I call Deputy Pat Breen to resume. He is sharing time with Deputy Tom Hayes and there are 16 minutes left in this slot.
Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
I ask the Ceann Comhairle to notify me after six minutes.
This morning I will talk about the contribution of local radio, particularly in my constituency of County Clare. Clare FM has played a significant role in giving a local voice to communities, informing them about news and sports, and raising awareness of issues that affect all communities. It also gives a voice to us as politicians. Without independent radio it would be difficult for us to carry on with our work. The approach of local radio, particularly our own local radio station, is to celebrate what is local, and that is important also.
Clare FM has won many awards, including, this year, a gold medal in the ongoing news story category from the New York Festivals Radio Broadcasting Awards. It has also won several other awards for radio documentaries. I commend it highly on its initiatives. In this context, I welcome the acceptance in the Seanad of the Fine Gael amendment which provides that if a radio station applies to renew its licence and no other station applies for it, the station will receive a licence for seven years rather than five. I hope the Government will follow through on that proposal, which has been accepted in the Seanad, and perhaps consider extending the period to ten years rather than the seven years proposed, particularly if a radio station is doing a good job locally. I urge the Minister to consider this on Committee Stage.
In recent years there has also been significant growth in the area of community broadcasting. Again, I refer to my own constituency, in which two local radio stations are broadcasting to communities, including Radio Corca Baiscinn in Kilkee, which was set up in 1999 and is very successful. It pays particular attention to equality issues and social exclusion. I always make a point of visiting the community radio stations. Another community radio station is the former Shannon Community Radio, now renamed Jet FM, which broadcasts on Saturdays, covering a wide variety of subjects. Other community-based projects are in the pipeline. We must continue to support these community radio stations. They are important in terms of binding communities together and keeping them aware of what is happening locally. Often radio is the candle in the window for these communities.
Broadcasting is ever-evolving. The use of the Internet has also grown considerably in recent times. The growth in popularity of social networking sites on the Internet is something we must consider seriously, particularly with regard to suicide among young people. We need to develop Europe-wide media guidelines on the reporting of suicides. A total of 5% of suicides are estimated to be copycat suicides and while some social networking sites provide valuable help to young people, there are blogs and chat rooms that promote and glamorise suicide. I hope this matter will be considered in this Bill.
I had the opportunity 12 months ago, as a member of the Council of Europe, to visit Rome in the course of preparing a report on the media monopoly in Italy. As Deputies know, Mr. Berlusconi, the current Prime Minister, owns 65% of television stations in that country. If we add State television, this means he controlled 90% of stations. There would seem to be a conflict of interest there. RAI and Mediaset are the two main television stations. At the time we did our report Mr. Berlusconi had lost his position to Mr. Prodi, so we felt his control of the majority of television stations had not influenced the outcome of the election. We do not have that problem in this country, thank God.
I spoke last night about pay television channels and certain Irish sporting events which cannot be enjoyed on our national radio stations. This occurred last year when the Heineken Cup took place in Cardiff. Many people could not watch the match on their national stations but had to pay to watch it on a pay-per-view channel. This prohibits many people from watching such sports, although Munster has done so well in rugby. This is something we must consider. While certain sporting events have been ring-fenced, we should not be moving towards the day when the All-Ireland hurling and football finals and other major events cannot be viewed by adoring fans in the counties involved without having to pay for the privilege. We must legislate in this regard. I urge the Minister to sit down with the various sporting organisations and agree on this matter with a view to extending the number of Irish sporting events that will remain free to air for the Irish public to enjoy.
I am happy to see that two new television stations are proposed in the Bill, a film channel and the Oireachtas channel. It would be very entertaining for most people to see what went on in the House this morning, with arguments over appointments to the PRTB and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government moving from one seat to the other. That would be as good as any soap opera for most viewers. I welcome the proposal for the Oireachtas channel. It will be worthwhile in terms of increasing understanding.
In the context of the Lisbon treaty we should also consider broadcasting more of what happens in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. We should let people know what happens in Europe. Part of the reason for the problems with the Lisbon treaty is that people do not know what happens in Europe. We should consider broadcasting the work of our MEPs in the European Parliament and the procedures with regard to legislation and so on. The same can be said for the Council of Europe, of which I am a member. We are a long way from seeing county council meetings broadcast, but it might be as well if we did not see some of the work that goes on there. Some good work is being carried out in local authority chambers, which is covered by local radio.
I am sure RTE is tired of getting complaints about "Oireachtas Report" coming on at 12.15 a.m. Hopefully an Oireachtas channel will complement the work being done by Members in this House. Very important legislation is discussed here and it is important that people are kept up to date with what is happening. In the interim before the Oireachtas channel comes on air I hope RTE will consider broadcasting "Oireachtas Report" earlier in the evening so that people can familiarise themselves with what is happening in the Oireachtas and we are not just speaking to ourselves, but to the public.
I am delighted with the provision on junk food advertising in the legislation. This ban is a small but important step in changing attitudes to food. With the cap of 15% on advertising, perhaps the Minister would reconsider flexibility in terms of advertising on local radio. He should consider extending that for two hours rather than the one-hour period at the moment where they must have ten minutes advertising in one hour. Local radio stations carry some very interesting debates and constant advertising takes people away from the debate as other speakers have mentioned. I welcome the legislation and I hope it will be passed as quickly as possible.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I welcome the wide-ranging legislation, which will impact on the entire broadcasting sector. We live in an age when broadcasting has changed considerably. It was not so long ago that people were suggesting that radio stations had almost become a thing of the past, with television taking over. There may have been a period of time when that happened. However, local radio stations have been a great success in various parts of the country. Nothing has complemented the work of politicians more than local radio stations. Every morning Members raise important constituency issues here. The catalyst for getting those stories back to our constituency is the local radio station. Coverage is given to why we have raised it or what a Minister might say. It brings life in Parliament here very much closer to the people.
While everyone will talk about his or her own constituency, we are very pleased with the availability of local radio stations in County Tipperary. A commercial station like Tipp FM carries stories, including issues addressed in this House, throughout the county. The success of that station can be measured by the way it has built up its listenership. Many people are now listening to local radio stations like Tipp FM. On the other hand, we also have a community-based station, Tipp Mid West Community Radio. It started up as a small station many years ago and has built up into a station, broadcasting into a whole region of west Tipperary.
However, a community station is very limited in the funding it is permitted to raise to run the station. We need to review how community radio stations are being financed. It is very difficult for people to fundraise and also present programmes, and something needs to be done. I seek clarification as to whether the Bill contains any changes in this regard. It is vital that community radio stations are allowed access to funding that would cover their ongoing expenses. Presenters need to be paid and there are travel and other expenses. Tipp Mid West Community Radio has given great service to the community. Those are two examples from our county of very successful commercial and community stations. They need to be supported and developed in the long run.
I take the point Deputy Breen made about the broadcast rights for Heineken Cup rugby matches. It is sad that people, particularly in Munster, are unable to watch those matches because they are not carried live by RTE. That trend should not be allowed to continue. While the games need sponsorship, it is wrong for young people actively involved in rugby and other sport not to be able to watch live broadcasts of their heroes playing in another country in a great final which is a major occasion for the entire community. I do not know whether that issue is addressed in this legislation. However, it is a matter for debate at a later time.
A Cheann Comhairle, you are a great man for going to horseracing and I like a bit of it myself.
It would be great if I could find a few winners.
That would be the right channel.
If there were a channel giving winners, we would all be watching it.
We would. There should be more opportunities for relaying the race meetings around the country. Everybody tunes in to see Galway Races and other top race meetings that RTE broadcasts from Leopardstown and other venues. There are some great racecourses, including Clonmel and Ballinrobe.
The Deputy's race is nearly run. He has one minute remaining.
Some older people are very interested in having a bet in their own homes. The simple relaying of the race meetings would give them a great interest every afternoon as so many race meetings take place throughout the country.
I welcome the proposed Oireachtas television channel. Live broadcast of Oireachtas proceedings should be encouraged. The Ceann Comhairle and I are both members of the Oireachtas Commission. That commission is making headway in that regard. It will be good for the people out there looking in and seeing the work we are doing. It will get people, like the young people looking down at me from the Gallery today, talking about it. What is happening in the Oireachtas will get into every home and school and will bridge the gap. Much of what is contained in the media does not portray properly what is happening in this House and what people are saying. The Oireachtas channel will have a major impact in connecting people at home with us.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Broadcasting Bill 2008. When dealing with Bills, you, a Cheann Comhairle, and other colleagues have often reminded me to stick with the business. However, having listened very carefully to the contributions to this debate, I have noticed that everything has been mentioned. I have heard people talk, as the previous speaker has just done, about horseracing, "Big Brother" and almost everything under the sun. I presume I will get the same courtesy and I am happy to try to stay within the remit of the Bill. My friend, Deputy Finian McGrath, asked me outside how I would weave Tallaght into the debate. I told him that was no problem because there was much to be said about Tallaght, local radio and the need for community broadcasting facilities there. I will deal with that shortly.
Everybody loves the Deputy in Tallaght.
I do not know about that, but as long as 7,000 or so voters continue to give me their first preferences, that is all right by me. By the way, I welcome the attendance of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanifin. I took the opportunity last night to wish her well throughout the next demanding week. I have great confidence that she will do the job.
I am sure the young students from Cork and Belvedere College in the Visitors Gallery were fascinated by the last contributor. I am sure none of them is from Tallaght, but it is good to see such an interest in the debates. This particular debate interests everybody. Like it or not, television and broadcasting generally have become very much a part of our lives. I come from a generation that witnessed the early days of television. I can recall being in somebody's house and watching Floyd Patterson fight for the world heavyweight title in November 1956. I must have been very small at the time, but I remember it. Television and broadcasting impacts enormously, certainly in this modern generation.
The purpose of the Broadcasting Bill is to provide an up-to-date legislative framework for broadcasting in Ireland. Its aim is to establish a more flexible and market responsive model for digital terrestrial television and to facilitate the termination of the analogue service. The Bill has a number of key features which include the establishment of a single content regulator for all commercial, community and public service broadcasters in Ireland. The function will be performed by the new broadcasting authority of Ireland, BAI. Other colleagues have noted that additional features of the proposed legislation include further functions to be carried out by the BAI — regulations in respect of DTT multiplexes and the duty of the commission for communications regulation in respect of sound broadcasting multiplex and multiplex contracts, etc. Also addressed in the Bill is the right of reply mechanism, television licences and an extension of the public service remit of RTE and TG4.
A number of Deputies referred to TG4. I hope the other broadcasters are not over-sensitive about us mentioning TG4, but I can recall the work years ago of our former colleague, the late Deputy Jim Tunney. If they call me "Mr. Tallaght", they called him "Mr. Finglas". He was a renowned Minister and chairman of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and he had a particular grá for the development of services in what was to become TG4. People such as the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and others have done a great deal of work in that regard since. People might not believe that much of what TG4 does might prove attractive to me, but I spend a good deal of time watching it. I often joked in the early days that I was watching it to see the old John Wayne movies, but as the service has developed, so too has my interest in it. TG4 is particularly forceful in projecting the positive message of culture and sporting activities in Ireland. I have heard many people, certainly in the Dublin region, make the point in recent times that its sport coverage is second to none, although the coverage of sport on RTE has been very good. However, TG4 is getting right down to the ground as far as sports coverage is concerned and it should be applauded for it.
People in the know tell me the station is producing programmes cost effectively. This is an example to the rest of the broadcasting industry at a time when we are all talking about cost efficiency and value for money. I hope people in Montrose and at TV3 in Ballymount are watching these developments with interest. TG4 has made an enormous impression throughout the country and people such as the late Deputy Tunney fought the battle for its survival from the beginning. Sometimes the going was difficult because people had other priorities. However, he has been proved right and it is great credit to him and many others that this is the case.
Other speakers have dealt with the general sports coverage on all the stations. Such coverage has been very worthwhile in recent times. RTE is clearly doing a tremendous job. The coverage this year of GAA fixtures has been second to none. All the other sports coverage, including TV3's, has been excellent. While I have nothing against Sky and occasionally watch a premier league match on it — although I do not have the sports service in my house and must use other people's — a serious point must be made about support for the "free to view" concept as far as sporting fixtures are concerned. Deputy Pat Breen referred to the fact that Munster and rugby fans generally have to depend on different channels to see their heroes play. That is true of many sporting activities and has happened regarding the Irish international soccer team as well. We must continue to look at that and see whether the "free to view" concept can be maintained, regardless of the needs of the associations or the demands coming from Sky and other stations.
I hope we all support that view and I look forward to the time — just to be parochial again — when League of Ireland matches are televised live from Tallaght. The stadium there is progressing very well. I say this because I believe the Ceann Comhairle mentioned the fact, and I know I will be forgiven. The Ceann Comhairle is remembered with great affection in Tallaght for the work he did as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism by those of us who wanted to strongly support and promote the idea of the Shamrock Rovers stadium. It is to his credit, and many others, that Shamrock Rovers will be playing in the new municipal stadium from next February. I hope the Ceann Comhairle takes the opportunity to come out because people appreciate the work he did in that regard.
As far as the Broadcasting Bill is concerned, I encourage people to continue to watch the various sporting activities. The League of Ireland is going through a doldrum period at present and it is important that we promote what it is doing. Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght will be very much part of that.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to talk about community radio. I often hear Deputies talk about the importance of local radio throughout the country. Developments in recent years have been particularly significant in that regard. All colleagues take advantage of local radio to get their message across and to answer questions that are posed. There is a very strong network in Dublin. I was on Newstalk last night and Q104 earlier in the day. Other stations such as Country FM and 98 provide excellent services, certainly in terms of news, and I am at an age when I like to listen to some of the music.
Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country. We no longer have Tallaght Community Radio, however, and last night there was a meeting of the Tallaght Radio Forum which is seeking to have it reintroduced. Everybody in the House is conscious of the worth of local radio and supports the concept. It is a great shame that my town, with the third largest population in the country, does not have its own community broadcasting system. I appeal to everybody who has an interest in that regard to make an effort to bring back community radio to Tallaght. I hope there will be a great deal of support for that.
Colleagues have referred to the impact of television on all our lives over the past five decades. My 6-year old granddaughter was in my office in the House for a short while yesterday and she asked if she could watch television. This is the era we live in. Television was new to my generation. We watched a few news programmes and football matches on the BBC and, as television evolved, more attractive programmes were made. However, nowadays my television viewing is restricted not only by my workload, but because I do not feel the need to sit and watch programmes. I watch programmes I would be expected to watch such as "Prime Time", "Questions and Answers", news bulletins and "The Week on Politics". I have never had the opportunity to appear on the programme but that might happen someday. I hope I will not get into trouble for saying I like watching Vincent Browne's programme every night. I hope he will not be upset. The programme uses a different format and it is often entertaining. It has gained its own niche and many people watch it every night. For those of us interested in the political system, it makes for good television.
