Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages.

This debate is to conclude at 1.30 p.m. if it has not previously concluded.

I note in the list of grouped amendments that my amendment No. 6 has been ruled out of order. The Ceann Comhairle informed me that the amendment I tabled cannot be taken as it was not anticipated in discussions on Committee Stage. I find this difficult to understand so I will explain what I meant.

Amendment No. 6 in my name would have assisted in the definition of the word political in section 10(3) of the basic Bill. That section states that no advertisement shall be broadcast which is directed towards any religious or political end or which has any relation to an industrial dispute. My amendment said that section 10(3) meant the promotion or opposition, directly or indirectly, of the interests of a political part or group and that the political contests referred to meant local elections, Dáil elections, elections to the European Parliament and so on.

People showed concern in the general discussions of this Bill on Second Stage and Committee Stage relating to the meaning of the language used. If the narrow interpretation used by the broadcasting corporation of Ireland were accepted it would mean that today, 200 years after Wilberforce succeeded in abolishing slavery in the British Empire, one would not be allowed speak about the issue. Most pertinently, one would not be allowed speak about a convention of the United Nations, which is manifestly absurd.

I suggest that the Deputy move for recommittal of his amendment when we reach amendment No. 6.

I am very grateful for the assistance of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in this regard and I sprang to my feet on this occasion because I noticed that amendment No. 6 was not listed in the grouping. I was afraid that someone less benign than the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might indicate to me that I had lost the opportunity to make a case for my amendment. I am very happy to wait if I can give more fulsome arguments for the inclusion of amendment No. 6 when we finish with amendment No. 5. If that is the advice of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle then I am delighted to accept it.

When we reach amendment No. 6 the Deputy can move for recommittal of his amendment.

Reaching amendment No. 6 when it is not listed in the grouping is an existential matter.

It will be taken on its own.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Amendments Nos. 1, 4, 5, 7, 14, 15, 18, 21, 24, 28, 40, 45, 48, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63, 69, 87, 88 and 89 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 11, after "MEANS" to insert the following:

"UTILISING THE MOST MODERN DIGITAL SYSTEMS OR COMBINATION OF SYSTEMS".

There are 22 amendments in this grouping and I will refer to them briefly as I realise we have a short time to discuss the final stages of the Bill, though there will be ample time to discuss it later.

Amendment No. 1 relates to an issue that was discussed at considerable length on Committee Stage. The Minister gave an undertaking to the House that he would consider the introduction of a number of amendments. I have been otherwise engaged for the past few days and have been bombarded with Bills that arrived late and amendments that had to be submitted. I do not see any evidence that the Minister has considered the introduction of these amendments but I am interested to hear what he has to say. It was not the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne who gave the commitment but his colleague. Notwithstanding this, I presume the Minister of State is equally committed to delivering on the commitments made by his colleague.

Amendment No. 1 indicates that, in the course of discussions of these proposals on Second and Committee Stages, evidence came to light showing that we should not be tied to one particular system. The best combination of systems should be utilised to ensure high quality, reliable and modern technology. We pointed out that all technology has a short lifespan and we have little chance of being at the cutting edge by using old technology and amendment No. 1 sought to clarify this.

Amendment No. 4, which is related, seeks to delete the word multiplex and substitute transmission system or systems. This amendment has the same purpose as the previous one and we will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in this regard because a clear commitment was given on Committee Stage relating to this matter. The Minister of State and his Department have received a significant number of submissions from interested parties outside the House who have a particular expertise in the area and who have given of their time freely to convey what they have that can be of benefit in the passing of this legislation.

Amendment No. 5 is a similar related amendment that refers to short wave digital technology. Amendment No. 7 seeks to have the same effect at a different point in the Bill on page 4. Amendment No. 14 is a related amendment on the same lines and refers to the introduction of a short wave digital broadcasting system or combination of such systems and is a repeat of the earlier amendment. Amendment No. 15 seeks to make the same amendment.

Amendment No. 18 sees a slight variation with the emphasis changed to insert "incorporating modern digital technology". This means the same as previous amendments and is meant to help in the utilisation of cutting edge technology for the benefit of this legislation. Due to time constraints, I do not propose to discuss the amendments individually. I hope the Minister of State will indicate an intention to act on the promise given on Committee Stage. Like Deputies on this side, he will have had little time to deliberate on the matter but I offer him an opportunity to accept our proposal.

