Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) (Amendment) Bill 2003 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

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

This debate provides an opportunity for the House to consider the additional measures set out in the Bill which are designed to ensure the continued television coverage of events of major importance to the people of Ireland. Deputies will have the opportunity to express their views on these issues and I am very interested in hearing those views.

Irish television viewers have traditionally enjoyed access to major events, both sporting and otherwise, on free television services. In the past, given the demands on the radio frequency spectrum for broadcasting purposes, the number of broadcasters has been necessarily restricted. In the past ten years, however, the emergence of digital broadcasting services, operated on an almost entirely commercial basis, has changed the broadcasting map considerably. We have seen the emergence of dedicated sports channels which often acquire exclusive broadcasting rights to major sports events and this exclusivity has proved to be a key driver in the uptake of their services. It is undeniable that these channels have provided increased choice to interested fans who can afford to pay the price for such services. The potential of digital broadcasting to vastly increase the capacity for the provision of broadcasting channels has caused revolutionary change. Commercial services have discovered the importance of sport to their schedules. Indeed, the market for any kind of programming with popular appeal is becoming more and more intense leading, in turn, to increased costs in acquiring broadcasting rights. There is clear evidence of coverage of sports events migrating to pay television services on an exclusive basis.

EU Directive 89/552/EEC, as amended – the Television Without Frontiers Directive – recognised that member states should have the right to take measures to ensure that events that are regarded by that member state as "events of major importance to society" should continue to be available on free television services. The directive rules that it is open to each individual member state to decide whether it wishes to designate events as events of major importance to society. A cornerstone of the directive is that it requires each member state to take measures to protect the interests of other member states which have decided to designate events.

The Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 incorporated into Irish law the provisions of Article 3a of the Television Without Frontiers Directive. The Act provides that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, may designate certain events as events of major importance to society for which the right of a qualifying broadcaster to provide coverage on free television services should be provided in the public interest.

Before making such an order, the 1999 Act requires the Minister to first consult with event organisers, broadcasters within the State and members of the public. The Act sets out the procedure which the Minister is obliged to follow in relation to the designation of events. Specifically, the Minister is required to consult with the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism; consult with event organisers and broadcasters; publish a proposed list of events; invite comments on the proposed list from members of the public; and lay a draft of the order designating events before both Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. The Minister is also required to have regard to the extent to which the event has a special general reson ance and a generally recognised distinct cultural importance for the people of Ireland.

Following the enactment of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999, a process of consultation was initiated in December 1999 when sports event organisers and broadcasters were circulated with a copy of the 1999 Act and asked for comments in relation to the designation of events. Arising from that process it became clear that the designation of sports events was a complex matter and that the main sporting organisations were opposed to their events being designated.

Shortly after my appointment as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Football Association of Ireland announced that it had sold the live exclusive rights to broadcast Republic of Ireland home European Championship and World Cup qualifying matches to the British Sky Broadcasting Group. I immediately ordered that the consultation process should be recommenced. In July last I received Government approval to publish a draft list of events that I proposed to designate as events of major importance, which should, in the public interest, continue to be available on free television services.

Immediately following the Government decision I met with representatives of the FAI, the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Gaelic Athletic Association to inform them of the decision to proceed with the designation process. My officials held further meetings with these organisations and also held meetings with representatives of the International Rugby Board and the Association of Irish Racecourses.

A notice with details of the proposed list and inviting written comments from members of the public was published in four national newspapers on 19 July 2002. Members of the public had until 16 August to submit comments. At the same time my Department wrote to sports events organisers and broadcasters to formally seek their views on the proposed list. In order to further enhance the consultation process, an on-line forum was established on my Department's website and I hosted and addressed a public meeting which was held in Dublin Castle on 26 August 2002. That meeting was also addressed by RTE and the Irish Sports Council. The IRFU, the FAI and the GAA were invited to make presentations at the meeting but they declined the invitation to attend. I had further meetings with the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and the Irish Sports Council on 28 August 2002. Having concluded the consultation process, I then proceeded to finalise the list.

As required, I also sought the opinion of the EU Contact Committee established under Article 3a of the Television Without Frontiers Directive. That committee considered the measures proposed to be taken by Ireland at its meeting on 31 January and gave the opinion that it had no objection to the measures proposed.

A draft of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003, was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on 28 February 2003. A resolution approving the draft order was passed by this House on 6 March and in Seanad Éireann on 12 March 2003. I signed the order designating events under the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 on 13 March 2003. A copy of the order is available in the Oireachtas Library.

In accordance with Article 3a of the Television Without Frontiers Directive, the designation order will only have legal force following the publication in theOfficial Journal of the European Communities of a notice of the measures which Ireland has taken. The Commission has indicated that a notice will be published shortly.

It was clear to me from the consultation process that there was a strong case for amending the 1999 Act. Throughout the designation process I have tried to adhere to the principle of being proportionate. While acting to protect the public interest, I also had to take account of the interests of event organisers and of broadcasters. I believe that the list of events to be designated reflects a balanced and proportionate approach.

The amending legislation also follows this principle and provides for an arbitration process for event organisers and qualifying broadcasters in relation to the terms for broadcasting rights to a designated event; a fast-track mechanism through the High Court to fix terms for broadcasting rights where the date of an event is close at hand; and a mechanism to deal with circumstances where a qualifying broadcaster has not acquired broadcasting rights to a designated event, but a non-qualifying broadcaster has.

The question of arbitration arose a number of times during the consultation process. Some of the sports organisations argued that competition in the domestic market for Irish television sports rights is limited by the number of qualifying broadcasters in the State.