My constituency colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, once said the audience for "Oireachtas Report" was confined to insomniacs and drunks. I do not know whether that has changed but the programme should be broadcast at a different time because more people would watch it. I have an open mind about an Oireachtas television channel. I do not know whether people would watch proceedings all day. They would watch an Order of Business similar to this morning's, which was exciting and where the Ceann Comhairle was a big star, as ever. The set pieces are always interesting and if they were broadcast, a positive message would be sent to the public but the remainder of the House's proceedings would be challenging and demanding for viewers. For example, I watched Prime Minister's Question Time from the House of Commons yesterday and it made for good television.
Many people are cynical about politicians and politics and we need to get a positive message across to them. There are many young people in the Visitors Gallery and when people visit the Parliament, they witness the good work that is going on and they are often impressed. Television has a role to play in that regard but, at the same time, I wonder about broadcasting coverage of Dáil proceeding from 10.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. and how that might evolve. That will be an interesting debate.
It is also important not to underestimate the value of radio, which has been part of all our lives for a long time. Significant numbers of people listen to radio and I have referred to the importance of community radio. I listen to talk radio in the morning. I always listen to "Morning Ireland" and Ryan Tubridy, if I have the opportunity. I do not have much opportunity to listen to Pat Kenny's programme and I hope that does not upset him, but radio has an important role to play. The development of radio broadcasting must continue and I hope those who implement this legislation will take account of that.
I read reports earlier this week about the challenges presented by technology and how we must be careful about how technology impacts on young people, in particular. Intense challenges will be thrown up in future to control television content. While digital television is an exciting development and everyone supports it, sometimes I wonder where all these developments are headed. I often wonder how my grandmother might react to the types of programmes being beamed into homes, which have a negative potential. Television programmes are good when they deliver a positive message and help to educate viewers, but television can also be a dangerous medium and we must be careful about how it is controlled.
Television has also become very intrusive. Deputy Breen referred to John F. Kennedy's visited to Ireland in June 1963 and how television coverage generated great excitement. The Pope's visit to Ireland in 1979 was another milestone. When one turns on Sky News nowadays, one is almost taken into people's houses or war zones. Television has become an intrusive medium whereby one cannot sneeze without it being picked up by a camera. That presents its own challenges. Sky News uses a format where the same news stories are broadcast every 15 minutes, which is irritating, and it wrecks my head. I have time to watch a little television on the occasional night at the weekend. Sky News runs news off a machine and I do not like such news coverage. I often retreat to RTE to watch more newsy programmes and the station does a good job in that regard.
TV3 is running advertisements regarding its new midday programme. Television has taken on a new role by providing for different audiences. I try to watch a little television late at night whereas many others watch programmes in the morning. Recently I heard a woman say she puts "TV-AM" on in the background during breakfast because it cheers up everybody in the house and it can be interesting. However, I cannot get my head around the concept of people sitting down and watching television for the rest of day. They watch talk shows, followed by American courtroom series, adventure programmes and then soaps. On the other hand, these programmes provide entertainment for those who cannot leave their houses for whatever reason.
Broadcasters must take responsibility because they have a captive audience. Many people watch television all day and when schools finish for the day, many children want to watch television. Given the number of stations dedicated to children's programming, many parents try to limit the time their children can watch television. They encourage their children to do their homework before allowing them to watch television. Broadcasters must take responsibility for the programming they provide at a time many channels are beamed into homes, particularly in the Dublin region, to make sure people are not watching unsuitable programmes.
Broadcasting is regulated by a number of bodies — the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the RTE Authority. The new organisation will encompass the functions of these bodies, operate independently and, for the most part, be funded by a sectoral levy applicable to all broadcasters.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to make my contribution on this important legislation which I look forward to supporting.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important Bill. Broadcasting is a wide canvas and, were one geared up and permitted, one could speak about it for three hours. While there are a number of major issues, the Bill in its entirety is welcome. It must be passed because there are significant external pressures which I shall address.
Unless the national broadcaster is able to keep up with fantastic, sensational changes, we will be left in a backwater. RTE, in terms of its television and sound elements, has had a public broadcasting remit for years. Given the annual levy of €160 and the responsibility placed on any governing authority to direct the affairs of RTE One, RTE Two, TG4, RTE's radio stations, the Houses of the Oireachtas channel and so on, it is important that RTE be seen to be a broadcaster for all of the people. By and large, it does a good job, although it would be easy to state the opposite, as many do. It stands up well against competition from around the world. Given the intrusion of Sky News, Fox News and so on — one can watch an African station at the touch of a button — we must remember that our national broadcaster and TV3, which is also useful, although not a part of this debate, are able to compete.
As Deputy O'Connor stated, everything, every minute of every day, on Sky News is sensational. I do not have many opportunities to watch television, but such sensationalism does not appeal to me. Balanced, fair and reasonable reporting of an incident as soon as humanly possible is vital and what our broadcasters try to do. While I am not saying that Sky News, Fox News and so on do not do so, many viewers watching the sensationalism get the impression that there is never another side to a story. Good, bad or indifferent, it was a remarkable red flash. Our broadcasters should not go down that road.
For many years I was critical of RTE in one respect. Anything concerning the regions was placed on the back burner until changes were made in recent years. Regional correspondents have made a considerable difference. For example, the programme "Nationwide" encompasses many of television's good aspects. It is predominantly a good news programme rooted in communities around Ireland to pick out the best actions that local communities take to better themselves. This is an important aspect of radio and television coverage that acknowledges the traditions and values of people across the country without being confined to a particular area. A sister programme is more or less engaging in the same type of reporting within Dublin city. It is important that we have more broadcasting of this kind.
None of us wants to be a harbinger of bad news, but sometimes there seems to be a bias in radio and television coverage towards bad news stories. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of bad news in this big, bad world, but there is also plenty of good news. There should be a balance and RTE is beginning to get it right. The viewership and listenership have as many choices as there are people. It must be difficult for the controller of programmes in any television network to always get the balance right. Obviously, it is not always right, but controllers are doing better than they have for a long time.
Television is a powerful medium. The new governing body will need to consider the question of images portrayed to children. I am long past the stage where my children watch programmes like "The Den" and so on, but my grandchildren are watching them. I cannot discuss too many of them because I do not watch them, but many of them are good. One can rest assured that "Bob the Builder" is entertaining, has an educational aspect and portrays the right image to young children. However, there are programmes on television at times when children can watch them that are not suitable for them. We must be careful to control such programmes in order that what children view is good, entertaining and educational, as much of what many children do is picked up from television.
Concerning advertising, I have a bee in my bonnet about all programmes that highlight the use of alcohol. I accept the principle that every mature adult should be able to act on his or her own behalf. I am not interested in censorship. However, the overly glamorous advertising of alcohol is playing holy hell. It now appears that one cannot have a social gathering without the most beautiful people drinking to their hearts' content and that everyone should aspire to be like them. Nothing could be further from the truth — if people could see how the advertisements are put together. During the coming years we must be vigilant in preventing such advertising from continuing.
In the past few days I heard some of my colleagues refer to the major problem of obesity. It is a greater problem than we thought it would be five or six years ago. Dubious food products which I will not name are being highlighted. These are extraordinarily fatty foods — rubbish and trash. We must have a leveller because if the advertising of these foods continues, we will have to place a health warning on them, similar to what is carried on cigarette packets. It could state that if one were to eat the particular food product, one would not be doing oneself any good. If it was practical to do so, I presume advertisers would want to change their ways.
I refer to the relationship between the national broadcaster and local television and radio stations. I am lucky to be in the House as long as anyone and have seen dramatic changes. I distinctly remember the night Teilifís Éireann came on the air, a momentous occasion in our house and I assure Members it was not our own television set. It meant a new step forward for Irish society. Ten or 15 years ago we had the advent of local radio services. I have heard no Member suggest this was a bad development. Local radio services have an outstanding connection with people within the franchise area. Irrespective of what happens, an accident, a funeral or the opening of a new library, the local radio station has the news in ten minutes, sometimes in ten seconds. Local radio stations have become very professional to the extent that most newscasters and public affairs debates are as good as any carried by the national broadcaster. The level of professionalism is significant; the same goes for local television services but these have not spread as far. It is a costly job.
It should be in the remit of the new broadcasting authority to strengthen ties. I understand some 5% of the television licence fee revenue will be made available for certain projects, an important development. No one likes paying a licence fee if one can get away without paying it and given the programming available, we hope the fee is value for money. It is important that local radio stations such as Galway Bay FM do not feel isolated. These local stations should receive help for certain projects under the national system. Whether we believe €160 per year is good or bad value, an issue on which everyone has a view, it should be paid and collected once it becomes law. I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts and remember a number of debates during which we discovered that it was extraordinarily difficult to have a system of collection that was value for money. I do not think the current system does this but it is important that the message be communicated that those who do not pay the fee are spongers. In effect, by non-payment they ensure neighbours will have to pay more next time. This is an unfortunate development and the people concerned are nothing short of spongers.
I am not blessed by fluent in Irish but I am very impressed with TG4. From small beginnings the station has reached a level of professionalism that stands comparison with any station of its size and status elsewhere in Europe. One does not have to be fluent in Irish to enjoy TG4. When it started, it showed Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and ladies football matches which have brought a huge audience to the station.
And westerns on Friday nights.
Only for the fact that Deputy Creed watches them, he would not know they were on. I assume he has somthing in common with John Wayne.
"Ros na Rún" is an example of a programme shown by the station. It has a facility to ensure traditional ways in Gaeltacht areas and rural life are unlikely to be forgotten. These are shown in the best possible light.
The station has created a source of employment for the very best producers and researchers. Many can now be seen named in the credits on RTE, TV3 and the BBC. It is a major training ground for many highly skilled young men and women and provides an outlet for their professionalism.
It is incumbent on stations to carry as many high quality home produced programmes as possible. It is one thing to have a home produced programme but if it is trash, it is no good to anyone. Programmes such as "The Clinic" are of high quality. The more that are produced, the greater the grip on the people, irrespective of what is beamed in by Sky Television or the BBC. Irish people will see such programmes as reflecting their values and interests. As long as RTE continues with such programmes, it is the future in terms of competition. It does not always get it right but nobody does.
I may sound dated in referring to a programme that I love to watch, "Reeling in the Years". I had the good fortune of being involved in many of the events covered, sometimes with a peripheral role. I do not know the ratings for that programme but they must be high because it is being re-run. The series dates back to 1962 or 1963 and progresses through the years. There is a major opening for nostalgia programmes.
A Fine Gael amendment to the Bill was tabled in the Seanad and, as far as I am aware, accepted by the Government. It stated that in cases where only one group was looking for a local radio licence and was successful, that group's contract would not then be for five years but would run for seven years. It is a minor matter but is extremely important because in an area where there is not too much interest, the incumbents would have an opportunity over seven years to develop programming to its liking. Many others would wish to be involved thereafter. We will follow the Bill on Committee Stage.
I wish to share time with Deputy Eamon Scanlon. I welcome the Bill which is very detailed and seeks to deal with virtually all aspects of broadcasting in this country. As Deputy Connaughton said, it is a return to 1960 when RTE was established. Much legislation passed down the years will be consolidated by this Bill. It has been a long time coming but is very welcome.
A new regulatory authority will replace the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, BCC. The broadcasting authority of Ireland, BAI, will consist of the authority and two independent statutory boards, a contracts award committee and a compliance committee. I am not sure that we need three committees to deal with the implementation of this legislation. Perhaps when the Minister responds he will explain why he devised this rather bureaucratic system of dealing with the Broadcasting Bill. One authority with all-embracing powers would be a more important body than an authority, a contracts committee and a compliance committee. This seems somewhat over-regulated.
I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, which deals with broadcasting matters, will have an input into future appointments to the boards. The members have relevant knowledge and will offer a major input into the new legislation. I welcome the fact that the Minister recognises the importance of the committee by consulting with it before the board is finalised.
There are also new codes and rules for broadcasters. I have a particular interest in the area of advertising for children. We must have a code of conduct in respect of the advertising of children's toys, food, drinks and other things that can have a detrimental effect on the health of children. From time to time parents raise issues about advertising with me, as I am sure they do with other Deputies. Many consider its timing unsuitable for the programmes. It promotes foodstuffs that are high in sugar content contributing to obesity, as mentioned by Deputy Connaughton. The advertising of children's toys is a bugbear of mine and of a number of people up and down the country. When it comes to the promotion of toys, Christmas has already started. This puts severe pressure on parents who want to buy toys at Christmas time when they have money to do so. They do not want their children to beg them to buy the toys now. The Minister must look seriously at this issue.
Part of the Bill deals with television licences and proposes a range of changes to the current arrangement of television licensing in Ireland I hope this will not be the end of An Post in the operation of television licensing because that organisation has given a good service in collecting television licences. Of course we have the defaulters, the people who, no matter what is done, will not want to pay for their television licence. The Minister's proposal stating that it will be at the discretion of An Post that television licence defaulters should pay a fine and buy a licence rather than proceed to court is a wise one. To introduce an on-the-spot fine for not having a licence followed by the purchase of the licence is a way around the problem. At present, by the time An Post takes the court action and gets the person into court, the court system is clogged up. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Minister is considering having on-the-spot fines for defaulters combined with purchase of the licence. It is a good suggestion.
We get a good service from RTE 1 and 2 and TG4 and television in general offers good service in this country. RTE comes in for serious criticism from time to time about some of its programmes and about being politically biased. However, for the amount of money expended each year, RTE provides a very good service in this country. From time to time I might not be happy with some decisions the organisation might take or the political lines it might hold but I am a strong supporter of RTE, television and radio. We get good value for money in that area.
Deputy Connaughton mentioned TG4. The station has done tremendous work in promoting Gaelic games off-season. RTE covers these at the height of the season, and TV3 also covered some games this year. However, TG4 does a great job in promoting the club championships, the international rules games and Railway Cup games. Long may that continue. Some of the station's programmes are watched by people such as myself who are not good at the Gaeilge. TG4 promotes Irish culture, Irish language, Irish song and music and that is important.
"Oireachtas Report" was mentioned earlier in respect of the time it is beamed out to the country, which is usually at midnight, 12.30 a.m. or 1 a.m. There is need for a change there but we also need our own channel. There is all-party agreement to examine how the Oireachtas might have its own channel and how it might operate. I know that much discussion is going on in the Ceann Comhairle's office, in the Commission and also in the committee that I chair concerning how we might implement an Oireachtas channel at a reasonable cost. Many new channels are costly but it is essential that we look at having an Oireachtas channel. We could thereby promote politics and bring politics out to the people. That is something all of us try to do in our own way at local level and a channel of our own would certainly help.