Amendment No. 45, the first Labour Party amendment in the group, relates to the same issue illuminated by Deputy Durkan, namely, whether this important legislation should include reference to the latest technology, specifically in the area of radio broadcasting. The amendment proposes to insert, in page 8, between lines 11 and 12, the following:

"(2) It shall be a duty for the Commission for Communications Regulation to establish, maintain and operate a single sound broadcasting multiplex system which reflects as far as practicable the most technologically advanced digital radio mediums such as Digital Audio Broadcasting Version 2 and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).".

As Deputy Durkan stated, we have received a great deal of advice from individuals working in the engineering end of radio broadcasting to the effect that the legislation should refer to the most advanced system available. I am informed, for example, that last week France decided to introduce digital radio, following the World DAB Forum's decision to upgrade to DAB 2, and will move nationally to the digital radio mondiale system. In addition, Germany appears to have decided to leapfrog the DAB system and adopt DRM. Ofcom in the United Kingdom is expected to test DRM in the old black and white television band one and results from the test will probably allow the delivery of digital radio in a manner that will use a fraction of the energy and spectrum needed for DAB 1. Irish people are used to hearing references to digital radio and DAB on the suite of BBC stations, an excellent exemplar of public broadcasting. I understand there are approximately 4 million sets in the UK.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who informed the select committee yesterday that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is still in Palo Alto in California representing Ireland. I hope he will secure new business for high-tech firms here. It is a pity, however, he is not present for the debate on this important Bill which establishes a new broadcasting landscape on the technical side for the future.

For the past two or three years, the Labour Party has called on the Government to move to digital broadcasting. A number of the amendments I have tabled reflect the failure of Ireland and, to some extent, the United Kingdom to take seriously the need to make the transition to digital. The key demand of the Labour Party is that the free-to-air broadcasting service, both television and radio, will be protected in the system as it develops. For this reason, I have tabled a number of crucial amendments on this issue.

The amendments in this group refer to technical standards. The Minister argued on Committee Stage that the strength of the Bill lies in its generality and we should not be prescriptive in legislation. The Bill establishes the multiplexes and lays down a system for the digital roll-out. We will, he said, be able to work on the various standards as technology improves and develops over the next five or six years. While I have some sympathy for his argument, having listened to engineering advice, we have concluded that a standard should be set for radio and amendment No. 45 has been introduced to this end.

I commend my party colleague, Deputy Stagg, who led a long and successful campaign to have Irish media broadcast to the diaspora, particularly Irish people in the United Kingdom. The Bill places responsibility for performing this function with the RTE Authority. We can be proud of Deputy Stagg's achievement in this regard. I also commend the Minister and the Taoiseach on accepting the Deputy's arguments and introducing the legislation. I support the amendments in this group tabled by the Fine Gael Party.

I am in agreement with the general intention of Deputies Durkan and Broughan that the legislation should not preclude broadcasters from utilising the most beneficial digital broadcasting technologies available. The existing suite of broadcasting legislation, as amended by the Bill, in particular the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, the Radio and Television Act 1988 and the Broadcasting Act 2001, entrusts the RTE Authority, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and broadcasting contractors with the task of considering the most appropriate broadcasting technologies to meet the broadcasting needs of audiences.

A number of proposed amendments reference specific digital radio broadcasting standards, such as digital audio broadcasting version two, DAB 2, and digital radio mondiale, DRM. As Deputies are aware, primary legislation in the main outlines principles rather than the specific technology standards needed to support such principles. This is a sensible approach given that predicting the future of technology is a hazardous undertaking. The Minister, having listened to the comments made by the Deputies on Committee Stage and reviewed the legislative proposals, is satisfied that the referenced technology standards can be readily accommodated under the existing suite of broadcasting legislation and amended by the Bill. As a consequence, the amendments, as proposed, are not accepted.

I am disappointed that the commitment entered into by the Minister on Committee Stage has not been delivered. I do not criticise the Minister of State but his response sounds like it was rushed into print to apply a sticking plaster to the proposals made by Opposition Deputies. It is akin to arguing it will be all right on the night.

If submissions had not been made by members of the public and experts in the field and if those with the relevant technical knowledge had not gone to the trouble of making submissions, Deputy Broughan and I would not have tabled these amendments and this discussion would be unnecessary.

I reject the Minister of State's argument that it will be possible to accommodate the technology standards referred to in the amendments. It is as easy to be precise at the outset about the quality and standard of the technology to be used as it is to run after the wagon later to try to apply technology that was not envisaged. Anyone providing a service who reads this legislation or the transcript of the debate will note that while the Minister and the Minister of State left open the options of using DRM or DAB, they did not come down on one side or the other. That is the critical factor.