The Act provides that a broadcaster can be deemed to be a qualifying broadcaster if it provides coverage to over 90% of the population of the State on a free television service. I am working on the assumption that both RTE and TV3 are qualifying broadcasters. Notwithstanding that there are two qualifying broadcasters in the State, sports event organisers argue that RTE remains the only real potential purchaser of television rights. They also argue that until now they had been able to use the possibility of a sale of rights to a non-qualifying broadcaster as leverage for securing a reasonable price from RTE and as a means of securing coverage for their domestic games. Some of the sports organisations expressed the view that designation could negatively impact on their negotiating power with a qualifying broadcaster. They argued this on the basis that non-qualifying broadcasters are less likely to be interested in purchasing the rights to their events if those events are designated as events of major importance that should continue to be available on free television services. Accordingly, sports events organisers argue that they will, in effect, be forced to deal only with RTE and that designation will weaken their position in future negotiations with RTE. This would, in turn, reduce the level of funding available for the development of their sports.

Several sports organisations, in referring to the provisions of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 point to the fact that it does not provide for arbitration between an event organiser and a qualifying broadcaster. During the public consultation process a number of the sports organisations put forward the idea of an arbitration mechanism to determine a fair price for a listed event. I have seriously considered their concerns.

Given the limitations of the Irish market and my wish to be proportionate in relation to the extent of State intervention in the market, I decided the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 should be amended to provide for an arbitration process between event organisers and a qualifying broadcaster to determine a fair market price. Section 5 provides for a non-binding arbitration mechanism. The next important matter for which the Bill provides is a fast-track mechanism through the High Court to fix terms for broadcasting rights, where the date of the event is close at hand.

Section 4 provides this mechanism. This is an important provision if the over-riding objective of ensuring that the designated events continue to be available to be carried on free television services is to be achieved. Section 4 also deals with circumstances where a qualifying broadcaster has not acquired broadcasting rights to a designated event, but a non-qualifying broadcaster has. This provision provides for circumstances where a contract with a non-qualifying broadcaster is already in place at the time of designation and also provides for future contracts. The Bill also sets out the criteria which the High Court must have regard to in determining reasonable market rates. In addition, the Bill provides that the Minister may, in the public interest, require an event organiser to provide the Minister with a copy of any agreement entered into by the event organiser with a broadcaster.

The Bill's provisions are designed to strengthen the existing statutory provisions contained in the principal Act for the purpose of ensuring that a substantial proportion of the Irish population are not deprived of the opportunity of continuing to watch designated events on free television services.

Section 1 is the interpretation section and contains the definitions used throughout the Bill. Section 2 provides that the Bill applies to all events designated under the principal Act and to any contracts in relation to those events entered into after 13 November 1999, which was the date on which the principal Act was enacted. Section 3, for the purposes of clarification, amends the definition of "the Minister" as defined in the 1999 Act to read the "Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources".

Section 4 provides for a fast-track mechanism for determining terms for broadcasting rights in circumstances where no deal is in place with a qualifying broadcaster and the date of an event is drawing near. It provides that the High Court may fix the terms upon which the event organiser must give rights to a qualifying broadcaster.

Section 4(1) provides that where an event organiser has not, within 28 days of the event taking place, entered into a contract with a qualifying broadcaster, then a qualifying broadcaster may request the High Court to direct the event organiser to give it rights to the event. Section 4(2) allows for the possibility that the High Court may not have sufficient time to make a final decision in relation to the terms upon which rights are to be given. This subsection provides that the High Court may direct that rights be given to a qualifying broadcaster even though the terms, including price, have not yet been fixed. It is important that the High Court be given this flexibility. If faced with a very short period to make a decision, the court might not have sufficient time to make an informed decision as to what would constitute "reasonable market rates." This should not stop the court from taking steps to protect the public interest by determining that a qualifying broadcaster may secure rights to the event. Section 4(3) establishes the principle that an event organiser can decide that an event is not to be televised.

The provisions of section 4 will not apply where an event organiser has decided not to sell broadcasting rights and has informed me of its decision before a qualifying broadcaster makes an application to the High Court under subsection (1). While there was a time in the past where event organisers might have decided not to have their events televised to ensure good attendance, it is difficult to envisage circumstances where this would apply in relation to the events to be designated. Section 4(4) provides that the High Court may appoint an arbitrator to assist the court with the computation of reasonable market rates. This provision is designed to be of assistance to the High Court in making a determination as to reasonable market rates for the acquisition of broadcasting rights to a designated event. Section 4(5) provides that the High Court may give procedural directions to the arbitrator, including the fixing of the period in which the arbitrator must issue the award. This provision is designed to be of assistance to the High Court in making a determination as to reasonable market rates for the acquisition of broadcasting rights to a designated event.

Section 4(6) provides that a qualifying broadcaster may withdraw its application to the High Court under subsection (1) after reasonable market rates have been set, but before the court makes its final order and in circumstances where the court has indicated that it will determine reasonable market rates after the event has taken place. In these circumstances the High Court may award costs as it considers appropriate and may have regard to the intention of the broadcaster making the application. The purpose of designating an event is to prevent an event which has been traditionally available on free television services from migrating to pay-per-view or subscription services on an exclusive basis only. This is achieved by ensuring that qualifying broadcasters have an opportunity to provide coverage of an event subject to the payment of reasonable market rates to the event organiser. The decision to pay the asking price for an event was, and will continue to be, the prerogative of the broadcaster. If the qualifying broadcaster decides not to pay the price fixed by the High Court, then the event organiser is free to sell broadcasting rights to any broadcaster.

Section 4(7) provides that the High Court may, from time to time, issue such directions in relation to arbitration under this section as it considers just and proper. This provision is designed to be of assistance to the High Court in making a determination as to reasonable market rates for the acquisition of broadcasting rights to a designated event.

Section 4(8) addresses the possibility of more than one qualifying broadcaster applying to the High Court for access to a designated event. As long as the event is made available to a qualifying broadcaster the event organiser should be free to choose to which qualifying broadcaster it sells rights. Section 4(9) recognises the fact that an event organiser may be a party to an existing contract with a non-qualifying broadcaster. This provision would apply in the case of the existing contract between the FAI and Sky and would also apply to any future case where an event organiser has a contract with a non-qualifying broadcaster. It provides that where the High Court is considering an application made under subsection (1), and where there is an existing contract with a non-qualifying broadcaster, that the court shall decide to whom and in what proportion moneys in respect of reasonable market rates should be paid.

