Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome this Bill. RTE is clearly distinguishable from State control broadcasters in other countries in that it succeeds in fulfilling its public service mandate, maintains diversity and plays an important role in ensuring the public's right to information.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This freedom includes the right not only to seek and impart information and ideas but also to receive them. It also requires states to take positive steps to ensure an environment in which a pluralistic media can flourish, providing information from a wide variety of sources to citizens. Independent, adequately funded and accountable, public service broadcasters are crucial components of this environment.

One of the obligations of the PBS would be to endeavour to address audiences in whom advertisers have no interest, for example the over-55 year olds. It should also attempt to create programming for small or minority audiences, innovate with programmes and talents which may fail and produce a quality of output where the market cannot afford to invest.

The market is generally the moral arbiter. If an idea sells, it is deemed cool and right. In a society where choice and the right to choose are elevated to a moral principle, whatever the individual chooses in the marketplace is generally good and right and should not be denied as long as it harms nobody else.

How much simpler it would be if competitive broadcasting markets could yield the plurality and diversity we seek. Even in a world where subscribers pay for their broadcasting directly, not just via advertising, there is no evidence that broadcasting market forces alone can ever produce what many in this country need from broadcasting. Hence the overriding need for what this Bill aims to provide – public funded, public service broadcasting.

The 5% of the licence fee this Bill proposes to set aside for the new broadcasting funding scheme must be adequate, appropriate and secure. It must be adequate to fulfil the remit that we entrust to it. It must also ensure that the editorial independence and pluralism of programmes will not be threatened by vested interests or lobby groups. Otherwise, it will have to rely excessively on advertising commercial revenue, which would be inappropriate. The scheme must also be secure, not in the sense that it would be unchanging but in the certainty that it could be sustained and be capable of adapting to different circumstances.

In recent years the face of Irish broadcasting has been transformed by the growth of local radio across the country. Prior to the birth of local radio, RTE had served the country well. However, as in any monopoly situation, the danger of complacency and self-satisfaction was setting in. The advent of 2FM and national independent stations revolutionised the radio broadcasting scene, creating new loyalties in urban and rural areas.

A case in point has been the rapid and continuing success of the local Shannonside Northern Sound station in my constituency. To fulfil its news and current affairs requirement this station was obliged to devote at least 20% of its output to local news and current affairs. It has exceeded this requirement and now 45% of its output is based on current and local issues. That is an excellent achievement. The station has succeeded admirably, in the words of Shakespeare, in "holding the mirror up" to the local community and in reflecting the hopes, aspirations and character of the locality.

The Bill's stated aim of supporting Irish culture and heritage is to be commended despite RTE's distinguished record on this down the years. It is a somewhat strange situation that all the RTE stations are unregulated while the independent stations are strictly regulated by the BCI and must adhere to the strict criteria set out in their licences. The local stations must also adhere to minimum requirements set out by the BCI in terms of Irish language broadcasting while the Irish language television station, TG4, can show freely non-Irish produced English language programmes. The Bill's proposals to support Irish language programmes are generally welcome.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I give it a guarded welcome as I have a number of concerns with regard to its introduction. I hope the Minister will be able to take some of these concerns on board on Committee Stage and amend certain aspects of the Bill.

Nobody would disagree with the overall purpose of the Bill. We are entering a broadcasting world where we are faced sometimes, in the words of a song, with "52 channels and nothing on". We do not want to take a direction in broadcasting where we have a plethora of satellite and other television services available with nothing other than bland international programmes of no relevance to the Irish market.

The market will probably sort this out. Irish people will always want a media which is relevant to them. There is a market, regardless of State intervention, for good programming which is relevant to Irish people alone. It is right and proper that the State should assist that process by means of direct funding. It is probably appropriate that some State funding will go beyond the confines of RTE to other terrestrial broadcasters. I welcome the broad purpose of the Bill in that regard.

I would like to highlight some of my concerns about the Bill. I am concerned by some of the programmes that have been designated as appropriate for funding under this Bill. Having read the Bill, it seems that we are looking backward rather than forward. The Minister of State said that the purpose of such programmes will be to examine "who we are, and why we are what we are". I fear, however, that the Bill's provisions are more likely to cause broadcasters to examine what we were, or why we were what we were. Section 2(1)(a) of the Bill states that funding will be provided for programmes about “historical buildings”, “folk, rural and vernacular heritage” and “traditional and contemporary arts”. I am slightly concerned that we are narrowing it down slightly too much in an attempt to preserve an Ireland that is going or has gone. If broadcasters have to produce this heritage television, they will be constrained when making editorial decisions about what is contemporary or relevant to Irish people.

It is important to note that the Bill mentions that programmes about "traditional and contemporary arts" will be supported. We had a good debate about a similar matter in the House when the Arts Bill 2002 was being discussed. I congratulate the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism for amending the Bill, which initially drew a distinction between traditional and contemporary arts. I give credit to the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, for recognising that it is nonsense to try to create such a distinction. I do not know of any living traditional arts which are not also contemporary. I am slightly concerned that the State may be too prescriptive in trying to define good public broadcasting. It may adopt a conservative vision of the good programming that is required. I enjoy programmes about traditional music or other traditional arts, but they are not different in any way to contemporary arts. I would not like programmes about traditional arts to be treated differently from programmes about contemporary arts.

I have a slight concern about the fact that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland will make decisions about schemes for the granting of funds for certain forms of programming. I have nothing against the commissionper se, but I am concerned by the possibility of a bureaucratic Civil Service approach to decisions about fundamentally artistic matters. Such an approach may lead to a more conservative interpretation than would be the case if broadcasters, or companies whose sole remit relates to broadcasting, were directly charged with making decisions. I am slightly concerned that the BCI, which has a regulatory function in respect of licences, essentially, may not be the appropriate body to make decisions on some of the subjective artistic matters that will arise when schemes are being set up.

The concerns I have outlined are minor by comparison with my greatest problem with the Bill. Under section 2(6), the Minister will be able to direct the BCI, which will be responsible for the scheme, "to support in a scheme a television or radio programme". The provision that the Minister will be able to say to the commission, in effect, that he does or does not want a particular programme is a highly dangerous one. It is unfortunate that the Minister is not here to respond to me, as he may be able to say to me that there is a good reason for the provision. It may be the case that the commission will have to be directed in certain circumstances. This Bill almost gives the Minister direct control over the distribution of broadcasting funds. Regardless of the best intentions of the Minister, a highly dangerous precedent is being set because it will be possible for him, or a future Minister, to direct broadcasting funds to particular areas.

It does not matter which Minister or which party is involved because a bad principle is being set. There should be a clear distinction between politicians and broadcasting policy. This Bill will bring the Minister far too close to decisions about how funding will be carried out. I fear that broadcasters will have to look over their shoulders because they will be concerned about what the Minister will think. Such a system will lead to bad programming. I hope that the Minister will facilitate amendments in this regard on Committee Stage. A reputable broadcaster with whom I discussed this matter at lunchtime said that this Bill, if it is passed in its current form, will represent the type of provision that Ray Burke would have loved during his time as Minister for Communications. This is not a good Bill.

The third concern I would like to mention is that we have missed an opportunity to review the way in which broadcasting is funded. I regret that the Bill does not include a broader review of the funding of broadcasting, particularly in respect of the way in which funds are raised. I note that the Bill relates to the net licence fee receipts. Historically, 8% of the licence fee receipts have been accounted for by An Post's collection costs. It is a very expensive cost. Just 92% of the sum of over €100 that we pay for a television licence will be expended on broadcasting. It is something that we have to address seriously.

I propose a much simpler system of funding which is guaranteed by the State through the general taxation system on an index-linked basis. The fund would be set in stone and would not be open to political interference in the budget each year. The moneys would be provided from central Exchequer expenditure. The fundraising and allocation aspects of such a system would be more efficient. One would not have the huge cost of collecting the licence fee and the endless television advertisements would not have to be paid for. Such advertisements remind people, for example, that they have to have a licence for their fourth television in their country home. The incredibly cumbersome present licence collecting system would no longer be needed.

The system I propose would be much fairer. Under the present system, an unemployed person or a person with a very low income, for example, has to pay the exact same licence fee as their next-door neighbour who might be earning €500,000 per year. The licence fee is a regressive stealth tax. The Government should try to claw back some of the taxes which are applied across the board because they affect the poor and the rich in the same manner. It should try to insert a new measure into the tax threshold system so that different incomes can be recognised. At a time when legislation is addressing broadcasting funding, it is regrettable that we are not conducting a major review of how we collect funds for broadcasting.

I wish the Minister well regardless of the main concerns I have outlined. I support the provisions of the Bill, in general. I hope the Minister will appreciate the strength of some of the arguments we are making. He should make the necessary amendments to ensure that this Bill is not seen as an attempt by politicians to interfere with decisions about editorial policy. We should not restrict the ability of those involved in broadcasting to decide what programmes they consider to be contemporary or relevant. We should not narrow it down excessively to historical analysis.

The final concern I would like to mention follows on from the comments made earlier by Deputy Coveney. At a time when a new broadcasting levy is being introduced, it is deeply regrettable that we are not taking the opportunity to ensure that there is a much greater level of subtitling of television programmes. A huge opportunity has been lost, particularly in respect of those broadcasters that have failed to rise to the challenge. RTE has led the way on this issue. If we are to raise €8 million each year to be provided for such broadcasters, it is incumbent on us to put in place conditions that will ensure that programmes are subtitled. Television stations should be compelled to have a certain percentage of subtitled programmes. We will never again have such a good opportunity to cater for those who rely on subtitled programming to be properly involved in society. I hope that the possibility of amendments in this area can be examined so that we can copperfasten the rights of people who are hard of hearing. We should recognise that we are obliged as legislators to meet such people's special needs.

I will confine my contribution to the comments I have already made. I look forward to the remaining Stages of the Bill.

Sinn Féin broadly welcomes the legislation before the House. It acknowledges that the Bill is a genuine attempt to improve the quantity and quality of home-produced broadcasting. As a party, it is absolutely committed to the principle of public service broadcasting. This principle is constantly under attack, however, by certain sections of the media which are obsessed with pursuing a personalised vendetta against RTE. Notwithstanding the disagreements Sinn Féin may have with the anti-republican editorial line of some of its current affairs programmes, the truth is that RTE is a quality public service broadcaster. RTE's misfortune is that it is constantly and unfairly compared to the BBC, an organisation with which it cannot compete in terms of funding and resources.

Opponents of public service broadcasting argue that a market-driven approach would ensure a more open media. We have seen elsewhere in the world, however, that such an approach leads to an incredible consolidation of media power in the hands of a few companies and individuals.

There may be many voices but it is the same message and, increasingly, a message devoid of any substance as we have seen from the numerous dumbed-down, one-dimensional, trashy and commercialised television programmes dominating the schedules of Murdoch's globally controlled broadcasters. To see the powers and incredible influence of private media monopolies one only has to look at the disgraceful and illegal role played by the private media moguls of Venezuela, who when they believed their financial interests were threatened by the Government's support for the poor, actively participated in organising a coup against the democratically elected President, Hugo Chavez.

The Bill sets a number of terms and conditions under which an applicant may apply for funding. I ask the Minister to seriously consider adding the further condition that all television programming funded under this scheme be subtitled. The Minister will be aware that while the amount of subtitled programming on RTE has been steadily increasing, it is nowhere near 100%, an objective which the BBC has set itself for realisation by 2010.

While recognising RTE's limited resources make it unlikely that date will be reached, I hope the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, currently examining this issue, will recommend that RTE puts in place clear and transparent targets for increasing subtitling. I would be happier if RTE was willing to do this voluntarily. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out the contempt with which senior management at TV3 has continued to treat the deaf community by refusing to send a representative to meetings on the matter attended by RTE and TG4. I call on them to rethink their position.

The legislation allows the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland to set further terms and conditions for the operation of the scheme beyond what is contained in the legislation. The Minister may be of the opinion that the commission should make the decision on this matter. I suggest, however, that to write this into legislation would be a very positive gesture to the deaf community and those hard of hearing. I hope to bring forward amendments to that effect on Committee stage.

Mention was made during the debate in the Seanad of providing for a specific quota of funding for the community broadcasting sector. I understand the Minister's argument for maximum flexibility. I would be concerned, however, that the community sector, underresourced as it is, will find itself relegated to the sidelines as the bigger and better financed production companies take the lion's share of the money available. Community radio is a vital part of our communications infrastructure which relies heavily on people giving of their time voluntarily, following cuts in the community employment scheme. It should be supported and adequately resourced. Every effort should be made to enable it to realise its full potential.

Sinn Féin supports a separate fund for community broadcasting to provide the stimulus needed to foster its growth. Putting into legislation a quota obliging the BCI to make every effort to ensure that a significant proportion of funding goes to this sector seems a sensible idea and a step forward. This legislation presents a golden opportunity to ensure that the thousands of men and women working in our community broadcasting sector receive the support they need.