There is also an issue about the effects soaps may have. Parents talk about this and I have no answer as I do not watch soaps. Soaps are widely watched at peak time and people tell me that many of them feature cases of rape, murder and suicide from time to time. What effect is this having on young people? Organisations dealing with the welfare of children get very concerned about this issue and the Minister should examine it in terms of its effects on young people.
The advertising of alcohol has been mentioned. It would be hard to stop all such advertising although that decision could be taken. It could also be decided that television advertising should not glamorise drink but then one goes to Croke Park or Gaelic games parks up and down the country, one attends Munster rugby or international matches, or soccer matches, where all the hoardings are advertising drink of every kind. That has an effect on the promotion of drink. I am not sure a total ban on alcohol from television screens will stop young people from drinking. Education is important and we should start with an education programme in our schools about the effects of drink. Although many people believe a complete ban would be a solution, I am unsure of this.
I wish to make a couple of points regarding the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, IBI, representatives of which I met recently. While it welcomes the Bill in general, it seeks a number of changes to the fast-track application process for radio licences. It seeks to have the licence period changed from seven years. The initial proposal was for a five-year period but the Seanad suggested a seven-year period. However, the IBI suggests that the period should be changed to ten years and the Minister should consider this issue.
The IBI has concerns in respect of digital broadcasting. It has noted the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, has no policy at present regarding digital broadcasting for local, regional or national independent radios. Until such time as such a policy is developed, the IBI considers that including provisions in respect of digital broadcasting in the Bill may prove costly and may cause problems regarding adherence for local radio stations. Consequently, it also seeks some changes in this regard.
The IBI also seeks changes in the levy proposed by the Minister. While it is not opposed to the levy per se, it considers that the manner in which it will be implemented should be changed to allow for greater flexibility. Moreover, such a levy only should kick in when radio stations are making a profit. The former Taoiseach removed the 3% levy and the IBI now wonders why the present Government intends to reintroduce it. Apparently, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, gave a commitment that it would not be reintroduced. Perhaps the Minister also should consider this issue.
While one cannot legislate for a downturn in the economy, the IBI is highly concerned in this regard at present. It considers that as the economic downturn will lead to fewer advertisements and less income, the levy may not be the most practical measure to take at present. I now wish to give way to my colleague.
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a few comments on this Bill. The Bill is about how broadcasting will be defined and how the broadcasting industry will be organised and managed in Ireland. At a time of massive developments in the arena of communications, such a Bill is highly appropriate. The legislation deals with issues pertaining to the format, structure and model of broadcasting. It deals with publicly-funded broadcasters and those which are not funded directly by the licence fee but through commercial advertising. While a publicly-funded broadcaster is required, public funding brings with it real responsibilities regarding the approach such a broadcaster should take. Being funded by the public places an additional set of obligations upon a broadcaster and certain standards must be maintained. Moreover, a level of excellence that may not be expected of independent broadcasters may also be required. That constitutes the reality for organisations that are funded by the people.
I emphasise that a public broadcaster is not a State broadcaster. The public broadcaster should not be a direct extension of the State in its form and functions. I strongly believe that it also is appropriate to regulate RTE in the same way as other independent, commercial broadcasters, such as TV3. RTE is in a privileged position inasmuch as it has access to a licence fee. This advantage for the station cannot be underestimated. One of the best recent developments has been the introduction of competitors into the television market in Ireland.
I still can recall when there was only one television channel in Ireland. I also can recall that there were no televisions in the street on which I was reared. However, we were fortunate to have access to a shop that sold televisions. It was operated by a decent man and more children would gather outside his shop window to watch "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" and a few similar programmes that I remember vaguely than would go to the cinema. He placed a small speaker outside the shop to enable everyone to hear what was going on. Things certainly have changed since then as practically every room in every house has a television, which is to be welcomed in certain circumstances. We have come a long way since then and have further to go.
TV3 has been a welcome addition to the market. This was seen most recently in respect of coverage of the All-Ireland championships matches. In the most recent season, TV3 showed live coverage of some major matches and did a good job of that. Competition is a good thing, which RTE should welcome, rather than fear. It should consider it as an incentive to maintain and improve its standards. Everyone experiences competition, be it in business, politics or whatever walk of life, and it keeps everyone focused.
I support the Bill's overall approach. While other Members have referred to it as being cautious rather than radical, it will ensure that we have adequate regulation over the broadcasting sector. We must never underestimate the importance of the broadcasting sector in people's lives. Many older people, who may be living alone, rely on television or radio as their main source of keeping in touch with the outside world. Whether by listening to Joe Duffy on "Liveline", although Members may not always agree with what he says, or by watching "The Late Late Show" on Friday nights, people rely on such programmes to inform their opinions. Consequently, it is important to put in place relevant regulation as the broadcasting sector has great influence on people's lives.
The Bill will lead to the establishment of a new broadcasting authority. It is crucial that it will not simply be the current Broadcasting Commission of Ireland in a new guise. The proposed Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will assume the functions of the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and will take on a number of new roles and responsibilities. It will have two statutory boards, namely, the contracts award committee and the compliance committee. The authority will have overall responsibility for the organisation with regard to preparing codes and rules for broadcasters.
This is an important Bill. It is a detailed and comprehensive legislative proposal that 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.
The Broadcasting Bill consolidates and revises almost 50 years of Irish broadcasting legislation, which I welcome. It repeals 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. Under this Bill, the entire body of broadcasting legislation now is presented in a single, consolidated Bill. This is a more efficient model and is necessary at this time of advancement in modern communications.
I also welcome the contribution of local radio stations. Given the geographical position of my constituency, it is covered by two radio stations, namely, Mid West Radio and Ocean FM and I acknowledge the contributions they make to the lives of elderly people, many of whom live alone in isolated places. The stations schedule programming to facilitate those people in the form of sport, local issues, farming matters, current affairs and death notices. The latter is a highly important part of radio programming for many people who wish to keep informed in respect of their local community.
I wish to share time with Deputies Creed and Doyle. I intend to take ten minutes, if that is all right.
Do both Deputies intend to speak in the same slot?
Is it agreed that Deputy Terence Flanagan should take ten minutes and Deputies Creed and Doyle five minutes each? Agreed.
I also welcome the opportunity to comment on the Broadcasting Bill 2008. The Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann is comprehensive in that it consolidates five or six other Acts. It is 167 pages long, contains 181 detailed sections and 13 parts. Overall, while the Bill contains some very good aspects, Fine Gael will seek to amend others on Committee Stage. The Bill seeks to establish the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, which will take over the functions of the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, as well as receiving some other new functions.
I am aware of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland's existence mainly because in my previous employment I used to pass its offices on a daily basis. I entered the office and had a chat with its staff to ascertain what are its functions. I am aware of their existence. It is welcome, particularly in the current economic climate, that a levy will be put on broadcasters so taxpayers will not have to fund these new authorities, except in the first year of establishment.
Section 8 relates to the appointment of members to the broadcasting authority of Ireland, BAI. It indicates that five members will be appointed by the Government on the nomination of the Minister, with four members to be appointed on the advice of the relevant joint Oireachtas committee. That is a welcome development which means members of a committee will have much more power in ensuring people with the proper qualifications and who are experienced in the areas will be appointed to the broadcasting authority of Ireland. Such oversight will mean there will be no political appointments or cronyism, which will improve public accountability.
On this side of the House we wish to ensure all members are vetted by the joint Oireachtas committee rather than just half of them. Five members will be appointed by the Minister and just four will be appointed by the committee.
With regard to the statutory committees, half the appointments will be made by the Government on the nomination of the Minister and the other half will be made by the BAI from its own staff and membership. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should have more of a role in this. I welcome that the chief executive officer of the BAI will have to attend the Committee of Public Accounts and will have to account, in particular, for the level of expenditure. He or she will also be answerable to the other Oireachtas committees.
I see deadlines and timelines will have to be adhered to by the BAI in dealing with complaints brought forward by people who feel their reputation has been hurt or incorrect facts have been given out. For broadcasters in breach of the terms of their contract, the compliance committee may recommend to the High Court that a fine of up to €250,000 be imposed. That is significant punishment for anybody seen to be making deliberate attempts to injure people's reputations and names.
Section 81 deals with the appointment to the boards of both RTE and TG4, with each of the boards containing 12 people and an equal gender balance. That is welcome and we could learn from that in this House in ensuring we improve our gender balance. Six members are to be nominated by the Minister, with four nominated by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. This is very innovative and seems to be the way forward. We must ensure that in future nomination processes, people have the relevant experience and qualification before appointment to boards. It should happen in this instance so that politics and politicians can be protected.
The legislation deals with the directors general and chairpersons of RTE and TG4 having to attend committee meetings in the Houses of the Oireachtas, which is also necessary. The Bill will ensure RTE will provide a television service to Irish communities abroad. We are all aware of the Irish communities, particularly in England and the undocumented in America, and these issues must be aired on RTE's broadcasts outside the country. They will give a better understanding of the problems experienced by the Irish. I am sure we are all very aware of the plight of the Irish in England who have hit on hard times.
The decision to cover proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas through a free-to-air service is a welcome development. It will inform the public to a greater degree as to what goes on here in the Houses, particularly in committees. People will have more of an understanding of the process, know what Deputies do when they come to the House and what the job of a Deputy involves.
The Irish Film Board will be provided with its own dedicated channel, which is also to be welcomed. The Irish film industry enjoyed some great years but over the past few years it has not been as great as it once was. There have been more Irish productions recently, notably "The Tudors", a series made in Ardmore Studios. Some members of the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources visited that location. We must protect the Irish film industry and particularly the tax reliefs and incentives which exist. They must continue.
Section 159 deals with the major sporting events. Perhaps the Minister will provide some more information as to which major sporting events are in mind, as the Bill does not specify. Will it relate to the all-Ireland finals and ensure they will be provided on a free basis? Will it apply to Irish soccer matches?
The manner in which the television licence is collected is very outdated and costly. The process should be greatly improved upon and perhaps when somebody purchases a television, the levy should be paid up front and once only, especially for new customers.
Local radio and television services clearly provide a terrific service to local communities in various parts of the country which would not be informed of local events, news and current affairs issues otherwise. Independent television and radio stations must be protected and the Government must ensure adequate funding remains so the service can be provided. They provide great opportunities for volunteers or those interested in presenting on radio stations to get involved, learn how programmes are put together and the various skills used in making programmes. That would give people great confidence. Many people working in these radio stations are volunteers and do not get paid. They should be commended for the good work they do.
The restriction on junk food advertising is an excellent development and the area of obesity has been covered by other Deputies. The Minister is aware it is a significant issue. There has been information in the media recently about the content of cereals — there is more sugar in Irish cereals than in their counterparts in Australia or other countries, for example, and that should be examined.
There are many positive developments in the Bill. We would like to see alcohol advertisement banned completely. Regarding changes, our party will table amendments on Committee Stage.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few brief words. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might let me know when I have a minute remaining as I will share time with Deputy Andrew Doyle.
The landscape for broadcasting has changed very significantly over recent years. When I entered this House initially, most households throughout the country only had terrestrial television but in the last 20 years, the international reach of broadcasting corporations has become truly global, particularly with the advent of the Internet. At a more local level there has been the successful explosion in popularity of local radio stations. Broadcasting has changed very significantly and in that context, the legislation is welcome.
Some people have argued, with regard to some provisions in the Bill, that because of our inability to police non-terrestrial broadcasters from outside the country, we should sit and do nothing. I do not accept this argument. On the contrary, it is a reason to take an initiative at European Union level, where Ireland has the capacity to pursue these matters, or at a global level. If, in choosing to restrict the reach of advertising for children it transpires that children continue to have access to advertisements prohibited under the legislation on other broadcasters such as Sky television, it will make a strong case for having an international code of conduct. We should not take a "do nothing" approach. In any case, the non-terrestrial broadcasters tend to construct their advertising in compliance with national legislation.
I propose to focus on the legislation's provisions on junk food advertising by the food industry. While an initiative is needed on this issue, it must be developed in consultation with the food industry. A legitimate criticism has been made that consultation on the Bill has been insufficient. I hope further consultation will take place with the food industry before Committee Stage. While I support in principle the decision to include in the legislation the ultimate sanction — a ban on advertising — the codes of conduct provided for should be devised in consultation with the food industry.
My colleague, Deputy Terence Flanagan, referred to an interesting recent report which showed that sugar and salt levels in certain cereals are significantly higher in Ireland than in the same branded products in New Zealand and Australia. This appears to be due to a perception that awareness of dietary and healthy living issues is greater in New Zealand and Australia than in Ireland. The House has a role to play in ensuring that products for which advertisements targeted at children are broadcast on television are healthy in the wider sense. There is no appetite, if I may be pardoned the pun, to take a big brother approach by arguing that children should never go to McDonalds or eat pizza or the sugary cereals to which they are inclined to gravitate. A balance must be struck.
I have raised previously in the House the failure to target sufficiently sports funding at activity for all and the focus on the development of niche sports. While I support the Bill in principle, healthy foods produced by the dairy and meat industries must not be categorised as unhealthy by those who police the legislation. These products form the backbone of the Irish food industry and are worth approximately €20 billion to the economy every year. The food sector directly employs 48,000 people with as many as 50,000 others employed indirectly.
Television has an enormous reach and exercises a disproportionate influence on children. Anyone with children will be aware of the impact of television advertising on children. For this reason, the Bill should include the ultimate sanction. I hope the codes of conduct will be framed in consultation with the industry in a manner that recognises the challenges we face in respect of issues such as childhood obesity. It is impossible not to acknowledge the extent of this problem. However, the new codes must also be balanced, fair and reasonable and the industry must be able to live with them.
I thank Deputy Terence Flanagan for his generosity in sharing time.
The Broadcasting Bill 2008, which consolidates, revises or repeals various Acts dating back to the Broadcasting Act 1960 which established RTE and created a basis for public service broadcasting, is welcome. Television is probably the most useful but dangerous device in any household. As Deputies indicated, with the advent of digital transmission we will soon be able to watch radio and television programmes, play DVDs, PlayStation, the X-box and music and access practically all other forms of media on our television sets. The legislation arms the State and Oireachtas with the ability to deal with this development.
Given the speed with which advances are being made in the media, it will be necessary to ensure the Bill has an inbuilt capacity to evolve to deal with the evolution of the media, specifically television. Until now, we have constantly been in catch-up mode.
It is hard to believe it is 20 years since the Independent Radio and Television Commission, IRTC, was established. Community radio has been important for local communities, providing, for example, access to training in radio and communications which had not previously been available.