Section 4(10) provides that the High Court may adjust, as it considers appropriate, the terms of an existing contract between an event organiser and a non-qualifying broadcaster. Section 4(11) provides that the High Court may when considering an application under subsection (1) make any interim or interlocutory order as it considers appropriate.

Section 5 of the Bill provides for a voluntary and non-binding arbitration mechanism to assist event organisers and qualifying broadcasters to agree terms for broadcasting rights to designated events. This section of the Bill provides a framework for the two parties to agree terms where negotiations have failed to result in an agreement. Section 5(1) affirms that the arbitration process provided for in section 5 relates to circumstances where an event organiser is willing to sell broadcasting rights to a designated event to a qualifying broadcaster and where terms have not been agreed.

Section 5(2) provides that either party may request the other to agree to the appointment of an arbitrator for the purposes of fixing reasonable market rates. Where the parties are unable to agree on the appointment of an arbitrator, this subsection provides that I may appoint an arbitrator within 21 days of being notified.

Section 5(3) provides that the Arbitration Acts 1954 to 1998 apply to an arbitration under this section. Section 5(4) provides that the arbitrator shall issue an award in writing which shall be a provisional award. The arbitrator shall notify the parties of the award. Section 5(5) sets out the steps to be taken by an event organiser and a qualifying broadcaster if they are to agree a contract on the basis of the terms of an arbitrator's award.

Section 6 provides the criteria to which the High Court or an arbitrator must have regard when determining reasonable market rates under sections 4 or 5 of the Bill or under section 5 of the principal Act. Section 7 provides that the Minister can require an event organiser to provide him or her with a copy of any agreement it has entered into with any broadcaster in respect of a designated event, where he or she considers it in the public interest to do so. Section 8 is procedural and sets out how the directions and notifications required under the Bill may be served while section 9 provides for the Short Title.

Both the FAI and the IRFU wrote to me recently suggesting a number of amendments. My officials have met them to consider the issues raised. These are under consideration and I am open to amending the Bill if it is considered to be justifiable and necessary. I will deal with this matter further on Committee Stage.

Will the Minister indicate the proposed amendments?

I will do so between now and Committee Stage. I believe there is widespread support by the public that certain events which are of major importance to society must continue to be available on free television services on a near universal coverage basis. Full participation in society requires that individuals should not be excluded from following events of major importance on the basis of inability to pay.

I have no doubt that the public will welcome and support the provisions of the Bill. I am sure Deputies will agree that given the important role that sports play in the life of our country, it is essential that sports events of major importance are accessible to the widest possible number of viewers via free television. Access to such events should not be restricted to those who can afford to pay the rates demanded by subscription or pay- per-view television services. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deenihan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We do not need to be reminded that we are a sports crazy country, both as fans and participants. Last weekend was significant. The Six Nations rugby tournament reached its climax, but unfortunately, the result did not go our way. However, it was a tremendous sporting spectacle. Last Saturday, the European Championships qualifier involving Ireland and Georgia produced a favourable result. Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke performed very well in the players championship in Sawgrass in the United States. The GAA engaged in its usual hectic schedule of national league games at this time of the year, which included huge fixtures, such as the match involving Cork and Tipperary.

Part of what it means to be Irish is expressed on the sports field every weekend. In view of this, I subscribe to the principle of creating a list of key sporting events to protect for free to view television. However, there are other responsibilities to consider when dealing with this legislation. We need to ensure that we treat fairly the sporting bodies, the two main broadcasters, RTE and TV3, the other broadcasters, such as Sky, who do not have the right under this legislation to go to court, and, most importantly, the public.

The main purpose of the Bill is to strengthen existing legislation and statutory provisions contained in the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999, to ensure that the majority of the Irish population would not be deprived of an opportunity to watch sporting events of national importance on a free television service. This should have happened two years ago, but instead, following the success of the Irish soccer team in the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea last summer, there was uproar when Sky secured sole rights to broadcast live Irish home games for the European Championship qualifiers. That controversy led to the Government belatedly taking action. Two years ago it could, and should, have addressed the problem by putting in place a structure to secure and name key sporting events for free to air viewing.

The original Act incorporated into Irish law the provisions of Article 3a of the European Union Television Without Frontiers Directive, allowing member states to designate certain events as events of major importance to be shown on a free to air basis. Preceding this Second Stage debate, the Minister published a list of events to be designated. A number of weeks ago the House confirmed and approved, as it needed to, the list following brief statements. At the time I said I looked forward to the opportunity to debate a number of concerns regarding the legislation.

I welcome the consultation process outlined by the Minister. Many sporting bodies have expressed concerns about their ability to negotiate a fair deal in payment terms for access to coverage of events. It should not be forgotten that television coverage for most of the sporting bodies concerned is the main source of income for the promotion and structuring of their sport nationally. For example, in its negotiations for Six Nations coverage, an exception was made for the IFFU because of its links with the Scottish and Welsh rugby unions. I welcome that. It shows the Department was listening during the consultation process. As a result, the Six Nations championship is designated on a deferred basis, although that is academic because RTE has secured rights for the next number of years.

Funding is an imperative to the success of any sporting body. The ability to negotiate a fair price is a legitimate concern. In view of this, an arbitration mechanism has been included under section 5 to deal with occasions when a sporting body cannot agree a price figure for coverage of a designated event with RTE or, in some circumstances, TV3. As I understand it, if two bodies – a broadcaster and sporting body – are unable to agree on a fair market price for a designated event, a likely scenario in some cases, they will seek a solution from an arbitrator. This process would be similar to the use of the Labour Court in industrial relations disputes. The first step would be agreement on an arbitrator. What happens if this is not possible? The Minister is indicating he would have the power to appoint one. I welcome that, although it is not clear from the explanatory memorandum.