Will the Minister clarify the reason news and current affairs programming have been specifically excluded from the scheme? High-quality investigative journalism is an expensive process and an extremely valuable one in terms of the role journalism plays in a democratic state. While there is, perhaps, a case for news programming to be excluded and left to the broadcasting organisations, independent production companies who undertake to produce current affairs documentaries should be encouraged.

I would also like to note the emphasis the legislation puts on meeting the needs of those in society – regrettably there are a large number of them – with literacy problems. According to the National Adult Literacy Agency one in four adults were found to be at the lowest level of literacy since 1997. While I understand this number has improved, it is still a shocking statistic in a First World state. Programmes like "Read Write Now" have shown how public service broadcasting can play a positive role in reaching out to a section of society that has traditionally been ignored and marginalised.

The Minister has, since his appointment, made a positive contribution to protecting public service broadcasting. I rarely get the opportunity to congratulate this Government but increased financial support for RTE, legislation to protect major sporting events and this stimulus to independent production companies to facilitate public service programming are all positive steps. My only regret is that more members of the Cabinet could not show the same understanding of the value of the public sector and State-owned companies.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille agus an fócas atá ann, go háirithe go bhfuil sé i gceist deontais a chur ar fáil le cláir a dhéanamh ar ár stair, an oidhreacht, an timpeallacht, na healaíona agus, go speisialta, cláir ar ár gcultúr. Beidh siad i mBéarla, i nGaeilge nó sa dá theanga.

Glacfaidh mé an dheis atá agam aitheantas a thabhairt dóibh siúd in RTÉ a rinne sár-obair thar na blianta ag déanamh clár nó ag coimisniú a leithéid. Sin in ainneoin an mheoin frith-Ghaelach agus frith-Éireannach uaireanta a bhí i réim in RTÉ sna 1970í agus 1980í. Ní gá dúinn ach smaoineamh ar na cláir maithe a rinneadh –"Amuigh Faoin Aer", "Rebellion", "Reeling in the Years", an clár a craoladh aréir sa tsraith "Hidden History" faoin bhean chrógach Sighle Humphreys le feiceáil go bhfuil cláir den cheád scoth ann. Tá go leor samplaí eile den sórt sin cláir a féidir a dhéanamh.

Tá an Bille seo go maith mar tá saibhreas mór sa tír seo fána dtig clár a dhéanamh agus ar cheart dúinn a chraoladh, idir ábhar náisiúnta agus áitiúil, stair seanchais na hÉireann nó traidisiúin áitiúla. Léirigh na cuimhneacháin a bhí againn faoin nGorta, faoi 1798, faoi Robert Emmet i mbliana nó nuair a bhí adhlacadh den deichniúir Mountjoy ann, go bhfuil cíocras ag muintir na hÉireann dá stair, dá gcultúr agus dá dtimpeallacht.

Aontaím leis an Aire go bhfuil sé tábhachtach ár gcultúr a chaomhnú ach tá sé níos tábhachtaí fós é a chothú mar tá cultúr beo againn atá ag athrú de shíor agus is gá dúinn sin a chur trasna sna cláir a dhéanfar.

Fáiltím roimh an bhéim sa mBille ar chraolacháin aitiúil agus chomhphobal. Beidh an ciste seo in ann beocht, samhlaíocht agus cur le chéile pobail áitiúla na hÉireann a léiriú ar an teilifís agus beidh an t-aitheantas cuí á fháil ag an dream seo.

Tá sé léirithe cheana ag lucht scannáin agus lucht craolacháin na tíre go bhfuil sé ar a gcumas cláir den scoth a dhéanamh. Ní gá ach féachaint ar na gradaim atá buaite acu le blianta anuas do scannáin móra agus beaga agus do chláir fáisnéise atá déanta acu. Cuirfidh an ciste úr seo leis an obair sin. An t-aon trua amháin ná nach bhfuil an ciste níos mó. Ní bheidh mórán airgid fágtha istigh ansin tar éis dá nó trí chlár fáisnéise maithe.

Duine ar bith atá ag foghlaim ón gclár RTÉ, "Read, Write Now", fáilteoidh sé roimh an gheallúint sa mBille go mbeidh airgead ar fáil go leanúnach dá leithéid. Tá sé rí-thábhachtach go gcinnteoidh an Bille gur gá do chláir mar seo, atá déanta le maoiniú an chiste, bheith léirithe ag peak viewing time seachas bheith curtha i bhfolach sa sceideal go luath ar maidin nó déanach san oíche mar a tharla lena leithéid de chláir thar na blianta.

Tá aitheantas chomh maith sa mBille ar an gá le cláir a choigilt agus a stóráil go mbeidh fáil ag na glúnta amach anseo iad a fheiceáil. Tá margadh do chláir mar seo, ní gá ach féachaint ar TG4 ag taispeáint seanchlár spóirt. Tig linn úsáid a bhaint as na cláir nuachta a rinne Gael Linn sna 1940s nó cláir eile a rinne RTÉ má tá siad coigilte i gceart, cláir ar nós "Hall's Pictorial Weekly", "The Riordans", "Seven Days" nó "Féach" agus a lán eile atá déanta le déanaí. Ní gá ach féachaint ar "Strumpet City", a bhí ar an teilifís le déanaí, le taispeáint gur féidir na seanchláracha a thabhairt ar ais, go bhfuil siad fós bríomhar agus go bhfuil daoine sásta féachaint orthu. Ní gá suim mhór airgid a chaitheamh á n-athdhéanamh. Tá siad ann cheana féin. Tá buairt orm faoi alt 2(6), mar tá an tAire ag cur a ladair isteach i ngnó ar chóir a bheith fágtha faoin Choimisiún Craolacháin, mar ba chóir go mbeadh próiseas neamhspleách ann agus go dtiocfadh an Coimisiún ar ais chuig an Aire seachas é a bheith ag cur a ladair isteach ag an tráth sin.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

Agus mé ag críochnú, tá mé ag impí ar an Aire agus an Rialtas cur leis an airgead sa chiste seo chomh luath agus is féidir, mar tá sé tábhachtach, agus beidh gá le níos mó airgid sa sórt domhain ina bhfuil muid faoi láthair.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003. The Bill is a core element in the programme of public service broadcasting reforms announced by the Minister in December 2002. It is only fair to restate the basis for the reform programme – the need to sustain a public service broadcaster and broadcasting ethos in an increasingly competitive global media marketplace. That objective has been supported by the work of the broadcasting forum, which reported to the Government last year.

The Government has responded to the forum's report in a speedy and effective manner. Its reform programme incorporates a substantial increase in resources for the public service broadcaster in Ireland and the delivery of radical new measures to ensure increased transparency and accountability from organisations in receipt of licence fee revenues. Those measures include the development of a public service charter, the establishment of an audience council and the appointment of a process auditor to oversee the operation of RTE commissioning, the introduction of a licence fee adjustment process based on objective measures of performance against output and change management criteria, and promised legislation to restructure not just the regulation of broadcasting but the corporate structure of the public service broadcaster.

The Bill must therefore be seen in the context of the wider reform programme, and I encourage the Minister to proceed with the remaining elements of that programme, notwithstanding the difficulties that vested interests may have with some of the more cutting-edge elements in that plan. We know that the broadcast consumer of 2003 is light years removed from that of 1993. The development of satellite technology in particular has resulted in an explosion in choice for the Irish consumer, who is now increasingly adapting to the range of choice available, and broadcasters are following that trend.

Without fundamental change, RTE, our national broadcaster, is in danger of being caught in a perfect storm. Ultimately, the solution is not merely about throwing more and more licence payers' money at the problem, and any analysis that that is all is simply wrong. Change is never easy, and it is especially hard on an organisation with a track record as long and distinguished as that of RTE. However, history is littered with the wreckage of organisations that felt that the world owed them a living and which, as a result, failed to change to meet the imminent threats until it was too late. I hope that RTE will not be part of that wreckage.

The Bill provides for the allocation of 5% of the net proceeds of the television licence fee – about €8 million annually – to a scheme to fund new programmes on television and radio. Those funds will be available on the basis of competitive tender to all players in the Irish broadcasting sector, including those in the private sector. That initiative will increase the availability of high quality programmes on television and radio in both the private and public broadcasting sectors. It will also allow for a higher level of competition for resources in the Irish broadcasting sector generally. That will sharpen minds and performances across the sector and is a welcome development for Irish consumers.

On digital television, the Bill's proposals are particularly relevant in the light not just of what is happening in the broadcast market today but of what is likely to happen as technology changes the face of broadcasting generally over the next decade. Ultimately, the development of ultra-high capacity broadband to the home could call into question the whole future of the current broadcasting model. The challenge for public policy is to ensure a future for high quality public service broadcasting in that globalised and competitive marketplace. It is important to understand that there is already a very significant level of competition in the Irish broadcasting market. Ireland today has the second highest rate of subscription to digital broadcast services in the EU. That is a function of Sky's strong position in the market.

A major disappointment has been the operation of a cable sector here, which alone among European operators has failed to provide a channel for broadband to compete with the telecommunications incumbent. The lessons for policy-makers are clear – offering cable or any other companies protected monopoly positions on the basis of a promise to roll out advanced services is a highly risky proposition. In the event of a failure to perform on the part of the cable operators it leaves Ireland seriously exposed.

While those issues are of consequence, it is important that we remember that television is primarily about content. In a global marketplace, it is important that public policy be to retain a high level of domestic content across private as well as public service broadcasters. It is important that people have it available to them to watch and listen to. It matters little to the viewer whether radio and television services are delivered from a satellite, over a wire or by terrestrial means. Audiences are interested in programming. The core aim of the broadcasting fund is simply to provide Irish audiences with more high quality programming.

Recent experience in the development of digital television is worth considering. The most striking aspect of digital television has been the explosion in the number of channels on offer to the viewer. I agree totally with comments expressed by the Minister as well as some outside the House that, unfortunately, it has not resulted in an equivalent increase in the choice of programming available to the viewer. It is true that many new channels provide more choice. There are specialised news, sports, history and music channels, for example. Those channels meet the demand for such specialised services. However, they are generally only available on a subscription basis so that access is restricted to those who are willing to pay and can afford to do so. It is also true that many of the extra channels simply offer more of the same. There is genuine concern that the digital era will result in fragmentation. That could result in viewers being offered more channels with less real choice as broadcasters increasingly move towards a generic schedule in pursuit of the most economically advantageous audiences. In that scenario, Irish society would be the loser.

Having regard to those developments, the introduction of the broadcasting fund is timely. Its aim is to encourage broadcasters to cater for Irish audiences to include in their schedule high quality additional programmes of interest and relevance to Irish audiences. The Government's decision to introduce the broadcasting fund was taken at the same time as the decision to increase significantly the public funding available to RTE through the television licence fee. Those two measures should be considered together.

The decision to increase substantially the level of public funding for RTE was a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the principle of public service broadcasting. It was supported by the Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which I chair, last November. It also clearly showed the Government's resolve that the people of Ireland should continue to be guaranteed a minimum level of high quality programming that is of interest and relevance to an Irish audience. I agree with the view that as we move increasingly to a digital era, there remains a compelling case for providing the national public service broadcaster with adequate funds to continue to deliver the type of service that Irish audiences deserve and expect. However, RTE must also work within its budgets. It must not run deficits.

Last July, when RTE appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I told representatives of the organisation that it must be profitable and get value for money from those it employs, including its high earners. RTE services must continue to be available to all of the population and be delivered without charge. I have no difficulty with the consumer price index increases for RTE but it must disclose all of the salaries paid to its high-earning presenters and justify them to the license-fee paying public. It must be open, transparent and sustainable as an organisation. I do not see anyone from RTE in the Visitors Gallery but I hope its executives are watching this debate and will take account of what is being said.

RTE exists to serve the people and must be available to all for free. I fundamentally disagree with those who argue that with the explosion in new services there is no longer a need for intervention by the State, nor do I agree that State-funded broadcasters should be limited to delivering a restricted range of outputs. RTE's mandate requires it to provide radio and television services for all the people. I see no justification for revising this legislative mandate. RTE should not be restricted to providing niche programming for a small proportion of the population. Decisions on scheduling are complex and best left to the broadcaster, driven by a consideration of how to best serve the audience and not influenced by the commercial concerns of independent broadcasters.

The decision to establish the broadcasting fund should be seen in the context of the Government's commitment to ensure Irish audiences continue to have access to the high quality programming which is of interest and relevance to them. The Government has acted in two ways – it has increased the level of public funding available to RTE and has proposed the creation of the fund to encourage all broadcasters serving Irish audiences to include additional high quality programming in their schedules which would be of interest to Irish audiences. The emphasis on "additionality" is central to the fund and will be a fundamental criterion of eligibility for funding in that programmes which are funded must be in addition to any existing requirements on broadcasters in regard to their existing outputs.