The rationalisation of a number of State agencies in the legislation is welcome in the current economic climate. The board of the proposed broadcasting authority of Ireland has the responsibility to ensure the authority moves with advancing technology and is in a position to respond, react and, if necessary, control the medium of television.
Deputy Creed addressed the issue of advertisements for food products. The food and drinks industry will make the case that it will face a distinct disadvantage until such time as international agreement is reached on the standards to apply to the content of food advertisements transmitted on television. In fairness to the industry, it has provided guideline daily allowances on packaging. Clearer labelling will be needed and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland will have a role to play in this regard. We should expect food advertisements to feature similar information and standards as are available on other forms of advertisement. For example, we often hear the words "Enjoy alcohol responsibly" at the end of advertisements for alcoholic drinks. Food advertisements should feature words to the effect that people should consult the recommended daily allowance for the relevant products.
In recent days, the issue of religion has been discussed. In the United States one cannot use the words "Happy Christmas". Instead, one must say "Happy Holidays". On the other hand, the country has many commercial television channels dedicated to bible belt preaching. We should not muddy the waters and become excessively politically correct. Religions which do not promote themselves as superior or practice discrimination against other races, colours or creeds should not be precluded from advertising. Common sense must prevail.
I note Deputy Peter Kelly who is seated opposite was photographed on the set of "The Tudors". As a Deputy from County Wicklow, it would remiss of me not to welcome the provision on establishing an Irish film channel. The broadcasting fund's remit should be extended to include the promotion of Irish culture through film.
The Minister for Finance should extend section 4(3)(1), which deals with tax breaks in the film industry, to include film editing. Once films are shot, the editing takes place in the United States where the big money is spent. While film editing may not provide as much employment as the set and production side, it is a high cost element of film production.
The Broadcasting Bill 2008 published on 14 May has been passed by Seanad Éireann. Broadcasting is an issue which covers many areas. In today's technologically advanced world the term "broadcasting" can mean many things, whether television, radio, the Internet or other means of communication. Broadcasting contributes greatly to all our lives, informing us of everyday events and ensuring we are in touch with the world around us. I hazard a guess that every Deputy present encountered some form of broadcasting almost as soon as he or she woke this morning. One of the first things we do is switch on the radio to listen to the news, get the weather forecast or hear the traffic information.
Broadcasting affects most aspects of our lives. It covers a wide range of topics: entertainment, education, news, music and sport. The fact that it is so all-encompassing means that this legislation is important. It is an interesting and varied topic for discussion and I am sure every Member will have his or her own take on it.
Broadcasting has made our world a smaller and more intimate place. Due to its importance in our everyday lives, it is important we have certain regulations in place and certain boundaries that cannot be broken. I am not talking about a Big Brother style of regulation, but we must have some regulations in place. This 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. We need a public broadcaster, but there is a difference between a public broadcaster and a State broadcaster. A point that must be made is that a public broadcaster in receiving a licence fee has an extra duty or obligation to the viewing public. This is only fair and as it should be.
By and large, RTE does a good job and fulfils its public broadcast remit in most cases. One particular area where it excels is in its coverage of sport. It keeps the nation in touch with the GAA championships, our soccer and rugby teams to name but a few. Viewers look forward to watching "The Sunday Game" every week. Sport is an important aspect of all our lives and the more sport we play and the more our young people engage in it, the better for the people and the country. Playing sport, as the saying goes, keeps one "healthy in mind and spirit".
RTE, TG4 and TV3, the television stations based in Ireland, are probably among the best there is. I find that in most places I go invariably it is one of these channels that tends to be on. People seldom switch to outside broadcasting channels from anywhere else in Europe because there is no need to do so with the standard and quality of the broadcasters and programming provided by RTE, TG4 and TV3. Furthermore, most people tell me that the soccer coverage on RTE consists of analysis that is second to none on these islands.
Similar to points previously mentioned in this debate, I do not believe the public broadcaster should be a direct extension of the State in its form and functions. It is appropriate that the public broadcaster is regulated in the same way as other independent commercial broadcasters which also should have a clear public service remit. The advent of commercial broadcasters is to be welcomed, as they provide competition, but I would be wary of certain commercial broadcasters transmitting content that is largely imported. They may argue that they are not privy to a licence fee and that is a fair point, but some commercial channel content is not up to the required standard we expect in Ireland.
I welcome what the Bill is trying to achieve. It will ensure regulation of the broadcasting industry which is growing year by year. We need to ensure broadcasting can flourish and that there is regulation to ensure quality and access across the spectrum of public, private, independent and community broadcasting. Effectiveness of regulation is an important issue. The Bill will lead to the establishment of a new broadcasting authority, with which I will deal shortly.
I take the opportunity to make the point that the news and entertainment content of the national radio stations is second to none. We have independent radio stations in the Longford-Westmeath region that do an excellent job. Shannonside Radio, an independent radio station, is based in Longford town. It has a large listenership. It transmits "The JF Show" presented by Joe Finnegan every morning. He is known the length and breadth of the region. The station's news staff provide comprehensive, factual news coverage on an hourly basis. If people want to know what is happening in my constituency, they listen to Shannonside Radio. I pay tribute to Maryclaire Greally and her staff in the station's newsroom because if there is a tragic event, they know how to handle it sympathetically and are very understanding. The station provides a great service. At the press of a button people in the region can find out everything that is happening around them.
This is important legislation that will affect people culturally. Television is a medium used by them every day to access news and views from around the world. What they see on the box in the corner heavily influences them and what they hear debated on radio shows every day will form the opinions they express in the pub that night. We cannot underestimate the importance of broadcasting. When I spoke to people and was told about some news story, on asking if it was true, they responded, "Yes, that is true." On asking them how they had come to know about it, they responded, "I saw it on television or I heard it on radio." People believe what they see on television and what they hear on radio. Broadcasters have a responsibility, as we do in our jobs and professions, to be truthful, honest and factual. Some say that at times what is broadcast is fiction. If that happens, perhaps the broadcaster should indicate at the start of the following show that the item broadcast was fiction.
This legislation is modernising. It establishes the broadcasting authority of Ireland which will assume the functions of the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and take on a number of new roles and responsibilities. It will have two statutory boards, the contracts award committee and the compliance committee. It will have overall responsibility for the organisation in preparing codes and rules for broadcasters. The compliance committee will be responsible for ensuring that all broadcasters, whether public or private, comply with the conditions of their licences and with the standards set down in the broadcasting codes.
The differing views regarding the Bill should be taken on board. Society in 21st century Ireland is evolving. Broadcasting is one of the most changeable aspects of that society and the Bill reflects that reality.
The views of all players in the broadcasting sector, particularly Screen Producers Ireland, should be taken into account. I visited Ardmore Studios on Tuesday last and one could not but be impressed by the fact that it is a hive of activity. I was struck by the high standard and variety of the sets in use there. Ardmore Studios, which is involved in both film and television production, is a great advertisement for Ireland. Morgan O'Sullivan, the legendary broadcaster, gave us a tour of the studios and we visited the set of "The Tudors", a programme which is currently showing in 70 countries and which is a great advertisement for Ireland. The market is out there and it is merely a matter for us to advertise Ireland as a centre of film, television and radio production. In the past, many of the best people in the world have worked in this business in Ireland.
The programme for Government agreed in June 2007 contains a range of commitments in respect of broadcasting. Of those commitments, the following will be delivered upon or facilitated through the Bill before the House: the Broadcasting Bill will be enacted to ensure a comprehensive, modern framework of law for the sector; the broadcasting authority of Ireland will be established; there will be a speedy right to reply to those who have been defamed in radio or television programmes; and work will be carried out in conjunction 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.
Difficulties may arise in respect of the latter commitment, particularly in the context of people watching television channels over which we have no control. Irish television stations should come together with Screen Producers Ireland to develop and produce more programmes for children which can be broadcast at times when they watch television. Screen Producers Ireland is extremely enthusiastic in this regard, particularly as it possesses the relevant expertise. I encourage the television stations to contact them to see whether it might be possible to produce more children's programmes. I did not use the word "better" when referring to such programmes because I know, following my visit to Ardmore Studios, that there can be no doubt about the high standard of production which takes place there.
Under its programme, the Government is also committed to placing reviews of the licence fee on a statutory basis and ensuring that RTE supports broadcasting to the Irish community abroad, which is extremely important. When I visited London, Birmingham and Manchester in the past to attend annual Longford association dinner dances and other functions, I discovered that even though many Irish people live in England, they leave their hearts, souls and people back in Ireland. All these individuals indicated their desire to watch Irish television or listen to Irish radio. It is not the case that RTE should support broadcasting to the Irish community abroad merely for the sake of doing so, it should also do so in order that these people will not be deprived of seeing and hearing the best television and radio programmes produced anywhere in the world.
The Government is also committed to ensuring a fair and competitive environment for the independent TV and radio sector and working with the Houses of the Oireachtas and other local authorities to introduce programming that will carry live feeds of Oireachtas business and local council meetings, where practicable.
In April 1999, Ireland received notification from the European Commission that it had received a complaint relating to grant aid paid to RTE and TG4. The matter was discussed with the Commission and the Government gave certain commitments which are to be implemented by way of the Broadcasting Bill. These commitments relate to proposed changes in the supervisory framework for public service broadcasting in particular. They include the provision of independent advice to the Minister on the funding of public service broadcasting on an annual and five-year basis by the BAI, sectoral impact and public value tests for certain new public service broadcasting activities, clarity in Irish law around the remit and entrustment of public service broadcasters and various other oversight matters to be dealt with by the BAI. Ireland also committed to endeavour to enact the Broadcasting Bill 2008 by the end of the year.
The BAI will be a new regulatory authority and will replace the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. It will assume responsibility for the key existing roles of the BCI and the BCC and will take on a range of new functions. In particular, it will have new functions in respect of public service broadcasters. The BAI will consist of the authority and two independent statutory boards, namely, the contracts award committee and the compliance committee. The authority will have overall responsibility for the strategic direction of the organisation, as well as tasks such as preparing codes and rules for broadcasters, administering the broadcasting fund, certain oversights in respect of public service broadcasters and the setting and collection of a levy on the sector to fund its costs. The contracts award committee will have the role of licensing independent commercial and community broadcasters, such as local radio stations or digital television providers. The compliance committee will have the separate role of ensuring that all broadcasters, public or private, comply with their licence conditions and with the standards set out in the broadcasting codes and rules.
The BAI will have nine board members, five of whom will be appointed by the Government after nomination by the Minister and four will be appointed by Government after nomination by the Minister on the advice of the joint Oireachtas committee which deals with broadcasting matters. The joint committee may appoint a panel for the purposes of such appointments. The joint committee is comprised of members from all sides. Great interest is always shown when we appoint boards or reappoint people to them. As a member of the relevant committee, I assure the House that everything will be transparent and above board. Members are welcome to attend our meetings at any time and if they wish to make nominations, they should do so at their convenience.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill, which will bring about a number of changes. I wish to focus on advertising relating to religious orders, churches etc. This matter has been touched upon by previous speakers but I wish to comment on it in detail. The Bill represents an opportunity for the Minister to deal with this matter once and for all.
Deputy Doyle and others referred to the importance of broadcasting, the media and so forth. As politicians, we often miss out and do not get to watch enough television or keep up to date with the various programmes that are shown. We are often out of touch with what is happening. Television is an education because there is so much on it. When I was on holidays with a few friends they were chatting about different television programmes. I was out of the conversation because I did not know what was going on. One of my friends told me to go away for a week and watch television and come back and we would have a conversation. That is how important it is. They were all talking about television and I could not join in because we do not get to watch enough of it here. That can be good, but we miss out on certain educational programmes. There is a lot on television, not only on radio and in the newspapers. It is important to monitor and keep a close eye on the whole area.
This Bill also deals with the independence and licensing of local radio stations and will help speed up the process of re-licensing in respect of which there were lengthy delays for some stations. Politicians, particularly those from rural or semi-rural areas, know perhaps more than anybody else the importance of local radio stations. The service they provide, often on low budgets, is unbelievable, although some of them have been sold for high prices lately. The staff are not paid the top wages they might get elsewhere but they provide an excellent service reporting on a wide range of subjects including sports, community events, politics, deaths and so on. All areas are covered and it is an excellent service to the community at a time when life is so fast-moving and we spend so much time in our cars that radio is probably the best way we have of keeping in touch with local events and what is going on around us. The real benefit of local radio is in keeping the community spirit alive. The radio station in my area is LMFM. Shannonside also covers part of my area. Along with many others they do an excellent job. Ministers and Deputies get to speak on many different local radio stations which are to be commended, protected and encouraged.
In the debate over the past couple of days we have discussed the issue of Dáil TV. I am a member of the committee which has been discussing that with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has done much work in this area and is very genuine about it and wants it to work. There is merit in the idea. We should examine what is happening in other countries. Our near neighbour televises its Parliament on a regular basis in an interesting way. That is a standard to which we should aspire. Perhaps when we go digital in 2012 or 2013 Dáil TV can be part of the changeover.
In the meantime we must work with our national stations, TV3, RTE and so on, to try to produce a different type of political programme that might be more interesting. People are interested in politics. It is part of their everyday lives. It must, however, be presented in an interesting way that will keep them awake. Putting a programme on at midnight in a not very exciting format will not keep people's interest. They will not stay up to watch a 40 minute programme, which itself gives a good summary of what happens here, when they must get up at 5.30 a.m. or 6.30 a.m. to drive for hours in traffic. Midnight is too late. I do not understand why broadcasters do that. Perhaps they do not realise just how interested people are in politics. It is not just that politicians believe people are interested in them. People are genuinely interested in politics. The proof of this is shown by the fact that when we go down the country every year for our party meeting to discuss various issues, telephone calls to my office drop by approximately 80%. People know we are away because they are tuned in, listening to various programmes. Likewise when we were cooped up here for a couple of days discussing the economic situation and the new regulations for banks, telephone calls to my office dropped by nearly 90%. Again people knew we were busy. They knew that because they were following events on radio, television and the media. They are interested in following what is going on. However, it must be presented succinctly, in a way they can absorb it, and at a suitable time. We should work on that over the next couple of years before we commit to spending a massive amount of money on Dáil TV. When I say a massive amount of money, the figure is probably not that high. It is approximately €1 million, not as high as one might expect, because much good work was done to try to get a good price. We should examine the issue over a couple of years and try to address it through getting good programmes. The debate between the American Presidential candidates was a good example of such programming. People seem to like interactive programmes such as "Questions and Answers" with somebody guiding the debate. The Minister is considering that approach in regard to Dáil TV but we must work with existing television programmes at the moment.