The arbitration recommendation will not be binding. If, for example, RTE considers that the figure provided by the arbitrator is too high it can ignore it and go to court. This severely weakens the arbitration process and the ability of a sporting body to negotiate aggressively to get the best possible price because it knows that the arbitration figure can be totally ignored by the broadcaster.

If the arbitration figure is not agreed, the broadcaster can go to court within 28 days of the event to ensure it can have access to it. I have problems with this part of the process also. If it is the case that the court decides an arbitration figure, which it will have to do to recommend a price the broadcaster needs to pay to the sporting body, and the broadcaster decides that this is too high a figure to pay then within the space of perhaps two weeks before an event starts, RTE may decide to pull out. It may say it cannot afford it. Then we may be faced with a situation where a sporting body may have two weeks to try to negotiate with a non-qualifying broadcaster to cover an event. In an extreme scenario it is possible, and there is a loophole here, that the event may not be covered at all because the two qualifying broadcasters, RTE and TV3, may not be able to afford the price set out by the arbitrator or by the court. This may occur close to the date when the event is due to happen.

We have gone to the trouble of debating and have undergone a consultation process to confirm that these key events, whether soccer, rugby, horse racing, the Olympics or Gaelic games, will be available. If we are serious about ensuring that they are covered on free-to-view television, we must ensure that if the broadcasters take the final step of going to court to ensure they get access to cover an event that they are also bound by the court decision in regard to the price they are to pay for access for the event.

I can understand why the figure of the arbitrator may not be binding. Essentially, that is a recommendation. I understand the argument for not making that decision binding but if the decision of the court is to be binding for the sporting body, it should also be binding for the broadcaster. If the broadcaster takes a sporting body to court and is asked to pay €500,000 for access to a certain event or series of events and the fee is set at a date close to the event itself the broadcaster should be forced to pay it and to cover the event regardless of the price set out by the court. That is my fundamental concern in regard to this legislation.

Essentially the negotiation process, as a result of what we are doing here, is stacked in favour of the broadcaster to the disadvantage of the sporting body. At no stage during the negotiation process does the sporting body have any power to negotiate. All it can say is "no" and that it wants to go to arbitration. If TV3 or RTE reject the arbitration figure, the sporting body has no choice but to accept that and to wait for the qualifying broadcasters to take them to court to get access. Again, at no stage during the process does the sporting body have the power to reject arbitration figures but the broadcaster does.

The ability of broadcasters to maximise the financial return, which is limited anyway because the process is essentially between two broadcasters, is severely restricted under the proposals we are making here on Second Stage. For that reason, I will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage, on behalf of Fine Gael, to try to address some of those concerns. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views. I was glad to hear he has an open mind towards looking at amendments on Committee Stage. Fine Gael supports this legislation in principle although it should have happened a long time ago. We will not oppose the Bill on Second Stage because we are looking forward to getting it into committee where we can discuss it in more detail.

Another concern I have in regard to this legislation concerns the legal issues surrounding the contract that was signed and the deal that was done between the FAI, Sky and TV3. The deal that was announced by Sky last September-October was a valid contract at the time and recognised in law to be so. My understanding is that there is a question mark over the legality of the Government's effective overturning of a legally recognised signed contract between Sky and the FAI.

The Television Without Frontiers Directive allows, but does not require, member states within the EU to draw up lists of designated events for free-to-view television. There would be no ambiguity in law if we were required under an EU directive to draw up this list and therefore make the Sky deal with the FAI irrelevant. As we are not required to do that, but merely allowed to do it should we want to, there is a legal doubt over whether we can effectively destroy the contract and deal that has been done between the FAI and Sky. The consequence may well be that when this legislation is passed, the FAI may decide to go to court to defend its contract with Sky and at a minimum may look for some compensation. If the State needs to pay out compensation to the FAI, a realistic possibility though it may not be a probability, it is due to the Government's incompetence in not putting together this list two years ago when it should have. It is as a result of that incompetence that we may now be faced with having to pay out compensation to a sporting body that feels genuinely aggrieved, having done a good financial deal for itself in September. It now has its contract overturned because we have the ability to do that under an EU directive, as opposed to being required to do it through an EU directive.

Will the Minister outline in his summing up whether he has received any legal advice from the Attorney General as to whether he feels confident that compensation will not be an issue if the FAI decides to challenge this legislation and the consequences for its signed contract? If he feels that compensation may be an issue, will he outline at what level?

This Bill is welcome in principle. It is about ensuring that sports fans across the country see their national team competing or see events that are of significant sporting importance to Ireland and are able to access them. In particular it ensures that people who are living in rural regions of Ireland who may not have access to cable or satellite channels will not be disadvantaged in the sporting context. Sport is of such importance to many people and to social life in Ireland that it needs to be protected on a certain level to ensure that we have free-to-view television. It could be argued that it is not free because people are paying a licence fee but they are not paying specifically to watch an event to which in the past they had access free of charge.

Fine Gael supports Second Stage of this Bill but with the caveat that we have concerns in regard to striking a balance between treating fairly the qualifying broadcasters, RTE and TV3 on the one hand to ensure they get a fair deal and are not overcharged for covering events, and on the other hand, that sporting bodies, who rely heavily on these events in particular for significant financial return, have the power to negotiate a good deal for themselves to ensure they can reinvest the money from the television coverage of these events in their respective sports.