For public service broadcasting to thrive in Ireland, it must maintain pace with developments in the world of broadcasting. The Bill is an important element of that programme. Additional reform measures include changes in the structure of regulation and the structure of the public service broadcaster itself. This is vital if the benefits of the legislation are to be fully realised and I encourage the Minister to press ahead in this regard.

We can expect a high level of demand from the public and private sectors for funding under the new arrangements being set up under the legislation. For this reason, it is critically important that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland manages the process of disbursing funds carefully. It is important that the criteria for funding be established and made known at an early stage of the process and that the basis for results of competitions similarly ought to be made publicly available in an open and transparent manner.

Deputies will be aware that transparency issues are important to other areas of the operation of the BCI, no more so than in the area of the licensing of radio stations. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has already conducted an investigation into the manner of operation of the BCI and has reached the conclusion that greater transparency, accountability and appeal arrangements are necessary if it is to enjoy the confidence of the sector.

The administration of the fund is an important additional area of responsibility for the BCI. However, the shape of that organisation will likely come in for careful consideration in the context of the development of proposals for a new broadcasting authority of Ireland. The new body, called the BAI, will regulate broadcasting in the public and private sectors. I encourage the Minister and Minister of State to examine whether the BCI can be retained in its current shape as part of that process or whether it would be better to merge it with another regulatory organisation in order to provide a better regulatory balance across the communications sector as a whole.

Earlier in the year, the joint committee met with RTE in regard to possible conflicts of interest, a code of ethics and corporate governance. We had an interesting four or five hour session, during which RTE committed itself to a surplus of €3 million. It affirmed that it would not be in a loss-making situation and would not need substantial increases from the tax payers and license payers. I look forward with interest to RTE presenting its annual report to the Minister and our committee in due course in the new year. I also look forward to congratulating RTE on achieving the €3 million surplus, as it promised it would, even though I expressed grave reservations about this aspect on the day we met. I told the representatives that, based on its financial position in July, RTE could lose €20 million this year. There were only three ways in which to change that. One was by increasing revenue, which was down almost 10%, another was to cut its costs and the final way was to generate revenue from other areas. Unfortunately, cutting costs was the only course it could take.

I was concerned, as were other committee members, about possible conflicts of interest. RTE assured the committee that it was introducing a new code of ethics for staff working in the organisation who might be involved in other activities which might be in conflict with the organisation's public service broadcasting ethos to be objective and impartial in its work. We await with interest the new code, which has yet to be finalised. I recently asked the clerk of the committee to inquire if it had been introduced and is now part of the procedures of corporate governance for the running of an organisation as important as RTE.

It is important we pay tribute to RTE, which has served the country well in the past 40 years. We must also recognise the important role which the independent sector is contributing, in particular TV3 and the superb TG4. The independent radio stations have also contributed hugely to local communities with good programming and content. As chairman of the joint committee, I and my fellow committee members look forward to interacting with all of these organisations during the term of this Dáil.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ring.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill because it is such an important one to come before the House at this time. I recognise the importance of RTE and the great work it has done for Ireland in the past 40 years. However, considering the high taxes and license fee we deserve such a service. I compliment RTE on what it has done in recent years.

I welcome the Bill, which has many good points. One aspect that is extremely important is the promotion of the concept of Irishness on television. In my view, RTE fails to bring major elements of this concept to the fore. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, is aware that in my parish, Bree, there is a group called Celtic Roots which travels all over the world performing shows that are somewhat similar to Riverdance. Last summer, Celtic Roots invited similar groups from six or seven European countries to take part in a folk dance festival in my parish but this fact was not mentioned on national radio or television and garnered very little coverage in the national newspapers. An event of this nature should be highlighted. Celtic Roots received very little money from central government. The Minister of State and I worked hard to obtain such funding from Wexford County Council. Such festivals – it is brilliant that they are organised on a voluntary basis – happen throughout the country but people are not aware that this is the case.

In recent years our concept of Irishness has changed and we are becoming a multicultural nation. The Minister referred to the promotion of Irish talent and culture. In that context, will he indicate if he means a traditional concept of Irishness or a multicultural one?

It is great that part of the licence fee will be used to encourage the establishment and maintenance of independent stations throughout the country. As far as I am aware, there is no independent station in my constituency. I know that people in Cork and Kerry have their own television station which provides information on what is happening in the region. That is brilliant. Deputy O'Flynn referred to the track record of local radio stations. At present, Radio Kilkenny is in trouble. I hope that my local radio station in Wexford will never be in trouble because it is an important asset.

It is giving the Deputy too much publicity.

I do not get enough publicity when I have the opportunity to criticise the Government. The Minister of State is well aware of the importance of the local radio station in Wexford, which has a wide-ranging listenership.

Counties such as Mayo, Kerry, Wexford, Donegal and Dublin all have their own local radio stations. Deputy Broughan referred to Newstalk 106, to which I listen on a regular basis when I am in Dublin. People who live in rural areas stop listening to national stations when they have access to local stations which provide current affairs, religious, Irish music, country and western and other programmes.

I hope that, particularly in the area of television, more community-based stations will come on stream. In the debate in the Seanad, Senator Finucane referred to establishing the cost involved in establishing a community-based television station. In light of the machinery, equipment, etc., necessary to run one of these stations, the costs involved are high. However, I hope that in the future many more stations will begin to appear.

The Minister referred to digital television. RTE must keep up with advances in this area. People who subscribe to Sky Television can gain access to 300 or 400 channels. Perhaps the provision of a wide range of channels is the way of the future. I hope that RTE 1, Network 2 and TG4 will keep up with developments in digital television.

The Minister also made reference to television archives. It is great to be able to watch programmes which show what happened in the past. One such programme is "Reeling in the Years". It is brilliant that a young person like me can look at "Reeling in the Years" and see what occurred in politics or in other walks of life 40, 50 or 60 years ago. Some excellent programmes – comedy programmes, films, etc. – were made in the past and these are not being shown enough on television. I would like RTE to show more of these archive programmes, films and documentaries.

Not enough programmes such as "Fair City" are being made in Ireland. Since "Glenroe" was cancelled, people are obliged to watch "Eastenders", "Neighbours", "Coronation Street" or whatever. Not enough television programmes of this kind are being made here. In addition, I would like to see more quality children's programming of an educational nature on television, rather than having our young people look at cartoons.

I hope that adequate funding will be available in the future to facilitate subtitling and captioning. I have strong opinions about subtitles. There are many people who are not as lucky as Members and who, although they may be able to read, are deaf and dumb. It is great when one comes across a programme in respect of which subtitles are provided because these allow people who are deaf to follow what is going on. I am aware that subtitling is expensive but it is something to which serious consideration must be given. On any given day, only a limited number of programmes carry subtitles. The Minister of State, other Deputies from Wexford and I met earlier with a number of people with disabilities, although none of them were deaf. It is important that progress be made in respect of the subtitling of programmes. RTE 1 is making some good progress in this area but the performance of Network 2 is poor.

I welcome the Bill, which is good. It is great that TV3 has provided competition. The latter is extremely important because it drives us forward. Competition from TV3 will keep RTE and TG4 on their toes and ensure that they continue to develop their programming. I hope that the 5%, or €8 million, will be spent wisely and that results will be achieved. The Minister and the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will be monitoring the position closely to ensure that such results come about.

I wish to share two minutes of my time with Deputy Timmins.

There are 11 minutes remaining in this slot.

The Deputy merely wishes to make a point and only requires two minutes.

I apologise for spoiling the party. I am in favour of the proposals contained in the Bill but I am completely opposed to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland having anything to do with it. I was hoping that when he introduced the Bill, the Minister would sack the commission because it is a disgrace. The BCI has made a mess of its job in respect of radio licences and I have no confidence in it. I will find it difficult to vote in favour of the Bill because, under its provisions, the commission has been given responsibility to deal with financial matters.

I propose that the Minister sack the entire commission which recently took away the licence of North-West Radio, which had a listenership of over 90% and which had won national awards. On the day of the meeting to decide on the licence, half the members of the board of the commission were missing and the chairman, on a casting vote, gave it to another franchise. I have no confidence in the BCI and I was hoping that the Minister would have sacked its members by now. It is a disgrace that these people will be given more responsibility when they are not able to shoulder the responsibility they already have in terms of awarding radio licences.

I am disappointed with the Bill and I will have to discuss matters with members of my party and try to encourage them to vote against it on the basis that the BCI will have responsibility for distributing the funding. I hope the members of my party will agree with my stance because if the BCI, some of the members of which do not even turn up for meetings, cannot deal with awarding licences, how can it be given responsibility for disbursing a fund? I am not here to say nice things about the BCI. All of its members should be sacked. If, at some future stage, I found myself on the benches opposite as a Minister, that would be the first job I would do. The BCI has made a mess of awarding radio licences.

Many people have been critical of RTE. I have always been a supporter of RTE, which gets a great deal of bad press, although I do not watch RTE very often. Every time RTE broadcasts a programme a Fianna Fáil Minister or Senator must be on it. Last Sunday night, I turned on RTE and, as soon as I saw Senator O'Rourke, I switched to the BBC. On Monday night I listened to Deputy Glennon on RTE radio on my way to Dublin. I am sick and tired of seeing the Taoiseach on television every time he attends the All-Ireland final or Shelbourne Park. Does RTE employ a full-time cameraman to cover the Taoiseach's attendance at sporting events in this country? Last year in the run up to the All-Ireland Hurling Final, even though Offaly was not playing, the Minister for Foreign Affairs was interviewed on RTE.

Mayo certainly was not in it.

What is wrong with Fine Gael Members and others that they cannot be interviewed? Why was Deputy Glennon interviewed? Why was Deputy Deenihan not interviewed in regard to the GAA? Why does it always have be a Fianna Fáil Member?

I saw the Deputy on the news last week.

I watched the news last night, which featured the rebels from Fianna Fáil. I counted nine Deputies. Fianna Fáil wants to be portrayed as the Government and the Opposition at the same time and RTE is falling for that trick. People watch programmes using subtitles but I am glad I was able to turn down the volume.

The Deputy is not doing badly in terms of publicity.

If the BCI distributes money under the legislation, will it be given to friends of Fianna Fáil? I have no confidence in the commission and I hope my party opposes the legislation.

RTE does a good job in terms of sports coverage and I do not have a problem paying the licence fee. People pay a great deal of money for Sky packages every month and they do not mind. RTE has done a good job over the years and it must be complimented. However, I have been pushing for subtitling for years. Elderly people who are hard of hearing and deaf and dumb people need subtitles to follow programmes. The funding should be put in place for subtitling because it is important. The Deaf Association of Ireland has been campaigning on this for many years and I hope the Minister of State will allocate funding under the legislation for this. Support for subtitling should be given to TG4, RTE and TV3.

Previous speakers were critical of TV3 but it is a private company, which cannot compete with RTE because it receives massive money from the State. TV3 is trying to make money and it cannot do what the Government, county councils and RTE do when they run up large deficits, which is run to the taxpayer to bail them out. TV3 will be gone if it cannot make a profit. There is no point comparing TV3 with TG4 and RTE because it is not in the same category.

I met a lady who was making television programmes about festivals during the summer. She visited north Mayo to film an annual racing event on the Sandy Banks at Geesala. Thousands of people were in attendance. She sought funding from Fáilte Ireland, Ireland West and every other body but she could not get any. I hope the next time she applies for funding for a similar programme she will have an opportunity under this legislation to obtain assistance from the State. The BCI's members cannot even turn up for meetings and, therefore, I do not know how decisions on funding will be made.

The intent of the legislation is good but I am worried about who will disburse the funding. Even the electronic voting contract could not be awarded yesterday without being given to a friend of Fianna Fáil. A former Fianna Fáil general secretary is involved with the company that was awarded by the contract for electronic voting by the Minister. I am totally opposed to that voting system because at some stage a computer whiz kid will decide the next Government because he will be able to hack into the computers. He will be able to decide which party he wants in Government and nine times out of ten, given what is happening in the country, he will be a Fianna Fáil supporter and he will want another Fianna Fáil Government. It is hard enough to get rid of Fianna Fáil as it is. What will we do if the party has computers backing it up?

It is not appropriate to cast aspersions on people outside or inside the House.

There are a few of them—

I would prefer if the Deputy did not continue along that line.

Is the Ceann Comhairle referring to the BCI?

No, I refer to casting aspersions on people interfering with the voting agreement.

It is the truth and anything I say is the truth.

I cannot allow the Deputy to continue.

An individual will do that. We saw what happened in America. The Americans can put people on the moon but they cannot run a presidential election. They made a mess of it using electronic voting. We will have a similar crisis here but the trouble is nobody will stand up and shout.

