are impracticable. Churchill on one occasion remarked that democracy was the worst system in the world until one tried the others, and the same principle could be applied to the Bill before us. The proposals are the worst in the world until one looks at the alternatives put forward. One alternative was to reduce the news and current affairs obligation of the independent commercial sector, but if we carry that to its logical conclusion we will eliminate the reason for having a certain minimum amount of time devoted to news and current affairs. If we say that the commercial sector need only devote 4 per cent of its time to news and current affairs we will be back to the monopoly position. I understood that in the Bill we were endeavouring to get rid of the monopoly and the commentators who make such suggestions should realise that they are not sustainable.

Another suggestion that has been put forward is that we should sell RTE 2 to the private sector. The Minister does not operate in a vacuum and he and the rest of us are aware of the views of the trade union movement in that. We are all aware of the importance for the economy of concluding negotiations on a national wage agreement and we recognise the right of the trade union movement to exercise their muscle in this respect. They are entitled to express their views on this issue and I hope they recognise our response to those views when they are negotiating on this issue in the next national pay agreement.

Another suggestion was that the licence fee should be abolished and that was followed by the suggestion that if we abolished the licence fee the Government should fund the public service broadcasting element of RTE. Why have we the licence fee in the first place? There is a licence fee because our population is insufficient to sustain RTE and that has been the case since its inception. If the population in the last 50 years was insufficient to sustain RTE I wonder how it could be sufficient now to sustain that station, another national broadcasting outlet and many local boadcasting stations. That was a ludicrous suggestion.

The Minister has been criticised by Opposition spokespersons and I should like to deal with some of their comments. Deputy Mitchell, replying to the criticism in last Sunday's issue of theSunday Independent said that he did not implement the recommendations of the consultants on licence fee indexation, and gave as his case that RTE did not agree with such a proposal. I was under the impression that Deputy Mitchell appointed a firm of consultants to tell him what should be done with the station. There is little point appointing a firm of consultants to go into an organisation and tell one what should be done about it if one accepts the views of that organisation rather than those of the consultants. Deputy Mitchell, referring to the proposed review body, said the commission could be seen as an excuse for inaction. I wish he, or some Member, would explain to me how a commission could be considered an excuse for inaction and a review body considered as an excuse for action. That argument does not hold up.

Deputy Mitchell told us that as a result of the Minister's proposals the price of RTE advertising will increase but he overlooked the Minister's statement that this process would be prevented in a number of ways. The total revenue that RTE can raise from advertising is limited to the amount of licence fee they collected in the preceding financial year. There is a perception that RTE have been indulging in the practice of below-cost advertising. If the Minister's proposals force RTE to discontinue that practice they will be doing good. Deputy Mitchell referred to competition from abroad and said that because the Minister's proposals would encourage RTE to raise their advertising costs they would be vulnerable to competition from abroad. He should know that if RTE raise their advertising fees today and, as a result, lose advertising revenue to UTV and other channels, they will react very quickly and bring down their charges.

Deputy Mitchell contended that the new RTE Authority consists of a majority of Fianna Fáil members. That is not true and the Deputy's comments about the new Authority were a gross insult and a slur on people like John Sorahan, the new chairman, and Gay Byrne. I disagree with what Gay Byrne said a short time ago but Deputy Mitchell's comments about the new Authority amount to an insult to him and others. Deputy Spring spoke in like manner. He referred to the IRTC as being loaded to the gills with Fianna Fáil activists. That is an insult to and a libel of the members of the IRTC. The Deputy, on Committee Stage, should in all fairness and honesty withdraw that statement. I invite him to do so. Deputy Spring said the Minister's proposals indicated that he wants to hive off 2FM and make 2FM unviable. That is an asinine and ludicrous suggestion. The Minister told us that he wants 2FM to submit a separate set of accounts so that we can all judge whether, and to what extent, 2FM can stand on their own two feet. The public, who are paying the licence fee, are entitled to know.

There have been conflicting statements from directors general, financial controllers and other senior people within RTE regarding the viability of 2FM. One director general said they made £250,000 last year but someone else said that they needed £750,000 to keep going. What is the reality? We are entitled to know. The Minister's purpose is to get that information for the public, no more, no less.

If Deputy Spring studies the Minister's speech he will see that when he introduced the proposal he specifically stated that its net effect would be that there would be separate accounts with a full apportionment of central service costs published by RTE in respect of the service. That is quite clear.

Deputy Spring also referred to the change introduced by the Minister in relation to the direct transmission facilities for TV3. The Minister's proposals in this regard are not intended to give TV3 a sort of kick start or a superior advantage over RTE. He is simply introducing a proposal which will try to ensure that the proposed new independent television station — TV3 — will not be strangled at birth.

What about MMDS?

We also heard a tirade of abuse from Deputy De Rossa. Of course he engages in a certain amount of ritualistic bleating when it suits him and his remarks today are typical of the bleating from his party when any public sector sacred cow is questioned or investigated. Deputy De Rossa clearly stated that the Minister's avowed aim was to destroy RTE and that public money was being given to the wealthiest people in the country. It may have escaped his attention that we have abandoned the first part of the proposals so, therefore, money is not being given to anyone.