Given that Ireland has been slow to give a lead to the world on broadband and in other technological areas, it is unfortunate the Minister did not avail of an opportunity to take positive, future-orientated action by setting a high standard for others to follow.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 36; Níl, 59.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Upton, Mary.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies English and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, and 90 to 93, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 15, after "IRELAND" to insert the following:

"IN RELATION TO THE BROADCASTING OF THE BUSINESS OF DÁIL AND SEANAD ÉIREANN".

I do not wish to delay the House but wish to point out that on Committee Stage the Minister indicated he might consider this matter and perhaps he has given his colleague instructions to make a positive statement now.

The amendment relates to the broadcasting of Dáil and Seanad proceedings. The Minister seemed to support this, but wavered as the debate progressed and mentioned that it was a matter for the broadcasting commission. We know it is a matter for the commission, but it is also a matter that should be dealt with by legislators in broadcasting legislation. It is time the Houses of the Oireachtas had their own broadcasting channel. Other jurisdictions already have this facility. In many other jurisdictions the notion was not given much of a hearing because it was suggested nobody would watch parliamentary proceedings.

Broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings was introduced in Canada where it has proved to be very successful and has drawn the interest of the public. It involves the public in the day-to-day business of Parliament and lets them know what is going on and when; they recognise this is better than getting the second-hand version of events. This is not a reflection on journalists or on those who report proceedings. The point is we live in an era of reality TV. Therefore, broadcasting proceedings is one of the best ways of bringing the public into the arena with legislators and keeping them up to date with what is happening.

Broadcasting of proceedings would also ensure that people elected to Parliament will recognise they are in the public eye at all times. We tend to forget that we work in a goldfish bowl and perhaps say things we should not say. We live in a democracy and part and parcel of the advancement of technology in that democracy is the ability to use it for the benefit of the democratic process. There is no better way to involve the public than to broadcast the live proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad.

I do not agree with those who say it would neither work nor be a commercial success. However, it would take far too long to go into the many variations of what could be done to make it a success now. Suffice it to say, having consulted with my colleagues, with Deputy Broughan of the Labour Party and with the broadcasting committee in my capacity as Fine Gael Chief Whip, and having listened to debate on the issue over a number of years, I have no doubt that the time has come for the introduction of the service. The legislation best positioned to push this forward is the legislation before us, notwithstanding the responsibilities that will fall on the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the broadcasting committee later.

I support Deputy Durkan's amendments in respect of the broadcasting of Oireachtas proceedings. I used to be a Labour Party Whip and represented the party on the broadcasting committee. I am still a member of the broadcasting committee and the promotion of more widespread broadcasting of our national Parliament has long been an interest of mine.

I believe all public affairs deserve to be broadcast live. That is why, six or seven years ago, I was the first person to propose the broadcasting of meetings of Dublin City Council of which I was proud to be a member. Webcasting of the council meetings has started recently. The other local council, Fingal County Council, has used webcasting for a year or so. It would be very interesting for the public to see their 25 or 30 councillors, or in the case of Dublin City Council, 52, in action at meetings. It would then be able to hold councillors directly accountable rather than not having a clue whether its representatives voted for a rezoning or other dodgy decision.

This is even more necessary in the proceedings of the national Parliament. Deputy Durkan's idea of inserting the broadcasting of Parliament in the Title of the Bill and reiterating it throughout the text is a useful initiative. We are grateful for "Oireachtas Report" which is broadcast every evening. For example, the meeting of the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, of which I am a member, was broadcast last night. I did not see the programme because it was so late and I was speaking in the House at 11.25 p.m. I did not see many members of the press accompanying us here then. I saw a few scuttle off at 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m., but in the real world of politics, which many of them do not understand, we were still here until late. As the Minister of State knows, we were plugging away at the committee until 10.15 p.m., then we came in here to support our colleagues in the debate on the Carbon Fund Bill and finally I spoke in an Adjournment debate on a local matter. It would be good to cover all that activity live.

We welcome the initiatives RTE has taken in this regard, and TG4, whose coverage of the Order of Business on Thursday has proved a valuable initiative. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle must have noticed that under our antiquated Standing Orders the only facility for backbench Members to speak is to use the obsolete section 31 provision. This has expanded on Thursdays because TG4 took the initiative to broadcast the Order of Business.

Deputy Durkan's point is that we would like to follow the UK example, where one of the main eight channels on free-sat is BBC Parliament. Yesterday, British citizens could watch the proceedings of the annual budget and the leaders' replies to the Chancellor as they happened. That is a great advantage in a democracy. We need to enhance our service and this is the first opportunity we have to legislate to do so. I warmly support my colleague.