Many cultural events should be covered and supported under the legislation and this footage should be kept for posterity. We are losing many of our traditions. There used to be a fair day in every town and village once but that is no more. Festivals are being wiped out because of insurance costs. The support given by volunteers to many events is dying and people are more and more dependent on television to keep their children occupied. That is not good and the influence of television contributes to the problems of society. Like everything else, television output should be controlled. People should be able to switch their televisions on and off when they want. I would prefer if children were outside playing football and other games like they did in the past.

The Bill is doomed because the BCI will make sure of that. The commission made a mess of awarding licences. The Minister is permitting foreigners to enter the Irish market to buy up local radio licences. That should not happen and the Government should stop this immediately. Too few people control the media in Ireland currently and in future outside influences will control the media as they buy into local radio stations. Local radio was supposed to be run by local people to cover local events. The Government wants to destroy it now that it is successful. The Government needs to introduce the necessary legislation to prevent local radio stations being taken over by foreigners. This issue should be examined under this legislation because it is wrong and it should be addressed immediately.

I thank my good friend for sharing his time at short notice. I agree with the Deputy's comments on RTE. It is all right to praise the station but for the past few years the concept of good cop, bad cop has annoyed many people. I received a telephone call following the "Nine O'Clock News" last night from a man who said he had been looking at Fianna Fáil Members behaving as the Government and the Opposition at the same time. People are sick of this. RTE should analyse the time given to Fianna Fáil Ministers and backbenchers because they are trying to usurp the democratic process.

I would like the money to be provided under the legislation to be used to recover archival footage of local communities, which many people do not realise exists. It should be recovered and put on display because people are interested in that.

I do not want this contribution to become a full whinge session but one of my problems with RTE relates to its lack of analysis of issues on programmes such as "Prime Time". A number of programmes were devoted to illegal dumping in County Wicklow. One story, which was totally untrue, was broadcast. A claim was made that Wicklow County Council had received a bill for €1 million as a result of the illegal dumping but the person withdrew it subsequently. The story generated sensational headlines and was run on a few news bulletins but when the story changed, RTE did not correct its coverage.

However, I refer to the main reason I wanted to contribute to the debate. I am not a prude but one Saturday night a few weeks I entered a house and "The Simpsons" was on television. The British Prime Minister is lending his voice to the programme. However, during the programme Bart Simpson was talking about pornographic pictures. "The Simpsons" is a source of many subliminal messages to which I am very much opposed. A Circuit Court judge recently stated people who download pornography should serve a jail sentence. He said pornography is a scourge and leads to the abuse of women and young children. Much of the material in "The Simpsons" is totally unsuitable for young children, teenagers and adults. I took this issue up with a member of the censorship board and he told me not to worry because such messages go over the heads of children. However, this is unhealthy and needs to be examined.

I wish to share time with Deputy McGuinness.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this Bill as a very positive step towards making a difference for Irish programmes and adult literacy programmes. The Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003 establishes a new scheme of funding for television and radio programmes, which will be administered by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. The Bill outlines the general objectives of the scheme and refers to details which are to be worked out by the BCI and cleared with the Minister.

There are a number of reasons for welcoming the Bill. It covers key areas of Irish society which we wish to promote and assist. In particular, it refers to new programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience, new programmes to improve adult literacy and additional Irish language programmes. The scheme will also fund the development of archiving of television and radio programmes.

During recent discussions with people who are anxious that section 481 of the Finance Act should be retained and extended, I was particularly struck by examples from France, Germany and elsewhere about funding packages which included tax incentives, Government grants such as exist under the Irish Film Board and a separate support from the broadcasting industry. The Bill before the House is very helpful in earmarking the 5% fund and targeting it towards specific programmes of an Irish or literacy content, for which I commend the Minister.

An example of a production about Irish life, which was funded abroad and filmed on the Isle of Man was the film "Waking Ned". For the information of those who may not have seen it, the film portrayed Ned Devine, a west of Ireland bachelor farmer who was found dead in his farmhouse after he had won the Irish national lottery. It outlined subsequent attempts by his neighbours to claim the money and deal with the man from the lottery office in Dublin, who travelled through the beautiful green countryside to the west to check out the validity of the claim. What a shame such a great film about Irish society was funded and filmed abroad.

Another such example, which will not be on our television screens until 2004, having been filmed and funded in Ireland, is a programme entitled "Island of Inis Cool". It is currently in a format of 26 episodes of 13 minutes each. The promoters and directors gave great praise to section 481 and to the Irish Film Board for the funding which allowed this first ever animated Irish television series to be created here. They were concerned that if section 481 was not extended, they would not be able to create a second series of the programme. I ask the Minister to clarify that programmes such as this can apply for the funding being provided for under this Bill.

As a matter of interest, the idea for "Island of Inis Cool" was created against the backdrop of the film "Waking Ned". In the Inis Cool programme, three Irish bachelors live on an island of that name, off the west coast of Ireland. It provides, with animation, a wonderful insight to Irish culture and heritage on our Islands off the west coast. Although this would not be regarded as a new programme, since the first series is already made, I presume a new or second series could be created if funding was available. I ask the Minister to clarify that applications of that type will be welcome under the new fund being created by the Bill before the House.

The fund will be on the basis of 5% of television licence fees, giving a fund of approximately €8 million, at the current licence fee of €150. In recent years, the proceeds of television licences have doubled to a figure in the region of €160 million. There is an excellent opportunity to identify key areas in Irish life which can be ring-fenced in this way for funding.

I congratulate the national public service broadcaster on a number of wonderful achievements already in the sectors we are discussing in this Bill. Of particular note with regard to programmes on adult literacy is the "Read Write Now" programme, which goes out twice weekly on RTE television. I commend that work, which has been supported by my party colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, who is very supportive of initiatives on adult literacy. The programme has been of great help to many people in the privacy of their own homes in this very sensitive area of improving their reading and writing skills. It is also very positive in highlighting individuals who left school early in the 1950s and 1960s and, as adults, were able to achieve so much by upskilling themselves in reading and writing. I welcome the provisions of the Bill for funding such programmes.

With regard to the existing RTE archival programme, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to look back over events of years as far back as 1981. Such archiving of programmes is an excellent facility which deserves every encouragement. The Bill will provide funding for such archival facilities, thereby keeping certain memories alive for people. I again commend the Bill to the House.

With regard to the contributions of Deputies Ring and Timmins, who have just left the Chamber, perhaps if they were doing their business as members of an Opposition party, they would secure the radio and television time they are demanding. Their criticism of the regular appearance of the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and Ministers on television programmes highlights the fact that if they were doing their work properly, Deputies Ring and Timmins might get the coverage they desire.

Deputy Ring called for the removal of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. I have some reservations about the BCI which I will address in the context of Deputy Ring's remarks. With regard to BCI's role in issuing licences to local radio stations, I was less than impressed by the manner in which it conducted its business. Because the BCI will now have responsibility for disbursing this fund, I believe it is necessary to introduce regulations and criteria under which the current BCI and the new body will operate. There will have to be far greater transparency and accountability to this House in the exercise of those functions and the distribution of the fund.

The track record of the BCI with regard to local radio simply lacks credibility. In my constituency, the local radio station, Radio Kilkenny, lost its licence. As in Deputy Ring's area, the submission was professionally presented and had community support, as provided for in various parts of the Bill before the House with regard to local broadcasting. Radio Kilkenny had a track record and the support of the commercial sector in Kilkenny and surrounding counties. It was recognised as doing a good job by those who assess the performance of local radio. The radio content and listenership were acknowledged nationally, yet the station did not get a renewal of its licence, which was transferred to a commercial operator.

I have no difficulty with the involvement of a commercial operator, but I have a difficulty with a procedure which allows the transfer to the private sector of wealth created by a community-driven co-op, in terms of the assets of listenership and commercial support. That is simply not acceptable. When challenged on the issue, the response from the BCI was less than professional and less than adequate on the part of a body with such important functions. There was a lack of understanding by the BCI as to the commercial market and listenership involved. That showed a lack of professionalism. This means that a community will be without a local radio station, without that means to advertise and the listeners, who were committed and connected to it, will not have access to it for the period the transition takes place. There has been a stop-start response to that transition. It has been a question of whether the operators currently in place will hold a licence for a month and whether they will continue to hold it for another month. There has been no acknowledgement of the fact that this is an important time of the year in terms of the Christmas market and community groups, volunteers and charitable organisations using the airwaves to get their message out to raise money and so on. There has also been no acknowledgement of the new licence holder being willing to pick up the ball, hit the ground running and deliver to the community and the listenership. There was no understanding of that market and of the difficulty concerning the licence holder and the incoming licence operator, which is incredible.

Due to the fact that the BCI is now involved in distributing this money, in the context of this Bill, I appeal to the Minister on Committee Stage to ensure that type of poor response to a public broadcaster by the replacement body for the BCI, or by the BCI, if it is to continue in its current form, will not be tolerated.

The fund will raise in the region of €8 million and will be disbursed on an annual basis. It is important to understand that RTE has played an amazing role in public broadcasting down through the years. With the advances in digital technology and competition in this global market, there is a need for RTE to reflect on how it produces programmes and the types of programmes it produces. While having to ensure that the programmes broadcast have a strong viewer numbers, it must also ensure that there is an Irish content in those programmes. That mix is not easily achieved. In light of the success that RTE has enjoyed to date, it will have to reflect on its market and understand the basis of the success to date of community radio.

I believe local TV channels will shortly emerge. Pirate radio stations grew and prospered and quickly moved into the local community radio scene with which we are familiar. Television is fast going down that track. Members of communities who embraced local radio and the technology around it will quickly embrace local TV stations and the benefits they will bring to local communities.

Robert Putnam wrote a book in which he refers to social capital. The best expression of social capital is through the broadcasting of local television or local radio. The book states that social capital is contact with people. Television and community radio are the essence of contact with people. They make contact with people who are prisoners in their homes, for one reason or another – people with a disability who cannot get out and play a role in mainstream community activities. Even the political system is part of social capital and of the need for those involved in it to express their views on local radio and television.

The effecting of change within a community is fast brought about by the presence of local radio. As politicians, we see that every day. It is the one medium that will create a focus on an issue at local authority or Government level by its use by the local politicians. Local regional television will have the same effect. That development is emerging far quicker than is being acknowledged. Communities are connected to such an extent to the concept of social capital and to a sense of ownership of local radio and television, that they will quickly embrace local television.

I am surprised the Department, which is only currently assessing the options for rolling out digital television services here, is not examining, in the context of the report mentioned, the issue of national and local television. That market exists and in a commercial sense it will be supported. Everything we do in the context of social capital and community is about the local. It is about supporting and developing our local communities and part and parcel of that is television and radio.

In the context of this fund, I hope the television stations that will apply for an allocation of part of this fund will be asked to examine that concept and that the new programmes they will be willing to produce will have a local community content and give expression to a local community concept, be it political or otherwise, because it is important to support the concept of the local.

The inclusion of such content should be a requirement of new programming, which must be brought forward by RTE if it is to service the change that is taking place in the market. It would be beneficial for it to examine that marketplace in detail. While we are swamped with channels from all over the world, there is a major demand for what is Irish on all the RTE channels, for its programming to be updated, for it to become more modern in its approach and presentations, for it to be more inclusive of the activities taking place in society and for it to emphasise what is happening at community level. That is the line that will lead RTE to success in a new structure of its programming to enable it to tackle the competitive and evolving market in which it operates.

I can understand people are reluctant to apply new technologies and concepts because they change every day, but there is no better time to start than now. There is never a good time to start. One has to enter the market, understand the market one is in, and be prepared to run with, invest in and change the technology one uses as one moves along. This fund enables us at least to focus on the type of programming that is being planned. If such money is spent well, it will mean a great difference to RTE radio and television.

I dealt with the market and the need to understand it. Ireland has changed so dramatically over the years in terms of the urban centres that have developed, how people work, the times they go to and come home from work, the types of demands being made on them in the context of their work and how well informed they wish to be about economic and social developments in Ireland. There is need for RTE to address that market. While it is addressing it to a degree as it moves forward, there is a need for it to speed up in its response to that change to ensure that it becomes as competitive in the marketplace as those channels that are beamed in across Ireland. While the pay-per-view channels offer some competition, those channels would pose little competition if RTE was to understand the market, given that the great loyalty among viewers and listeners to the radio and television programmes it produces.

Deputy Ring referred to political coverage. This needs to be examined. The exposure that we get in the Houses is confined to a Wednesday morning and it needs to be expanded. How young people understand politics and what we do in this House is an issue. There is a need to further publicise local and national politics because of the pace of life in society. This will give people a window on the work done in the House by making it more transparent. It will also give a greater understanding to the legislation passed in the House which has a strong Irish content. Members of the public will understand more clearly our workings and dealings and become more connected to the workings of the political system, particularly young people. I hope that the many issues raised on Second Stage will be teased out on Committee Stage.