I look forward to tabling amendments to reflect my concerns on Committee Stage.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill. I read in an article fromThe Irish Times of October 1998 that according to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands legislation to protect major sporting and cultural events from being available only on subscription television would be introduced. The Government had accepted her proposal to ensure some events remained available on free-to-air television services. This would have enabled the then Minister to draw up a list of such major events. Her plan was the fourth attempt in two years to draft legislation to reflect domestic and European concern at the increasing number of sporting events being bought for subscription or pay-per-view television services. We have waited four and a half years for the proposal before the House. It would probably never have happened were it not for the FAI deal with Sky which would have turned in €7.5 million and about which there was much fuss last summer at a time when soccer fever was high. The Minister had just taken over the ministry and would not be here this evening were it not for the public revulsion at the time that the Irish home games would not be free-to-air for spectators all over the country and that trend could continue into other sports, be it Gaelic football, rugby or other major sports. The Government was forced to act and act it did. I welcome the Bill before the House even though it is four and a half years late in arriving.

Regarding the designated events listed, I made the point previously that while it was difficult for the Minister to be inclusive of major events here, certainly in Gaelic games, semi-finals, quarter finals and even a Munster hurling final can be a major sporting event. I wonder why he did not consider going below just the All-Ireland county finals in both hurling and football? If he will not consider other events, I would have no problem with the events that are designated. I am sure that in time the Minister can add events to the list if he so wishes.

Or subtract.

As has been said many times here, the influence of sport on all our people and especially on our young people cannot be underestimated. It is important that our young people have access to all the sporting events of interest at a particular time, especially when our national team is playing whether in rugby, soccer or compromise rules in the future. On the last occasion on which I addressed this issue a month or so ago, I said we are becoming a nation of spectators. There is so much demand for this designation of events that people have become dependent on watching television. When all of us were young we watched the match on television and went out and played it afterwards in our back gardens, at cross-roads or at the local sports field.

We replayed it.

We played it and replayed it and went through every minute of it and every action and every score in the particular event.

Kerry usually won.

Not always. Unfortunately, that is not the case nowadays. Since the Minister has a responsibility here, perhaps the aspects of involvement and participation could be attached so that the event organiser and the broadcaster would engage in the promotion of healthy living and fitness. There should be a requirement for positive messages about fitness and participation rather than watching as a fan or a supporter.

An issue which is of genuine concern to the sporting organisations was mentioned by the Minister. There are just a few revenue streams open to the major organisations, one of which is revenue through television coverage. Without the revenue stream from television coverage, the IRFU, the GAA and the FAI could be deprived of the possibilities which their games provide them, for providing money for development work at grass roots level. At present there is competition between the main sporting organisations regarding coaching in schools and providing a whole range of services to schools and clubs across the country. The IRFU has approximately 300 development officers on the ground. The FAI has a regional structure extending to club level in counties and the GAA is following suit. Money is needed to fund the whole structure and the revenue stream from broadcasting of television coverage is very important.

It is important that RTE and TV3 are fair. While the Minister has set up an arbitration mechanism to determine reasonable market rates for a designated event, it is important that RTE and TV3 realise that for the national organisations of the sports involved television coverage is very important for their revenue stream. It is one of the few sources of revenue they can get to encourage young people to participate at grass roots level and to develop in those young people the skills that will, I hope, win Ireland international acclaim in the future. It is important that the balance is kept right, on the one hand that these games are free to air in order that the vast array of supporters and fans across the country, in what is a sports mad country, can see the match live on television without any cost and on the other that the sporting organisations can capitalise on these major events to gain important revenue. That must be a prime consideration.

Generally speaking, despite improvements in recent years, mainly because of the introduction of the national lottery and increased commercial ism, there is more finance available to support sport. Nevertheless, compared to other countries sport in Ireland is still underfunded. The support given to the English rugby team, for example, compared with that for the Irish team makes this obvious. The network of resources in place at grass roots level throughout England includes quality coaching for children playing rugby and soccer. While facilities are improving in Ireland it is clear why athletes in the English system are of a higher quality than ours. More money is being spent in the English system at all levels. That is an important consideration.

I hope this legislation will be monitored in the future and that the arbitration mechanism and recourse to the courts will work effectively. Deputy Coveney raised a number of pertinent issues to which I hope the Minister will respond.

I am not aware of any precedent for this legislation. Is it modelled on legislation in other countries or is it completely new and designed to address Irish issues? Is a similar mechanism in place in other countries for arbitration and recourse to the courts? I would like to hear the Minister expand on that aspect of the Bill. Will the €5.5 million deal between Mr. Rupert Murdoch and the FAI for the exclusive TV rights for Ireland's home internationals in the qualifying stages of the 2004 European championships be a matter for the courts to settle? Can this legislation be made retrospective to ensure that it covers that agreement?

I welcome the Bill which I hope will have the effect of encouraging young people to become involved in sport by making free coverage of sporting events more widely available to them.

I thank the Minister for his analysis of the Bill, although it is very similar to the speech he gave in the Seanad.

It is the same Bill.

The Labour Party welcomes the Bill. However, we deplore the fact that the legislation has been so long delayed and has had to come forward as a remedy for a piece of delayed and botched legislation, the Broadasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999. The 1999 Act attempted to implement theTelevision sans Frontières Directive. That directive laid down that each member state should ensure that broadcasters “under its jurisdiction do not broadcast, on an exclusive basis, events which are regarded by that member state as being of major importance for society, in such as way as to deprive a substantial proportion of the public in that member state of the possibility of following such events via live coverage or deferred coverage on free television.” A key element of EU Directive 89/552, as amended by Directive 97/36, is that the Government “shall do so in a clear and transparent manner in due and effective time.” Has there ever been an action of Government which has failed to fulfil a clear directive at European level? The Government has not followed the directive. The six years of this Government's history has been a period of lamentable failure to implement, in an efficient and transparent manner, the requirements of the Television sans Frontières Directive.

It is the Irish sports fans who have lost out. When the Minister took office last year he found that two and a half years' work, which should have been carried out after the 1999 Act, had not been done. With a red face he appeared on television and tried to undo the damage done when the FAI signed up to the €8 million package with BSkyB. Given that the former Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, failed so lamentably, it is no wonder that the Minister for Finance is in a committee this evening trying to prevent us from seeing the papers which would allow us to discover what happened during those two and a half years.