I will turn to advertising. I want to deal mainly with what has happened here over the past couple of years in the context of religion. I do not believe it is what people wanted to happen. In 1999The Irish Catholic newspaper had an advertisement banned from the airwaves for stating that it connects the teaching of the Church with the issues of the day. It did not state what those teachings were or whether they were good, bad or indifferent. In 2000 there was legislation that was meant to address the issue. It was simply a statement of what The Irish Catholic does and what anyone would expect a newspaper of this sort to do.
As a result of that ban the Oireachtas, partly at the behest of Deputy Enda Kenny, amended the broadcasting legislation to permit the advertising of religious publications or the holding of religious events. However, the amendment did not work as intended because in 2002The Irish Catholic had another advertisement banned, this time for mentioning a feature series entitled “The Good the Church Does”. It was about the work of organisations such as Crosscare, a Dublin diocesan welfare agency. Ireland is among the most restrictive regimes in the Western world with regard to religious advertising whereas in the US there is a free-for-all. Even in secular-minded Britain the legal environment in which religious advertisers operate is more liberal and more reasonable than it is here. Northern Ireland is governed by UK legislation in this regard. In 2003 our regulator saw fit to ban an advertisement from an interdenominational group called Power to Change. It was about the power of Jesus to change one’s life. The message was overtly religious but UTV allowed it to air while we did not.
Our legislation and the way in which it is interpreted by organisations such as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission are to blame for this state of affairs. The legislation is too strict and is made worse by being interpreted too strictly. For evidence of this we should note that the legislation prevents both advertisements directed towards a religious end and advertisements directed towards a political end. I will return shortly to the issue of advertisements directed towards a political end. The ban on advertisements directed towards a political end is not used by the BCC to prevent secular newspapers from advertising either their sale or their content, and this content is often highly political. Why this double standard? One reason may be that we have become unduly suspicious of religion, regarding it as a likely cause of sectarianism and division. Politics can also be divisive, but we do not seem to regard it with the same suspicion. Is there a prejudice at work here. Is this why we strictly interpret legislation with regard to religious publications but not with regard to publications with religious content. Perhaps the attitude of suspicion which we bring to religion stems partly from the history of Northern Ireland which, of course, has been scarred by sectarianism. If that is so, why did the Northern Ireland authorities permit the Power to Change advertisements and we did not? They would have reason to be much more sensitive in these matters than us and yet they were more liberal and more reasonable in this regard than we were. It is worth stressing again that the advertisement for the Power to Change was much more overtly religious than either of the advertisements from The Irish Catholic which were banned, yet UTV allowed it to air.
It seems we have attached an unreasonable fear to the matter of religious advertising in Ireland. We seem to believe that if we allow one religious advertisement to air, no matter how innocent, we will have opened Pandora's box wide and will have to allow much more harmful advertisements on air. This is why the recent Veritas advertisements for Holy Communion gifts such as rosary beads were banned even though their offence was simply to describe those gifts as spiritual gifts and to refer people to the Veritas website, which mentions the Catholic hierarchy.
The attitude of some people, including the Minister, seems to be that there is a straight line from this kind of advertisement to advertisements by cults and religious fanatics. We seem not to have the same fear in that regard to secular newspapers advertising their contents. No one suggests that if we allow one of our recognised mainstream newspapers to advertise its political content, which we do, we will then be faced with advertisements for neo-Nazi publications. The Minister needs to ease the extreme restrictions on advertising. The fears that seem to motivate our current approach are unrealistic. It is certainly unfair to ban mainstream organisations and publications from the airwaves out of fear of extremists gaining access to the airwaves as a result. This draconian approach, which is not based on experience, means too many perfectly respectable organisations, which are and have been part of the fabric of our society for a very long time, are being hurt unnecessarily. In the case of Veritas and The Irish Catholic, this almost amounts to a restraint on trade. They are not given the same chance as everyone else to sell their wares. It is reasonable to ask the Minister to ease the current restrictions on broadcasting religious advertisements. If extremists thereby gain access to the airwaves, the legislation can be revisited. This would be an innocent until proven guilty approach, as distinct from the current guilty until proven innocent attitude. The Minister needs to set aside the unreasonable fears that motivate this attitude and give religious organisations the same freedom we offer other organisations.
This is an open and multicultural country and we need to allow space for diverse religious beliefs. We cannot control or fear everything. Other speakers referred to Christmas and cribs. We are taking a step too far. Advertising merely gives people the opportunity to make choices. Nothing is being forced on them. We need to grow up and deal with this multicultural and religiously diverse environment like mature adults. We should be proud of our backgrounds but draconian legislative measures can spoil that by fostering resentment. As legislators, we have a duty to make this grey area more straightforward.
It is a shame that we do not allow more extensive political advertising on television broadcasts because this could increase people's interest in politics. Last Christmas, I spent some time in America, where I saw a wide variety of fun and interesting political broadcasts. Some people might believe everything they see but that applies in respect of all advertising. On Committee Stage we might discuss the possibility of opening up our rules on political advertising. I am aware of the danger that people with money might take over but, as modern politicians, that is a risk we have to take. Libertas spent a lot of money on the Lisbon referendum but we could also have availed of broadcasting opportunities. It was difficult to get our points across on the treaty. The best way of disseminating information would have been by means of radio and television rather than the print media. With the exception of one or two programmes each week, we were unable to get our message across.
Changes in this regard would not necessarily result in an increase in party politics because we could also educate people on politics in general. We often assume that people know how political processes work but many of us here did not have a clue about political issues at local, national or European level before we got involved in politics. I used to think councillors were paper figures because I was not involved in local politics before running for office. I did not study local governance in school, although that subject is now touched upon. Many people who came through our educational system never had an opportunity to learn about local, national or European politics. We have a duty to give them such an opportunity. If we give them the information they need, they will be better able to engage with politicians of all parties. They need to learn why certain decisions are made because we often appear to decide incorrectly. If people understood the system, however, they would better understand our decisions.
I wish to speak about programming aimed at children and, specifically, advertisements for junk food and alcohol. Those involved in the drinks industry have begun to work with the Government on bringing change to this area but problems remain. I acknowledge that we can only control stations broadcasting from Ireland and cannot deal with Sky or other stations. The simplest way to address this issue would be to advertise the dangers of alcohol as a counterbalance to pushing how wonderful it is or the nights out that can be had. An equal amount of money should be spent on showing both negative and positive effects. I am aware that the drinks industry pays a small levy into a fund which deals with alcohol problems. This may represent a quick way to deal with the issue rather than introducing complicated legislation which might be difficult to monitor.
I support the provisions for addressing the issue of junk food. We should use the media to reach out to parents, who need help and advice on raising children. It is difficult to do everything right by children in today's climate, whether in terms of food, drugs or alcohol, and the Government's help is needed. A number of programmes currently broadcast deal with parenting, including one I watched this morning which offered advice from a parenting coach. These programmes are useful and perhaps we need more of them. Rather than trying to control advertisements, we should have a say in the dissemination of positive information that helps parents to raise children. We cannot and should not force parenting courses upon them. Many schools and communities offer such courses and the television offers similar opportunities in regard to eating and drugs. We could use Irish made programmes to reach out to parents and, through cartoons, to children.
I welcome the provision for a dedicated film channel. Over the past several years, a number of excellent films have been produced with the support of the Irish Film Board. Many of these were made with low budgets and deal with serious issues such as racism, drugs, illness and disabilities. They have touched raw nerves. They do not reach the audience they deserve, however, so I look forward to the establishment of this channel. Films present further opportunities for disseminating messages. I accept that films and programmes are made that do not give good messages but it is a matter of choice. We should do everything we can to encourage our film industry.
I welcome the many positive measures contained in this Bill. However, we need to expand broadcasting in order to educate people and to develop the systems which Government and Opposition politicians and parents want. Let us take advantage of this opportunity. I encourage all those who are involved in the media to take the next step. From speaking to people on the doorsteps, we get a good feeling for what they want and need. Programming does not have to be flashy or colourful to be of good quality.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about this important Bill. While driving one evening, I listened to a radio programme on the use of debate by the ancient Greeks, who formulated their thoughts in their heads until the advent of writing. Socrates maintained that the act of writing changed the way he formulated his thoughts. This argument developed further with the invention of the printing press, the typewriter and the computer. All these developments help to change the way in which we formulate our thoughts and thus how we think. Broadcasting is changing as we speak, with the advent of digital platforms and so on. We are absolutely bombarded with information from all sides: television, radio, the Internet, iPhones and so on. Technology is advancing by the day. Somebody told me recently that there were only two types of computer: prototype and obsolete. Things are moving that fast. It is the same for all technology. We are talking about a very powerful medium which has the ability to influence our culture and how we think. It also has the power to change our outlook on life. Many now depend on the media, television and radio broadcasting in particular, in forming their views of the world.
More and more younger people are using websites such as Bebo and Facebook. I have children who are very adept at this, although we monitor their use as best we can. It is amazing that young people nowadays can communicate with each other in so many ways. In the past parents knew where their children were, who they were with and so forth, but now they are in their bedrooms and with their mobile phones could be talking to anybody anywhere in the world. It is similar for Bebo, Facebook, YouTube and other technologies. Because of this we face major challenges. It is not just television — there are other media too.
Almost every Deputy who has spoken so far in the debate and whose contribution I have read or listened to has alluded to the power of advertising where children are concerned. Advertising to children is a sensitive issue. In some countries there are codes for such advertising. This is something we need to debate in the House. In Australia matters are very advanced. There is a code called the Children's Code which states:
Advertisements to children must not mislead or deceive children; must not be ambiguous; and must fairly represent, in a manner that is clearly understood by children: the advertised product; any features that are described or depicted in the advertisement and the need for any accessory parts. Advertisements must not portray images or events which depict unsafe uses of a product ... [They] must not portray images or events in a way that is unduly frightening ... to children; and must not demean any person or group on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, age, sexual preference, religion or mental or physical disability.
In addition, under the code, advertisements may not undermine parental authority and prices, if mentioned, must be presented in an accurate way which can be clearly understood. If the advertisement is for a competition, it must contain a summary of the basic rules. The code also states:
Advertisements must not be for, or relate in any way to, alcoholic drinks or draw any association with companies that supply alcoholic drinks . . . [They] should not encourage or promote an inactive lifestyle ...
We need to discuss such issues in the House.
It is interesting to note that in the United States the Children's Television Act was passed in 1990 with the aim of enhancing television's potential to teach the nation's children. This brings me back to the influence of television. The Act requires each television station that offers children's television programming in the United States to serve the educational and informational needs of children through its overall programming, including programming specifically designed to serve these needs, or core educational programming. A central goal is to provide parents and other members of the public with greater information on educational television programmes. Television stations should be mandated to show a certain number of educational programmes specifically geared towards children. We all remember "Sesame Street" which was designed to help children who had problems with reading, letters and so on and was very entertaining, as well as educational.
There are a few provisions in the Bill that I welcome, including those dealing with community radio. There is a distinction between community radio and local radio. Community radio is important from the point of view of citizenship. We have heard a lot of talk from the Government and others on all sides of the House about active citizenship. Community radio is a fantastic example of this. It plays an essential part in generating interest and providing information on local events. It is not for profit — it is run by local people for local people. In my own area of Youghal, if I may be parochial, we have a fantastic community radio station on which many of us are asked to speak. People really enjoy this. I notice that 14 community radio stations are currently licensed in the State. I call on the Minister to encourage and support these radio stations. Part of the problem they have is finding a premises from which to broadcast. CRAOL, the community radio forum, plays an important role by providing advice and support and as a forum for community radio. However, I would like to see the Government take a far more active role in supporting community radio. I am not speaking of local radio which is a commercial venture. Community radio is run by local people for local people and is about local events.
Part 6 of the Bill revises the mechanisms governing the award of contracts and provides for a new definition of community broadcasting. It makes provision for temporary 100-day licences to be awarded to community radio stations. The problem is how to fund a premises from which to broadcast. This must be examined. If this help and support could be provided — it would take very little — we would see an explosion in the number of community radio stations across the country, especially in view of the 100-day broadcasting licences. The Minister has said this is designed to encourage the development of a much wider plurality of broadcasters, often working on a non-commercial community basis, which would be a major new step in broadcasting on this island. I welcome this and encourage the Government to move on with it.
Another welcome feature of the Bill is that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will be charged with preparing rules for broadcasters in respect of access to broadcasting services by persons with a hearing or sight impairment. The Disability Act 2005 contains annual incremental targets for such content which public broadcasters must meet. Targets, however, are still relatively low as, unfortunately, television services here are not very advanced in these areas. I would like to see improvements in levels of accessibility, including subtitles, audio scripting, signing and so on. I know it is expensive and difficult, but it is very important for the people concerned. I encourage the Government to move on with this.
As I said, the Bill maintains the current system whereby television sets are licensed. As broadcasting technology advances on an almost daily basis, we are moving towards an age in which many people use PCs, laptops, mobile phones and other devices to watch television and there does not seem to be any consideration of this in the Bill. I am not saying there should or should not be, but we have had very little debate on the issue.
When we were dealing with the Copyright and Related Rights Bill in 2000, there was an issue to do with televisions in hotels. The question was whether royalties should be charged in respect of each television set in a hotel. A decision was taken at the time that this would not happen and it was written into the legislation. I note, however, that the Bill allows for a separate regime for television sets held at commercial premises to be set out in regulations. I read the Minister's speech and many others by Members opposite and do not think anyone alluded to this. My impression is that a television licence will be required for all devices capable of receiving a television signal. Thus, if one has a guesthouse or hotel with a television set in each room, is it the case that from now on one will have to have a licence for each one? That is how it appears. I ask the Minister to make this clear in his response, because it is not clear at the moment. Strangely, he did not allude to it in his speech.
I welcome section 39 which requires all stations to broadcast a minimum level of news and current affairs programmes. This is important.
The provisions for redress in Part 4 are crucial. The public complaints procedure avoids the courts, which is important.
I also welcome the provisions encouraging the production of home produced programmes by RTE and local radio stations. I stress that quality is important. Some colleagues have mentioned some excellent home-produced programmes. One person mentioned "The Clinic", which is aired on Sunday evenings. It is a way of highlighting many issues through drama. At the end of the programme a message is broadcast stating that if people are concerned about an issue raised in the programme they can contact a specified body for advice and support, which is interesting. I also welcome the establishment of audience councils.
I have often said that the establishment of an Oireachtas channel will not work unless we change procedures here. Yesterday we had the first meeting of the sub-committee dealing with Dáil reform. It was a positive meeting and I congratulate the Chief Whip on convening the meeting and being very positive and open. I encourage all colleagues to have an open mind on how we might change the way we do business in the House. While many things have been discussed over the years, very little has happened. With the advent of digital television we will be able to present ourselves possibly 24 hours a day to the people. The proceedings in committees, the Dáil and Seanad Chambers, and possibly local authorities, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament will be available to citizens at the touch of a button. What they should see is interactive logical debate and discussion. If a Member on this side of the House asks a Minister to give way for a question, the Minister should not see it as a personal attack but rather should welcome such an intervention and answer it if he or she can. That is the kind of mindset we need to develop in the House. It would make it far more interesting and interactive for everybody.