I wish to share time with Deputies Connaughton and Deenihan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Many speakers in both Houses have complimented local radio stations and television. It is only proper that we, as Members, recognise the contribution made by other broadcasters outside of the remit of the State broadcasting service, RTE. I congratulate local radio stations, such as my local LMFM, for the revolution they have created on the airwaves.

The Bill is mainly concerned with funding for television and radio programmes of a difference. However, we should also address the question of start-up and day-to-day funding for new and existing community television and radio broadcasters. Local radio now achieves more listeners than the public broadcaster. This is not surprising as listeners want to hear programmes that are relevant to their local area and which cover local issues, debates, death notices, sporting events and gossip.

Unlike the national broadcaster, local radio has managed to do this while remaining profitable. While no one can question the quality of programmes on RTE, their cost base must be questioned. One factor behind the great success of local radio is that it must keep costs to a minimum. By contrast, because of its privileged position, RTE has in some cases allowed costs to run out of control.

Local radio stations have become the training ground for broadcasters, researchers and producers. RTE should also play such a role. While not discriminating against of the well-known national broadcasters, if they demand premium salaries without fear, they should be allowed to seek a similar salary in other organisations in the knowledge they can be easily replaced by capable people who have cut their broadcasting teeth in local radio. This alone would cut the cost base of the national broadcaster, which, ultimately, can only afford to pay premium salaries on the back of the licence fee and taxpayer's money.

Figures of €300,000 and more have been quoted as the salaries of some of the main broadcasters. That is more than the Taoiseach earns. Are we getting value for money here? If this salary bill was cut, more funding could be made available to achieve the aims of this legislation.

The Bill proposes to ringfence 5% of the television licence fee to go to other broadcasters and producers in an attempt to develop high quality programmes based on Irish culture, identity and experience and to develop these programmes in the Irish language. It also aims to increase the availability of these programmes to audiences, to represent the diversity of Irish culture and heritage, including those aspects which are disappearing, are under threat, or have not been previously recorded. It also aims to develop local and community broadcasting and to produce programmes to improve adult literacy. These are welcome proposals but they will require more than the envisaged ringfence funding.

The ringfence fund is to be handed over to a commission with no detailed idea of what we intend to achieve. The Bill is vague on the return we hope to achieve for the money, which could be used to subsidise what the local and national broadcasters do already. For example, for every €100 expended from this scheme are we entitled to see or hear five minutes radio broadcasting or 30 seconds of television broadcasting? What criteria are to be used to ensure there is a definite return for this expenditure? Deputy Kehoe hopes to see results on this matter, but we can only see results if criteria are in place to measure them.

While the amount of money involved is not to be sneezed at, if a broadcaster such as RTE was to commission a large project on, say, the Famine or life on the Blasket Islands, much of it could be spent on one or two productions. This is contrary to the idea of the Bill, yet it contains no provisions to stop this happening. There is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the money can be easily accessed both to local as well as national broadcasting organisations.

When implemented, I hope the legislation will allow award-winning broadcasters from my local radio station, LMFM, such as Daire Nelson, Pat O'Shaughnessy or Micheal Reid and those who work with them to be able to access these moneys to record in their spare time our fast disappearing heritage and culture. This could be done for the experience and the love of what they do, rather than a large financial reward. I am sure there are similar broadcasters in the country. We must make it easy for them and not only the broadcasting agent to access these funds.

I have met individuals involved in short film productions who have no guarantee RTE or anyone else will broadcast them. Under the terms of the Bill, they now have to be shown by RTE or broadcasters under the commission's remit. However, to ensure funding, such productions must show they have received a guarantee they will be broadcast. This is unsatisfactory and it must be addressed on Committee Stage.

Deputy Coveney referred to the issue of subtitling in television broadcasting. The Bill discriminates against a large sector of the community in that it makes no attempt to address the hardships suffered by the hard-of-hearing and deaf. The Bill presents an ideal opportunity to do this. For example, in my constituency I know of a 68 year old lady living alone who, as she says herself, is as "deaf as a post". She has applied for a hearing loop through the physical and sensory aids and appliances scheme but was refused because as she is over the age of 65 years, she is deemed to be too old. Her application through the elderly services fund was also refused as no funding was available. During the summer, she keeps busy in the garden. However, during the winter she is. like many others, doomed to a lonely existence because, in consideration for her neighbours, she will not raise the volume on her television or radio. She simply watches the pictures.

To this lady, the absence of subtitling is another indication of the blindness to the needs of the deaf. In the United Kingdom and France most programmes are subtitled. While there was some excuse for not doing it when it was an expensive and laborious procedure, there is none in this age of technology. This lady also advised me that longevity is a feature of her family. She has one aunt who is 100 years of age while the remainder are in their nineties. If she and others like her fall into depression because of the isolation in which they are doomed to live, their treatment will cost the health boards more money than the measly cost of a hearing loop or subtitles. I was advised recently that considerable funding is available for the National Association for Deaf People to supply hearing aid systems to those who need them. However, given that it is a limited fund, we should follow in the steps of our European counterparts to ensure that programmes that qualify for a grant under this ringfence fund are subtitled.

The Bill needs to be more specific in the provision of funds and should contain better yardsticks in terms of measuring value for money. The subtitle issue must also be addressed.

I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes. I do not know what one can do with €8 million but it is better than nothing. The concept by which it was introduced was a good one. At least there are some targets. I hope the quality of the programming will be good but I note it could be as late as 2005 when the programmes are broadcast.

On the issue of political coverage, RTE should be careful the Government has not set up a plan where Government backbenchers, having voted for a measure in the House, then object to it outside. That would amount to political pantomime and I hope the producers in RTE will not fall for it.

There is no danger of that happening.

I was amazed when the franchise was taken from North West Radio. Its broadcasts almost reached the area where I live and it was doing an excellent job. A week after losing its licence it was deemed to be one of the best broadcasting stations in the country. A survey showed it had the best audience penetration in the country. I found it difficult to understand why it had lost its franchise.

I have always believed in a good public service broadcasting service. It is not possible to have it otherwise in a democracy like ours. I salute RTE on the basis that most of the time it does a professional job, although sometimes this proves costly. In the past year I understand there has been an onslaught on its cost base and I presume that is one of the reasons for the Bill. We can be proud of our national broadcaster when it is judged against the giants throughout Europe and the world against which it competes. I believe its success is because it pays considerable attention to our national culture, heritage, etc. Regardless of their age, Irish people will always have an affinity towards those provided they are presented in a professional way.

That is not to say I do not want to see competition – I certainly do. I take my hat off to TV3 for what it does. Much of its output is highly professional despite being in a much more hostile business environment than RTE. It is out in the big bad world and has to work for every penny. That has worked to our advantage and has been good for RTE indirectly. Although I am not a fluent Irish speaker, I also take my hat off to TG4. Deputy Michael Higgins was very much behind this. TG4's involvement in television has been hugely successful. While commentators sometimes blame it for having poor audience figures, we are not comparing like with like.

I hope the €8 million will help to keep all the young producers, researchers, presenters, etc. here in Ireland. All the private companies that contribute to television programmes should be given a fair crack of the whip. They have a considerable amount to offer outside of RTE or TV3 while still working closely with them.

There are sectoral interests which I hope RTE will not disregard. My background is in rural Ireland. One of the best farming programmes is "Ear to the Ground". I hope nobody in RTE wants to axe that type of programme. "Seascapes" is an excellent programme with its sea and fishing stories. Slots like "Farm Diary" and the business news are hugely important. While these may not command huge audiences, it is vital that we have such balanced programming.

Those involved in local radio are my heroes. We are blessed with local radio, which has shown that something that is local and is professionally done for and by the people of an area will get their attention. We should do all we can to maintain that concept.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which establishes a fund, and not on the broader discussion we must have on broadcasting, which will cover such matters as digital terrestrial television and the explosion in the number of channels available to viewers. Neither does the Bill deal with broadband provision of community television. Deputy Devins and I formed part of a delegation to Australia recently which attended a major seminar in Canberra on the provision of community television through broadband.

In this country we are swamped by what I call the Anglo-American media onslaught. There is a danger, especially for the younger generation, that we will lose our sense of Irishness. The distinctive culture and heritage that distinguishes us as a people could be under threat. This is why I admire the aspiration in the provision of this fund. The provisions in section 2 are praiseworthy in how they outline the qualifying criteria.

The Minister emphasised that the fund is not for broadcasters but for the audience, which is also laudable. However, given that the different schemes have, since 1997, produced about 2,000 people skilled in various forms of television and audio-visual production – film, camera, scriptwriting and various aspects of producing a documentary or film, and given that 1,000 people attend colleges to learn about television and film production, etc., it is clear that the additional finance of the fund established in the legislation is needed.

The RTE report for 2002 showed that the independent production unit had €32 million at its disposal. More than 400 companies applied for this funding. Only 131 received commissions, which indicates the level of demand and the limited supply of finance available. I have been involved in seven productions at different levels – but for RTE and the independent production unit, which operates on a small budget, none of these documentaries on Kerry writers would have been made. I am now involved in making a documentary on Con Houlihan which will be shown shortly. Were it not for the fact that RTE could give a commitment that, if the documentary was good enough, it would be screened, which allowed me to seek finance from friends of Con Houlihan, it would never have proceeded. Now it will go ahead and RTE will contribute about €20,000. Were it not for that money, it would not have gone ahead. I recognise that the independent production unit has been productive with the amount of finance available to it. Many programmes would not have been made without that unit.

I agree with Deputy Connaughton's sentiments on the "Ear to the Ground" and "Seascapes" programmes. "Island Life", which is about a vet's practice in County Mayo and will be screened shortly, is also a very good series. These are innovative productions about rural life and show television in the regions giving a broader view of the regions. Now that this fund is available, I hope we will see more of this type of programming. Of the commissions granted, seven went to companies in Northern Ireland, seven to companies in the United Kingdom and 45 to other companies.

The €8 million will be reduced to €7.6 million when the administrative costs are taken out. It will be open to companies throughout Europe to apply for money from this fund and this will probably happen. There may also be joint productions involving companies in Europe in association with companies in Ireland. Because of the amount of transnational contact taking place between France, Spain and Ireland there is scope for us to go beyond the local and connect with the bigger picture in Europe. This should be encouraged. The legislation opens up the potential for funding opportunities. At the moment, if somebody wants funding for a documentary, he or she can go, for example, to the Irish Film Board, the independent production unit of RTE, TG4, TV3 and even the BBC which funds productions in Ireland. People can now look for assistance from the broadcasting fund which we are discussing.

A system should be put in place to avoid duplication. There may be scope for partial funding from RTE's independent production unit and, perhaps, from this new funding provision. Will the Minister clarify this matter? In the event of funding not being secured, can a commitment for finance be given to a production company if it can come up with matching finance? Will the funding provided be full or partial? It is important that this point is clarified.

Overall, I am very much in favour of the Bill. It is a welcome source of funding for independent production companies. There is a great deal of stories to be told and rich subject matter to explore, which will not happen without finance being available. Experts here are capable of translating these stories into documentaries and I hope this legislation will give them the opportunity to do so.

I wish to share time with Deputy Devins.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Like previous speakers, I welcome the Bill. It is an important part of the broadcasting programme and adds to what has already been done. Radical changes have been made in the recent past and I hope we continue to deal with issues as the need arises.

I welcome the fact that almost every speaker complimented RTE and expressed satisfaction with the station. In previous years they might not have been as complimentary. In the past RTE was sometimes unfavourably compared with other national broadcasters. RTE has done an excellent job and I join other speakers in complimenting it.

I agree with Deputy Deenihan's concern about the danger of losing our sense of being Irish, but the opposite has happened, which may be due to competition between the three stations. Productions at RTE have improved steadily in recent times. I concur with those Members who referred to "Seascapes" and other programmes which deal with the environment and important topical and historical issues.

Deputies English, Connaughton and others referred to the cost factor. When the Minister received the report from the forum on broadcasting and initially launched the Bill, he pointed out that RTE was in the process of delivering significant change and that it was conscious of the need to be more cost effective and financially accountable. I questioned the spending of large sums of money in the past – far more than any political party would spend – on the promotion of a few personalities who were also paid large sums of money. I would have preferred to see the money spread around more fairly rather than benefiting a small elite group. The response I got at the time was that no other talent was available, that these were the gifted few. I do not accept that was the case, as has been proven by the emergence of talent since the development of other stations and, as Deputy English said, through local radio stations, and television in the case of Cork. The talent is there and merely requires to be nurtured. There should be a more even sharing of the funds available in RTE where it seemed that people were practically allowed to write their own contracts. I do not say this out of a sense of begrudgery but this is not a policy I would support.