I agree with Deputy Deenihan's comment regarding the way in which people have become spectators of sport rather than participants in it. BSkyB has driven that development. I deplore the practice of matches taking place at 12.30 p.m. on Saturday after Saturday. Young men crowd into hostelries to watch these matches and spend the rest of the day imbibing copious amounts of alcohol. The matches usually feature Manchester United, a team I support myself.

How predictable. Has the Deputy no independence of mind?

The Taoiseach also supports them. It is deplorable that this practice has grown up. This ruthless merchandising of great public events such as the Manchester United matches by the Sky organisation is one of the issues the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Commission on Liquor Licensing should discuss.

The Labour Party has serious concerns about this Bill. Our most grave concern relates to the reference in the 1999 legislation to reasonable and fair market prices. How are they to be determined, given the FAI-BSkyB deal? If the Minister has not received submissions from broadcasters in this regard he might consider the amendment which will be tabled by the Labour Party on this matter on Committee Stage.

We are also concerned about the existing contract regarding Irish football and the effective powers of the High Court under sections 4(9) and 4(10). The Labour Party wishes to strengthen the powers of the High Court in this regard. We also have a particular interest in the review of designation. The Minister has said the designation period would be two years but, given some of the decisions made in this regard, it should perhaps be included in the legislation itself.

I pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins. As Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, President of the European Council of Culture Ministers and President of the European Council of Broadcasting Ministers, he helped to bring into law theTelevision sans Frontières legislation and Protocol 52 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Deputy Michael D. Higgins's view when he was Minister with responsibility for this area was that great sporting and cultural events are acts of communication to which all people across Europe, and specifically in this State, have an absolute right. It should not be possible for some rich monopoly group to come along and take away the right to view free-to-air major events in the life of the nation. Last Saturday and Sunday were two examples when our two national football teams were engaged in events which had a tremendous resonance across the nation – the association football team on Saturday and the rugby football team, sadly less successfully, on Sunday. Early on Sunday afternoon, parts of the country came to a stop.

A few weeks ago Deputy Michael D. Higgins rightly deplored the fact that organisations such as that of Rupert Murdoch and the Kirch Media organisation in Germany have been able to put a vice-like grip on major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games. I hope that with this legislation we will bring to fruition the aspirations of that former Minister. Given that this policy was in existence when the rainbow Government left office it seems incredible that we had to wait until 1999 for the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act. Designation was addressed in section 2 of that Act and consultation in section 3. It is difficult to understand why the Minister of the day, Deputy de Valera, and her colleagues did not consult the major sporting organisations and broadcasters prior to framing the Act. Why was it put forward without addressing all of the issues of concern to the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU? I do not think the Minister can have any effective answer to that.

Section 3 laid down a very clear programme of action which the Minister was supposed to take following the enactment of the legislation, which was highlighted by my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, when the deal emerged between the FAI and BSkyB last July. Section 6 of the 1999 Act also laid out a process of civil remedy for event organisers and broadcasters, although it has to be said that the Act also refers to reasonable market rates without giving any indication of how this could be arrived at. In that context the Minister has advanced the situation somewhat today in sections 4 and 5.

On Committee Stage of the 1999 Act another colleague of mine, the then Labour Party spokesperson, Deputy O'Shea, tried valiantly to amend the Bill to ensure that the concerns in regard to designation were addressed so that what transpired in regard to satellite television could be anticipated. He wanted to ensure that the procedures contained in sections 2 and 3 would be implemented within six months. The then Minister, Deputy de Valera, adamantly refused to allow that. She just did not seem to want to know. While the issues at stake here were advanced in the United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark, the previous Fianna Fáil-PD Administration sat on its hands. There was a famous case in Denmark which ultimately went to the House of Lords because a company was registered in the UK.

I commend the Minister for making documentation available to Members in regard to the submissions to him on the designation of certain events as events of major importance to society under Article 3a of the Television Without Frontiers Directive and section 2(1) of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999. This was put on the Department's website in October 2002. The report reveals that the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU were written to in December 1999. There were a few desultory submissions and meetings early in 2000 after which the matter fell into abeyance. Nothing seems to have happened for at least two years. It appears to be Deputy Dermot Ahern's destiny to pick up the pieces; he is currently picking up the pieces in regard to areas of the marine issues, communications and, now, in regard to the broadcasting sector.

Irish fans lost out on a number of significant matches and a new area of uncertainty was opened up in regard to the EU directive and the 1999 legislation. The Taoiseach is probably the common link in the chain of events from the passage of the Act in 1999 to the disastrous move by the Football Association of Ireland in July of last year. He waged a sustained and vindictive campaign against the FAI over a proposed Eircom stadium. The Football Association of Ireland had costed and planned the new 45,000-seater stadium in south-west Dublin and was well on the way to achieving this ambition. At the same time, the ill-fated, monstrous Abbotstown project was directed from the Taoiseach's Department by Mr. Paddy Teahonet al at the helm. Since then they have all been censured by the Comptroller and Auditor General at the Committee of Public Accounts for this vainglorious project of an 80,000-seater stadium.

We had a ludicrous and sinister campaign whose shameful and undemocratic background was investigated a few weeks ago by RTE's "Prime Time". The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, would not allow the stadium to be built near Baldonnell on the most ludicrous and spurious grounds. The hard-working men and women of junior soccer who toil constantly in leagues like the Leinster league, the AUL and the Brenfor were all great supporters of Eircom park and were bitterly disappointed by what happened in regard to it. It is heartening to see an official from under age football, Mr. Brian Kerr, in charge of the Irish senior football team.