In so far as the original proposal — which is now being abandoned — was concerned, we were not giving money to any wealthy people. There was a proposal to divert money to a commercial radio company in which the individuals he had in mind were shareholders but the proposal was to divert money to an ailing company to ensure that they would continue to be commercially viable. It was also to ensure that an alternative source of news and current affairs broadcasting would be available. Indeed, Deputy De Rossa subscribed to that aim.

It was laughable to hear Deputy De Rossa saying that RTE do not have a monopoly of news and current affairs broadcasting because we can also watch UTV, BBC, Channel 4 and Super. I do not know when — if ever — Irish politics were discussed on UTV, BBC1, BBC2, Channel 4 or Super. I live in multichannel land, I do not get much time to watch television but I will stick to the television for the next 48 hours——

The Deputy must have missed "Charlie's Island".

I will watch news and current affairs programmes on all those stations in the hope that I will learn something about domestic Irish politics. Of course RTE have a monopoly in news and current affairs broadcasting and Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Higgins and others — for their own personal political interests — want that to continue although they have to say that they do not.

Now the Deputy is talking——

We cannot have any strange signals coming in while Deputy O'Dea is speaking.

The truth often hurts. Deputy O'Dea said that I had a personal interest in helping RTE.

Deputy Higgins will get ample opportunity to speak and if he is not happy to listen to Deputy O'Dea he has an alternative. He cannot continue to interrupt. If we want civilised debate we must have it. Deputy O'Dea, without interruption.

I apologise to Deputy Higgins for suggesting that he had a personal interest in this matter. I meant to say that he had a political interest in seeing that the monopoly will continue. They say that they do not want it to continue but, to ensure that it does, they pour odium and contempt on any logical proposal to change it. They have not put forward any practical, workable proposals in its place.

Deputy De Rossa also spoke about regulation and I should love to debate it with him. He suggested that the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats were arguing that the economy should be totally deregulated except, of course, in the broadcasting sector which had to be regulated to — in his words — help our friends. The pettiness of that argument demonstrates the lack of logic in Deputy De Rossa's remarks. There is a vast amount of regulation in the economy, most of which was put there by Fianna Fáil. It can be argued whether more or less regulation is needed at a certain time and in particular circumstances in any sector of the economy — that is what this debate is about — but the vast majority of regulation and controls were introduced by Fianna Fáil when other parties in Government did not have the will or the guts to do it.

Not every single aspect of every proposal in this Bill has my unqualified approval and I am sure the same applies to the Minister. It would be magical if it did because, although Ministers introduce legislation in the House, they would often prefer a better way of achieving their objectives. At times they would like to find better words and language to encapsulate what they really intend to do. The legislation is not perfect — nobody in the House is pretending that it is — but until such time as the Opposition say (a) that they want RTE's monopoly to continue or (b) that they do not want it to continue and have practical improvements to the proposals, I must regard them as being hypocritical in this regard. I commend the Bill to the House.

I listened to Deputy O'Dea with interest over the last half an hour or so and I compliment him on his defence of the indefensible. He has performed so well that my money is on him to become the next Minister for Communications.

It is obvious from what we heard in the House this morning — and from the publicity surrounding the meetings of the Taoiseach and the Progressive Democrats' Cabinet members — that the Government have been forced to change their mind and to make a U-turn on the original proposals because of the intensity of public opposition to the totally undemocratic intentions of the Minister. Conor Cruise O'Brien said in theIrish Independent on 2 June that there is a brutal, totalitarian style to the whole thing.

Rarely in the history of our State has there been such unified opposition to a proposal made by a Government. It is indeed rare for all Opposition parties to be united against this proposal and to be joined by the ICTU, SIPTU, the National Youth Council of Ireland, the National Union of Journalists and many other organisations.

The Minister's proposal to request the new RTE Authority to develop plans for an alternative use of 2FM is just another indication of the Government's total disregard for the wishes of young people. 2FM is by far the most popular radio station with young people countrywide. Not alone does it provide young people with a wide choice of music but also provides them with information and raises issues relevant to them for discussion, such as poverty, drugs, AIDS, unemployment and homelessness. 2FM have spearheaded campaigns on many burning issues of the day.

I would dispute the Minister's following remark made in the course of his introductory speech this morning:

As I said, 2FM is a highly popular service. It is also a purely commercial service with no particular "public service" substance to it — even to the modest extent, as Deputy McGinley pointed out last week, that you will seldom if ever hear even a few words of the Irish language on it, not to talk about meeting the kind of news and informational obligations that the independent sector must meet.

They provide an important, valuable service for our young people. I am glad there are some young people in the public gallery to hear what I have to say. No other station relates more to our young people or represents their aspirations to the same extent. One of the few opportunities afforded Irish bands in promoting their music is on the 2FM station which has played a major role in helping many young Irish musicians become established nationally and internationally.