Certain speakers commented on the commission and funding. Reference was made in a conspiratorial manner to the fact that people would buy into Fianna Fáil. Commission members both now and in future will have to act in an open and transparent fashion.

The usual complaints have been aired. The Sinn Féin Party views RTE as anti-republican while the Fine Gael Party thinks RTE favours Fianna Fáil. The Fianna Fáil Party's views on some programmes are well documented. RTE must be doing a good job if it manages to upset everybody.

The Independents are excluded.

The Labour Party said nothing.

A number of speakers referred to subtitling, which is a matter that needs to be addressed. This can legitimately be described as part of the duty of a public service broadcaster. Given the cost involved, I wonder if this is the appropriate vehicle for this matter. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's concluding remarks.

Speakers also referred to broadcasting of the proceedings in the Oireachtas. We should have a public service channel showing the Oireachtas in operation. The BBC has one, as do various other national broadcasters. Cynics might say that nobody would be interested in this option. That is an insult to people, whom I believe are most interested in civic issues and what goes on here. It would allow people to make their own judgments rather than relying on a soundbite from whatever source or a few paragraphs of summary from a reporter after five or six hours of committee proceedings. People should be able to see what is going on in committees and elsewhere, not alone in regard to matters of local interest but to ensure that they are getting value for money in general.

About eight or nine years ago I attended a conference in UCC on communications and broadcasting. It was an international conference sponsored by the thenCork Examiner which was attended by Irish media experts and others from around the world. A politician who was on the panel of speakers said that one of the primary difficulties faced by him and those with whom he worked was that reporters had been replaced with commentators. If I or any of my Cabinet colleagues said that, we would be denounced from on high. That remark was made by John Hume. The session was chaired by Mr. Crosbie of the then Cork Examiner. Nobody disagreed with the point. It is important that people have direct access to proceedings rather than depending on soundbites or on one reporter interviewing another and trying to decide what the person making the statement had in mind. I would like to see the Oireachtas opened up to the public in this way. If some of us are performing badly, members of the public should be allowed to see it. We have no difficulty with them seeing what is really happening.

The focus is on diverting money deliberately to ensure certain things happen. We have all paid lip service to this idea but it is important to ensure it is put into practice. There is huge money involved with which a great deal can be done. There are specific things I would like to see done but that is an issue for later discussion.

While many parts of the country do not have local television stations, we have one in Cork which is excellent. With Cork 96 FM, it broadcasts junior sports events in the county as well as larger events such as county championship matches. There is massive coverage of GAA events. We all have an interest in local sport. In this regard, I have an opportunity to watch Gerald McCarthy on television and listen to Finbar McCarthy on radio. They attend GAA games on which they have the knowledge to comment. These elements can be applied to almost any topic. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to make a good broadcast and explain to people what is happening.

There is a real commitment to this philosophy on the parts of the Minister and his Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I compliment them on what they are trying to achieve. The forum on broadcasting stated clearly that RTE's role as the designated public service broadcaster should be reaffirmed. That is the end of the story. While we all accept that RTE is the organisation which fulfils this function, some additional guidelines are necessary. We are adopting this approach in respect of all public services. There has generally been a cynical approach to the public service but this is changing to a great extent. We are raising standards. People were cynical about benchmarking and the paying out of money but there is a balance being struck. People have to deliver and their performance will be measured. I work in the public service and I am proud to say our standard is of the excellence required. However, the subject under discussion is broadcasting.

I am happy with our progress and commend the Bill. I wish the Minister well. It would be useful if he were to refer to what Deputy Coveney correctly pointed out is termed "captioning".

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the very important Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003. The Minister promised this legislation in 2002 and its main goal is to transfer to a broadcasting funding scheme 5% of total television licensing fee receipts. In the current year 5% amounts to €8 million. The funds generated will be used to make new radio and television programmes according to three sets of criteria. According to the first set, programmes will be geared toward the promotion of Irish culture, identity and experience.

Since the foundation of the State, the protection of the national identity has been part and parcel of the policies of successive Governments. In the initial stages of the State's existence, these policies were pursued subconsciously as a logical development of our emerging sense of belonging in a new Ireland. With increasing globalisation and our membership of the European Union, there is a danger that many aspects of our Irishness, particularly our sense of national identity, may be diluted or lost. Many media outlets, particularly television and cinema, portray the cultures and values of other countries, especially those of the United States of America where a great many programmes originate.

We are all aware of the power of the media to influence people, especially the young. It is important, therefore, to put in place a system of checks and balances. The Irish sense of identity is very strong. It is founded on a culture which is rich and diverse. Ireland is a small country and we have a powerful sense of place and strongly identify with our localities. It is fascinating that when two Irish people meet for the first time at home or abroad, the conversation invariably turns to the local origins of each. Having spoken to people from other countries, I believe consideration of our sense of locality is much more likely to occur during an interaction between Irish people than between people of other nationalities.

With the increasing domination of other cultures, particularly that of the United States of America, there is a constant danger that our sense of national identity will be diminished. Our culture and traditions are rich and thrive in many aspects of contemporary life. One need only consider the huge renaissance being enjoyed by Irish literature, music and dance to appreciate how fertile contemporary conditions are. It is important to take steps to protect this rich cultural tradition. The Bill will ensure this happens by implementing measures which will encourage new audiences in Ireland and provide funding to archive material produced in the State.

I warmly welcome the archiving provisions. Attempts have been made to archive material but this has generally been the preserve of distinguished individuals operating alone with few resources. Archiving should be carried out on a much more extensive basis. There is in place in the world of books and literature a system whereby a copy of every book produced in Ireland must be lodged in the library at Trinity College, Dublin. Perhaps it is time to establish a similar system whereby a copy of every programme produced for radio and television in Ireland is lodged in a central depository. A micro copy of these programmes should be stored for posterity. The National Library, a university or an institute of technology would provide a suitable venue for such a repository. Knowing the enthusiasm for Irish culture among third level students and staff, I am sure an institute of technology such as Sligo Institute of Technology would be delighted to be asked to fulfil this function.

The Bill provides for the development of programmes to improve adult literacy, particularly in the Irish language. Recent research has demonstrated that there are unacceptably high levels of adult illiteracy. Adults who suffer from illiteracy and can be persuaded to attend classes generally show a remarkable ability to learn to read and write. The perceived shame in many cases prohibits them from seeking help. Listening to a radio programme or watching television in the privacy of one's home should help them to overcome any reluctance to seek help and encourage them to become more proficient readers and writers. They can subsequently be encouraged to attend classes and, gradually, fulfil their true potential.

I am delighted to note that local radio stations are to be allowed to use moneys allocated to the broadcasting fund to provide the above services. One of the success stories of recent times concerns the phenomenal achievements of local radio in reaching out to a huge audience. I congratulate my local radio station, North West Radio, which has already been referred to by Deputy Connaughten. The station is based in Sligo but covers the entire north-west area. It has recently been voted the best local radio station in the country. Many, including me, listen avidly to its great mixture of national and local news, current affairs and music. Unfortunately, it has been informed by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland that it is to lose its licence. This decision has been received with great regret and dismay among its many listeners. The fact that its only recourse of appeal is the courts is particularly galling.

I welcome the Minister of State's comment that a new appeals system will be established to challenge decisions like this one without having to resort to the expensive and cumbersome legal route. In the interests of fairness and democracy, an appeals system should be established sooner rather than later. Once in place, it would provide a fair and transparent forum in which stations which had lost their licences could have their cases heard. Such an appeals mechanism is not in place and I call on the Minister to establish one as soon as possible.

This Bill represents a major step forward in the development of broadcasting in Ireland. It will protect and enhance our culture while, for the first time, allowing some of the funds generated from television licence fees to go to local radio stations. I commend the Bill to the House.

I differ from other speakers, and do so as a former Minister with responsibility for broadcasting. The legislation is fundamentally flawed. It blurs the distinction that should exist between the national broadcaster, the national broadcasting authority, the Minister and the Government. As I listened to the previous speech about how the proposals in the Bill will advance culture, I restrained myself from remembering how the Ministry of culture was abolished by the party opposite which could not live with the word "culture" in a Department's title. Having removed the word "culture", lest there ever be a Minister for culture again, it went on to demolish the Department.

I wish to illustrate clearly what I mean by the flaws at the heart of the legislation. I addressed these in February 1997 when I produced anaide-memoire on broadcasting for Government. In my time, we prepared a Green Paper on broadcasting. I published heads of a Bill and sought approval from the then Government for a broadcasting Bill to be prepared. I am probably precluded by the Supreme Court from referring in detail to the documents which I brought to Cabinet, but I am glad that I retained a sufficient amount of notes and drafts to be able to say exactly what we proposed.

Fundamental to my thinking was a distinction between the concept of the national broadcaster and public service broadcasting on the one hand and public service programming within a broadcasting service on the other hand. It is dishonest to suggest there is any similarity between the same. For example, as regards the latter, one could say that the announcement of death notices or the times of funerals on a radio station make it a public service broadcaster.

If one takes, for example, the criteria that have been used to define the public service broadcaster, where it exists, eight principles of public service broadcasting have been set out by Michael Treacy in his book on the BBC and the decline and fall of public service broadcasting. These criteria included: universality of availability, universality of appeal, provision for minorities, especially those disadvantaged by physical or social circumstance, servicing the public sphere – the nation speaking to itself in Lord Reith's terms, a commitment to the education of the public, and the distancing of public broadcasting from all vested interests. I pause on that sixth one to ask why these three areas of archives, culture and Irish identity will be looked after in this special way and why the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland will have to seek approval from the Minister. Does the authority of the national broadcaster not carry the burden of these responsibilities? This is satisfying the argument by firing in a reference to additionality.

The seventh criterion is that broadcasting should be so structured as to encourage competition and good programming rather than competition for numbers. I cannot emphasise sufficiently that the public service broadcaster has a duty to the citizens and that public service broadcasting is an act of citizenship catering for citizens rather than for consumers of a product in a commodified market. The eighth criterion is that the rules of broadcasting should liberate rather than restrict the programme maker. Can anybody who has spoken in favour of the legislation tell me that there is not a breach of autonomy between the Minister and the broadcasting authority in the first instance? Is the specification of the different areas in sections 3 and 7 not an invasion of the programming function? Section 7 could also constitute editorial interference. If section 7 undermines autonomy, interferes with programming and constitutes editorial interference, it is unsatisfactory.

I should say something else about the authority that will run the national broadcaster in any circumstance. One of the reasons I abolished the order under section 31 on proscription was that there was an incredible lack of trust involved – a lack of trust of the public to exercise discrimination, a lack of trust of the programme maker and a lack of trust of the authority to exercise functions as regards broadcasting. The Bill, irrespective of the number of people who say they are in favour of what it suggests, considerably erodes the trust which should be placed in the authority that is responsible for the national broadcaster. It interferes with autonomy and erodes trust. What it begins to make possible is quite tragic.

As it happens, I have supported some initiatives taken by the Minister in the past year or two. I entirely side with him on the disgraceful attempt by Rupert Murdoch's anti-democratic and unaccountable organisation to acquire sporting rights and I repeat my view, often offered at that time, that, as president of the Council of Broadcasting Ministers dealing with this issue, there was never a legal basis for anyone to sell as a commodity rights to sporting events which citizens had a right to view or hear. That is why I supported the Minister. However, I am afraid I cannot do so in respect of this legislation which flies in the face of some fundamentals of the integrity of public service broadcasting.

The Minister of State's speech made some unfortunate references to the Government's relationship to digital broadcasting. As rapporteur for the previous committee with responsibility for heritage and the Irish language, I was preparing a report on digital broadcasting when the then Minister, Deputy de Valera, made a dramatic announcement that Cabinet had decided on the digital question. As they would say down the country, "They had gone for digital terrestrial". They rejected satellite, cable and all the other interactive technologies. Of course, nothing came of it.

I agree with one person's speech here that if one has a ramshackle proposal, one is better to abandon it before it costs too much. The principles behind that proposal were equally interesting. It was not that they constructed a model of digital delivery that would, for example, follow the principle of universality in that one should not open a new fissure in society between the information rich and the information poor. Digital should be rolled out early. It should be an advantage to the State and it should carry other services and so on, but this did not happen.

I listened earlier to well-meaning Deputies speak as if the world were changing through some kind of great cosmic effect like the ice age or something similar. What is happening in Europe in regard to broadcasting, to which reference was made, is very knowable. I remember that, during my time as Minister, the then Commissioner with responsibility for competition wanted broadcasting regarded as a commodified entity. We had an enormous battle with the United States on the issue. In 1994 some 68% of all the fiction viewed in Europe came from the United States. That was not accidental. Audio-visual media was the second most important export from the United States to the European Union. There were different measures to deal with that. What Mr. Monti wanted was for audio-visual media to be regarded as a new service, a commodity to be treated by market principles. We argued, when we had a Ministry of culture, that broadcasting was much more than a commodity. It was a cultural expression of a people and the right of people to deal with each other.