I was very taken by Deputy Higgins's contribution. He is always very informative and entertaining. He said that the purpose of television is to educate, inform and entertain. He made the distinction between those who watch television as consumers and those who watch as citizens. There is a danger of broadcasting becoming very commercial. There is no definition of public service broadcasting in the Bill. I ask what is public service broadcasting. It is crucial to write that down. I return to what I said initially about the ancient Greeks. We should think about it first and then write down what public service broadcasting is. Many of us have an image that it is something good and wholesome and we should all have it. I would like to see a written definition included in the Bill.
I agree with what many colleagues have said about religious broadcasting. It is important to have freedom on the airwaves. However, as mentioned by Deputy English, there are many bodies that are dangerous, including various cults etc. We need to be careful not to open the door for those people. I also have concerns about tarot cards etc. Many people spend money on these so-called services and we need to be very careful in this regard.
There will be a cost involved in establishing an Oireachtas channel. Deputy Coveney mentioned a figure of €750,000 per annum for broadcasting alone, which is sizeable. In this day and age we need to be cognisant of costs. People are asking whether it will be worth it and whether we can afford to spend that much money on it. I understand a feasibility study is ongoing and we will have the report soon, shortly after which the decision will be made. It is important to have a dedicated Oireachtas channel. We need to engage with RTE in this regard. When we visited the BBC and reviewed what is done there we discovered that it cross-advertises the BBC parliamentary channel. The news programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 often remind viewers they can view the proceedings of parliament on the BBC parliamentary channel.
Full broadcasts are different from edited highlights, about which we would all be very sensitive to ensure everybody gets fair play. We need an editorial structure that is fair and it needs to be broadcast so that as many people as possible can receive it. While the digital platform should allow that to be done, the cost will need to be reviewed. Returning to what public service broadcasting is, I maintain that broadcasting the Oireachtas proceedings and local authority meetings is a public service and part of the licence fee should be ring-fenced for that purpose, otherwise it might be difficult to do.
How we think, see the world and formulate our thoughts is influenced by the broadcast media and the newer technologies that are gaining momentum all the time. Mention has been made of opinion polls. If opinion polls are published close to an election it can influence people who might believe that if that is the way it is going they should also go that way.
Bad news is always featured and good news is not highlighted so much. When we see pictures and hear stories of drug taking and violence among young people, the impression might be given that everyone is taking drugs and abusing alcohol, but that is not the case. The majority of young people do not misbehave. However, the impression could be given that they do and that the country has gone to ruin. There is a responsibility on broadcasters to ensure that in their code of conduct they reflect what is happening and show that the majority of young people are very responsible, good citizens, very bright, highly educated and know what is going on and are fantastic to engage with. We need more of that portrayed in the media in the hope that that role model can be taken on by more young people and not the opposite, which seems to be the case. Research from other countries indicates that if the negative is portrayed perpetually, people tend to go that way and believe that is the norm when it is not the case.
I wish the Bill well through its Remaining Stages. It is a very important and complicated Bill covering many important issues for us all.
I call Deputy P. J. Sheehan.
Cork is very well represented today.
We note that.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the role of broadcasting. Ireland has a proud history in broadcasting here and in every corner of the world. Some of the developments we have seen in recent years have been good and some not so good. One of the best developments has been the creation of local radio stations. In particular I mention my local radio station, Cork 103 FM. It is an outstanding radio station and every citizen in County Cork as well as many in Kerry, Waterford and Tipperary tune into Cork 103 FM. It has certainly served the people of the south west in an excellent fashion since it was formed. It provides an excellent service to all the villages in the south-west region.
When I started my political crusade in 1960, I relied chiefly on after-Mass church-gate meetings. What a change has occurred in those 48 years. All election campaigns are now aired on local radio, some on television and of course there is still the art of personal canvassing. I am disappointed that the Bill does not propose to amend existing legislation to allow for responsible religious advertising or take account of the Private Members' Bill published by my colleagues, Deputy Simon Coveney and Gay Mitchell, MEP. I will be supporting amendments to be tabled on Committee Stage to remedy this situation and I hope the Minister of State has the common sense to table such amendments.
Ireland has a proud history in broadcasting. Independent broadcasting has never been as strong as it is today. More than 63% of the population, or 2.208 million, tune into independent radio on a daily basis. This indicates the number of people independent broadcasters connect with daily. Given these figures, no one can disagree that independent radio is providing an invaluable public service for the people.
The independent sector is growing. There is at present one national television station, two national radio stations, three regional stations and 27 local stations throughout the country. Added to these is a regional radio station preparing for its initial broadcasting date and multi-city licence and an easy listening service has been advertised. This is before we begin to focus on digital radio. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill launched by the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív on Wednesday, 14 May, and passed by Seanad Éireann on 25 June is broadly welcome. There are, however, a few areas of concern.
At present, independent commercial radio stations operate under a ten-year licence which is subject to open competition at the end of that period. Section 67 of the Bill allows for the fast-tracking of radio licences, where the incumbent is the only group interested in broadcasting to the chosen franchise area. Fast-tracking of an unchallenged licence is welcome as it reduces the radio station's costs of applying for a new licence and the regulatory costs involved in awarding it. The fast-tracking system proposed under section 67(9) allows for a new licence which would not exceed seven years, rather than the normal ten-year term. I welcome the amendment passed in the Seanad which increased the term of the fast-track licence from the originally proposed five years to seven. However, there is a sound business and broadcasting case to be made for giving a licence for ten years, as usual, and not the seven years as proposed. I appeal to the Minister of State to restore that seven year provision to ten.
By significantly reducing the term of a licence, radio stations will not be able to run their businesses on a strategic long-term plan. That will make it difficult to attract and retain talented staff or justify major long-term investments such as the acquisition of premises and equipment and staff training. In essence, this is to punish the existing radio station for the lack of competition for its licence by significantly reducing the most valuable asset any broadcaster has, its licence. It will serve to undermine certainty in future investment and broadcasting quality.
Section 66 of the Bill properly makes fulsome provision to enable the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to satisfy itself as to the suitability of an incumbent licence holder before it awards a licence under the fast-track provision in section 67. The clear and unaccepted logic of a ten-year term for a radio licence should not be upturned simply because there is no competitor. I would like the term of an independent radio licence to remain at ten years, regardless of the number of groups which declare an interest in the licence. The same widely accepted logic for a ten-year licence term apples, regardless of the fact that in some instances there may be no competition.
Digital radio broadcasting will result in greater station choice for consumers, with an increase in the amount of available spectrum. Digital broadcasting is in its infancy in Ireland. Work is being done on the introduction of digital television on foot of the analogue switch off that has been mooted for 2012. There is no talk of FM radio being switched off and as a result digital radio broadcasting for commercial stations has been put on the long finger. In order for digital radio to be successful in Ireland it is vital that all radio broadcasters buy into the format, both independent and public service. For commercial radio stations the most powerful form of encouragement is an extension of their broadcasting contracts, a fact that is recognised in the Bill. A significant amount of financial and human resources will be required for the development of digital broadcasting. Given that a return on this investment is not guaranteed, the contract extension of four years proposed in the Bill is insufficient to ensure that independent broadcasters will take the very significant risks involved and invest in the development of digital radio. I would like to see a contract extension of not more than seven years for any radio station that invests in and gets involved with the development and potential implementation of digital radio broadcasting.
The television station, Channel South, will commence broadcasting in November and will be available to homes in Cork city and county, Limerick city and county and areas of the Munster region, including parts of Kerry, Waterford, Clare and south Tipperary. The channel will operate 24 hours a day and will have a range of locally focused programming at the heart of its schedule. Central to this will be hourly news bulletins, the first time that television news will be focused exclusively in my south-western area. The news bulletins may also be seen on websites once broadcasting begins. This is significant progress as far as television is concerned.
Local radio stations play an excellent role in conveying local news every morning from 8 a.m. until 12 o'clock. The public is very pleased with the service it is getting and I hope that any sinister parts of the Bill will be overruled and fine-combed. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Power, will do his best to ensure that happens. Freedom of speech and freedom of news is essential for every individual. It is a concept that must be maintained as long as there is demand for it in Ireland. The Minister of State does not have a big mountain to climb. He must only accept a few amendments. I have noted his wisdom, tenacity and courage since he entered the House in 1981. He will rise to the occasion and deliver the goods I have advocated.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation which primarily sets up and gives power to a new body called the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. This was first proposed by Deputy Michael D. Higgins when he was in Cabinet in the 1990s and it has taken a long time to introduce this legislation. The authority will be run by a new board comprising nine members. Four of the appointments will be scrutinised by an Oireachtas committee. While that is welcome, I fail to understand why all nine appointments should not be scrutinised. However, that at least four will be scrutinised to ensure they comply with proper structures and have something to offer to the broadcasting system is a breakthrough. Two statutory committees will also be appointed and a number of their members will also have to appear before the Oireachtas committee, which is positive. However, I urge the Minister to re-examine this provision during the passage to the Bill to consider properly scrutinising all nine members of the authority's board. I do not suggest people nominated by the Minister for political reasons lack ability but the operation of the authority is of extreme importance and must be seen to be above politics and properly scrutinised.
The broadcasting codes will be extremely important and the legislation provides for codes that will ensure news and other reports are done properly. It also makes clear that broadcasters must present news in an objective and impartial manner without any expression of its own views. It provides for a minimum period to be allocated for news and current affairs programming.
Northern Sound, my local radio station, was taken over by Radio Kerry recently and, as a result, did not retain the local board of management structure. For commercial reasons, the new management has curtailed the local news content in the early morning. With my constituency colleagues from all parties, I used the early morning programme to discuss issues and people listened during their breakfast or on their way to work. However, that facility is no longer available and is a major fault. I do not take away from the personnel in the newsroom at the station because this was an administrative decision which curtails the value of the new structure. Most local people listen to programmes on other radio stations now. A cost may attach to the new structure but it does not provide a benefit. I will meet senior station executives next Monday when they will officially open new state-of-the-art studios in Monaghan town.
The Bill will deal with the restriction of junk food advertising. I cannot say too much about this because, unfortunately, in my younger days I consumed as much junk food as anybody and that did not pay off in the long term because I have health problems such as diabetes that I may not have had if I had not been so fond of chip shops and other outlets. I am extremely disturbed that the legislation does not contain a provision to curtail the advertising of alcohol. I have raised the issue umpteen times in the House and the previous Taoiseach made many promises in this regard. He said the industry had guaranteed it would act on the issue and that he would monitor what was happening. However, the abuse of alcohol by young people is a major issue. Alcohol is a drug and consumption leads to abuse of other drugs. I urge the Minister to make an amendment to the legislation before it is too late to make sure the advertising of alcohol is addressed. Such a provision has been promised for years in intoxicating liquor legislation and so on. Since the Minister has decided to deal with the junk food issue, he should also address the abuse of alcohol.
I welcome the redress provisions in the legislation. The right to reply is important and my local radio station is extremely good in this regard. Recently, an individual, without knowing fully what he was dealing with, accused me on that station of not understanding an issue in this House and talked about codswallop. Many of my constituents went wild about the comments made but I was given the right to reply, which I appreciated. It is important that a right of reply be provided. A number of years ago another individual went on local radio and made various accusations against me without foundation. I did not pursue it further at the time, which I rued afterwards, but it is important that this provision be stitched into the legislation. Ordinary viewers and listeners should have the right to reply. This should not be similar to the provision applying to newspapers which sometimes print an apology in the corner of the fourth page relating to a front page story a few weeks earlier. On radio and television the right to reply should be provided during the same programme and for the same duration as the original accusation broadcast.
Community and commercial broadcasting is important. Northern Sound started off very much as a community-based organisation. The churches, the GAA, the co-operatives and others owned a share in it. However, broadcasting is not simple and, as time passed, they found that an organisation such as this must be run on a commercial basis. Good community radio structures are in place in other parts of the country, which I encourage. It is important that young people in particular have the opportunity to speak their minds on their local radio stations. Local radio, the Joe Duffy show and others have a significant role to play in how people's rights are brought forward in a constructive way. At times, some believe that they go over the top, but they give locals and people with problems the opportunity to have issues dealt with at other levels.
In this context, I welcome the Bill's proposal of an Oireachtas broadcasting structure. Years ago, it was stated that only those who could not sleep — other problems were mentioned — watched "Oireachtas Report", itself structured on what a single individual in the media believed was important on that day. It is good that people, particularly the elderly and those with disabilities, can see something of the House's workings on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Had this debate appeared live on television, more people would have been involved. Broadcasting would force our organisation to become more relevant and to change the procedures for matters on the Adjournment, Standing Order 32 notices and so on, allowing for more interaction between Ministers and ordinary Members. As Deputy Stanton stated, it is important to put a direct Oireachtas channel in place and to have continual comments concerning it on the main stations so as to encourage people to tune into debates.
Last week showed people the House's relevance. When matters are going well, ordinary people make out that the Houses are irrelevant. When the banking crisis arose, however, we were the only people who could make decisions that would make a difference to living standards. We might not have been very good in this regard previously.
While I welcome the establishment of a new channel, it is vital that our debates become more relevant, lively and participative. Question Time is staid. A Minister speaks for a certain number of minutes while the questioner gets scarce opportunity to ask a supplementary question. Such times should be better structured with quicker, sharper, more relevant and more realistic answers.
The proposal for a film channel is important. Recently, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, was a guest of honour at Annaghmakerrig. During his visit to Annaghmakerrig House, I sat beside some of the people who write the storylines for RTE television programmes and others. It was good that he had the opportunity to meet such people and to learn of their interests and backgrounds. It was equally good that we in County Monaghan, through the generosity of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, provided the house for the arts and the industry in general, allowing people to relax and to do great work there.
Like those who attended the house, I welcome the inclusion of the arts and films in the Bill. It is a concern that, in the current economic situation, the arts might suffer. Annaghmakerrig House, the theatre in Castleblayney and so on are working on tight budgets. I hope that they will not be the victims of a difficult situation. How much time have I remaining?
In excess of four minutes.
I will conclude on my local radio stations, in particular the one close to the Acting Chairman's heart, LMFM. It covers the south of my constituency in County Monaghan. Northern Sound, linked with ShannonSide, covers the rest of the county. These stations have been invaluable in providing everyone with an opportunity to have a say. ShannonSide-Northern Sound has the "Joe Finnegan Show", which addresses all sorts of issues from 9 a.m. until midday or so. Noel Walsh and others are on later in the afternoon and J. P. Graham leads the sports team. It is fantastic that club games are covered on local radio. Older people who have been interested in sports for all of their lives can sit in their corner chairs and hear about what has happened to the clubs they love so much or listen to games minute-by-minute.