I tabled amendments to this effect to a previous Bill. My amendments Nos. 11 and 12 relate to the additional functions given to the RTE Authority in respect of multiplexes and the additional powers given to local community regional and national broadcasters. When I submitted those amendments I was anxious that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland would have a separate role. In discussions on the previous Broadcasting Bill which was to outline the shape of broadcasting structures, I was determined to try to preserve the independence of public service broadcasting. The Government is not bringing this Bill forward although the public spent a great deal of time on it through the e-consultation process, as the Minister of State knows, and our committee devoted two days of hearings to it. The amendments relate to my contribution at that time.

Deputy Broughan made the same Freudian slip as the leader of the Fine Gael Party in referring to section 31 rather than Standing Order 31. The restrictive nature of Standing Order 31 is not analogous to that of section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in its heyday when it restricted the right to freedom of speech.

It did indeed.

Yes, indeed, it affected many who are now Members of this House. There are those who would argue that amendment No. 2 and amendment No. 17 in the name of Deputy Eamon Ryan involve inflicting a lifetime of purgatory on the innocent population. Sometimes in here it feels like purgatory. It is not quite the Big Brother house, but the Oireachtas has its moments and the people of Ireland and elsewhere around the world are entitled to view them.

Live webcasting of Oireachtas proceedings works well but media technology moves quickly and it is crucial not to restrict the options within the proposed legislation. While it is not the preserve of insomniacs and alcoholics — I refer to the viewers, not those of us who are here at 10.30 p.m. — the audience is restricted, not just in the Visitors Gallery but outside the House. We should extend the broadcasts and embrace all new media.

When we are passing a Bill that will probably age fairly rapidly, it is crucial that we do not close any doors, and the amendments put down by Deputies Durkan and Eamon Ryan would ensure that would not happen. Let us ensure that in ten years we can say this Act was far-sighted and did not rule out options but built on the good work done in local authorities and by the broadcasting team in Leinster House. Let us extend the boundaries and ensure that there are more options in the future.

I agree with Deputy Cuffe. We should not restrict our options. I am cynical about people wanting to watch the proceedings here, which is at times like watching paint dry, although I found it amusing to see on last night's edition of "Oireachtas Report" that two of my colleagues present seemed to be having a great time at the committee meeting, which is unusual.

The Government record is so bad it is entertaining.

The Deputies seemed to be having a good time. I have often heard "Oireachtas Report" described as TV for insomniacs. I have also surprisingly come across many who watch it and are intrigued by what is going on. It opens up options for people to follow what is or is not happening here. It is also useful for people who are blind because they can listen to the proceedings. This is a question of giving people choice. I have watched the broadcast from the European Parliament which we can access here, although people wonder who would watch it apart from someone with plenty of time on his or her hands, myself included. I support the amendments put down by Deputies Durkan and Eamon Ryan.

These amendments deal with the remit of the RTE Authority and consequent reporting obligations. My amendments Nos. 91 and 92 require the RTE Authority to review and report to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, on the third and fifth anniversaries of the coming into force of this provision, on the provision of the broadcasting service to Irish communities abroad as mandated by this Bill. The amendments also require the Minister to lay such reports before each House of the Oireachtas.

Government amendments Nos. 91 and 92 derive from an amendment No. 13 proposed by Deputy Eamon Ryan. Amendment No. 13 provides that RTE may choose any form of broadcasting transmission platform for the purpose of providing a broadcasting service to Irish communities abroad. The current text of the Bill does not prescribe the method of transmission that RTE must use in delivering on its mandate to provide a broadcasting service to Irish communities and, as such, it will be a matter for RTE to choose the most appropriate broadcasting transmission platform to deliver on its new mandate.

Amendment No. 13 also proposes reporting requirements in respect of broadcasting to Irish communities abroad. The reporting requirements proposed in Government amendments Nos. 91 and 92 and existing sections 14 and 15 of the Bill address the reporting issues raised in Deputy Eamon Ryan's amendment and, as such, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 13.

Amendments Nos. 2, 16 and 17, as proposed by Deputies Durkan and Eamon Ryan, relate to the incorporation by the RTE Authority, on a national digital terrestrial television multiplex, of Oireachtas proceedings and the proceedings of local authorities. Section 28(2) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 currently requires the RTE Authority to broadcast programmes that provide coverage of proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament as part of the national television broadcasting service. Section 3(2) of the Bill, in essence, requires the RTE Authority to carry the national television broadcasting services of RTE and TG4 in digital form on a multiplex to be established by the RTE Authority. Consequently, the authority is not precluded by the legislation from carrying Oireachtas proceedings on a multiplex.