RTE have already done a very good job in areas the Minister claims are not adequately catered for at present, such as education, the Irish language, rural and farming programmes, business and trade affairs, social welfare, social affairs advice and information as well as a whole range of special interest-special music subjects. I am convinced that RTE 1 do a very good job in all of those areas and cater adequately for them. There is no need for 2FM to become involved in those areas which would merely lead to a duplication of existing services. I contend there is an excellent balance maintained between 2FM and Radio 1 in the range and choice of their programmes. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to change the arrangements obtaining. One can only presume that the Government had ulterior motives in wishing to change both the funding and format of existing public service broadcasting.

I welcome the Minister's decision to drop sections 2 and 3 of the Bill dealing with the payment of a grant-related licence fee revenue to the commission, allowing them to disburse such by way of grant to the independent radio stations. I am glad the Minister saw the light even if that came about through public pressure.

The constraints imposed under section 4 on RTE's role in the advertising market will have devastating repercussions for our national broadcasting agency, resulting in a substantial loss of revenue for RTE. We must remember that RTE's finances are at present about to take a nose-dive. On my information it has been estimated that their advertising revenue will be £750,000 below the figure projected for the first six months of this year. It is anticipated that there will be a drop in profits from £5.9 million to approximately £2.8 million for 1990. The constraints to be imposed on advertising time by the provisions of this Bill will put tremendous pressure on RTE's finances. The Minister has said that approximately £6 million of advertising revenue will be diverted to the media market this year while, in a full year, it should lead to a diversion of approximately £12 million.

It would appear that, because of the projected fall in revenue, the proposals for an Irish language channel will be put in jeopardy. The Special Committee on the Irish Language spent all of yesterday discussing the establishment of an Irish language channel. Because of the loss that will be incurred by the implementation of this provision I predict we will not have an Irish language channel in the future. It would cost approximately £10 million to get such a channel off the ground, its operating costs alone estimated to be between £6 million and £8 million. Those resources simply will not be available unless the Government have other plans afoot, such as funding the establishment of such a channel independently. It would appear to be a non-starter despite the commitments given by many Government Ministers. For example, I was watching "Cúrsaí" two nights ago when the Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht gave a similar commitment. If the finances are not made available I cannot see how such an Irish language channel can be established.

Income derived from advertising last year amounted to £55 million, of which £15 million derived from radio advertising. The Association of Advertisers in Ireland have warned already that any curtailment in advertising will not only hit RTE for the direct amount involved but will also lead to an increase in advertising costs and a possible reduction in its volume. The independent stations compete with RTE already with regard to advertising. A recent IRTC survey showed that some stations had a listenership of up to 60 per cent within their franchise areas. Therefore, it is obvious that advertisers will have greater recourse to these stations in the future if they give more value for money. RTE themselves have estimated that competition from the new radio stations and TV channel could cost them £10 million by 1991. I contend that is a very conservative estimate because, as the commercial stations become more established, they will attract more advertising revenue.

Bearing in mind the provisions of section 4 of this Bill it appears inevitable that there will be further cutbacks in RTE despite the fact that they have cut their workforce by 10 per cent over the past five years. The measures proposed in this Bill — slightly amended today — will result in further job losses in RTE and loss of the production of home based programmes which will occur sooner rather than later. One positive aspect of the new proposals will be to encourage RTE to seek alternative sources of revenue, such as the sale of programmes abroad and developing a new data broadcasting service. No doubt the new RTE Authority will examine alternative sources of revenue.

It would be my hope that the Minister would desist from placing further obstacles — by way of retribution on RTE — because of their desire to present current affairs programmes in a fair and balanced fashion and to highlight deficiencies in our society. More than any other broadcasting agency over the years RTE have been a watchdog over all public affairs. People relate more to RTE than to this House. By their thorough, in-depth research and accurate reporting they have exposed many evils and shady dealings in our society. Through their home-based programmes, skilfully produced, they have promoted respect for our environment, developed a new-found interest in and respect for our culture and in general, have generated a greater sense of Irishness among our people. The Minister should encourage RTE to develop further rather than placing additional impediments or obstacles in their way.

I would appeal to the Minister to drop this proposal altogether; I mean that sincerely. I listened to my colleagues on all sides of the House make the same request. This Bill is meaningless, will merely damage something that has proved to be successful and will serve no great purpose. Rather I can foresee it interfering enormously in the future viability of RTE. To use common language, I perceive it as a "screwing" job on RTE, whether or not that is intentional. In all fairness, I doubt if it is intentional but nonetheless that will be its effect.

The question mark placed over the whole future of 2FM has done a lot of damage to young people's attitudes to politics and politicians. It has reduced young people's faith in our political system. It will do nothing to enhance the impression that young people have of this Government and indeed of all politicians.

Again I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his proposals. He has been castigated by all sections of the community and he should now reconsider all the implications of the Bill for the future viability of RTE. The Minister has already given in to some pressure by eliminating the licensing grant to private stations and at this stage he should consider the calls from all sections both inside and outside this House to scrap this Bill once and for all.

Debate adjourned.