Regarding religious broadcasting, the Reverend Jean Mackerel runs a programme on Northern Sound late on Sunday nights and there is a religious service in the morning. This also occurs on national radio stations and so on. Religious broadcasting is vital. People in cars, homes and hospitals and elderly people who cannot go to church services, masses and so on have the opportunity to spend a quiet hour with their religions. Given the importance of this situation continuing, we should not be shy about it. Religion is important, although it has suffered from problems in recent years. Due to religious scandals in all churches, young people saw an excuse not to attend. Perhaps for this reason there is so much suicide and so on. The Bill should ensure that religious broadcasting of all churches gets priority and is assured. We should not apologise for the right to broadcast for our religious groups and to ensure that they get their fair share.
I welcome the Bill in general. As Deputy Sheehan stated, amendments will be tabled to it. I hope that our amendments will be considered constructively and, where possible, accepted during the debate. I also hope that the Bill emerges as the best possible legislation, as it has been awaited for a long time. It should serve to better broadcasting for many years. The television licence and other issues will be dealt with by our spokesperson and I will not address the technical details of that. The station cannot live without funding and neither can the smaller broadcasting stations. They should all get a fair crack of the whip. I support the Bill.
I register agreement with three points made by Deputy Crawford. This is legislation that should be matured rather than rushed through the House. That would allow us to take on board the different points made and a really good Bill will result. I endorse Deputy Crawford's praise of LMFM. I was interviewed on the station two or three times even though it is far removed from the part of the country I represent. I have fond memories of the visit to Annaghmakerrig House. It is an exceptionally fine facility that does a real service to the artistic and writing community in a wonderful setting. I will do my best to protect it in the coming years from any harsh economic winds that may blow.
The context of my contribution is one of deep appreciation of the service that our national and local stations provide. By and large I regard them as excellent. When discussing topics foreign, they mediate the outside world through Irish eyes. One of the relatively recent innovations was the introduction of Lyric FM. I am not sure what I would do without it on long journeys around the country. Public service broadcasting is a concept I warmly support and believe has its place, complemented by commercial broadcasting but not displaced by it. It plays a major role in supporting arts and culture in terms of publicity and discussing exhibitions, books and broadcasting concert performances. Arts and culture would be in a poorer place if there was no public service broadcasting.
I pay tribute to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, which is to be replaced by a more comprehensive authority under this Bill, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. This has been helpful in my area in respect of strengthening community radio. When I came into electoral politics in 2002, the community radio station in Tipperary was in a difficult situation, with an uncertain future. The commission helped it, putting it back on its feet and it is a thriving station, amalgamated with Cashel Community Radio by consent. The regime now operating is beneficial to community radio. Many people rely on local radio.
There were worries in Northern Ireland that listeners might no longer be able to receive RTE when medium wave was phased out. There has not been a peep out of anyone since the change was made. Long wave radio provides very good coverage, as far as I can tell, over the island of Britain and in Northern Ireland. I was on holiday in the west highlands of Scotland and for the first time in my life I could hear RTE clearly without having to juggle the radio and put it close to my ear. The change has improved the coverage and dissemination of RTE rather than diminishing it.
When I was a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission we discussed an Oireachtas channel. I would welcome a broadly based channel that would cover Oireachtas proceedings as well as those of other elected assemblies or quasi-parliamentary fora. On days the Dáil and Seanad are not sitting, for example, it could broadcast bodies such as the National Forum on Europe or the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body public sessions. There are many people, though I am not saying a majority or anything remotely like it, who take an interest in our parliamentary and political life and they would like to have far more access than is possible at present when there are only news broadcasts of something particularly politically newsworthy or "Oireachtas Report" very late at night. An Orangeman said to me that he liked watching "Oireachtas Report" and found it the best cure for insomnia.
There are serious gaps in the coverage possible under the present arrangements. When I was in the Seanad, nine times out of ten the only material covered was the Order of Business. There are some very good debates in the Seanad but none was covered, except rarely. Adjournment debates in this House, such as those last night, often cover matters of considerable topical interest. The two matters to which I replied last night were flooding in Newcastle West and the future of Malin and Valentia stations. These would be of interest to the public but there is no possibility of them being shown on "Oireachtas Report" because the debate takes place too late. A parliamentary channel could also cover the UN General Assembly on occasion. Four committees cannot be shown so they would have to be staggered in some way. The channel should be broadly conceived.
I express disappointment, probably felt by all Members, at the way a few journalists and broadcasters systematically denigrate this House and its proceedings on a generalised basis. A very well known columnist and broadcaster yesterday wrote in The Irish Times:
The Dáil has relevance only in the election of a Taoiseach — after that it is a waste of time. No debates of any consequence, no decision of any consequence, no input of any consequence. No accountability of any consequence. No scrutiny of a Bill that could destroy the country. For the reality is the legislative branch of Government is a failure.
Did the Minister of State ring him?
I regard those sentiments as untrue and deplorable but, alas, not totally untypical of one or two commentators. One would think they might pay closer attention to what goes on in this House but they obviously do not as they are so dismissive. I often have the feeling that these comments are made by people who are, no doubt, brilliant journalists but they have a side that shows politicians manqués. Obviously, if they were elected to this House they would have a less dismissive attitude to what goes on here.
We do not have in this country, or in any other country that I can observe, government by assembly. The only experiment in government by assembly was in the early years of the French Revolution when there was no government, only opposition, and that was fairly disastrous. A lot of the business may be dull from a general point of view, particularly for those who live or die by TAM ratings, who need something that is relatively sensational, who like to be perverse and in a minority of one. What is the alternative to some variation on a parliamentary system of democracy? Presumably, it is some form of enlightened despotism or dictatorship. To paraphrase Churchill, the system of democracy is bad but every other system is worse. There may be a lot in that.
There is also a denigration of politics by some people, in particular those with a right wing agenda. That agenda goes roughly "the less government, the less regulation, the better". The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated that the State has a vital protective role in providing a safety net and that exaggerated market philosophy has proved to be a disaster. We should stand up for the notion of public service and not always take the view that it is inferior, inefficient and incompetent and that private provision is always better or best. Some of those who denigrate the State do it because they want to grab a share of quasi-monopoly profits.
It is important that there is an arm's length relationship between the broadcasters and Government. In case I sound as if I blame the journalistic profession, there is also the type of politician in all parties who essentially wants to suppress criticism by the media, who takes the view that the Government should take in hand RTE or this or that organ of opinion and ruthlessly sort them out. I see absolutely no merit in that philosophy. We live in a democracy of argument and debate. To be fair, one of the good things about RTE, though perhaps some colleagues may disagree, is that nobody could say it is like some of the Italian broadcast media, for instance, under the thumb of the Government, or that it is Radio or TV Fianna Fáil on all channels.
The Minister of State's party made a fair try at it.
No Opposition has ever alleged that, as far as I am aware.
The Minister of State should just wait.
It was once said about a small party that no longer exists in this House.
Into that matter the Minister of State should not go.
The other issue I wish to discuss is the question of balance. It is primarily for the RTE Authority and, beyond that, the new broadcasting authority to ensure that balance is provided. Generally speaking, this should not be the role of Governments or politicians or parties. There are people who ring journalists and broadcasting channels regularly to complain of bias of this or that sort. I have always tried to restrain myself from the temptation to do that. I do not like the idea of pressure on broadcasters but I believe that in certain situations there is a need for responsibility. One can argue in the case of popular phone-in shows that they give people the chance to let off a lot of steam and that they provide a valuable safety valve in a democracy. In the type of financial situation that we have been in over the past few weeks I believe it is important that the broadcast media are not used to spread what may be a self-fulfilling panic. If one broadcasts the fears of somebody who says he or she is taking money out of this place or that place and afterwards many other people go and do just that, it can be said that the person was right because of subsequent actions. There is a serious danger of exacerbating a situation. We all know cases——
Was that the man the Minister phoned?
——where we have to be restrained in commentary. It is as if a person used freedom of speech to shout in this House or in a crowded place, "Fire, fire."
The question of balance also cropped up in reference to the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Obviously, I cannot fault in any way RTE or other broadcasting stations for fulfilling their statutory responsibilities. I have serious reservations, however, concerning the McKenna judgment. As somebody from the party opposite put it to me, the leader of Fine Gael got only as much coverage in that debate as a spokesperson from Sinn Féin, despite the vast disproportion between party strengths. It seems that an inherent weakness in that judgment, abstracting from it the question of the Lisbon treaty, is that it means that no matter how universal the consensus is on a topic, anyone who is against it is entitled to equal coverage, even if that person does not represent many people. It is, in other words, a golden opportunity for relatively small groups or parties to gain a higher profile. I suspect that in some cases this is done somewhat cynically, that the judgment is seen as an opening and an opportunity.
After the Lisbon treaty referendum most of us wanted, in principle, to have a referendum on children's rights. I am not surprised there was a pause for thought on the grounds that it would greatly amplify the position of those who would have a minority view. I consider that while respecting the voice and decision of the people, the price is considerable and there has been considerable damage to our interests as a result. I do not believe that being in that position has made the last few weeks any easier.
I will conclude by making two or three points on religious broadcasting. I fully endorse Deputy Crawford's comments on the value and importance of religious broadcasting both at national and local community levels. Second — I speak from a minority point of view — I wish people would leave the Angelus alone. A former archbishop of the Church of Ireland stated that he had no problem whatsoever with it and that is the authoritative view. While we might not necessarily understand its full religious significance, that does not matter as there must be an attitude of live and let live.
I may depart from consensus in respect of my final point. I have reservations about unrestricted religious advertising. In the past, Ireland had problems of proselytism and people should not underestimate the attractiveness a wide open system would have for proselytisers of a particular evangelical type. I have no problem with noticeboard-type bulletins.
While this may simply be my personal perspective, religion is not a soap powder and consequently I dislike the idea of it being placed at the level of other consumer products. While I accept the converse point that churches must use modern methods of communication like anyone else, I would like to think the churches are a little way above the marketplace.
It is important for Ireland to have a strong national broadcaster. It should be well resourced and should have a well-regulated and modern regulatory framework. In addition, the emphasis should be on excellence in production, scriptwriting and diversity. Diversity is highly important because there is a great deal of competition from other channels and people enjoy wide choices. If Irish national television is boring and lacks a variety of programmes, people simply will not tune into it and consequently will be exposed to other cultures, a different broadcasting ethos and so on.
In addition, one consideration I am sure already has been mentioned pertains to the arrival of so many new Irish. I am unsure whether this Bill addresses the issues of diversity and the provision of programming that would attract the interest of the large communities of people in Ireland from Poland, China or the African nations. Perhaps this issue will be referred to subsequently.
From the outset, RTE has made an immense contribution. Although Ireland is a small country, RTE competes with and measures up to larger television networks throughout the world in respect of quality. Ireland has produced some great producers and technical personnel such as camera people and so on, over the years. As times are changing, Members must consider many new approaches to television and to getting across one's message to the nation. Hopefully this Bill will respond to those challenges. As there have been lengthy debates on this Bill in the Seanad and in this House to date, I will pick a few sections on which I wish to comment.
Section 42, for example, empowers the broadcasting authority to create additional broadcasting codes, including codes covering objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs, as well as encroachments on privacy. This is a highly important section. Members should cast their minds back to the 2002 election, to what was one of RTE's dark days. It broadcast a television programme, "No Tears" just before the election, which featured as a central character the then leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Noonan. It did a great deal of damage to Deputy Noonan and to Fine Gael in the subsequent election.
People on the other side of the House accepted and agreed that this was completely unfair. Had a code been in operation at that time, I am certain the programme would not have been broadcast before the election. While the programme doubtless was made with RTE's support, it was one of the first Irish political events to be dramatised since I entered this House. It pertained to a highly sensitive subject about which the man in question, Deputy Noonan, had apologised to the McCole family several times, having made a comment in the Dáil that really was directed against the barristers representing Mrs. McCole at that time. However, Deputy Noonan accepted the comment should not have been made. It was a dark day for RTE when it dramatised the event and broadcast it in a very unbalanced fashion before the election. Hopefully this Bill will ensure that will never happen again to any party in this House.
I will turn to section 42(4), which provides that the BAI will prepare and regularly update an advertising code pertaining to matters likely to be of direct or indirect interest to children, having particular regard to children's general public health interests. This relates in particular to the question of obesity and advertising that might encourage youngsters to eat energy-dense foods that lead to obesity. I wish to raise a few issues regarding this section. I have been highlighting the issue of obesity in this House for years and did so at a time when the subject was rarely mentioned in the media. As a former teacher I had noted the profile of youngsters growing heavier, which evidently was due to a lack of exercise and eating too much food. However, I am unsure whether this provision will have the desired effect. Much food that is advertised to young people is necessary. Moreover, the industry should be aware that it can advertise healthy food to young people. It should be acceptable for companies to advertise food with a high nutritional element, the use of fruit in the diet, for example, or what we consider to be essential healthy foods such as vegetables, milk, fish or chicken. On the one hand we have the HSE and others promoting the food pyramid and on the other, even foods recommended in the pyramid will not be advertised. I remember reading an article some time ago in the Irish Farmers’ Journal which indicated cheese got the red light in England because of the level of salt in it. It was argued that cheese is bad for a person. Parents in this country would not advise their children that cheese was bad for them and it is generally highly recommended in the diets of youngsters.
According to criteria that may be set out in this, cheese could be a food whose advertising would be prohibited. I urge much caution on this. From speaking to people in the industry, there appears to have been very little consultation with the food industry in the development of this section of the Bill. Its representatives feel there should certainly have been more consultation. The food industry in Ireland is worth approximately €20 billion and over 48,000 people are directly employed in the sector. Although this provision will not affect all those people, it is of major importance.
The industry should have at least been consulted on this provision but apparently it was not. Will the Minister of State refer to this in his response? I am sure his adviser will know if these people were consulted. Some of the groups mentioned this in contact with me and I am sure we all got the same information.
There is a point that if advertisers cannot advertise locally and nationally, they will do so through Sky and other media channels outside our jurisdiction and which we cannot control. This section should be considered again and the people writing the code should be careful of the types of food they proscribe. They should also be aware that advertisers will probably go elsewhere.
The banning of advertising of certain food items while leaving the advertising of alcohol untouched has been mentioned by many other speakers. As far as I am concerned, alcohol is far more damaging and threatening to the health of young people than certain foods.
The issue of obesity takes in much more than just food, as young people should be encouraged to eat smaller portions. There is also the issue of exercise and several agencies have been set up to consider inactivity and obesity across the country. It is kind of a buzz word and the HSE is putting out regular bulletins on it.