While I share the Deputies' concerns regarding the appropriate coverage of the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas, further consideration is required by the Houses as to the form such coverage should take, be it by way of a dedicated channel or otherwise, before additional obligations are placed on the RTE Authority. Discussions have taken place between officials of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Department with regard to carrying an Oireachtas channel on the digital terrestrial television pilot. The impediment to such carriage relates to the need to edit and combine material at source within the Oireachtas into a channel for transmission. This is a matter solely for the Houses of the Oireachtas to decide on.

On the coverage of proceedings of local authorities, the RTE Authority is neither precluded nor obligated under the proposed legislation from incorporating such proceedings on any national multiplex. Further consideration is required as to the funding, form and manner of such coverage before additional obligations are placed on the RTE Authority. Consequently, it is not intended to accept amendments Nos. 2, 16 and 17.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, proposed by Deputy Durkan, amend the core remit of RTE to allow it to provide international broadcasting services. The existing text of section 3, which mandates RTE to broadcast to Irish communities abroad, already provides sufficient latitude and direction regarding broadcasting overseas.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, as proposed by Deputy Broughan, would have the effect of requiring the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland to establish the proposed new television and radio service for Irish communities abroad either on its own or with the RTE Authority and to ensure that any such television service would have to approximate the existing schedules of RTE1, Network 2 and TG4. The amendment, as drafted, would in effect require the broadcasting regulator to become involved directly in broadcasting activities. This obviously has potential for serious conflicts of interest and consequently it is not proposed to accept amendments Nos. 8, 9, 11 and 12.

Amendments Nos. 90 and 93, proposed by Deputy Durkan, relate to reporting requirements imposed on the RTE Authority in sections 14 and 15 of the Bill. On amendment No. 90, section 28(11) of the Broadcasting Act will require the Minister to submit reports provided by the RTE Authority, under proposed section 14, to the Houses of the Oireachtas. On amendment No. 91, the proposed section 15 empowers the Minister to require the RTE Authority to keep special financial accounts regarding the proposed broadcasting service to Irish communities overseas. As such, it is not intended as a qualitative reporting mechanism, the latter being dealt with by Government amendments Nos. 91 and 92 and the proposed section 14. Consequently, it is not proposed to accept amendments Nos. 90 and 93.

The Minister of State is not in a very compliant mood today.

I accepted Deputy Eamon Ryan's amendment.

I thought he would have rushed into the House to appease the Opposition and take on board its reasonable submissions. What worries me most about the Minister of State is his comments to the effect this is not the appropriate time or correct platform on which to accept our proposals. As I said yesterday, now is the time and there is no time like the present.

We have been talking about broadcasting the proceedings of the Houses live since I became a Member. Nothing will ever happen unless one makes it happen. Given that we are now talking about technology and the expansion and improvement of existing broadcasting services, in addition to addressing the need to make people more aware of the proceedings of the Parliament, we have an opportunity to advance. This is a House of Parliament rather than an assembly and it has the absolute powers of a sovereign Parliament. We have many matters to address and the issues that arise on foot of this series of amendments require immediate action.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 56.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McDaid, James.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies English and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 3 is in the name of Deputy Durkan. Amendments Nos. 26, 27, 34, 35, 37, 39, 41, 44, 46, 49, 51, 53, 65 to 68, inclusive, and 70 to 74, inclusive, will be discussed with amendment No. 3.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 10, after "2001" to insert "or as amended by this Act".

We discussed this amendment at length on Committee Stage and because of the time constraints I do not propose to comment further and will await the Minister of State's response.

A number of drafting amendments are proposed in the group. Government amendments Nos. 34, 35, 37, 39, 44, 46, 49, 51 and 53 are necessary improvements in the text of the Bill as pointed out by the parliamentary counsel. Government amendments Nos. 65, 71 and 73 are similar to the amendments originally proposed by Deputy Durkan on Committee Stage, which the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, agreed to review before Report Stage. These amendments have been resubmitted by the Deputy as amendments Nos. 66, 72 and 74. After discussion with the parliamentary counsel it was agreed that these amendments would enhance the text of the Bill. The drafting changes proposed by these amendments are now reflected in the Government amendments. The remaining amendments proposed by Deputy Durkan do not add to the functionality of the Bill and therefore I cannot accept them.

That is debatable. I thank the Minister of State for the embellishments introduced by way of amendment. Those of us on this side of the House proposed similar amendments and as they are taken together, someone somewhere must have thought they were necessary. I remind the Minister of State that we were told that the technical amendments were not necessary, but having re-examined them the Minister must have been inspired——

We knew the Deputy was inspired.

——because he came forward, in his usual inimitable way, and made a belated attempt to take on board the views of the Opposition.

