Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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

I am very proud and honoured to commence the Second Stage debate on the Broadcasting Bill 2008. This Chamber has seen historic debate in the past days. Listening to the radio this morning, I heard an interview with our colleague in the Seanad, Senator Martin Brady, when he was exiting at 7 a.m. He used the analogy that what we were doing was like putting out a fire, which was well put. There is no doubt that we are in changing times, when the sort of capitalism espoused by such characters as Mr. Gordon Gekko and others on Wall Street is now in cinders following that fire. In many ways some of the definitions that we have lived by in the past ten or 20 years are changing. These include definitions of the best form of economics, what constitutes a good loan and the best way of investing capital.

This Bill is about how we define broadcasting. In that way, it defines our national conversation. It could be said that broadcasting is where we have the expression of our collective consciousness and where our sense of ourselves and our culture is played out. This happens in such sectors as entertainment, education, news, music and every format of broadcasting that we see and hear on the television and radio every day. This is important and sensitive legislation. I use the term "sensitive" because it is legislation which is at that difficult meeting point where the power of politics and Government meets the power of the media. The regulation and legislation in this sector will never be easy to manage, which we must all recognise. This area is also sensitive because we are often regulating subjects where it is more difficult to be certain and where the definitive lines of economics or science do not necessarily apply. One is dealing with our culture and our sense of ourselves which are defined by more subjective, metaphysical concepts. The legislation is also sensitive because in regulating that national conversation, one is dealing with subjects which might not be easy to bring up in an ordinary public house. The key remit of the regulation of broadcasting could be seen to be in the area of entertainment, celebrity, sports and consumption programmes, all of which exist.

The degrading side of broadcasting.

These are all valid and there is a proper place and part for these topics in our entertainment. However, the regulation of broadcasting will always be difficult as it must also deal with the trickier, more sensitive areas of politics, sex, religion——

——and how broadcasters approach that aspect of our culture and our national conversation. I was fortunate first to introduce this Bill in the Seanad where there was a very interesting, wide-ranging and well informed debate. An example from that debate showing how complex these issues can be comes to mind. Senator Rónán Mullen questioned why it is we allow advertising of tarot cards, gambling and so on, on television, but we do not allow religious advertising. That is a sensitive issue. There can be conflicting best intentions with open access to advertising and a libertarian approach. One can, with best intentions, say a topic is too sensitive and difficult and this can be abused. The way these conflicting sensitivities and best intentions are regulated is the subject of some of the codes and regulatory systems——

What about addressing the question of advertising directly to children, is that not much more important?

That is equally a question that could be asked. I raised the point and I have asked my officials in framing the Bill to examine those issues, and to see if wording applies which could steer the regulators or broadcasters towards a sensibility that is in tune with the national conversation and with our sense of our collective consciousness. This sounds very broad, but I believe that is the difficulty, sensitivity and importance of this legislation.

The legislation deals with issues around the format, structure and model of broadcasting, dealing with publicly funded broadcasters and those not funded directly by the licence fee but through commercial advertising. My sense is that the broad structures in place are correct. I believe we need a publicly funded broadcaster. Public funding brings with it real responsibilities regarding the approach a public broadcaster should take. Deputy Higgins referred to the obligation to examine such issues as children's programming and to ensure there is proper investment so that a service is provided which may not have a commercial mandate but which is a crucial element in our broadcasting media mix.

We must stop advertisers abusing children.

I could not agree more. There are also benefits to come from having that public broadcasting remit. I listened intently to the weather forecast on the radio during the summer. Although it was such a straight, old fashioned approach it was the most crucial programme of the day and represented the most important and innovative programming because it related to my holiday and my time. There is a strange mix of obligations in public sector broadcasting which brings benefits and real advantages.

I believe there should be a public broadcaster, not a State broadcaster. This is a sensitive area where the powers of politics and media meet. I do not believe the broadcaster should be a direct extension of the State in its form and functions. It is appropriate for the public broadcaster to have a direct connection to the public through its own authority. However, it is also appropriate that it is regulated in the same way as other independent, commercial broadcasters which also should carry a clear public service remit. Commercial broadcasters have access to a spectrum which is now a real resource. In a sense, they have access to our public conversation and airwaves. This brings on them some of same obligations and opportunities that exist for the publicly funded broadcaster. For both categories, especially for the public broadcaster, the use, access, encouragement and development of an independent production sector is vital and correct for the quality of the conversation in the broadcasting world. An independent production sector provides the ability to bring in independent, creative, irreverent and critical talent which may not otherwise exist within permanent structures. This talent can also exist there but the permanent structures can complement those creative instincts and, ultimately, we are discussing a creative business and activity.

In terms of commercial and independent broadcasters, crucial issues arise regarding the diversity of voice and also ownership in terms of ensuring we do not get a limited range of views in our national public conversation, possibly by ownership restraints. Plurality of voices and opinions is healthy in the broadcasting future we want to help shape.

The current environment is a difficult one in that advertising revenues may not be what they were in recent years. However, it is of fundamental importance that in the public service remit all broadcasters have the staff, and people who work in this sector are properly paid. It is an attractive area to work in because people are dealing with interesting and creative issues but it can easily lead to a work environment where less favourable conditions than those that might be accepted elsewhere become the norm. That is not in the interests of any broadcaster in this State in the long term. It is not in the interests of us, as legislators and regulators, to see that happening in what is a crucial piece of the social infrastructure of our State.

To define the changing environment as we regulate and legislate in broadcasting, a further development is the arrival of a plethora of new technology that presents major opportunities for new forms of broadcasting. The development of the Internet and new digital platforms allows us to change from a broadcasting environment where one broadcaster broadcasts to many individuals to one where many broadcasters may broadcast to many different audiences. Such an environment is one we should embrace, encourage and regulate to ensure quality.

There is a fine line between Bruce Springsteen's depiction of broadcasting — "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" — and the excitement of being able to reach a niche programme, be it on the web, a satellite or a digital cable platform, which is of real interest not to many but to a few who can get it. We must get that balance right. We must open up this country, and it is already opening up, as one where those new digital media and broadcasting formats are encouraged, promoted and become successful.

On the definitions, and all Bills start with definitions, what are the definitions and the qualities we want? In broadcasting we will always look for the broadcasters to search for the truth. That is a simple line but we, as politicians, have an inclination in that regard because we deal with slightly similar issues. On either side of the House, in the game of politics, one is often looking for a story with which one can get the other side, so to speak, or to see the line a particular Minister or party has taken and search out the facts in terms of what is happening. On most occasions it turns out to be a disappointment for the politicians because the reality is not what they might have originally believed, be it one of conspiracy, incompetence or another controversial story. It can be explained by a range of measures.

Sometimes it is.

That is sometimes the case——

For better or worse.

——but politics works best when we do the hard work to find the truth of the story and then explain it. It is the same in broadcasting because it must be easy sometimes to stir up controversy for the sake of it and not stick to trying to find the truth. That is not in the public service interest, be it in a commercial, independent or public sector broadcaster.

The second definition of qualities we must look for is a sense of dignity for the Irish people and the individual in Ireland in anything the broadcasters do. There is real concern about the invasion of privacy on the part of some broadcasters. Members on all sides of this House will know of incidents where colleagues, friends or family have been subject to such invasion of privacy. We want people to seek the truth and to tell stories regardless of fear or favour of any individual but there is a line which, in terms of privacy or demeaning the dignity of an individual in whatever form of programming that takes place, we do not want our broadcasters to go beyond. That is the reason we are in a difficult space because defining that line is never easy for a broadcaster but it is one we must look on as a broad sense of the direction they are taking.

We need accuracy in that search for truth. In recent years certain television channels have lost my confidence due to some of the inaccurate programming they put out for the sake of short-term controversy and gain. We do not need to chase ratings. We need to entertain, educate and inform so that the public will flock to those broadcasters. We need local broadcasting. We want to be international but also local and what we will see in the world of new technologies is the development of community broadcasting as an important element within our overall mix.

I will briefly outline some of the process issues as I see them in the development of this legislation and in the way we work. Something I hope we can do in the establishment of this authority is approach in a slightly more open and democratic way how we regulate. That thinking led to the introduction in this Bill of the concept that the Oireachtas committee will nominate members to some of those crucial authorities in RTE, TG4 and in the broadcasting authority itself in that link between the public and the regulatory system. It is right for us to open up our structures to allow for wider consideration, possibly public consideration of the way people are appointed to those authorities.

I commend the members opposite involved in that committee to immediately take up the task of setting out how they will advise the Government in terms of who should become members of that authority as it is set out in the legislation. I want this legislation to be enacted either before or shortly after Christmas. That is a short time line in terms of setting up what are completely new procedures. We have not done this before but it is the committee's opportunity to take on that democratic mandate and order its business, in whatever way it sees fit, to consider appropriate people for such board appointments and to add that democratic stream of appointments into the new authorities we are setting up. It may be seen as a small measure elsewhere but for me it is an historic change in terms of the nature of our democratic structures and one I am very proud to have been able to help facilitate. I hope the House, and the Oireachtas committee in particular, will also help to facilitate it.

This is sensitive legislation dealing with a myriad of issues — politics, sex and religion, and the regulation thereof — where it is never easy to have a clean line in terms of the best approach as we go through the details of the Bill. I hope the debate here will be similar to one we had in the Seanad in that it encourages Members opposite and Members on this side of the House to suggest further refinements or changes to what will always be a subjective business of regulation in the broadcasting area.

Within this regulatory structure we are establishing we also must recognise that new technological developments — the convergence between the communications broadcasting industry and the telecommunications industry — will require us to continue to evolve our regulatory model to ensure those connections are made in a way that allows for plurality of media outlets, new channels and platforms to evolve.