We had the great advantage of living in the shadow of one of the finest broadcasting services in the world, the BBC. Whether I agree with Lord Reith or not, his principles of informing, educating and entertaining were important. However, the commodified regime reduces everything to the entertainment end. Thus, Mr. Murdoch was able to say he would use sport as the battering ram for what he intended to do with regard to broadcasting.

I supported the Minister in standing up to Mr. Murdoch and I would do the same tomorrow. I cannot, however, agree with the Minister with regard to the blurring of the distinction between Government, the Department responsible and the RTE authority. Neither can I countenance the interference in sections 3 and 7 in the work of the authority where the Minister says he will take responsibility for culture, heritage and Irish identity. Has the Minister relieved the authority of that duty? He has not. Therefore, this contradicts in a curious way some of the fundamental principles at the heart of the basic broadcasting legislation.

I will be charitable about the digital television issue and leave it aside for another day. I agree with Deputies raising practical issues. They are right to raise the issue of subtitling etc. I hide a reluctant hesitation to air my view that RTE has not always been excellent at delivering its public service function. If anything, RTE has lived with too much of a commercial shadow over it. It is a scandal that the market insists that we cannot put a ban on advertising directed at children as we approach Christmas. Sweden thought of doing this but was threatened by the vested interests of the European Union. Toymakers, for example, have threatened to take court cases. These are the people with whom we have to deal.

People describe the changes taking place in broadcasting as if they are grasping nettles. Mr. Berlusconi is a monopolist. He abuses broadcasting. He does so because of the three tendencies of the industry towards fragmentation of audiences, convergence of technologies and concentration of ownership. It is one of the most disgraceful failures of the European Union that it never defended the principle of the diversity of broadcasting in the face of the kind of onslaught that came from those who wanted commodified entertainment as their version of broadcasting. This is a scandal.

It came to a point where, for example, the European Parliament instructed the Commissioner responsible to do something about monopoly. He failed to do so and the President of the Commission said he supported the Commissioner and would leave the issue to be decided by the market. That is a case of Europe rolling over. It is not a case of something happening or evolving. It is a conscious decision to do nothing about the damage to public service broadcasting.

What was the function of the European Broadcasting Union when Ireland was a much poorer place than now? Its function was to ensure that all citizens of a country which was part of the Union had the right to see something of interest to them. We paid according to our capacity to pay. That folded under the threat of the purchase of rights by German conglomerates, which in turn went broke and rolled on. Some people think it is acceptable that four or five multinationals should dominate broadcasting. Three companies are responsible for more than 80% of the world market in animation. This does not happen by accident.

The situation I inherited in 1993 was a time when the right had gone down the road of reducing everything, including broadcasting, to the neo-liberal version of the market. We were fighting a rearguard action for public service broadcasting. That is the reason all the little mimics here who wanted to attack me about Teilifís na Gaeilge, now TG4, were saying it was a waste of money and the reason they were asking why I was introducing a nativist station, etc. The reality is they were little less than lackeys for Murdochism, with regard to broadcasting.

This is the reason I defend the principle of public service broadcasting and retaining the concept of the public service broadcaster. We are not shaking pepper on what everyone else is doing or saying that, because the deaths are reported here and the weather there, we will have a bit of "come all ye" here. We are not saying this is an equivalent or alternative. It is not and we should stop the nonsense of pretending it is. If the Minister is going to require under the section that people come back to him with a scheme under three or four headings, he is interfering. If he decides to specify three or four criteria above everything else or among many he could have specified, he is interfering with programme making. In turn, that leaves him open to the future possibility of being able to change the scheme altogether.

The totality and philosophy of content is important. I remember well the suggestion for the principle of ministerial interference. I spoke against it in the Seanad in 1974 when Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien spoke in its favour. I recall being heavily criticised in this House as Minister when I abolished the order under section 31. Some people in Government with me would have liked me to retain the idea so that I could use it again as a threat to make people behave. That is not the function of a Minister with responsibility for broadcasting.

Broadcasting is healthy where a non-linked principle is respected and there is a distance between the Minister and the broadcaster. The role of Government policy is to lay down cultural policy while the Minister with responsibility for broadcasting must lay down broadcasting policy. There is also the broadcasting commission. I proposed a super authority, but it would have had total autonomy. The role RTE and that authority would have in what I proposed in February 1997 did not infringe any principle of autonomy.

It must be asked why the taking of the 5% of the licence fee is happening. It is a condition that was extracted in return for an increase in the licence fee. I would like to explain something about the licence. When I last went to Cabinet and secured an increase for the television licence fee prior to the most recent increase, it was granted on the basis of a formula agreed between my Department and the Department of Finance. In other words, I wanted the increase indexed. Indexation was agreed by Cabinet. I asked my successor, Deputy de Valera, if the decision had been cancelled. She said it had not been cancelled but nothing would be done about it because they did not agree with it. The Government wanted to keep it as a conditionallien on RTE when it came to look for a television licence fee increase.

This 5% is a further condition extracted from the national broadcaster and this is a dangerous road to take. I do not disagree with the people who have paid tribute to their local radio, local television, broadcasters and writers or with those who want more subtitling or more Dáil coverage. These details can be discussed another day.

We are making law and that law must respect boundaries. We do not run the country's broadcasting service. If we say that we do not trust the broadcasting authority, that is a serious situation. I trust it. I have said other decisions I took related to restoring trust. This distance is incredibly important.

I would like to conclude by speaking about the interesting subject of the star system in RTE. I agree with Members who have argued against the presence of such a system. We are told that there is such a system because advertisers want a name. The reality is that dozens of talented people are coming through. Why can they not all be given a chance? Why should 100 people not bloom in RTE, rather than a few nettles being allowed to thrive? Many are right to ask this question.

Who are the nettles?

I would like to share time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

I was almost tempted to share my time with Deputy Higgins in order that he could continue. I applaud his efforts. I am happy to say I always praised his work as Minister. His speech was not the highlight of my day, however, as that was listening to Deputy Ring's amazing, entertaining and interesting contribution. I was amazed by his suggestion that RTE was being easy on Fianna Fáil. He singled out my colleague, Deputy Cregan, as an example of a Fianna Fáil Deputy who represented his constituents and did his job. He feels such people are rebels but Deputy Cregan is no rebel. He is doing his job for the people of Limerick, just as the rest of us are representing our local areas. Perhaps somebody will pass on my views to Deputy Ring.

I will tell him.

Having listened to Deputy Ring, I was struck by the idea that RTE should do a programme about him every week to entertain the country.

There is such a programme; it is called "Oireachtas Report".

Deputy Rabbitte says the only people who watch "Oireachtas Report" are insomniacs and sad individuals. I am not sure if the rest of us are included. I do not doubt that Deputy Ring should be on the television.

It is important that the House should support the Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003. The Minister has said it is a core element of the public service broadcasting reform programme. It provides for the allocation of 5% of net proceeds from the television licence fee – I understand this amounts to approximately €8 million annually – to a scheme to fund new programmes on television and radio. I welcome the fact that the scheme will be available to benefit new programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience. I am glad that it will help to improve adult literacy and fund additional Irish language programming.

I am not ashamed to say there was no television when my generation was growing up. Radio was king at the time. I can remember listening to the radio in my grandmother's house in the inner-city area of Dublin and, later, when we had moved to Crumlin. The fact that I remember listening to the English football results every Saturday indicates something about the nature of public service broadcasting at the time. Although there was a great deal of complaining about the English – it continues to a certain extent – we listened to their football results on RTE every Saturday. I am not sure if it was a sad experience but I remember it nonetheless.

I have used this example to demonstrate how well the national broadcaster has represented us and provided us with entertainment and interest over many years. It continues to compete very well in the new competitive environment. If Members want to get into my car some day – they are welcome, although not all together – they will notice that I listen to many different stations.

What about Radio Tallaght?

I listen to RTE radio, Dublin Country 106.8FM and Lite FM. It is good that those of us who cannot sit at home watching television have a choice.

Is there a radio station in Tallaght?

Yes, I listen to Tallaght FM. I am glad to tell the House that I was one of its founder members four years ago. It broadcasts from a first class facility at The Square in Tallaght every day other than Sunday, from 12 noon to 10 p.m. It provides a large range of programmes, including many good talk programmes. The "Tallaght Talk" programme at 5.30 p.m. each evening gives politicians of different persuasions an opportunity to get their message across. Tallaght FM, like other radio stations, does a superb job.

When considering the service provided by the television networks, it is important that people have good programmes available to them. Audiences are interested in programming. The core aim of the Bill and the broadcasting fund is to provide Irish audiences with more high quality programming. The stated aim of the fund is to encourage broadcasters catering for Irish audiences to include in their schedules additional programming of a high quality that is of interest and relevance to Irish audiences. This is both timely and necessary.

RTE's services must continue to be available to all the population without charge. As it is owned by the people and exists to serve them, it must be available to all for free. At times I wonder if the authorities at Montrose have lost sight of these central facts. I disagree with those who argue that there is no longer a need for intervention by the State because of the explosion in new services. I do not agree with those who suggest that State-funded broadcasters should be limited to delivering a restricted range of output. RTE's mandate requires it to provide radio and television services for all the people. It should not be restricted to providing niche programmes for a small sector of the population. I support its argument that it needs to react to changes in the environment in which it operates. The decisions on what to include in schedules should continue to be based on how best to serve those who pay the licence fee.

The Government has acted in two ways to assist RTE. It has increased the level of public funding available to RTE and proposed the creation of a fund to encourage broadcasters serving Irish audiences to include in their schedules additional high quality programmes that are of interest to such audiences. The output from this scheme will be used to fund the development of television and radio programme archives. This will be an area of importance in the future when researchers are looking back on the deeds of today.

I am sensitive to the presence of the former Minister, Deputy Michael Higgins, but would like to mention that I watch TG4. It is probably ironic that I often watch John Wayne films on that channel.

Seán Wayne.

Perhaps somebody will explain the logic of it to me someday but I enjoy watching such films. I like to watch the English language movies on TG4. Although I have forgotten most of the Irish I once learned, I continue to feel strongly about the language. I have tried to improve my Irish language skills since I became a Member of the House. When I was elected, I thought I would have plenty of time to sit in a classroom somewhere to learn Irish but it has not worked out that way. The fact that I hold a marginal seat in Dublin South-West means that I have to do my job.

My heart bleeds.

It is true.

Deputy O'Connor has the safest seat of all.

I do not have the time to do the things I would like to do.

I am going to break down.

I enjoy TG4. I try to understand the Irish language programmes as best I can.

I can feel the tears welling up.

I watch John Wayne movies when I really want to relax.

There might be a bit of sex on "Ros na Rún".

I think that those—

The Deputy should remember that John Wayne rolled off into the sunset.

Yes but he also cleaned out the bad guys.

We might have to send for him again if things do not shape up.

Somebody reminded me today that there was a time when groups like Duran Duran were the flavour of the month, just like Fine Gael. Times have changed.

The Deputy should be careful because he is standing very precariously.

That is the only political point I will make.

The Deputy should ensure he does not get vertigo up there.

My feet are firmly on the ground.

If Fine Gael is Duran Duran, does that mean that Fianna Fáil is The Rolling Stones?

I ask the Deputies to allow me to conclude in order that I can give way to my colleague, Deputy Eoin Ryan, who will have a lot to say.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

He has not made the best use of his time.

The Bill provides the legislative framework for the scheme which will be prepared and administered by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. It does not set out details of the scheme such as grant rates, the allocation of funding to various categories or assessment criteria and procedures. I look forward to seeing the plans for the dispersal of funds when the scheme is laid before the Oireachtas. I will support the Government on the Bill.

That is a rarity nowadays.

I support the Bill which is long overdue. In many ways, we have taken public broadcasting for granted. We have grown up with fine television and radio stations. Many of us have been able since we were children to watch fine public broadcasting from the UK. RTE has been criticised many times over the years and, while that criticism has sometimes been merited, we must remember it had to compete with the BBC, the best public broadcasting station in the world. The quality of television services in parts of southern Europe is dreadful. They are entirely commercial and I do not understand how people watch them.

The quality of public broadcasting services in Ireland is very high. That said, we are constantly under attack because, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, 60% of what we in Europe watch comes from the United States.

It was 68% in 1994.

A total of 68% of what we watch comes from the United States. That is frightening. Who wants to survive on a diet of "The Simpsons" and "Sex in the City", popular as such programmes are? It is important that we produce good quality television and radio programmes which highlight our history and culture, together with contemporary works which allow young playwrights and musicians access to high quality, properly funded programmes.