The Deputy's inspiration inspired us.

I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 6 is out of order as it does not arise from committee proceedings.

If the Minister of State agrees, I suggest this amendment be recommitted to allow us discuss it as if it were a Committee Stage amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 6.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

3.—(1) For the purposes of section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act 1988, an advertisement is directed towards a political end if and only if it is directed towards one or more of the following purposes namely:

(a) to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament;

(b) to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European Parliament election or to solicit votes for or against a candidate at an election; or

(c) otherwise to influence the outcome of an election.

(2) Insubsection (1), candidate”, “Dáil election”, “election”, “European Parliament”, “European Parliament election”, “political group”, “political party” and “Seanad election” have the same meanings as in the Electoral Acts 1992 to 2001.

I appreciate the facility afforded to me and I thank the Minister of State for agreeing to it.

The purpose of the amendment I propose is to provide clarification of existing wording in the main Act. The current section of the legislation governing the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is contained in section 10(3). It states: "No advertisement shall be broadcast which is directed towards any religious or political end or which has any relation to an industrial dispute". It is my belief that it was never intended that that would preclude discussion, for example, of issues of moral concern. I gave an example this morning of when Wilberforce succeeded, after a very long campaign, in securing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire 200 years ago. Slavery was to continue for a very long time after that but we would not be able to discuss that issue, nor would we be able to discuss child trafficking.

Specifically, it appears that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland's decision was taken on the basis of two principles. One is that it called for a campaign for ratification of United Nations Resolution 1325, which called for gender equality. We would be in the absurd position, having exercised our sovereignty in signing the charter of the United Nations and participating in the discussion on what might be regarded as progressive resolutions and so forth, of finding ourselves precluded from advertising, raising public consciousness or creating moral awareness. I could give many other examples — trafficking, child labour, bonded labour; one could go on.

I suggest in the amendment, which is very clear, that for the purposes of section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act 1988 an advertisement is directed towards a political end if and only if it is directed towards one or more of the following purposes, which I then list. I was seeking to bring the definition of "political" within the ambit of the Electoral Acts. I go on to list the following: to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party, a political group, a Member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative of the European Parliament; to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European Parliament election or to solicit votes for or against a candidate in an election; or otherwise to influence the outcome of an election and then, in the related subsections, to define "candidate", "Dáil election", "election", "European Parliament", "European Parliament election", "political group", "political party" and "Seanad election" to suggest they have the same meanings as the Electoral Acts 1992 to 2001.

This amendment makes it clear that one can be free to make the case for such movements and legislative innovations within the universal discourse and at the same time abuse of broadcasting is not taking place for a domestic, national or European purpose. It is important that we do this because I am not referring only to the most recent case. I expressed concern also that it is not clear to me whether the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland took an executive or administrative decision or whether it represents a decision of the full board. That has never been clarified for me and it is a matter of the greatest import. What I am suggesting is non-partisan because it will assist in clarifying what is meant by section 10(3).

The other important aspect is if we do not do this we would be allowing this confusion to continue. We are in the position where the IRTC, as it was then, now the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, would be exercising one interpretation which is effectively a limitation on a certain kind of discourse that is important if we are to introduce people to politics. Imagine, for example, if we had not been able to advertise about anti-apartheid. One could give one example after another. I do not believe the legislation was ever intended to function like that.

There is another aspect, namely, the RTE Authority, which takes a different view — in my view a better view — of the definition of public service broadcasting. If in later broadcasting legislation this rather narrow interpretation became the governing interpretation for all forms of broadcasting, we would be presented with extraordinary difficulties. Therefore we should take this as a Committee Stage amendment and agree it to rectify a situation that needs rectification. It would also be appreciated as a contribution to a broader democratic discourse and debate and would assist people who want to become aware of moral, political and human issues in the most general sense.

I support the comments made by my colleague. Everyone in this House will agree with the general rule and law laid down in the 1988 Act and the general practice regarding political advertising here. We only need to consider the United States and one or two other jurisdictions to realise the total nightmare caused by the necessity to fund political advertisements. In the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States candidates are ranked in terms of support by the number of millions of dollars they have accumulated to pay for advertisements later.

I thank the Minister for allowing the Bill to be recommitted in respect of this amendment. The amendment clearly precludes that kind of advertising which would be detrimental to our democracy. Given the moral issues we face at this time, it should be possible for campaign groups and others to make those points. As Deputy Michael Higgins was speaking I was thinking of some of the issues surrounding climate change, the great challenge facing our civilisation. It would be possible for programmes to be flagged as taking a particular point of view on aspects of energy efficiency or climate change. The general line the BCI seems to have taken on the Trócaire advertisement could also be said to preclude such general moral advertising. The amendment is timely and I urge the Minister of State to accept it.