I will briefly outline the details of the Bill and some of the broad background process that it is important to understand in terms of its origins, ranging from the Broadcasting Act 1960, the establishment of RTE, the Radio and Television Act 1988, the establishment of commercial independent broadcasting, the Broadcasting Act 2001 which saw the establishment of TG4, the recent broadcasting legislation establishing digital terrestrial television and the wider European broadcasting environment in terms of the development of the new audiovisual and media services directive. That is the process framework within which we are engaged. We are building on the legislative steps I have mentioned. The process leading up to this Bill has been a long one. Shortly after I was elected to this House in 2002, the Forum on Broadcasting was convened in the Royal Hospital. It has taken us a long time to arrive at this point. This legislation takes the outcome of the 2004 radio licensing review into account. When I was in opposition, I was a member of the joint committee that was responsible for the e-consultation initiative, which involved a review of the legislation in this area. I believe the committee's work constituted an important formative step.

I wish to go through the various parts of the Bill. Part 2 sets out the broad structures being put in place. A contract awards committee and a compliance committee are being established to set out the contract arrangements and codes that broadcasters will have to follow. This part of the Bill also relates to licence fees and the nature of the broadcasting fund. It sets out the right of reply provisions and explains how levies will be applied. It short, it outlines the broad structures the new regulatory authority will have to deliver on.

Part 3 of the Bill sets out some of the duties, codes and rules that will apply to broadcasters. Section 39 requires all stations to broadcast a minimum level of news and current affairs. Section 41 deals with advertising minutage. Section 42 sets out codes in respect of objectivity, impartiality, privacy and advertising. It is right that legislators are sending a strong signal to commercial interests in this country. We do not want products to be targeted at children if they will do them harm in the long term. Any parent of a six year old will be familiar with the phenomenon of being in the supermarket and having one's trouser leg pulled by a child who wants the worst thing on the shelf. Rows can ensue if one does not give in. Habits can be formed for a lifetime on the back of the pressure parents are under. I do not dispute that parents have primary responsibility for the raising of children, but it would be nice for commercial interests to help us in that regard. It is appropriate for us to try to legislate to support parents and their children by setting rules for the sale of products to children.

Part 4 sets out the audience redress measures we are putting in place. It is right for us to provide for an appropriate level of flexibility and responsiveness so that people's privacy is protected. At the same time, we should not tie our broadcasters up in legislative, legal or bureaucratic red tape. We need to ensure they have the freedom to tell the real stories that need to be told about what is going on in Ireland. Section 47 puts in place a public complaints procedure. Section 48 sets out certain grounds and processes for the making of complaints. Section 49, crucially, gives a right of reply to people who feel their privacy has been damaged or their good name has been impugned. It ensures that recourse to the courts, which is never a satisfactory process for all concerned, can be avoided. This aspect of the legislation, which is particularly progressive, will help broadcasters as much as it helps individuals.

Part 5 of the Bill outlines some of the mechanisms that are required to enforce the various codes. We are giving the regulators the ability to issue fines, rather than always having to engage in an expensive High Court process. This important and innovative development will help broadcasters. If a regulator's only choice is to revoke a licence or do nothing, it is important for all concerned to provide for alternative measures that give a clear signal but do not completely destroy the opportunity of a broadcaster to continue in business.

Part 6 revises the mechanisms governing the award of contracts and provides for a new definition of "community broadcasting". It makes provision for temporary, 100-day broadcasting licences to be awarded to community radio stations. This proposal is designed to encourage the development of a much wider plurality of broadcasters, often working on a non-commercial community basis, which will be a major new step in the future of broadcasting on this island. This part of the Bill will enable surveys of audience needs to be conducted so that contracts are awarded in a manner that takes account of what is in the interest of audiences and the public as a whole. We are providing for a fast-track procedure for the award of certain contracts. We are dealing with issues of plurality of ownership. We are requiring the preservation of archives to help future generations to understand Irish history and thereby develop a better sense of themselves.

Part 7 of the Bill defines the broad structures of public service broadcasters, including the statutory remit and functions of such broadcasters. We will allow them to operate new digital content platforms in an innovative manner. We are requiring them to implement certain oversight mechanisms, such as the publication of annual statements of commitment outlining the details of their proposed public service outputs. This is crucial. The decision taken four or five years ago by one of my predecessors to increase the RTE licence fee has been successful. It led to a significant increase in RTE's output of home-produced programming which, in turn, attracted a strong domestic audience. Irish people like to hear stories told by Irish people.

Some of them are tall stories.

While that has been a success, we need to further refine the assessment of what RTE produces in return for its licence fee. The system of measurement needs to be more sophisticated than a simple tally of the number of hours of programming in each category — it should refer to some of the broad values I mentioned earlier. While those values may be difficult to define, it is appropriate for the regulator and the public to expect the public broadcaster to assess and set out its course on the basis of true measures of quality, rather than on a "per hour" basis. I may be simplifying the current process somewhat. RTE is taking a proactive approach, in its own interest, to the process of refining its measures of assessment. At this legislative stage, it is important to recognise this measure as a beneficial further step.

Section 96 of the Bill specifies an important aspect of the process of assessing quality — the establishment of structures to be known as audience councils. This part of the legislation also facilitates the encouragement of an independent production sector. In recent years, the Government has successfully pursued a policy of encouraging independent producers. However, the industry remains quite small, fractured and fragmented. It needs to be strengthened if it is to be of long-term service to this country's broadcasters. One cannot create high-quality programming unless one has enough resources to be able to give adequate time to early production stages, such as the concept development stage and the creative design stage.

We have to make certain changes if we are to ensure that our independent production sector continues to thrive and make progress. The sector is important not only because it allows us to tell our stories here at home, but also because it allows us to tell stories overseas. We have an opportunity in this regard because we are good at storytelling. We are good in this sector of the media. We should be able to tell our stories at home and abroad, to Irish people and to other people. In that regard, section 112 initiates the process which will lead to the establishment of a code of fair trading practice. This will ensure that the relationship between independent production companies and the larger broadcasters is fair, provides for real freedom and encourages such companies to be enterprising.

Section 116 of the Bill before the House sets out the minimum amount the public sector broadcaster must spend on independent production. It also requires RTE, for the first time, to commission a minimum level of programming from the independent radio production sector, which is a significant development. I believe it will have a positive effect on the State broadcaster and the wider public.

Chapter 6 of Part 7 of the Bill sets out the details of this country's new digital terrestrial television package. I refer in particular to the introduction of a politics channel and an Irish film channel. As I said earlier, the debate that took place in this Chamber over recent days would have been top of the ratings among the Irish public if it had been able to access it. Should people not have been allowed to hear the contributions of people like Deputy Higgins on the crucial issue of the day? When the Dáil is not in session, would it not be right for the public to enjoy similar access to debates in the US Congress or the European Parliament, or any other parliament that the editorial team decides may be of interest to the Irish people as they look for political information? I have a vision of a politics channel that plays an important role as one of the free-to-air services provided to the Irish people in return for the licence fee.

We would like input from the people on the other side of the House on how we would operate a broadcasting fund to encourage a production centre. These are difficult decisions. One does not want to undermine the editorial strength and creativity of the main public sector broadcaster but at the same time one wants to encourage vitality in the sector at a time when commercial returns are not easy to forecast or manage.

The issues with regard to how we develop an independent sector such as what type of codes we put in place should form substantive debate on Committee Stage because they are substantial issues for our people even if sometimes they are not as easy to define as some of the banking, agriculture or transport issues we debate in the Chamber.

This Bill provides us with an opportunity at a time of real change in the country. It is a very positive time. I look forward to a time when my children do not face the prospect of spending their working lives paying off a mortgage. Some of the developments in recent years in terms of the massive property speculation which occurred was deeply damaging to our society.

I mentioned that the fire that has passed through our financial system means the Wall Street model no longer applies. New models will apply and it is time for us to have a clear sense of ourselves and a sense of cohesion. This comes from our broadcasters and our media, which are the embodiment of our public discussion. Today in the Dáil is a further extension of this. I wish it were live on television so those throughout the country could hear what Members opposite have to say.

I apologise for the absence of my colleague, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is attending the funeral of a family friend. I welcome the introduction of the Bill. It is important legislation in terms of the role and influence which broadcasting has in our society.

The Minister is correct to state that we are at a crossroads and we are examining new ground and moving into a new era. Over the years, we have had the introduction of broadcasting practices and procedures which have become accepted and acceptable. The Bill proposes a number of constructive changes, additions and improvements and the Minister has pointed out that there will be room for amendments from the Opposition. It is the intention of Fine Gael to bring forward a number of progressive and substantial amendments which it is hoped will be of benefit to the debate that takes place in the House and in general.

The Minister mentioned the evolution of the broadcasting sector and its influence, and this is an important issue to bear in mind at present. There is nothing more influential than the broadcaster and broadcasters have taken on a new role. Previously, the broadcaster or the reporter at a local newspaper felt his or her job was to report the news and events as they unfolded or in some cases prior to unfolding. This is still the case to a major extent in the area of public broadcasting. The national broadcaster, RTE, and the independent broadcasting service provide a great source of immediate information to the public. As well as this, they have come to provide commentary and, some would say undesirably, an influence. This may be the case.

They do not do so on Thursdays.

That is correct. Thursday would not be a great day for it.

Deputy Durkan should cast his eyes on the empty seats.

Absolutely.

At the same time, this is an important issue that must be borne in mind. Broadcasting of every form reflects society and on what we do. Particularly, it affects what we do in this House. I know one of the proposals is for an Oireachtas channel and I supported this from the outset. It is a great idea and would be of great importance because it would bring to the public the events of the Houses of the Oireachtas as they happen. It would be useful also from the point of view of the performance of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. After all, who wants to sit in a Chamber at any time if nobody reports what happens there. One would be better off anywhere else.

By the same token, a broadcaster may be critical of the Houses of the Oireachtas, often rightly so. It is important that we are all criticised from time to time and it is hoped constructively so. There are two ways to offer criticism. It can be constructive and beneficial or undermining and damaging, depending on how it is put.

Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and the Minister referred to the Internet and its availability. Some aspects of modern broadcasting such as the YouTube website are uncontrollable and undesirable. I presume this regulation will apply also to this type of broadcasting. In the not so distant past we saw that material of a very undesirable nature was shown on the web through various forms of new and modern means of communication. I do not mean material of a sexual nature, I mean material of an abusive nature. Whatever else we do, abuses of any nature, shape or form should never be glamourised.