The French do not take any prisoners in this area. They are adamant when entering international negotiations that their culture be protected. One has to admire their wonderful film industry. They are often chauvinistic but they will not take prisoners when it comes to protecting themselves from American programmes. I admire how they have gone about ensuring that. We should try to follow their example.

The Bill, which could be rolled out over the years, could be extremely important in ensuring we broadcast high quality television and radio programmes. The Americans, who produce 68% of what we watch on television, have little interest in paying musicians and writers. I and other Members, along with the Irish Musical Rights Organisation, found it incredibly difficult to obtain money from the United States for Irish musicians and writers. I understand that continues to be the case. French, German and other musicians and writers also have difficulty getting money from them. They gobble up what they can but are slow to give back to composers and writers. We must be aware of this and fight against it. We must not only ensure that our writers and composers are paid what they are due but also that we properly fund good quality television and radio programmes.

The Bill also deals with archived programmes. The Irish Film Board has wonderful film archives but badly needs funding to store them properly. I am delighted such funding is provided for in the Bill. I recently attended an AGM of the Irish Film Board – I was a board member a number of years ago – at which this issue was discussed at length. Its archives contain many wonderful clips and pictures about our history and culture. There are clips of films about which people have completely forgotten, and the Irish Film Board should highlight that to the public and Members of the House. It is important that Members of the Dáil and Seanad obtain a briefing on what is stored by the board. I am delighted it is to receive funding under the Bill.

RTE also has some good archive material, some of which it often shows. Many people are interested in clippings from the 1930s. There is a huge audience for that kind of material and we should ensure it is properly stored and taken care of and that people have easy access to it.

Local and community broadcasting is important for many regions. I have been interviewed on a number of local radio stations around the country and have appeared on a local television programme. Such broadcasters may come across as amateur, but it is important that local communities have access to some means to put across their point of view. I welcome the opportunities the Bill provides in this regard.

There has been much criticism of digital broadcasting and the Government's lack of progress in this area. There have been many failures and many people have lost a great deal of money in the area. We must ensure our digital platform works. If it does, we will have done a good day's work. The Minister and his officials are studying the issue. I welcome the Minister of State's announcement that a report is expected by the end of the year. I hope we will be able to move on once problems have been highlighted.

I welcome the Bill. It is a step in the right direction. There is nothing better than watching a good quality programme. Unfortunately, many such programmes are produced by the BBC. I watched one part of a two part programme on Charles II. It is a good quality programme of historical interest. There have been many such examples over the years. RTE has also made many fine programmes. There is nothing better than watching something of good quality. One really notices the inroads American culture is making when one sees something of that sort. I welcome the Bill. I hope and have no doubt that it is the start of something that will be very positive for us all in years ahead. I hope it will be the catalyst for more high quality Irish programmes on our television screens.

I would like to share time with Deputy Boyle.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am thankful for the opportunity to address the House on the Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003. The Bill and the debate give us all an opportunity to take a deeper look at broadcasting services in this country. Broadcasters have a duty to be open and fair to all citizens, particularly taxpayers. They must be fair, objective and balanced. Many in Irish society do not trust our media. We should not be afraid to say this straight out tonight. Broadcasters and journalists with a political agenda should always be challenged, particularly by elected Members of this House. The public deserves trust and expects balance. Citizens deserve the truth on all issues. Since election to this House, I have been told by many experienced politicians and serious media people not to antagonise the media, since eventually they will get one. I do not accept this, since all elected representatives deserve respect for their mandate. That is the bottom line.

Many in the media, including the broadcast services, are elitist snobs. Broadcasters, journalists and spin doctors have major power and influence in society. However, if they stood for election tomorrow morning, they would get barely 200 votes. How dare they lecture and pontificate about Deputies and Senators? How dare they decide to blacklist and boycott certain politicians because they do not agree with their views? I know of many senior political correspondents who ignore or censor elected Members of this House. In my own case, most of the so-called media correspondents have not woken up to the reality that independent Deputies have 13% support, three times the votes of one of the Government parties, yet seven nights a week on RTE we see the same people representing the 4%. This is blatant censorship and shows a complete lack of respect for democracy. This is a wake-up call for more ethics in the media to end, once and for all, the embedded journalists and broadcasters. Of course, there are the few noble and objective journalists who stay loyal to their impartial reporting. If I wished, I could name the political allegiances of 90% of the reporters in broadcasting and the print media. The good news, however, is that the public has now copped on to them.

Today Ireland is known as the land of scandals and tribunals. Politics, banking, the church, business and the law have all suffered from an erosion of public confidence. I contest that our media have also lost the trust and confidence of the public. The so-called sexy story often gets in the way of the truth and objective reporting. I urge all involved to examine these concerns seriously, as they are denying the public the right to accurate information. Personal attacks and intrusions into politicians' personal and family lives have nothing to do with balanced reporting.

When discussing the Bill, we must face up to the seamy, negative side of public broadcasting and the media, in general. Its purpose is to establish a new broadcasting funding scheme for television and radio programmes, to be funded by 5% of net television licence fee receipts and administered by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI. The Bill outlines the general objectives and framework of the scheme which is to be prepared by the BCI.

I agree with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on section 3 and the scheme's objectives of high quality programmes based on Irish culture, heritage and experience, developing such programmes in the Irish language, increasing their availability to all interests in the State, representing the diversity of Irish culture, developing local and community broadcasting, as well as new television and radio programmes to improve adult literacy. I welcome the section, particularly the new programmes to improve adult literacy. At this stage, I pay tribute to such programmes as "Read and Write Now" and "Outside the Box" for their major, positive contribution to society. Their work is magnificent, top quality public broadcasting. We should all learn from such programmes. Adults learn, children learn and, above all, society learns. We then move towards real social inclusion.

Section 5 provides for a review of the scheme every three years or at such times as may be requested by the Minister. That is positive, since we must constantly examine, assess and review our broadcasting services and all aspects of the media. A society not learning, listening or seeing will never change. To the broadcast media, I say they should open their minds and hearts to the people. They will then earn their respect and admiration.

I thank the Minister for ceding time and allowing me to make this final contribution to the debate. Last week, after publication of the Book of Estimates, I christened the Minister for Finance "Mr. 2%", since the increase in capital and current expenditure, taking public sector pay into account, was only 2%. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources seems intent on going one better and wishes to be termed "Mr. 5%". However, the 5% that he seeks is 5% that my party and I believe will reduce the true value of increasing the public service broadcasting element. Even in simple economic terms, taking 5% from a television licence fee receipt which cost far too much to administer in the first place and having 5% subsequently as an administration cost to distribute it to independent broadcasters means that we are already losing out on those resources being provided for high quality public service broadcasting.

More worrying is the fact that this legislation is a toe-in-the-door exercise. Many of us fear that further legislation down the road will provide for a figure of 10%, 20%, 30% or 50% since we already hear the screams for true competition from many in the Government. There will be no difference between our national public service broadcaster and those in the commercial sector. Each will be supported equally by the public purse. Even the principle of using television licence fee receipts for such a purpose must be questioned. I would have thought that the whole purpose of a licensing regime was to put in place measures by which companies would be obliged to provide for public service broadcasting. If the Government says that is a failing system, there might be acceptance of part of that argument. However, the system must be made to work.

I refer specifically to the decisions being made on local radio and the fact that licences have been changed for local radio stations which seem to have committed only the crime of speaking with a local voice. Licences now seem to be issued on the basis of fitting a formulaic response to broadcasting with an American model of "pap music", a term which is not pejorative of the music, since it is meant to be mindless, thoughtless and as inoffensive as possible. The whole point of broadcasting is that it challenges the listener and the viewer. This type of legislation does nothing but dumb down the whole idea of how we are supposed to interact with our broadcast media as citizens. On those grounds, it must be opposed.

The only analogous legislation of which I can think, though the figures might be different, is the Broadcasting Act introduced by our friend who has more difficulty with today's news, the former Minister for Communications, Mr. Ray Burke, when he introduced a 50% advertising cap on RTE. This is the same principle in reverse regarding public money. It is putting a toe in the water on behalf of unseen beneficiaries at the expense of public service broadcasting. On these grounds, the Green Party believes the Bill should not be adopted. We will end up not by improving quality in the commercial broadcasting sector but with a ghetto of 5% sponsored by the public purse. As a result, the obligation of those involved in the commercial broadcasting sector to provide high quality broadcasts will be diminished.

I thank Deputies for their contributions during the course of today's proceedings. We have had a wide-ranging debate from local radio, local television and the BCI to RTE, TG4 and TV3, as well as many other issues which, although they are not relevant to the Bill, are nonetheless important and give Deputies an opportunity to discuss broadcasting. I appreciate the support of the majority of Deputies. I respect the views of Deputy Michael D. Higgins and others who have questioned a number of aspects of the Bill. I am sure we can tease out some of the issues further on Committee Stage.

It is not true to say that RTE will be down 5% on funding for public sector broadcasting. The fund was announced in the context of the recent increase in the license fee which would not have been as much as to €150 if the fund had not been in mind. Rather, it was taken into account at that stage. The figure of €400,000 for administration and expenses is an estimate which works out at about 5% of the €8 million. It covers the cost of some additional staff for the BCI and other costs which will arise such as the publication of the scheme and the cost of expertise for the assessment of applications and reports. It is not the intention that the €400,000 will be paid to the BCI as a fixed amount. Only reasonable costs incurred will be paid from the fund.

The categories of programmes will remain focused on the subjects indicated, namely, Irish culture, heritage and experience and adult literacy. That is not to deny that there are many other interesting subjects for programmes, rather it underlines that the fund is limited and best focused on a specific category of programmes and the funding should not overlap with existing requirements on broadcasters in regard to provision of news and current affairs programmes.

The ring-fencing of the funding, the details of which include grant rates and the allocation of costs between the various categories, are best left to the scheme itself. The focus of the scheme is on audiences and we cannot anticipate from where the best programmes will come. The Bill already provides that the BCI may decide that funding in a particular year will be directed towards particular classes of programmes and on programmes broadcast on particular media such as radio or community television. This is a more flexible approach which will allow the scheme to develop effectively.

During the debate, it was suggested that the fund could be used to provide for the cost of subtitling the existing output of broadcasters. Deputy Coveney and others made a strong and passionate case for subtitling and it is an area which the Minister is anxious to deal with quickly. However, this fund is for new programmes. The BCI is considering separately what regulations should apply to subtitling and we hope that in the early part of next year, some recommendations will be made in that area. The question of subtitling programmes financed from the fund is a different matter and I am of the view that, if we are to fund particular programmes, we should also consider subtitling. We can tease this out on Committee Stage and it can be addressed in the detail of the scheme.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins raised a number of issues. As a former Minister, he is passionate about issues around broadcasting and has been supportive of the Minister in a number of areas, particularly in regard to sports event pay-per-view issues and funding for RTE. The Government has shown its support for having a strong national public service broadcaster by accepting the fundamental recommendations of the Forum on Broadcasting that RTE's role should be confirmed. The Government has also approved a substantial increase in funding for RTE to make sure it has the necessary funds to enable it to provide the type of service which the people expect and deserve. This fund is about "additionality". It will build on what is already available to the audience, which is why there has been widespread support for the Bill.

This debate has been worthwhile and welcome and I thank all those who have contributed in this session. As outlined earlier, the Bill is designed to provide the framework for the scheme which will be focused and will balance flexibility and accountability. It is important to ensure that public money is well spent and that the scheme can be relevant and effective in the long-term.

The legislation is not complex and the main detail of this initiative will be the scheme itself. We have set reasonable parameters for the scheme, given it a specific annual allocation and we have set out clear parameters for accounts, reporting and regular reviews. I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their contributions and I look forward to further debate and possible amendments on Committee Stage, when Deputies will again have an opportunity to have an input. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put.

Ahern, Michael.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Niall.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Seamus.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carty, John.Cassidy, Donie.Connaughton, Paul.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Coveney, Simon.Cregan, John.Crowe, Seán.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Ellis, John.English, Damien.Finneran, Michael.Fleming, Seán.Glennon, Jim.Grealish, Noel.Hanafin, Mary.Hayes, Tom.Hoctor, Máire.Hogan, Phil.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kehoe, Paul.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Seamus.

Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCormack, Padraic.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McGuinness, John.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Murphy, Gerard.Naughten, Denis.Nolan, M. J.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Seán.Ryan, Eoin.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Timmins, Billy.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Wilkinson, Ollie.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Boyle, Dan.Broughan, Thomas P.Burton, Joan.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Gilmore, Eamon.Gormley, John.

Gregory, Tony.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Howlin, Brendan.Lynch, Kathleen. McGrath, Finian.

Níl–continued

McManus, Liz.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Twomey, Liam.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Stagg and Boyle.
Question declared carried.