Events from the summer of 2000 also place the Taoiseach at the centre of the failure to follow-up on the 1999 Act. On a famous walkabout in the constituency of Dublin Central there was a media perception that he was going to call a gen eral election at any time. During the following year or 18 months our affairs were watched closely by Mr. Murdoch and his media empire. It is clear that the Television Without Frontiers Directive and the 1999 Act were anathema to the Murdoch organisation. Can it be any wonder that on his first day back in power the Taoiseach opened a new printing press for Murdoch's News International in County Meath? The major director of BSkyB and one of the world's foremost media moguls was hailed by him as one of the most outstanding Australian figures of modern times. The Taoiseach was well aware of the role Mr. Murdoch played in Australian politics – supporting the Australian Labour Party and then viciously turning against it – the role he played in British politics in support of the Conservative Party before turning viciously against it and, recently, in support of the British Labour Party.

In examining the reasons for the mysterious two year lacuna of inaction, the answer may well lie in a desire to appease the magnate who runs BSkyB and News International. In July 2002, an embarrassed Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had to try to pick up the pieces following the painful news of the FAI-BSkyB deal. I commend him on going through a consultation process over the past six or seven months. It is regrettable that on 26 August 2002, the IRFU, FAI and GAA declined his invitation to come to Dublin Castle and talk openly about these issues. I also welcome the fact that the Minister finally submitted a list to the EU contact committee. A few weeks ago, the designation list was produced.

In relation to designation, the Minister told us today and, I think, also told the Seanad that, following all the consultations he had decided to act in a proportionate way. He felt his role was to try to protect the public interest in relation to the EU directive while taking account of the needs of event organisers and broadcasters. That is fair enough as far as it goes. Clearly, the organisations concerned have played a very powerful and wonderful role in Irish life over the past 100 years, or even longer in some cases. We obviously must take cognisance of their needs.

The GAA, in its submission, made a strong case for non-designation of all its events other than the All Ireland finals on the basis of the domestic nature of its support. It said that it would never sell its product to a foreign-based broadcaster, although it has featured heavily on broadcasting outlets not based in this jurisdiction. I would agree with Deputy Deenihan that, particularly with the back door system in both hurling and football, there are other matches that constitute national events. Most people would view the 2002 match between Armagh and Dublin, or various Dublin matches over the years, as such occasions. These are events the Minister might look at again—

Louth versus Dublin also.

That is coming up soon and Louth will win. That is about the only thing the Minister and I agree upon.

I outlined the probable background to the FAI's deal with BSkyB and the treatment of the FAI in recent times. The FAI, in its interesting submission, made a good case that the national team is its only great money spinner. It is fundamental to the organisation, given the nature of the domestic league and the fact that 150 to 200 of our best footballers live and work professionally in the English leagues, with a few in Scotland. It is striking that most of the designation discussed in the House a few weeks ago applies to Irish football, to the home and away qualifying games for the European Championship and the World Cup. The FAI also made a plea for market forces to be allowed to dictate prices.

Notwithstanding the case made by the FAI, the Minister was right to proceed as he did. The only way to compensate the FAI now is for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to proceed immediately to help the FAI to build a national stadium, whether it is shared with the IRFU or whatever. It is lamentable that association football has done so badly over the years in terms of national lottery grants and other sources of funding. I looked recently at the half built stadium of Shamrock Rovers in the centre of Tallaght, a team I followed strongly in my youth and whose results I would still look out for. It is only in a country like ours that this would be allowed to happen and that a leading club would not to be supported to the hilt.

There has also been controversy as to whether Six Nations rugby matches should be designated. I accept the point the IRFU made in its submission about the pool structure for financing its sport, but given their national importance and viewing figures, there is a case for also including these matches in the designation. Looking at the designation list, one would be suspicious at times that the Minister perhaps yielded to more powerful vested interests in the IRFU and the GAA but not to association football and other sports that are not as strong.

There are other major sporting events such as horse races. However, the Department's recommendations document makes little reference to cultural events. That should be kept under review. One can think of major cultural events in which the whole nation would have a very strong interest. I am thinking in particular of when our own super-group, U2, was given the freedom of the city of Dublin a few years ago and a major event developed around the occasion in Smithfield. It is important that an event like that be available on free-to-air television.

I welcome this belated Bill, after a process that was deliberately held up by the Taoiseach. As the Minister rightly says, section 4 attempts to establish a fast-track mechanism for the High Court in the event of disputes or of a designated broadcaster being left outside the loop. The Minister is attempting to create a situation where the needs of such broadcasters can be fulfilled. I stated briefly already that subsections (9) and (10) should be revisited. Subsection (9) concerns existing contracts with non-qualifying broadcasters. The High Court should have fundamental powers in cases such as the €7.8 million deal that was done between BSkyB and the FAI in the summer of 2002. Subsection (10) provides that the High Court may adjust an existing agreement, but what does this actually mean? If, for example, we wished to abrogate an existing agreement, does the power exist to do so? It does not seem to.

The Minister stressed this evening, and in the Seanad previously, that the purpose of this Bill is to prevent events traditionally broadcast for free from migrating to pay-per-view channels and to ensure that event organisers would be paid reasonable market rates. If a qualifying broadcaster will not pay, event organisers are free to sell their product to any broadcaster. The submissions of many organisations put forward the idea of arbitration. However, RTE and TV3, in their submissions, stressed the public nature of some of the important events.

The key problem for this House and relevant committee members is determining how a fair market price is arrived at. The term "fair market price" contains within it the idea that these great public sporting events in which our nation is engrossed are not just sporting or cultural occasions but are a product or commodity to be bought and sold. We have seen in recent years how, in the UK, association football, particularly in the premiership, has become dominated by the flow of money from satellite broadcasters. If a team loses its place in the premiership now and drops down a division, it loses £25 million sterling. As people said when the deal in regard to the first division collapsed with digital ITV, the entire first division lost something like £100 million. The game itself, no matter which teams are involved or whether it is the cup final or a critical match in the English premiership, seems to be taken for granted; essentially it is a commodity. One will see the same in other European countries and in America.

In regard to the FAI-BSkyB €7.8 million deal, it was striking last summer how many of our media commentators, including some of the journalists who work in this House, indicated that a fair price for that deal would have been €6 million. A sum of €6 million would be a massive outlay for RTE or, indeed, TV3.