Never should the notion prevail that because it has happened, appalling as it may appear, the public should see it. This is greatly damaging, particularly in the case of children, and Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to it previously. The abuse of children on the Internet, whether it reflects what is taking place, is simply not acceptable. It is an appalling advancement of the cause of those involved in the abuse. It is an appalling reflection on society that it would even be allowed or contemplated in any shape or form that any medium would facilitate the advancement of what is obviously a depraved industry.

This is a large Bill with approximately 180 sections. I do not know how the Minister will be able to deal with this matter. It is a form of broadcasting — the Minister referred to it as a modern form of broadcasting. I do not accept the notion that because it is technically feasible, we can do nothing about it. That is not true. All this can be tracked by modern technology.

I accept that with some of the items of an undesirable nature which have appeared on YouTube, action was eventually taken. I cannot understand why it is not possible to screen items such as a girl or teenager being beaten up or abused. It should be possible to technically detect this type of sickness at an early stage and not do what was done in the past and state it is a matter for the Garda Síochána, which is the arm of the law and detection, prevention and retribution.

We must recognise the growing power and influence of the broadcaster. The Minister discussed at considerable length the State broadcaster. By that, I presume he means the Government broadcaster. Those of us on this side of the House are always ultra-sensitive when it comes to the State or public broadcaster as the Minister——

I do not think it is the correct term.

The Minister is probably correct. The public broadcaster has responsibilities to the public. It also has responsibilities to the State. The balance achieved between these is of obvious importance. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the recent discourse between the director general of the national broadcaster and the Minister for Finance about a recent edition of "Liveline". The Minister rang in and asked Joe Duffy about what was going on regarding people withdrawing their money from banks. I would love to have been there for that and to hear the director general respond. That would provide a great insight to those of us on this side of the House on how best we can deal with this kind of thing when we are in Government, which ultimately will happen.

I never rang a senior official about a programme when I was a Minister.

That is the point I wanted to make. I would be aggrieved by some of the things the broadcasters would say, but I am not sure that it would be of benefit to remonstrate with them. What was happening in the programme was probably not in the financial interest, but it may well have been in the public interest. The issues raised were issues that everybody was concerned about at the same time. At what stage does the Government decide to exercise its muscle to put a stop to this? That is a very dangerous road to travel, and I am sure the Minister opposite is fully aware of that. When he was on this side of the House, he would have led us to believe that he would have concerns in that area. I compliment his proposals to depoliticise the whole broadcasting structure, as this is incorporated in the Bill. I was surprised that he did not comment on that episode of "Liveline" in his speech, because it is fundamental to what we are doing now.

I remember having a debate with a provincial journalist some time ago. He believed that the national broadcaster was the State broadcaster and should at all times be under the influence of the State, which is controlled by the Government. I disagree with that and I would agree more with the Minister's interpretation of that area. However, what becomes the norm over the years usually evolves, takes on a life of its own and becomes acceptable. Policy can develop, evolve by stealth and become accepted as a result. That is a dangerous thing and the proposals raised by the Minister in his philosophical dissertation on the Bill are desirable. However, great care needs to be taken to ensure they work. That comes down to the influence of the State broadcaster and the relationship between the Government and the national broadcaster.

I will come back at a later stage to what might have been the conversation in that famous telephone call to the national broadcaster. I do not know whether the Minister here offered to make a call or whether he was asked to make a call, but I suspect that there was some discussion on those issues at that time. I compliment those brave commentators who spoke on the issue of the solvency of the banking system for quite a long time and who stood over their criticisms, even though they were not loved for it. The moral of the story is that they were right to take their view, stand over their view and not apologise for it. That is the way it must always be, because if we are going to have unimpeded reporting of the facts, then we must allow for that. The idea of interfering with the broadcaster when he or she is attempting to do his or her work is a dangerous one. It smacks of what goes on in some countries where broadcasting is strongly controlled by their governments.

The Minister was very philosophical in this debate and my colleagues in the Labour Party will be equally informative when they speak on it. The Rupert Murdoch system of broadcasting has enormous power and influence. Our own broadcasting services represent a microcosm of that. During the recent referendum on the Lisbon treaty, there were countless outlets broadcasting into this country from other jurisdictions which had an agenda and a particular view. They set about influencing the debate and did it very carefully. They said to the Irish people that they were standing up for us and were backing us up in the pursuit of our independence and our right to make a decision, which happened to be in line with the decision they wanted us to make. That is a peculiar way of going about one's business, but it warns us of the emerging greater power of broadcasters and the influence they can create, as well as the implications that can have for our society, our well-being, our economy and our culture.

I believe that the national broadcasters have a responsibility and should observe those responsibilities, and they largely have done so. We also need to be aware of the competing influences in broadcasting from outside this jurisdiction and the likely social, cultural and economic impact they can have. If lessons have not been learned in the past, then they should be learned now. In the final analysis, for all the people who claim to be our friends in this, we should remember that we are our own best friends and we need to keep an eye on that.

I hope the depoliticisation proposed goes well. It is the right idea. If the system is to work with integrity, then its depoliticisation must mean something. I hope it means that it will be truly depoliticised, and that somebody does not sneak under the door and claim that he is not at all politically inclined. We might later track back to five or six decisions that person made previously and discover that the claim does not add up. However, the concept is a good one and I hope it works out. The whole area of enforcement following the failure to comply with the regulation is a good idea, as proposed in the Bill. It will require some considerable teasing out during the debate. I am one of those who believes that the widest possible debate on Second Stage is very important. I do not accept that we should wait until Committee Stage before we get in to the nitty gritty of things. The broadest debate takes place on Second Stage. Once the general concept of what is proposed is adequately debated, we can move on from there.

The Minister made reference to the codes of advertising and the great amount of influence involved. Deputy Michael D. Higgins made a few comments about this at the beginning. Everyone is impressed by propaganda, but children are obviously the most vulnerable. Everybody wants the nicest, quickest and sweetest foods. The same applies to drink. The advertising of drink is not the only part of the problem because it should be noted that drugs are not advertised. Everyone says that drugs are bad but their consumption is still increasing. It is a question of what is seen to be desirable and promoted as such. The controls on advertising are important and Fine Gael will be tabling a number of amendments to do with this issue.

I welcome the Minister's reference to complaints and the right of reply. However, the right of reply needs to be treated with respect. The right of reply does not in all cases address the issue of the degree of hurt or the impugning of the character of the victim. If any Member of this House or a member of the public believes his or her character has been impugned in some way, either in the print or broadcast media, the right of reply does not necessarily address the issue of dealing with the impact, hurt or injury caused. This area is difficult to legislate for and my colleagues, including Deputy Simon Coveney and others in the Labour Party, will study this aspect carefully. If I publicly or in a broadcast accused another Member of the House of something deplorable, his or her right of reply does not necessarily remove completely the implication of the accusation I have made. This is a very difficult area which I ask the Minister to consider.

The future broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament will be a successful venture, in my view. I do not accept the argument that nobody will watch such broadcasts. The proceedings would be of great interest to the ordinary people who do not always have the opportunity to observe what happens in the Oireachtas. Everybody in a democracy is entitled to know what is happening in Parliament. We may need to make procedural changes to allow for business to be streamlined. TG4 is to be commended for its work in this area. The Oireachtas channel will nicely dovetail with the existing broadcasting services and will prove to be of great benefit in promoting a sense of national interest, pride and responsibility.

Like many Members, I do not have the opportunity to watch many television programmes because by the time we return home, the television has all but shut down. Deputy Pat Rabbitte used to refer to the "Oireachtas Report" programme as being watched only by those who could not sleep. A few weeks ago, I looked in on a programme called "Big Brother". I understand this is a popular programme and I am sure there are good reasons for its popularity. However, to my mind, one would need to very bored to spend any time other than a quick glance looking at such a programme as it is appalling. It is a programme with audience participation and the producers of such programmes know well that the public are interested in well-known people. I cannot understand how anybody could take time to watch such a programme. Other similar programmes also include audience participation. I may be old-fashioned but I would love to watch a good film in place of something like that.

The Minister referred to home-produced programmes. In this country we are inclined to ape what is done elsewhere. We should be innovative in our television programming, do our own research and produce our own programmes.

This proposal to update the broadcasting legislation is important and it should include the lessons we have learned from the past. I suggest we should bask in the reflected glory of the great broadcasters and communicators of whom we have had many. We even have a few in this House. The public does not always have to agree with one's view and they may often disagree completely with one's viewpoint. However, it is the way in which one puts one's view and communicates a message that is important.

This is an era of competition in broadcasting and I have referred to the Rupert Murdochs and Fox Corporations of this world. All communicators must compete for the time and space available and this has advantages and disadvantages. It is an open market with many languages in use and all broadcasters and communicators face strong competition. Quality programming will shine out as opposed to mediocre programming.

I will conclude with a point about the independent broadcasters. We have a good independent broadcasting sector on both a local and national level and both levels have a significant role to play. It is important they access a fair share of funding locally and nationally. Otherwise, they will be at a distinct disadvantage and will not be able to compete on a reasonably level playing field. There is no reason why there cannot be competition between the public and private sectors in broadcasting. It is important to have that, and that there is a reasonably level playing pitch when undertaking that competition. Ultimately, the consumer will be the beneficiary.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the Broadcasting Bill 2008. As there is always room for improvement, on Committee Stage we will table amendments. However, we support the Bill's overall approach. While it is cautious rather than radical, it will ensure regulation over what is now a phenomenon. Broadcasting has such a powerful influence in our lives. It informs, entertains, educates and wields an influence which we do not fully understand. An ESRI study in 2005 found people spend on average two hours a day watching television while one in ten view television for more than seven hours a day. I suspect that has increased since then; children certainly watch for longer.

One example of the impact of television is the extinction of the regional accent. Young people and children from Kerry to Newry have all adopted a type of television accent when speaking which directly comes from television. If television affects the way we speak, it must also affect deeply the way we think.