I support the amendment. The Deputies have made a reasonable case on how legislation should be couched to deal with the times in which we live as opposed to the times in which we lived. That applies to what we were discussing yesterday in another context and what we discussed this morning also. The time is now and I fully support the amendment.

It is a very useful and interesting amendment. In a sense the commission's recent decision throws the issue up for debate. It is by example that we need to discover how legislation applies in practice. There is valid and justifiable concern that the commission's interpretation in this regard was tighter and narrower than many people would have expected. Deputy Broughan made the point well that it is possible to think of other examples, including climate change, as he mentioned. For example, a debate or discussion regarding the war on Iraq might be organised. Would it be possible to advertise that as an event? Is such an event political? It is difficult. What appears to be a very narrow definition by the commission of what is or is not political means that we need to consider the matter and the Oireachtas needs to give some direction.

The application of a very tight definition on an advertisement that I would not have considered questionable — it was not as marginal or as difficult as some we could think of — must set a precedent allowing a wide range of subjects to be considered to be political. We need to consider whether we should leave the broadcasting advertising space completely free of any content that might be non-commercial in nature. Are we suggesting that advertising can only relate to the selling of commercial product, as if that was not in its own right also political? It shows the difficulty of legislating and the lack of wisdom in rushing legislation.

I applaud the wording of Deputy Michael Higgins's amendment. However, in any such amendment we need to be careful not to open a crack, as mentioned by Deputy Broughan, that would allow political advertising that goes over the top. A balance is needed and I am concerned that the recent decision has not got the balance right. I am interested to hear the Government's view on the matter. It should consider adopting this or another amendment that would rectify the balance or give direction to the commission if that is possible. I am of the view that it probably is not possible. I also share Deputy Michael Higgins's concern about whether this was an administrative or board decision by the commission and I look forward to the response of the Minister of State in that regard.

I agree with the other speakers. The existing system is a crude device and we need to give direction. The recent decision on the Trócaire advertisement that was taken off the airwaves brought the area into focus. People are concerned over how it is being interpreted. If we consider the divorce campaign of some years ago, which was a political issue, would the amendment open the broadcasting of advertising for that kind of matter? In the United States the pro-life and pro-choice debate is a major issue. Would the proposed amendment open the airwaves to such a debate and is there a problem with doing so? Would it permit the advertising of other issues that could be considered political, such as the treatment of animals etc.?

The amendment makes a genuine attempt to correct the balance following the recent decision. I do not believe the legislation was ever designed with that in mind. Unfortunately, broadcasters have made their interpretations of regulations in the past. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 was mentioned earlier. Similarly, the broadcasting authority went beyond the legislation. It got to the stage where the restrictions did not merely apply to members of Sinn Féin. Before appearing on programmes some people were being asked whether they voted for or agree with the party, which was never the intention of the legislation. The broadcasting authority and individual broadcasters took it upon themselves to extend the scope of the legislation, which had a negative effect on society by not allowing people to make a choice for themselves.

The removal of the Trócaire advertisement on the basis that it was regarded as political has raised many issues. As other speakers have said, everything in life now is political. This is a serious attempt to move away from that crude interpretation.

While I understand the background to Deputy Michael Higgins tabling his amendment, the issue would be best debated in the context of the draft general scheme of the broadcasting Bill, which is currently the subject of a public consultation process undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The draft general scheme addresses the duties, codes and rules imposed on broadcasters and the powers of the proposed single broadcasting content regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

All broadcasters have a statutory duty not to accept advertisements that are directed towards any religious or political end or have any relationship to any industrial dispute. Section 24 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 imposes this duty on the RTE Authority. Section 50 of the Broadcasting Act 2001 applies it to Teilifís na Gaeilge. In effect, there are currently two regulators enforcing compliance by broadcasters for this duty, the BCI in regard to commercial and community broadcasters and the RTE Authority in regard to the RTE and TG4 channels.

With regard to the Trócaire advertising issue, the two bodies have taken different views as to what constitutes an infringement of the duty not to carry political advertising. Heads 27 and 40 of the draft general scheme of the Broadcasting Bill, which is currently the subject of a public consultation process by the joint committee, restates the ban on political advertising and proposes that the compliance committee of the proposed broadcasting authority of Ireland would enforce this duty in respect of all broadcasters. The amendment proposed by Deputy Michael D. Higgins would have the effect of allowing the RTE Authority more discretion as to what constitutes political advertising than that allowed to the BCI. This would not be an equitable arrangement.