The Minister has at long last acted in relation to the Broadcasting Forum. I would welcome further legislation in that regard which I am sure he will bring before the House. The Minister has tried to solidify the finances of the national broadcaster to which this House has given many high national tasks. Last week representatives of TV3 appeared before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. I tried to encourage the station to become a strong competitor to RTE, to produce a chat show, which it does not have, and to give all the big stars in RTE a run for their money.

If the satellite broadcaster is to determine the major market price then the outlook for our designated broadcasters, RTE and TV3, is bad. Will the Minister return to section 5(6) in regard to the criteria? We would like to propose some amendments to it, particularly to strengthen the subsection on previous fees, and to include something in regard to the two national broadcasters, RTE and TV3.

I commend the Minister on starting the process to finish the legislation of 1999 and implementing the directive on which the Government has a deplorable record. I give a general welcome to the Bill but deplore the lethargy and incompetence of the previous Minister and the machinations of the Taoiseach in relation to the football association and dominance by the satellite broadcaster. I note the views of the main sporting organisations and I hope the Minister will accept some amendments from the Labour Party in relation to sections 4 and 5.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Cowley, Joe Higgins and Eamon Ryan. I begin by commending the Minister on bringing this legislation before the House. He has acted quickly since his appointment to deal with this problem and I hope all parties will facilitate the speedy passage of this Bill through the House. However, it is unfortunate that it has taken so long to get to this stage. The EU Television Without Frontiers Directive, designed to keep major cultural and sporting events on free-to-air television dates from 1997. Two years later, legislation was introduced by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, but then the issues seemed to disappear off the Government's radar screen. This was a regrettable step. Many genuine sports fans, particularly soccer fans, felt let down by the inexplicable delay which resulted in the shoddy deal between the FAI and BSkyB.

The globalisation of the media has advanced at an accelerated rate over the past 15 years and it is certainly moving more rapidly than many national legislators seem to be able to cope with. I still remember the excitement in this State at the arrival of a second national station, RTE 2, as it was then called. Today Irish television viewers have a bewildering array of options before them. Every day we see our public service broadcaster come under increasing pressure from many of these commercial industries. It is worth noting that the issue before us today goes far beyond sports to the future of the media in Ireland.

This legislation may bring a welcome delay to the onward march of Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation which, as I am sure the Minister knows, owns BSkyB. Murdoch said some years ago that sport would be the battering-ram by which he would conquer television. He meant, of course, the replacement of public service broadcasting and free-to-air television with pay-per-view television. Customers who want to watch one of the ever-growing number of sporting events to which Murdoch has bought the rights must subscribe to Sky Sports. Once they have done this, they often find it necessary to subscribe to other sports channels, as coverage of the event has moved, or to take package deals, including news and entertainment channels. Commercial channels of this type are primarily about marketing and entertainment with a small "e" and have been extremely successful in turning news into entertainment.

The chief such news channel in Ireland is Sky News whose coverage of the war in Iraq provides daily evidence of the erosion of any serious journalism. It is a cliché to refer to its coverage of the war as being the same as watching a video game, but how else can it be described? Presenters stand over a large computer generated map with simulated explosions, helicopters, tanks, soldiers and jets moving about it. Analysts with a disturbing fetish for weapons specifications draw lines and circles on maps in a manner which reminds me of watching Captain Mainwaring of "Dad's Army". It is war sanitised and stripped of its horror. In a few years watching Sky News will be like a trip to the cinema. Viewers will probably even eat popcorn while civilians of America's next target die from smart bombs as distinct from the stupid bombs the enemy has.

The most shocking images of the war in Iraq have not come from Sky News or any western media organisation but from a growing number of independent media organisations in the Middle East. They are unique for Arab broadcasters in that they are not merely propaganda tools for Arab nations but have criticised Arab nations, including those allied to the United States, and serial abusers of human rights. Increasingly, western broadcasters are using more of their footage. Many of these broadcasters were set up as a result of Arabs feeling that the coverage by organisations, such as CNN, Fox or Sky News, was not representative of what was really going on in the Arab world. Last weekend at our Ard Fheis my party colleague, Councillor Larry O'Toole, referred to a meeting or a press conference he attended at which unedited pictures taken by these organisations of the devastation caused by the war in Iraq were shown. It was taken by these organisations. Having listened to his description of what he saw of the real horrors of 21st century war, I only wish that every Deputy on the Government benches would be forced to watch the holocaust they have facilitated by allowing the use of Shannon. Of course, we will never see it because the sanitised media reports we see in the mostly compliant pro-western media has no space for this.

That is why the issue of protecting our sporting and cultural events is such an important one. It is the front line in the protection of elements of our culture and elements of the media from increasing globalisation of media outlets. While there may be an increasing number of television channels and newspapers, the number of owners continues to decline. The formation of mass media conglomerates and the level of control of these organisations over what we see and hear is terrifying. The global music industry, for example, worth €40 billion annually is controlled by five companies – Sony, Warner, EMI, BMG and Vivendi Universal. The last decade has seen a consolidation and globalisation of the media which is frightening to watch. Companies like AOL Time Warner dominate the way we see the world.

A great deal of opposition is often expressed at Microsoft's increasing domination of the world's computer market. Most of our computers, including the ones we use in Leinster House, use Microsoft platforms. It is as difficult to go for a week without using Microsoft products in a globalised world as it is to avoid watching a television programme owned by Warner. Many of these groups are using the vast profits they make in film and television to penetrate newspaper markets.

I spoke earlier about Rupert Murdoch, who owns 175 newspapers around the world, includingThe Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World which are available here. It is only the existence of our own media monopoly ironically titled, Independent Newspapers, with 18 national and local newspapers which has impeded Murdoch's progress into Ireland. It is clear from the deal struck between the FAI and Sky last summer that Murdoch intends to expand his foothold here.

Debate adjourned.