We need to ensure broadcasting can flourish but that there is regulation to ensure quality and access across the spectrum of public, private, independent and community broadcasting. Regulation is important to ensure the uniqueness of our culture and identity is recognised and acknowledged. The diversity of experience that is part of life must also be safeguarded. Broadcasting is developing and expanding in breathtaking ways. It is limitless in the sense it is hard for one's imagination to accommodate its possibilities.

Effectiveness of regulation, or the lack of it, is an important issue in broadcasting. In recent times, regulation has become an issue central to our lives. Internationally, the banking systems are under threat and our economy is in peril. The political failure to regulate the money markets and lending agencies and to protect against corporate greed is having a deep impact at home and abroad. While broadcasting regulation pales into insignificance compared to the financial landscape, in ways there are parallels. It is still an issue of regulation. What is needed is robust legislation. All agree the oversight of broadcasting needs to be effective and open.

The Bill will lead to the establishment of a new broadcasting authority. It is important that it will not just be the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland in a new guise. It will need considerable resources to meet the tasks we are setting it.

This is being introduced at a time when the Government claims it wants to streamline State bodies and combine quangos. Was there consideration given, for example, to an organisation combining the new broadcasting authority and ComReg? Are we hearing much talk from the Government about streamlining and better value for money or is real consideration being given to options?

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland employs over 40 people. Clearly the proposed Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, will need more staff and resources. A study was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess future needs yet the report, paid for by public money, has not been published. It would make sense in this debate on the nuts and bolts of setting up the BAI to see that report. The budget for the commission is €6.1 million. What will be the budget for the new body? The Minister has not said what the staff complement and resources for the proposed authority will be. However, unless there is that support and infrastructure, the BAI will not be able to carry out its tasks. It is not enough for the Government to say it will get it right this time. There is a litany of bad management and difficulties caused by the mismatch between the Government's intentions and practice.

I want to be practical about this and to ensure that what we are talking about will be the end result. The current budget for the commission is about €6.1 million. What will be the budget for the new body? It is proposed to raise a levy from all broadcasters to pay for this. However, there has been a significant downturn in advertising revenue. The levy is being devised by the BAI. Broadcasters should be involved in paying for this authority as they benefit from it. The independent sector had the sensible notion that it is not enough to simply have a levy. The levy should be based on the understanding that a three-year budgetary plan would be laid out before the levy is raised. In FÁS, for example, money issues have gone out of control with totally inappropriate spending, such as the recent Mount Juliet phenomenon, at a time when funding for training and apprenticeships has dried up. I intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure a proper process is put in place. Otherwise, the Oireachtas will simply be rubber-stamping what has already been decided.

I am not aware of a definition for "public service broadcasting" in legislation. The Bill simply refers to those organisations involved in public service broadcasting. This needs to be teased out somewhat, particularly with the growth of the community broadcasting sector. I do not mean to be pedantic but as time goes on, a definition of "public broadcasting" would be helpful.

The structure of the BAI is set out in the Bill. I thank the Minister for taking the important step of introducing a role for an Oireachtas committee in it. While I may have preferred to have the role extended, it is still a progressive step.

Members of this House spend considerable numbers of hours in committees and sometimes there is a feeling that we are going nowhere and are wasting our time. This is the kind of change which is straightforward and simple, but significant, and I have no doubt that the committee will live up to the request made of it by the Minister and the BAI will be the better for it.

The BAI will have a unique responsibility but if it is simply made up of people with vested interests coming together to protect their corner, it will not work very well. There must be a pooling within the new authority and that requires a certain openness of view in terms of who will be on it. It is good that it is subject to the scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General, that the CEO must appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and that codes of conduct will be put in place. In that context, I must declare an interest here. I have a son working in the independent television sector, with whom the Minister has had some contact recently.

We should not underestimate the importance of codes of conduct and their application. I recall that when the HSE was set up, a special adviser was appointed to the CEO, who had worked in an area of health care previously. He held that position for a number of years and then went straight back out to work in a for-profit arrangement in an area of health care. I felt that was extremely inappropriate and when I raised it with the Minister for Health and Children, she too was uncomfortable with it but it was quite clear that nothing could be done about it. It is important that, with regard to the issue of conduct and the way people relate to what are very important and influential positions, there is a statutory basis to how it operates to ensure that no conflict arises.

I note that section 40 requires that every broadcast is recorded to tie in with the compliance procedures. I am conscious of the fact that in the past quite valuable broadcast material was lost or destroyed, with no real thought given to its importance. A haphazard approach was adopted to holding onto records and ensuring that historical archive material would be available. Obviously, modern technology makes the archiving process much simpler. However, community radio interests have raised an issue with me in this regard. While I am not convinced their concerns are justified, it may be worth relating them here:

It is vitally important that the rich contribution of the audiovisual sector to the national archive be properly funded. Under the proposed Bill the broadcast fund, which has been used to significantly develop community and local broadcasting, will also now be used for archiving, with no limits placed on what proportion be used for that hugely resource-intensive activity. Would the Minister consider increasing the portion of the licence fee going to the broadcast fund to enable necessary funding of archiving activity to take place and would he further consider placing a maximum percentage of the fund to be used for archiving?

When I checked this out, it was clear that the broadcast fund always had a role in terms of archiving, but it does not appear to have been used very substantially. This might now be an issue, as argued by the community radio sector. I raise this matter because of the fears of that sector, who argue that "beyond an extension of the term of temporary licences and a limited definition of community radio, this promising and increasingly vibrant community sector is overlooked and may even have its growth stunted in these new structures". I do not believe the Minister intends to stunt the growth of community radio but I am alerting him to the fact that these concerns have been expressed.

Each sector — public service, commercial, independent and community — has been making its case to members of the Opposition, to the Minister and in public. It is particularly worth noting the development of community television, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, as well as community radio. Community television has a different approach, in that it ensures there is active participation. One of the concerns we all have about broadcasting, and television in particular, is that it is not a participative activity, unless one is actually on a television programme. Community television creates its own dynamic, which is interesting and should be encouraged. I am not the only one who believes this. A recent proposal from the European Parliament called for member states "to give more active support of community media to ensure media pluralism, provided such support is not to the detriment of public media".

Some improvements have already been made to the Bill during its passage through the Seanad. I will be tabling some amendments relating to funding, contract arrangements and other practical issues on Committee Stage. I have some concerns about the uneasy relationship between television and radio, whether commercial or otherwise. The dominance of television, because it gobbles up resources, is so powerful and strong that radio interests often feel that they are very much the small fry. I acknowledge that the element of the fund that is earmarked for radio has been increased but we must examine the issue more closely to determine if it should be expanded further.

Other issues in the Bill that have been raised include the use of the television licence to fund public service broadcasting in the commercial sector. I do not actually argue that case but I am looking forward to the BAI generating debate on the issue into the future. Some issues raised by the commercial sector are worth noting here. One such issue that is not dealt with in the Bill, about which the sector has genuine concerns, is that of the threat from major British channels attempting to buy rights over the British and Irish markets, as if they were one entity. The issue of rights has not been dealt with at all in the Bill, yet the head of TV3, Mr. David McRedmond, has publicly expressed his concern that "if Irish broadcasters are not just going to be subsumed into the UK and turned into local franchise regions, it is very important that the rights market is properly established". I know this is a difficult area but the Minister must address it in some shape or form and I would welcome his comments on the matter at some point in this debate. Issues about rights ownership exist anyway and have been raised in a number of submissions. It is to be hoped we can develop that on Committee Stage.

Another common thread among the submissions is the difference between the amount of money in the broadcasting fund and the demands on it. In the first four rounds €40 million was given out but €138 million was applied for, which illustrates the enormous gap and the fact that a lot of people were disappointed. In one sense, it is a very good sign but one wonders whether the fund should not be expanded further.

We are fortunate to have an excellent public service broadcaster in RTE. However, the funding by licence places a particular requirement on RTE for absolute transparency. At times, in my experience — which is not very lengthy in this portfolio — information has been withheld, which is regrettable. We must ensure that is not the case in future.

I must comment at this point on the collection of the television licence fee, or rather, the failure to collect. There is quite a high level of unpaid licence fees. We have seen a massive improvement in technology in recent times and the current mode of collection of the television licence fee is not appropriate any longer. It does not make sense to use this system of collection and I hope the broadcasting authority will consider this issue.

An Post has an advertisement, with which we are all familiar, that states there are 18,000 inspections every month. I do not believe this. I asked the Minister about it but suspect he does not believe it either. He cannot tell me the true figure. I asked An Post and its response was unclear. The figure of 18,000 is not real and we need to consider an appropriate way of collecting the licence fee, which is so valuable to underpinning good quality public service broadcasting.

New technologies, particularly satellite technologies, are such that some people who have satellite transmission to their homes and pay their television licence fees are unable to view RTE channels or TG4 because of contractual arrangements — with Sky, for example. Since they pay their licence fees, they have a certain right to see the channels of the national broadcaster, but this has not been made possible. This complaint will become more prevalent, especially if customers go to Lidl to buy their satellite dishes.

New arrangements for awarding contracts make sense. The penalty that was in place was simply impractical. The arrangement for the right of reply of an injured party is a step forward and I welcome it.

I welcome the establishment of the two new public service broadcaster channels, the new Houses of the Oireachtas channel and the Irish film channel. However, I would like to know a little more about how the process will be managed and the budget allocated. Most European countries invest substantially in film and Screen Producers Ireland has argued for a minimum of €2 million to be ring-fenced by RTE for feature film productions. In light of the manner in which other European countries fund film making, this seems to be a modest enough proposal. I have an interest in this area because Ardmore Studios is in my constituency.

The plan for the two new channels is linked to the introduction of digital terrestrial television and it is part of the digital dividend. On the question of the planning and execution of the delivery of digital terrestrial television, I suspect most people are not even aware of what is coming on stream. Those on the east coast in particular, who are currently benefiting from the spillover of British channels and who will lose out significantly in 2009 unless action is taken, are also unaware of it. They will very quickly become aware of it if what is proposed is not done quickly. When I raise questions with the Department about the delivery and cost of the boxes required for the changeover, for example, I receive no clear indication as to what is involved, even though the changeover in Britain, affecting the Irish east coast, will take place next year.