There is a need for debate on this issue, which the Deputies are correct to state is a complex one. We should tread carefully before altering the current prohibition on political advertising. Therefore, I am not prepared to accept the amendment.

I am grateful to the Minister of State, the Chair and the House for facilitating the teasing out of this issue but the Minister of State's reply makes matters a great deal worse. What it really suggests is that it is proposed to transfer the ambiguity, lack of clarity and narrow definition into a more general regime which will fall not only on independent broadcasters and those under the regime of the old IRTC and Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, but also that the defects will be transported into the general system. I have some sensitivity about this issue as a former Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, and I am quite aware of the text of section 10(3).

I need not delay the House with regard to the atmosphere in 1988 when the basic Act was passed. The atmosphere in 1988 and before I became Minister with responsibility for broadcasting was one in which there was a considerable interest in the Government of the day having a heavy hand on what were perceived to be excessively autonomous broadcasters. This is something we do not want. With regard to the proposed heads 27 and 40 and the basis of the consultation document, it would appear the Minister of State's interpretation is that we can simply run on with what is in place at present.

The issue is very important. I addressed these issues, for example, during consideration of my decision not to renew the ban under section 31, because we must have confidence in the listening public, in those who professionally make programmes and in the authority one appoints. They must be at arm's length. I am concerned when I hear a phrase such as, "It would give the authority too much power". The authority is there to exercise a discretion that is at a necessary distance from the State and the Government of the day — that is why we have authorities.

I am seriously worried not just with regard to my amendment but with regard to what is anticipated in the general overarching Bill. This does not augur well. When we vote on this amendment, I will most likely lose. However, I will prepare this by way of a separate Bill which I will introduce to the Dáil and it will then be for the Government to deal with it. Real issues are raised in this regard. I agree there are certain issues on which we would not want to allow open season or which could be abused. However, if Members wish to improve the Bill, they can do so when it is debated. The easiest way by far is to end the ambiguity that arises now.

I will not put a tooth in it. This BCI decision is a bad one, taken on a bad interpretation. We did not get an answer to our question — did the board of the BCI assent to this? We can all quote sections, including the sections governing RTE, the independent sector, TG4 and so on. It is a matter of the public interest, however. Why have a board, if one cannot ask questions such as the following. Did the board discuss this? Did it arrive at a conclusion? Did it take a decision? If this is an executive decision, was it submitted to the board for review? If it was submitted to board for review, when was that and at what conclusion did it arrive? Does the board support this executive decision? I would like to know the answers.

It may well be this is the case. If so, we have given the board bad and loose definitions in section 10(3). I am making an attempt to clarify the position. We will have to go further but all we now have is, rather than a promise to redress this issue, a promise to make it a great deal worse by putting a legally fragile position into the basic Act.

One of the great differences between myself and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is our view in regard to rights. He believes they stop at the boundary of the Constitution; I do not. In this, there is potential serious infringement of the right to communicate. Nobody has the right to stop anybody communicating about the great moral issues. We must remember UN Resolution 1325, which referred to the importance of the integrity of women being realised, ending gender inequality, dealing with female genital mutilation and so forth. If one cannot advertise a campaign calling on one's Government to ratify and support such a resolution, and bring in amending legislation as a result of a United Nations discourse, what kind of a limitation is imposed on broadcasting? It is a difficult issue. We do not want abuse but, at the same time, we do not want a bad decision to be regarded as good law. It is clearly not so.

I appeal to the Minister of State to grant the amendment as an interim measure. If he wishes to change it, he can come back to it in the future. I am not responsible for the main broadcasting legislation; the Government is. If it wants to change what it agrees with the Opposition, it can do this in the Act. Otherwise, we will be left with no other strategy but for me to proceed with what I have suggested, namely, to prepare a Bill which I will place before the House and which we will have the opportunity to discuss. I would be very reluctant to leave matters as they are.

I am not suggesting the decision taken by the BCI was correct or wrong but that, under the Broadcasting Bill which is currently before the committee, the ban on political advertising is restated under heads 27 and 40. However, I am not stating this should be the case when the Bill is finalised. Obviously, it is a matter for public consultation and discussion and may well be changed at that stage.

Deputy Higgins has begun the debate today, which is important, but that debate cannot be decided or concluded today. It will continue into the future and we suggest the best way to either make changes or adopt the outgoing situation, or do whatever is best for the future, is under the Broadcasting Bill.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 36; Níl, 60.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Upton, Mary.

Níl

  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and English; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill reported without amendment.

As it is now 1.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and that the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put and agreed to.

A message shall be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.