I read with interest reports from the recent conference run by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland on the need for a digital terrestrial television champion. This need was raised by the private sector but I am not sure if it would be willing to pay for the champion. It certainly seems to be an idea worth pursuing.

It was announced in August 1998 that the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Síle de Valera, had received permission from the Government to proceed with haste. That was ten years and one month ago.

To be fair to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, he was not in office at that time. It is a practical idea. Having one person in charge, for a period limited to the duration of the transfer, seems to be a very good way of managing the major change from analogue to digital, which will be fundamental in broadcasting terms. This is how it is working in Britain. Quite apart from the structural changes or technical changes, an issue of public awareness arises in this regard. Provision could have been made in this regard in the Bill. Why has it not?

At the conference run by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, the coverage of referenda was raised. I do not expect the Minister to have the answer to this problem, but it is worth making the point that, as a result of the McKenna judgment and the legislation that flowed therefrom, we have an artificial balance that does not necessarily reflect the way in which a community or society views a particular issue. The artificial balance sometimes leads to uneven emphasis in a particular direction. I do not know if anybody has the solution to this but the fact that it was raised at all should lead us to consider more appropriate legislation.

The prohibition on advertising certain foods to children is very close to the Minister's heart. I welcome it but the provision is extremely weak. It is stated the authority "may" prohibit advertising and "may" consult relevant parties. This could be more to do with optics than about a real effort to tackle obesity, which is a major problem that we must take extremely seriously. Realistically, to have an effective ban, one must apply it at European, if not global, level. How far will the Minister's proposal extend? Research shows that banning advertising for children does not necessarily lead to results. In Sweden or another Scandinavian country, the results of such a ban were analysed quite carefully but the ban did not seem to have any marked effect on childhood obesity. However, any measure that may work deserves a shot.

This matter brings into focus the elephant in the room. If the Minister is considering banning food advertising, why did he not consider banning alcohol advertising? Until quite recently, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, used to leap up during the Order of Business to raise the issue of banning alcohol advertising, stating how agreements with the industry would not work and that they were not worth the paper they were written on. The Green Party had a clear policy in this regard. While the issue has been raised, why is it not contained in the Bill?

There is no doubt but that commercial interests regard children as a market in a very calculating and cynical way. The sexualisation of children and the selling of inappropriate foods thereto are very worrying. We need to consider this area in terms of what is happening to our children and how they can be safeguarded.

On certain morning programmes shown by our national broadcaster, there is the most explicit sexual material. Sometimes children are at school during the broadcasts and sometimes they are not. While the programming is all in the spirit of good fun, some of it is quite disturbing. The Mary Whitehouse may be coming out in me but I believe the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland should perhaps examine this and determine whether we could be a little more sophisticated in how we deal with these subjects.

A complaint was raised with me by Deputy Ruairí Quinn which concerns people living in apartments where the developer of the apartment has signed an exclusive deal with NTL, which is not known for providing good service. The person who buys the apartment cannot get a decent service but is caught with this monopoly arrangement between the developer and NTL. Apparently, the Competition Authority has examined this with the National Consumer Agency and ComReg. My understanding is that the only way it can be dealt with is through broadcasting legislation so I would ask that the Minister would consider this — he may not be aware of the issue.

It is a grossly unfair situation. I am a former consumer with NTL who left in a rage because I was getting such a bad deal, which I do not mind saying. People should at least have a choice.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Broadcasting Bill is interesting legislation which consolidates what has happened in the past 50 years of Irish broadcasting legislation, going back to the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, which established RTE, and the Radio and Television Act 1988, which introduced independent commercial broadcasting for the first time. Well done to the Minister for presenting this single consolidated Bill, which has significantly updated and modernised the legislation.

One of the key aspects of the Bill is the establishment of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which assumes the functions of the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and takes on a number of new roles and responsibilities. The authority will have two statutory boards, the contracts award committee and the compliance committee. The authority has overall responsibility for the organisation in terms of preparing codes and rules for broadcasters, which is the area I wish to address. The work of the compliance committee will be responsible for ensuring that all broadcasters, whether public or private, comply with the conditions of their licence and with the standards set down in the broadcasting codes.

As Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, I very much welcome the fact the Bill proposes new approaches to codes and rules for broadcasting in Ireland, in particular in regard to food advertising aimed at children. It retains the structure of the existing codes, including the children's advertising code, but significantly it allows for that code to specifically prohibit advertising aimed at children for food and beverages which give rise to health concerns. In essence, this means foods which are high in sugar, fat and salt but low in nutritional value. The overall nutritional value of foods will be important in this debate and in the move to lower consumption of high-fat foods. The other nutritional value of foods such as milk and other dairy products which are an important source of calcium and other minerals will need to be addressed in the debate.

The Minister spoke with great conviction during the debate. He has on several occasions outlined his commitment to this area. The Department of Health and Children has been watching the progress of the legislation for some time because we have concerns in regard to data which suggest there could be more than 300,000 overweight and obese children on the island of Ireland and the rate is rising at a probable 10,000 per annum. There is substantial evidence to support the view that advertising has a significant impact on what we eat, and particularly on what children eat. Research worldwide has shown that a high proportion of advertising aimed at children is for unhealthy foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt and low in nutritional value.

If we did not have enough evidence already, there are several reports which spell out what we need to do in this area. We could begin with the commitment in the current programme for Government which states we must work with the various broadcasting organisations and interested parties to review rules relating to the advertising of junk food aimed at young people with a view to phasing out such advertising.

The recent paper, Protecting Children from Unhealthy Foods, was brought forward by the National Heart Alliance and the Irish Heart Foundation. It recommends a restriction on television advertising for these foods from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and stresses that marketing of these types of foods has been shown to influence children's food choices, thereby contributing to the rise in obesity levels. The recommendation of the national task force on obesity is that we should all work together and that Departments, the private sector and consumer groups should take multi-sectoral action on the marketing and advertising of products that contribute to weight gain, in particular those aimed at children.

Before Christmas, we will have the national nutrition plan which recognises the growing concern about the level and content of food advertising aimed at children and young people, and notes that heavily advertised foods may differ from recommended foods. In other words, much food advertising concentrates on foods on the top shelf of the food pyramid, with which we are all familiar, whereas we will be encouraging people to eat foods on the bottom shelf of that pyramid. It is interesting to note that if one inverted the triangle of food pyramid, it would represent the proportion of the advertising focus on the foods involved.

I welcome the provisions of the Bill, particularly section 42, which provides that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will prepare codes governing the standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters. The subsections of particular interest to my Department are subsection (2)(g), subsection (4), subsection (5) and subsection (9), which deal with the issues of advertising, tele-shopping material, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion — in other words, protection of the health interests of children. They also deal with the issue of prohibiting advertising for a particular class or classes of foods and beverages in respect of the general public, in particular those which contain fat, trans-fatty acids, salts or sugars. Consultation with the health authorities is obviously important, and this is dealt with in subsection (5). Subsection (9) provides for the continuation of existing broadcasting codes, including the children’s advertising code.

Given the public health impact of being overweight and obesity, we need to tackle this problem urgently. In particular we need to focus on the unhealthy eating habits of our children and young people. The Department of Health and Children believes this Bill, which allows for revised codes on advertising, gives us the opportunity to do this, and it is a first step in a multi-sectoral approach towards addressing the problem of obesity, which will have a significant impact. Halting the rise in obesity levels is critical given the link with a number of significant conditions such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, cholesterol, stroke and cardiovascular conditions. The problem needs to be seriously addressed at this time and these sections of the Bill will make a difference.

Hand in hand with the legislation, the health promotion unit in the Department of Health and Children is currently finalising the national nutrition policy which will have a particular focus on children aged from birth to 18 years while also dealing with the overall population. Officials from my Department will meet officials from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to discuss the proposed advertising code in more detail. We will also engage with other stakeholders in an endeavour to have agreed, workable codes in place within a reasonable timeframe. As we are focusing on the question of obesity as a priority, time is of the essence in terms of moving forward on these issues.

In conclusion, it is my opinion and that of the health promotion unit in my Department that the Bill provides a route to protecting the health interests of children. It addresses the issue of a broadcasting code to prohibit advertising and marketing of certain foods and beverages which contain fat, trans-fatty acids, salts or sugars considered to cause concern regarding the health of children. I join the Minister's comments in stating I am also sure many parents will warmly welcome this proposal, and the health promotion unit of my Department will work closely with officials in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to progress these important changes, as we believe they will make a difference.

I too welcome this Bill, which is a very practical response to an area that has probably evolved more quickly in the past five years than in the previous 50. The advent of digital technology, the Internet and changed and changing ownership regimes have had more impact on the broadcasting sector than on many others. This Bill brings up to date the necessary legislation and the response to manage that change.

I welcome the increased oversight of the standards of broadcasting as well as the trading mechanisms of broadcasting. I also welcome the fact there is more openness in the contract awards system and in the areas around the licensing regime, which to date have been left open to question because of the manner in which licences were awarded.

As a public representative, I have daily interaction with the local radio sector. Those of us in rural constituencies probably have quite a different experience of local radio than many of our colleagues in urban constituencies. My local radio station, Mid West Radio, fulfils a public service broadcasting remit even though it does not get compensated for that, and is not publicly acknowledged for it. It regularly covers sporting occasions, community festivals and celebrations — even the celebrations of our emigrants abroad — and they are probably covered in a way that could never be commercially recompensed given the high standard of coverage.

Five years ago a landslide occurred in north Mayo late on a Friday evening owing to extreme and extraordinary weather circumstances. An entire community was cut off from services and information and people's lives were under threat. That night the entire resources of the radio station were devoted to keeping people updated on what was going on, the response of the emergency services and the county council, and to keeping them in touch with friends and loved ones. That could never be seen as commercial radio but because the station is part of the independent radio sector it could not get any recompense under public service broadcasting. Perhaps the Minister would consider making a discretionary fund available to the commercial radio sector for the provision of public service broadcasting in the real sense rather than in an academic sense and that it would get some payment for it.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland has a fantastic sound and vision scheme. It uses money from the broadcasting fund, money we pay in television licence fees, to encourage independent production of radio documentaries. The success of that scheme is seen every year in the radio awards where local radio stations from around the country are nominated and often win their category for programmes funded under the scheme. That proves all the innovation in radio in recent years is being driven by the independent radio sector. The advent of text message and Internet-dominated radio and the much more relaxed way our radio stations operate today all owe their foundation to the independent radio sector. It is a shame the sector is still operating on an unequal playing pitch in comparison to the RTE stations. In spite of that it continues to provide innovation. I hope that in the oversight provided under the Bill the issue can be addressed more clearly.

The new licensing regime is particularly welcome. The contracts award committee and, in particular, the commitment to introduce score sheets will bring more transparency to the process. There has been significant investment in local radio by local radio management and owners since 1989 when the legalisation of local radio was introduced. Many of them have done well and made significant commercial returns but, as in all businesses, they had to invest the money in the first place. Many of them live under the threat of that investment and return being pulled from under them under the old contract regime. That happened in a number of instances. Many of the decisions were legitimate in terms of the BCI but because of the lack of transparency in the old decision-making system some decisions have resulted in bad feeling among commercial radio management and loyal listeners. Under the contracts award committee the new process is too late for many but will avoid that issue arising in the future and the possible tainting of any radio decision.

The recognition of the community broadcasting sector is to be particularly welcomed. Community broadcasting is not a new innovation in Ireland and has been a feature of television for many decades. Even before the current batch of local radio stations legalised community broadcasting facilities did exist. It is especially welcome and necessary in urban areas where local radio stations perhaps do not provide a local radio service. They may have a licence in a franchised area but there is very little difference between those radio stations and the national radio stations that cater to a certain market. The community radio sector can fill the gap, namely the needs of community radio, and the provision of information to people living in the area. It also encourages people to get involved in the sector. Again, that is an area that provides innovation and new thinking in the radio sector. Because of its probably under-resourced nature it has to resort to different ways of doing things that ultimately become standard practice.

Review of the current position of the RTÉ Authority and the TG4 Authority is long overdue. The involvement of a committee of this House in selecting members of the authority will result in a far more reflective authority and one that is efficient and responsive. As it is October and we approach the birthday of TG4 it is important to acknowledge the difference that station has made. The level and standard of programming on that station under tight budgets is fantastic. It regularly wins international awards in competitions across the world and it is a matter of pride for us to watch the station and how it has grown. It is a shame it does not yet operate on a commercial footing but it probably never will. The station needs to be supported and subsidised under the broadcasting fund. It is an investment in our culture and in independent film and television making in our country.

I welcome the commitment in the Bill to introduce an Oireachtas and film channel. Let us not kid ourselves that the Oireachtas channel will be popular. We live in a kind of bubble in this House and we seem to think the world revolves around us but it does not. That is possibly also the driving force behind the requirement on local stations to have a 20% news and current affairs element in their daily programming. For most, they do that as a matter of course and they do not think about it. However, for many of them, that is a commercial and creative challenge. That is especially the case at certain times of the year yet when not much is going on in the news cycle they are still under the cosh of providing it. We need to introduce far more flexibility into our interpretation of that 20% requirement in particular. We should not enforce our view of the world, as Members of the Oireachtas or local representatives, on the real world. That needs to be considered by the new authority.

There has been considerable coverage of what went on in this Chamber in the past two days. However, one should examine what took place in the committee rooms this morning. For instance, the Committee of Public Accounts had FÁS before it and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was discussing the farm waste management scheme, which is very important. They will not get any coverage yet what was going on in those committees will potentially have more impact on people's daily lives than what we were doing and getting all the attention for in the past two days. Whatever form of Dáil TV that emerges, it must incorporate the committees and their day-to-day work, which have more impact on people's lives than what goes on in this Chamber. That will probably present a creative challenge to whatever committee of the House is in charge of it.

The film channel is particularly welcome. In this country in recent years we have developed fantastic film-making skills but those involved have been restricted in terms of their access to market and the coverage they get. Giving the industry a home-produced channel on a non-commercial basis will provide a greater outlet for creativity and more support for the Irish film industry generally.

I concur with Deputy McManus's comments on the McKenna judgment. Most local radio stations, and radio stations generally, struggled with the implications of the McKenna judgment in their daily coverage of the Lisbon referendum. For some radio stations it meant they restricted the coverage of the referendum to one show during the campaign where they were in a position to line up speakers and give equal time to both sides of the argument, often in places where speakers were not available locally. Separate from the Bill, there is no doubt the interpretation of the judgment needs to be considered in a way that respects its democratic intent but that also has a practical implication.

Broadcasting is changing considerably. The advent of digital radio in particular will challenge all providers, both RTÉ and the independent sector. The competition that will arise will be particularly challenging to RTÉ, as people will be more inclined to change station when offered more choice. However, brand loyalty to the national station is evident. Nevertheless, listenership surveys indicate substantial and increasing loyalty to local stations. As policy-makers, we must protect that loyalty, which was won in difficult times in the last 20 years.

I wish the Minister well in bringing this legislation through the House. The new broadcasting authority will take on a broad remit and I wish it well in its role. It is the function of this House to ensure it delivers on its remit.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The new Oireachtas television station represents a major progression in opening up the activities of the Houses and the committees to the public. Insomniacs would have been well served last night by the eloquent contributions of Members of the Upper House through the night. With the advent of digital television, there is great potential to exploit the possibilities of broadcasting Oireachtas activities. Oireachtas business is recorded throughout the day and the technology is available to allow it to be broadcast without necessitating any significant costs.

The Bill provides that all news broadcasts must be reported and presented in an objective and impartial manner. In the case of some of the print media outlets, there is a clear slant in terms of how information is presented to the public. It is vital that there should be a fair and reasonable balance in this regard. There is some confusion in regard to the Coughlan judgment versus the McKenna judgment. The difficulty we are facing relates to the former rather than the latter. As an Opposition Member, it is extremely frustrating that when a Minister is not prepared to comment publicly on a particular issue, the public broadcasters are not necessarily interested in the views of the Opposition spokesperson. Yet, Ministers engaging in set pieces in the Government press office find a willing audience in the media. In such cases, there may not be balanced reporting of the issue. There seems to be a policy on the part of the Government that it is for individual Ministers to decide whether they will contribute to a particular debate. The legislation as it currently stands provides a mechanism to allow the Government to keep the Opposition quiet. We must ensure there is a fair balance in regard to the treatment of political parties and of other issues that have a news content.

The Bill places several restrictions on advertising broadcasts. Most of us are thankful that political party advertising is banned in the State. Anybody who visits the United States and observes the millions of dollars spent on advertising on the public airwaves will conclude that there is good reason to ensure there is no advertising by political parties on broadcast media in this State. This restriction applies also to industrial disputes, religious advertising and in respect of products such as junk food.

However, in the case of religious advertising, some of the decisions taken in recent years suggest we have gone over the top in terms of restrictions. Some time ago, for example, a radio advertisement by Veritas which was aired in the run-up to Christmas and which mentioned the word "crib" was withdrawn by RTÉ. This is ridiculous and suggests there is something seriously wrong with the legislative framework we have in place. However, it is not the legislative framework enacted by the Oireachtas that is the problem but how that legislation is interpreted. It was not the intention of either Government or Opposition Members who debated the last Bill that such an advertisement should be banned. Nevertheless, this is how the legislation has been interpreted.

We often observe that we are now living in a pluralist society. However, one of the defining characteristics of pluralism is that there must be respect for all religious traditions, including the religious tradition that has existed for generations in this State. Pluralism implies a genuine respect for one another's religion and for all associated traditions and rites. As Fine Gael spokesman on immigration, I have spoken to advocates for our immigrant communities who make valid and important points in regard to their needs and concerns. It is important that we respect existing traditions, while encompassing the new traditions introduced by immigrant communities, many of which serve to enhance our society.

Last week, the BBC in Britain banned an advertisement by Veritas which referred to Holy Communion and Confirmation gifts. The basis for this ban was extremely flimsy. I fail to see how cribs or Holy Communion and Confirmation gifts could be deemed offensive to members of any religion. The balance which is lacking must be installed. Mention of the word "crib" is unlikely to cause offence to anybody, nor is it likely to persuade non-Christians to decide suddenly to change their religion. I do not dispute the importance of having regulations in place in regard to religious advertising. However, the objective of our predecessors who drafted the existing legislation, some of the content of which is being transcribed into the new Bill, was to ensure there would be a fair and reasonable balance and that the promotion of cults, sects and other groups which are potentially detrimental to the common good would not be facilitated. It was never the intention that a radio advertisement which made reference to the word "crib" in the weeks before Christmas should be banned. The vast majority of reasonable people believe in religious tolerance and would not find anything offensive in advertisements for cribs or Holy Communion and confirmation gifts. People are not hostile to religion, whether from the Moslem or other traditions currently present in this country. This is about a fair and reasonable balance being put in place. The Minister should re-examine the relevant wording to ensure that "cop on" comes into it, rather than the current ludicrous situation concerning religious advertising. I am not just talking about Catholic or Christian advertising generally — it could be about the Moslem or Jewish communities. For example, what would the situation be if there was an advertisement wishing people a happy Jewish new year? I do not know, but this is about having a fair and balanced system in place. I urge the Minister to examine the matter prior to Committee Stage.

The Coughlan judgment has major implications for the operation of our political system. I do not want to pursue the debate that followed the Lisbon treaty referendum because a committee is dealing with it and should be left to do so. The Oireachtas should not deal with the Coughlan issue before a decision is made regarding Lisbon, but a valid argument has been made about the referendum on children's rights. One could have 99.9% of the population in favour of an amendment, yet if a debate takes place on the public airwaves both sides must be given equal time. The Supreme Court's interpretation of that issue needs to be re-examined by the Houses of the Oireachtas because it is stifling debate. If we have a referendum on children's rights, a very limited debate will take place on the public airwaves, so people will not know what they are voting on. One of the big criticisms of the Lisbon treaty referendum was that people were confused and did not know what they were voting on.

Moving on to the broader aspect of elections and the political system, something needs to be done concerning opinion polls. I have no difficulty with scientifically based opinion polls.

They are bad news.

They may be bad news but I do not mind if there is a scientific basis to them and if that basis is published. I recall, however, that approximately 12 months before the last general election a local radio station and newspaper carried out an opinion poll that showed me losing my seat, which was quite close to the truth at the end of the day. The poll put me on 2% of the vote and was done outside three shopping centres in the constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim, which is 80 miles long and borders on two other provinces. Some of the people surveyed did not even reside in the constituency, yet the poll results received wide coverage at the time on local radio and in local newspapers.

A person's reputation is everything, but an opinion poll that is done on the back of an envelope does not do anyone justice. Some type of fairness should be incorporated in the system to deal with such matters. I understand a number of colleagues had similar experiences in the run up to the last general election.

I do not have a problem with opinion polls that have a credible scientific basis. One can argue over the technicalities of how such polls are conducted, but it is wrong to do a survey with a clipboard outside three shops in a constituency the size of mine, involving some respondents who did not even reside in the constituency or the province. Nonetheless the poll was given credibility and the results were used to articulate a particular political agenda.

Were they from Tallaght?

I do not know exactly where they were from.

It was definitely Tallaght.

Deputy Naughten without interruption.

I acknowledge the contribution that local radio is playing. Public representatives from rural constituencies could not but acknowledge that role. There are quite a number of local radio stations in my constituency, including Mid West Radio, Shannonside-Northern Sound — which covers most of the constituency — Galway Bay FM, Midlands Radio 3 and Ocean FM. I could go on. Local radio has brought a lot of news to local communities which may not have been as accessible up to now. Perhaps because of the Coughlan judgment, however, I notice there has not been the same level of political debate in recent elections as in earlier ones. I am talking about the last ten or 11 years. There was far more debate on elections ten years ago than more recently. I do not know whether that is as a result of the Coughlan judgment, but the matter needs to be examined.

The legislation provides for redress but it is hard to obtain such redress when the damage has been done, especially in the broadcast media. Comments were made on a national radio programme about my party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny. He had to go through the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to obtain redress. Six months later, the broadcaster read out an apology, but that is unacceptable because prior to going live on air the broadcaster knew the facts were different to the spin put on it. I am citing that example but it could happen to any Member. Reputation is everything in our profession, so it is vitally important. A system must be put in place concerning a right of reply. In addition, a heavy hand is required to ensure people cannot blatantly misrepresent a situation for their own ends.

In the context of the new Oireachtas television channel, we are not just examining the Chambers and the committees but also local authorities and European debates. It is fundamentally important to examine what is happening at EU level because we never hear much of the debates that are taking place there, whether they concern the Council of Ministers, the Commission or the European Parliament. It is also important to broadcast the proceedings of South Dublin County Council and Roscommon County Council. It is important that it is broadcast in such a manner that brings home to people what exactly goes on, what is the role of public representatives and what issues they are raising. It is an interesting area.

Of course the air-brushing will be no good at that stage. Then we would all have to be like the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, putting on make-up on a daily basis. It is easy for the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, who can have his make-up on before he arrives in the morning. For some of us from rural constituencies it might be a little more difficult.

The Deputy should conclude.

We will just have more to make up.

We will meet that challenge when we come to it.

Deputy Naughten's time has expired.

The final point I want to make is that the legislation is a positive development. If the Minister adopts an open mind to it, with some tweaking it could be important legislation for the future.

The next speaker is Deputy Mary White. I understand she is taking five minutes.

I welcome the Broadcasting Bill. The Bill contains much needed reform and modernisation of the broadcasting laws. I welcome it within the context of what I hope and believe will be a new era for Irish television with the proposed introduction of an Oireachtas channel, which, I hope, in tandem with much-needed Dáil reform, will refresh the engagement between the public and the process of politics.

The Minister indicated the channel may also broadcast proceedings from local authority proceedings throughout the country. Indeed, when I was a member of Carlow County Council I called for this measure and it was greeted with ridicule. I hope this is introduced. I am glad to see it might be taken up. Furthermore, I believe it would dovetail nicely with the plans of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, for reform of local government.

I hope an Irish film channel will provide further encouragement for our small, but precious, film industry which deserves all the support it can get from the Government to grow, produce and export itself across the globe.

Tá na tagairtí sa Bhille maidir le chur chun cinn oibreacha scannáin sa teanga náisiúnta an-tábhachtach. Ní chóir go mbeadh TG4 amháin freagrach as scannáin Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn.

I particularly refer to the provision in section 42 of the Bill for a broadcasting code on junk food advertising for children. This week we saw incredible new research showing the unacceptably high levels of sugar and fat in Irish cereals. All of us who shop or who are parents know how attractive advertising during day-time television can be to children. Much of the "I want that" seen in the shopping aisles, where a frustrated mother and a screaming toddler have a public demonstration of pester power, is down to the visual memory of a child-orientated advertisement where the child must have that product now. A 15 month old daughter of a colleague of mine knows the advertisements for Rice Krispies, and only Rice Krispies will do. The Government and the new regulator must intervene in this area to monitor and restrict such advertising.

I am pleased, too, that the legislation also refers to salt as an ingredient of concern in the context of the health of children. While the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has reported progress in recent years in the reduction of salt levels in Ireland, the significant reductions in salt announced by cereal producers is evidence that we must cut it down as the levels have been too high in Ireland. I hope that the new code and its impact on advertising will contribute positively to the salt reduction programme. I hope we all know that we should take less than 6g of salt per day by 2010. Excessive salt is simply a serious danger to our health.

The section of the Bill dealing with the future of radio licences is of particular interest to me and I am pleased to see the broad support of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland for this Bill. For people in rural constituencies, like me in Carlow-Kilkenny, a vibrant future for local and regional radio stations is very important. The local radio is a source of news and debate on local issues, a medium which can bring the people of communities and areas together through knowledge of events such as the results of a recent hurling match, the price of grain or, most important, in big sprawling rural constituencies, obituaries and death notices into which people tune every day. I was supportive of successful efforts to restore a local radio station when we lost Radio Kilkenny and we now have a new station, kclr96fm.com. It certainly reaches out like many other local radio stations throughout the country and I support it.

Deputy White has one minute remaining. I understand she has agreed to share time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

I will be finished on time.

Without our local station we felt lost. It is there where we, particularly those of us who live in the public sphere, get our local political news on relevant local issues. It is vital that this legislation safeguards and secures the future of such stations. I agree with the IBI that perhaps the timeframe in terms of licences under the fast-tracking system might be revisited so that a longer term of licence might be considered. This would be in keeping with securing the future of local radio stations.

I also welcome the stipulations on advertising in section 41. While we all recognise the need for independent radio stations to secure revenue through advertising, it is important to maintain high broadcasting standards by perhaps limiting the amount of time for some advertisements. We are looking for content, not convolutedness. People listen to the radio and watch television for the content.

I congratulate the Minister on this Bill and I look forward to its swift passage through the House.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity of speaking on this important legislation. It is always refreshing to somebody from Tallaght chairing a session in the Dáil. I want to wish the Deputy well in his important role today.

Thank you for giving us the pleasure of listening to Deputy McGrath.

Before I go into the details of the Bill, it is important that we all reflect and take a closer look at broadcasting in general in this country. Broadcasting must be fair and honest to both the people in their stories and the public in general. Sadly, that is not the case in the modern Irish media today. The attitude in some sections of the media is: do not let the truth get in the way of a good story. Broadcasters need to look at this carefully. I say this from the perspective of a TD who has spoken to victims of crime and the perspective of citizens in general. In the past there has been criticism of business and politics, and corruptions, but in the minds of many of the public there is also a lack of confidence in the media in this country, and they need to address this issue.

From a TD's perspective, I will give three classic examples. At the outset of the so-called summer recess one hears announced on every radio station, RTÉ, other broadcasters and TV3, that TDs are going on three months' holidays. The following morning the journalists who made those announcements bump into the TDs in the corridors of Leinster House, at the committees here or in their constituencies dealing with local issues. Let us be honest with the people and stop trying to mislead them in that regard. We all take two or three weeks' holidays, like the rest of the members of the public, and we get on with our jobs for the rest of the time. That is the reality. Sadly, a high percentage — in my view, between 25% and 30% — of the population believe that we all go off for three months' holidays. Broadcasters must be straight with the public on that.

Another example is the invasion of privacy of ill politicians, where journalists have camped near their houses. That is not acceptable in this day and age and I would challenge anybody working in the media to condone it. There are seriously ill people in public life, whether TDs or Senators, with journalists and photographers camped outside their houses. That is not an option. It is disgraceful journalism.

Our citizens deserve the truth. When I say that, I mean we are looking, not for gold medals but for people to be straight. A classic example is what arose in my constituency last year where there was a murder and the victim's family was devastated by the way the media reported the death of their brother and son. When they tried to raise these issues they were not particularly happy with the Press Council. These are real issues. There must be respect for victims of crime. They deserve respect and it is important that we state on the record of this House that they are not getting it.

A regular complaint I get on the north side of Dublin is that some local communities are completely unfairly labelled in the reporting of drugs incidents or gangland murders. Constituents ring my office to say that a report was a gross misrepresentation by the national broadcaster or in the media generally. Particular areas are often labelled, where 99% of people get on with their lives against the odds, despite the way news is sensationalised and reported. These are important issues. The Broadcasting Bill 2008 was published on 14 May 2008 and has been passed by the Seanad. The Bill is a detailed and comprehensive legislative proposal which seeks to deal with virtually all aspects of regulation and the provision of broadcasting content in Ireland. It introduces many new concepts, grants a range of new functions to broadcasters and regulators and sets the framework for new activities and services, especially in light of technological developments.

At the same time, the Bill liberalises and streamlines the regulatory burden placed on broadcasters. Its primary focus is, however, to support and grow the wide variety of services and information, diversity of viewpoint, entertainment and enjoyment currently available to the Irish listener and viewer. The key element of this legislation is the diversity of viewpoints. I challenge sections of our media to respect difference, but also to respect diversity and to report it. A recent opinion poll is an example of this, which showed support for independents up by 2 points to 8%. Yet, many broadcasters never bothered to report this fact. This is an example of most unprofessional broadcasting and journalism. Other parties, support for whom fell by 3%, 4%, or 5%, received much coverage on radio programmes and chat shows.

There are people who vote independent and this can be seen in the USA. Some 15% of the population there will decide the election. There is an independent vote and our political correspondents should respect that diversity and report on it. I challenge people in the public broadcaster to come clean on this matter and to get off the fence when it comes to reporting these issues. If a group in Irish society gets 8% support in an opinion poll, it deserves to be reported on the national airwaves. This is the reality of modern Irish political life. However, the media are so stale and need to open their minds and broaden their horizons.

On entertainment, consider the fantastic amount of Irish groups and traditional and folk bands. Their regular complaint is that they do not get enough air-time on our national radio stations. Bands from all over the USA and Europe regularly perform every second track on the radio. Yet, there are brilliant writers, musicians and artists who do not get such air-time. I agree with Mr. Louis Walsh on this matter. He mentioned recently in a debate that we should be backing Irish artists who produce excellent work, whether it is rock, traditional or folk music. Our broadcasters should respect this point, which is reflected in the legislation. The first part of the legislation deals with diversity of viewpoint, entertainment and enjoyment. This is my point and it is a very important aspect.

The Broadcasting Bill also represents the consolidation and revision of almost 50 years of Irish broadcasting legislation and it is about time for it. I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for bringing this forward. Key aspects are to be repealed such as the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, which established RTE, and the Radio and Television Act 1988, which allowed for independent commercial broadcasting for the first time. The entire corpus of broadcasting legislation is now presented in a single, consolidated Bill and has been significantly updated and modernised throughout.

There are different sections dealing with the broadcasting authority of Ireland which refer to standards and codes. I am in favour of standards and codes in journalism and broadcasting, but I am not in favour of restrictions. We have seen in the past the effects of such restrictions in this country. I am not in favour of censorship, but rather good, balanced objective reporting. Broadcasters must also entertain the public too, which is important. However, I am not in favour of restrictions. Some 19 or 20 years ago we experienced the effects of section 31 of the Broadcasting Act where political parties were censored on television. Many people now say this held up the peace process on this island for almost ten years, as there were people willing to talk who were being blocked. Censorship and isolation do not work and we should learn that lesson from history.

On advertising, Deputy Mary Alexandra White referred to healthy living and diet. We must have a good public health programme to solve obesity in society. However, let us not be killjoys. We must be wary of the nanny State. I represent a fantastic factory in Coolock, namely, Cadburys, which is an excellent employer in Dublin North-Central. The company has expressed concern to me that if we go too far in this debate on advertising, there are implications for Irish jobs. There are 1,100 workers in Cadburys. I have been lobbied in recent weeks on this matter. It is important that I reflect their views as well. Let us get the balance correct in the broadcasting debate, be sensible and be wary of going down the road of the nanny State. I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, agrees with me on this issue and we must be conscious of it. If other countries have done this, we must learn from their example.

The Broadcasting Bill proposes a new approach to the appointment of boards and regulators for semi-State companies. The proposed broadcasting authority of Ireland will have nine board members. Five members of the board will be appointed by the Government following nomination by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Four members will be appointed by the Government following nomination by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the advice of the Joint Oireachtas Committee responsible for broadcasting matters. The committee may appoint a panel for the purposes of such appointments. This section of the legislation is important, reflecting a democratic situation.

A section of the legislation deals with complaints and the right of reply. The Bill introduces a new approach to the right of reply and amends the existing approach to dealing with complaints generally. The Bill will require broadcasters to develop a code of practice in dealing with complaints from the public. The compliance committee will now investigate and decide upon complaints made through it by the public. The idea of taking complaints is very important too. I mentioned earlier the victims of crime. People have been labelled, damaged and hurt and feel they have been excluded. I mentioned a particular incident in my own constituency. We must be sensitive to such people and it is important that a proper, immediate right of reply exists. There is no use having it six months later for many people.

I endorse the earlier comments of Deputy Denis Naughten that this right of reply should apply regardless of the political situation. Deputy Naughten mentioned his party leader, the way certain programmes were produced and the reaction that followed. In that case there was a lack of professionalism in journalism. Members of the House should highlight that this lack of professionalism is real. If we are to discuss public broadcasting and integrity in journalism we must challenge these questions. It is important that we make these points because there are many in the House who are afraid to raise these questions. We live in a free, parliamentary democracy and we should be able to challenge these issues, hold a debate and whoever wins, wins. On the right of reply issue, victims, citizens and communities who have been labelled and hammered must have a right of reply.

I welcome the Bill and I urge the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to take all views on board. I urge all sections of the media and broadcasting to get rid of any personal, political baggage and report the truth. Broadcasters should, by all means, inform, educate and entertain but they should be straight with viewers and listeners. The mantra of most journalists is that their whole life is about informing, educating and entertaining. I support this, but it is important to ensure people are told the truth and when a particular story is unfolding we hear all sides of the story. There is always two sides to a story and we need to hear both sides. This applies to any journalist worth his or her salt.

There are very good broadcasters in the country which we are fortunate to have. They contribute to the quality of public life. I put down such markers in this debate as I do not wish to see us lose them. Many in public broadcasting do an excellent job. However, I refer to a minority who do not wake up and respect diversity and those who have a different agenda, namely, getting the story rather than concerns about the people involved in the story. We must recognise there are people in broadcasting who do a fantastic job. However, I have concerns that if we go down the American, tabloid route in future, politics will suffer. There are sections of the population who do not vote and part of the reason for this is the cynicism they learn from sections of the media. We are losing many good people because of that cynicism. This is very important to say. I urge the Minister to listen to the views on that. I welcome the legislation. It is a progressive Bill and I wish the Minister luck with it.

I thank the Minister for introducing this important legislation. It is wide-ranging and its scope is broad in that it effectively repeals a number of Acts and consolidates the roles of a number of State bodies. It is ambitious legislation.

Rather than try to cover all of the Bill I will focus on two substantive points. I will first address the composition of the proposed new broadcasting authority of Ireland, which is a significant step. On the appointment of members to the authority, while certain strides have been made in terms of transparency and accountability in the appointment of board members, the legislation falls short. It goes a step in the right direction but could have gone much further.

Section 8 proposes that five members of the BAI will be appointed by the Government, with four members appointed on the recommendation of the Oireachtas joint committee. All appointments to State boards, whether nominated by the Government or otherwise, should have to undergo a degree of scrutiny, questioning and rigorous performance testing at Oireachtas committees. I regret that after the enactment of this Bill the Government will continue to appointment people to these bodies on the basis of whatever criteria they see fit rather than on proper scrutiny at Oireachtas level. That is unfortunate. I realise those criteria are laid down in terms of expertise and so on but the Bill does not go far enough because ultimately it is at the discretion of the Government and there is a long history of people being appointed on the basis of political allegiance and affiliation rather than on merit. I support a system that rewards merit rather than any political affiliation.

I welcome the requirement for improved and somewhat balanced gender representation on the BAI and on the boards of RTE and TG4 but if it were to be subject to an Oireachtas scrutiny process a quota system may not be required because I have no doubt that female contenders for positions would qualify on the basis of merit and not on the basis of quotas being applied.

There are many changes proposed in the Bill which will vastly benefit the public interest, one of which is the fund that will be funnelled into historical and cultural programming and so on. That is important.

An Oireachtas channel is long overdue and has the potential to be an excellent addition to Irish programming and a major public interest benefit. In terms of content, it proposes to cover not just parliamentary debates in the Dáil and the Seanad but also Oireachtas committees and, I understand, some aspect of the work at Westminster, the United Nations and the European Council when it meets in public, if that is to happen. That is a positive measure. In terms of enhancing the role of democracy, and particularly in light of the significant loss of public confidence in political parties and the political system due to the major focus on tribunals and the levels of corruption exposed in the past decade, it is essential we provide a forum to showcase the way politics works for the people. It has the potential to engage——

They got a good example of that this week.

Precisely, but making parliamentary debate more accessible to people will open a greater dialogue between politicians and members of the public. That is important.

On the recent referendum on the Lisbon treaty — my colleague, Deputy Timmins, referred to this earlier when we discussed the proposed sub-committee for European Affairs — many of those who voted "No" or "Yes" were in the dark as to how the European Union functions, how the institutions work and how they serve the people of this country. An Oireachtas channel covering the debate at a European level also will open that area to people and provide an opportunity for greater understanding of the European institutions and European legislation, and the way it affects the people of Ireland.

I welcome also the establishment of an Irish film channel to showcase Irish films, which is an important and growling industry. There is much more I could say on that but I will move on because it is important that the issue of junk food advertising be addressed.

Like previous speakers, I believe strongly that Ireland has entered into a dangerous situation in terms of the health of children in our society. It is increasingly obvious to the naked eye but also in terms of studies and evidence that more young children are inclined towards obesity, with all of the associated health problems that go with that including diabetes and so on. It is important that we get this right. I would like to see not just the timing of junk food advertising but also the nature of advertising addressed in the Bill to ensure that, whatever time of the day or night, junk food is not promoted to children and that advertising of that nature is restricted at all times during the day.

I want to touch on an issue dear to my heart and one of major significance, that is, the ban on religious advertising to which section 41 refers. That is an important and emotive issue and the Bill does not go far enough in terms of addressing it. The 2001 legislation was a response to a ridiculous situation that arose in 1999 whereThe Irish Catholic was banned from advertising. The 2001 legislation responded to that in some way but the definition, which remains in section of 41 of the Bill before the House, continues to provide for a narrow and restrictive interpretation of religious advertising. That is unfortunate. There is scope for the Government to move on that and introduce a fairer and more reasonable interpretation of the ban on religious advertising.

It is extraordinary that in 2002, for example, the Power to Change campaign launched by an innocuous group wishing to promote the benefits of Christianity, was banned from RTE but allowed to be broadcast by UTV without any obvious damage to public order. In 2006, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, who is well known to all of us, was banned from advertising her book.

Debate adjourned.