Young people are doing less exercise and, for example, they do not walk or cycle to school any more. Young people rarely cycle to school because parents drop them off for various reasons. The element of physical activity in their daily life is getting smaller. At one time many youngsters in this country lived on farms in the country and their daily chores involved lifting water buckets, bringing in turf or going to the meadow or garden during the summer. All of that has now been taken from people's lives.
Addressing the issue of obesity in this section by making a song and dance about it will not significantly reduce the levels of obesity. Research by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance indicates that the main drivers of obesity in children are consumption of inappropriate portion sizes — they are too big — and lack of physical activity.
I did a survey across the country a few years ago which found that only 28% of primary and secondary schools from a sample of approximately 1,500 had indoor physical education facilities suitable for class. In the bad weather we get most of the time, this means no physical education is possible in some schools. As a result, if the young people are not elite athletes involved in the local club, they do no exercise. I agree with the research carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance and wish to emphasise the point.
In France there is a general ban on the televising of alcohol products, which is broadly seen as successful. In Norway and Sweden, advertising to the public of all alcoholic beverages above a particular alcohol content is completely prohibited, with a similar ban in Italy. There was a proposal to ban alcohol advertising by a previous Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin, but this was subsequently abandoned because of the apparent pressure put on him from the alcohol industry. Perhaps the Minister will look at the code and consider including alcohol.
The advertising of alcohol products is quite effective — there is a current advertisement using the term "cáca milis" — and it can connect with young people even more than food advertising. From that point of view, drink is a bigger threat in many ways than food advertising.
Another issue brought to my attention is the use of Irish bands, folk groups and performers on national television shows, radio stations and so on. There are some very angry people out there in the folk and Irish country scene at this time. I do not meet too many of them but I have met some. People have contacted us on this issue, such as Danny McCarthy, whom the Minister of State may know. These people are very disappointed with the level of coverage they get from RTE which, for example, controls four radio stations and provides a wide spectrum of music cover. These people feel they are not getting a look in, although they may use harder language. They feel that they entertain people across the length and breadth of the country, providing entertainment for people in the 32 counties. They play small and large venues and people listen to them. They would not be on the road unless they attracted audiences and it paid them. The national broadcaster will not play their music. If people are out there listening to these performers and enjoying the music, surely they would enjoy the music on radio as well. A music forum should be set up or perhaps there should be some provision in this Bill for some kind of a consultative group. I do not know if such a provision exists in the Bill. If a group was established it could listen to the concerns of these people, who are in ways the heartbeat of this country. At times they represent a certain type of Irishness that still has a big audience. These people are major contributors to the Irish economy, whereas much of the material played on RTE's 2FM, for example, could be from artists not from this country at all and who may make no contribution. Will the Minister address some of these points?
Speaking to some presenters on RTE about the Brendan Shines of this country, they might tell us they are old hat and people turn that music off. The population, particularly the older population, does not switch it off. This is the type of material older people like. I hope this issue will be addressed as a result of the proposed extension of the public service remit of RTE and TG4 and the provision of proper resources.
The funding available to Lyric FM was recently reduced and the station is strapped for cash. This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of Michael William Balfe. Unfortunately, Lyric FM's outside broadcasting unit is unable, for financial reasons, to record a number of major events which have been arranged to celebrate the occasion. This will be a major loss in terms of making programmes which could be archived and stored for posterity.
This year also marks the bicentenary of the publication of Moore's melodies. Thomas Moore, through his poetry and ballads, probably did more for the Irish emigrant than any other Irish composer or writer of ballads. Written in the early part of the 19th century, his songs were sung in America and elsewhere. However, funding is not available to arrange an event in the National Concert Hall to mark the occasion. In addition, those who are visiting various parts of the country to promote the bicentenary have not received funding.
I welcome the provision to increase funding for independent broadcasting, with €40 million the minimum amount RTE must spend on independent production. As someone who has benefited considerably under RTE's independent production unit, IPU, having been involved in the production of eight documentaries on Kerry writers and one documentary on Kerry football, I thank the IPU and specifically Claire Duignan for being so receptive, helpful and encouraging when approached with solid proposals. Without support from the IPU, important documentaries would never have been made on Kerry football and writers such as George Fitzmaurice featuring people who knew him, including Bryan McMahon, John B. Keane, Tom McGreevy, Con Houlihan and one or two others.
The Deputy is being selective.
I make no apology for referring to north Kerry writers. I am in favour of strengthening the budget available to RTE's independent production unit, for which I have great admiration. The provision of funding to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland for similar productions has not worked out very well, whereas the IPU has done an excellent job in that respect. The increase in funding for the latter body will enable it to do more good work.
I support the proposal for an Irish film channel, although I am not certain televising the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas would attract many viewers. The business of the House is arranged in a manner that would not attract much interest. It could be described as boring or seldom exciting. In addition, Members let themselves down at times and would not like members of the public to see their behaviour. Nevertheless, I would support the establishment of a new channel. Deputy Coveney raised issues about its funding.
There are so many stories to be told, particularly by a large number of elderly people who can go back to the 19th century through their parents and grandparents but will soon move on. If their stories are not collected or recorded, they will be lost forever. I hope the new channel will provide an opportunity to make many more programmes on important items and issues of local history because many such programmes cannot be made currently owing to a lack of capacity.
I was involved with a several other people in trying to make a documentary about Annie Moore, the first woman to go through Ellis Island. Incidentally, she was a native of County Cork rather than Kerry. As part of a celebration of Annie Moore's life, a headstone will be erected on her grave in New York tomorrow. I assisted a number of people who wished to make a documentary on the topic. While we received a commitment for funding in New York, we were unable to secure funding in Ireland, including from RTE. This is wrong as the programme would have been worth making. Not only was Annie Moore the first girl to pass through Ellis Island, but the programme could also have focused on the many other people who passed through Ellis Island.
I have raised a number of the deficiencies in the legislation. With increased funding and in the event that a new television channel is established, we should be able to see more local history programmes. I am pleased to have had this opportunity to raise a few issues which I hope the Minister will address. The Bill can be amended and improved in all our interests.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment on this welcome Bill. Prior to the establishment of many local radio stations, RTE and its predecessor, Radio Éireann, had sole responsibility for providing broadcasting services. Both organisations operated on shoestring budgets as they set out to establish proper broadcasting services and deserve great credit for the service they provided.
I understood the Bill was intended to review the functions of RTE, establish a broadcasting authority of Ireland and give both bodies greater independence to develop and expand. I was, therefore, disappointed to read in the legislation repeated references to the Minister and his role in controlling broadcasting. Will the legislation result in further intrusion by the Minister on the new regulatory authority, for example, in the selection of its members? The legislation requires that those appointed to the authority must have experience in areas such as media affairs, public service broadcasting, broadcast content production, digital media technologies, trade union affairs, business or commercial affairs and matters pertaining to the development of the Irish language. If those appointed have expertise in all the areas cited in section 9, we will have an active, constructive authority. I am concerned that the Government will appoint the nine members of the authority. Nevertheless, I welcome the new role of the joint Oireachtas committee in this regard. That change will provide an element of transparency in the appointment of members. At least their characteristics and the background they may have in broadcasting will be scrutinised and their names laid before the House, which is welcome. I am not sure if the Minister of the day will be magnanimous and will move away, once and for all, from the idea of politically motivated reasons for appointments. That has been the case with many boards in the past, although not necessarily with the board or authority with which we are dealing. It is positive that we might hear of the demise of many boards and quangos next week and that those appointed to boards in any area of Government responsibility in the future will be selected on the basis of merit and expertise. If the Minister does that, it will be a first, a welcome step forward. I am not convinced, given the provisions of the Bill and the reference to the controls the Minister will have, that this will be done.
In the recent past, at the start of the current financial crisis a fortnight ago, the Minister immediately contacted the director general of RTE and is supposed to have given him a dressing down, although that has been denied, about the contents of a radio programme that started what might have been a panic reaction among people to move their finances between, or withdraw them from, the banking institutions. People do not change their ways that quickly. I would welcome being proven wrong about this.
The Bill introduces many new concepts. It will grant a range of new functions to broadcasters and regulators and will set a framework for new activities and services, particularly in the light of technology, and at the same time it will liberalise and streamline the regulatory burden placed on broadcasters. If that is to be the case, section 32 clearly indicates there will be an imposition and a burden on broadcasters in regard to the way they present their programmes and the balance and fairness in them. Those two proposals are not reconcilable.
Presenters of RTE radio programmes and television programmes in particular, who are household names, have dominated certain programmes over the years. While they have been entertaining, no effort has been made by RTE to give the new talent of professionals in this field, whom we have in abundance, an opportunity to work in this sector. They have had to leave to work in the media across the water or elsewhere. These young professionals have not been given a chance to work in the broadcasting media here because of the dominance of presenters who have continued to work on shows, the ratings of which have declined over the years. These presenters have been given selected high exposure time slots and demand not to be shifted out of those time slots which attract high audience participation, listeners and viewers. Not only do they demand particular time slots during which they will be available to present, they receive unbelievably high remuneration.
It is sad that RTE management does not provide more opportunities and exposure for our young talented people who are professionally trained in all aspects of the media. Perhaps in the past programme presenters did not have the required training, expertise or professionalism, but they were balanced in their presentation and provided a good service, having regard to the requirements of the day, but this is 2008. Some individuals have been successful having exercised great determination and grit to break the stranglehold many of the old hands had over certain areas. I hope this Bill and the new authority will recognise this issue and give those young people an opportunity to work in broadcasting.
RTE has been generous in its support of Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 down the years. There is no doubt that the stations were a burden following their establishment, but they were supported by various Ministers, two of whom I single out for mention, the former Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, representing a Gaeltacht area in Connemara, and the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who identified the function of TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta in representing RTE's cultural obligation in recognising our language. It has supported the Irish language and, as a result of the nature of the programming provided by Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4, has put life back into it and people have recognised its importance as a language. Were it not for RTE, Raidió na Gaeltachta and their work, Gaeilge would not be recognised as an official European language. It is important to recognise RTE's input and, given the restricted finance available to it relative to the service it provides, it has stretched the contributions of TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta, so to speak, in terms of continuing to provide programmes.
On the question of income derived from advertising, the danger of allowing an over-dependence on some major advertisers to develop will be evident to many people who watch NBC, Fox News or other such channels, having regard to the restrictions on which they can insist in return for advertising revenue, the slant that can be put on even the news, the presentation, focus or highlighting of particular aspects of policy they may favour or, as is becoming prevalent now with the pending presidential election in the US, putting forward their political views.
We have a restricted capacity for advertising in Ireland. If the Government gave a commitment, once and for all, to respond to the difficulties in certain areas, particularly that of alcoholism, it would recognise that this legislation presents an opportunity not previously presented to ban or severely restrict alcohol advertising to very late hours during programming. If we add up the cost of dealing with the downside of the abuse of alcohol, whether in the area of health, education or insurance, and divert some of the resources spent on advertising of alcohol to other areas, this legislation will have done a good job. I hope the Minister will give serious examination to this issue and will ignore the powerful lobbies dedicated to the promotion and sale of alcohol. I urge him to make a clear and sensible response in respect of the need that exists.
When one compares the resources available to RTE 1, RTE 2, TV3, Raidió na Gaeltachta etc., to those that are available to BSkyB, one can see how difficult it is for Irish broadcasters to compete in order to win the right to cover major sporting events, both domestic and international. BSkyB and other sports broadcasters are in a position to monopolise particular events. RTE can rarely compete at that level. However, it tries its best to do so within the limited resources available to it. During the Olympic Games, it was unfortunate that we could not watch Irish athletes perform as a result of certain restrictions that were put in place. That was terribly unfair to those who wanted to follow our the progress of those competing at the Olympics on behalf of Ireland.
Many people cannot afford to pay the contributions required by BSkyB to watch football matches at weekends. They are obliged to go to the local pub or hotel to watch and are presented with the opportunity to indulge in imbibing alcohol. I accept that everyone might not partake of a drink, but the opportunity to do so exists. People's need to go to pubs and hotels to watch sporting events dictates the content of advertising on television. Many of these sports networks carry large amounts of alcohol-related advertising.
The Bill places a burden on broadcasters to ensure that there is balance and impartiality in the context of advertising and in the way in which shows are presented. Deputy Deenihan referred to an event that happened prior to the 2002 general election. I agree with him but I will not repeat what he said. I recall many other instances where it was not as glaring but where a similar political bias or slant occurred. There are those who will observe: "He would say that, wouldn't he?" However, a certain party has dominated the Government for the past decade.
If one considers a list of presenters of various programmes and compares it to a list of the names of candidates who put themselves forward for election, one will discover an extremely close connection. I will say no more than that. However, this matter must be examined. I am delighted the Bill——
What point is the Deputy making?
I will clarify it for the Minister of State. I am sure he is aware that I am hinting at something. I do not want to be any more blatant than I have been so far but I will be if the Minister of State so desires.
When one considers a list of candidates' names and then examines the content, method of presentation and personalities — one might go so far as to discover who are their siblings or what are their party politics — involved in programmes on which they appeared, one will be able to identify connections to the major party in government. One need not dig too deep in order to uncover that fact. A bias has been displayed in the presentation of certain programmes, particularly in the lead up to elections. I hope the Minister will impose in respect of broadcasters the necessary mechanisms to prevent such bias being displayed in the future. I will say no more on the matter.
"Oireachtas Report", the programme on which the proceedings of these Houses are shown, is one of the greatest examples of fair and balanced presentation and it allows the views of people across the wider political spectrum to be shown on national television. The programme is a credit to those involved in its production.
The Minister should consider certain aspects of the Bill, particularly those relating to advertising. I welcome what he is doing in respect of the licence and the collection of the fee. I hope we will avoid the disasters which occurred in the past. There are many people who receive television signals but who do not pay for the privilege. I hope the mechanism included in the Bill in this regard will bring an end to their behaviour, once and for all.
Is cúis áthais dom é deis a bheith agam páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht an-tábhachtach seo ar an mBille Craolacháin 2008. Is reachtaíocht an-tábhachtach é. Tá 165 leathanach, thar 13 páirt nó 181 roinn, sa Bhille. Tá Sceideal amháin ag baint leis an mBille freisin. Aontaím le móran den mhéid a dúirt mo chomhghleacaí ón Dáilcheantar Gaillimh Thoir, an Teachta de Búrca. Ní aontaím le gach rud, áfach. Aontaím freisin leis an ráiteas iontach a thug mo chomhghleacaí ón Dáilcheantar Gaillimh Thiar, an Teachta Ó hUiginn, inniu faoi chraolacháin RTE. Ar nós an Teachta de Búrca, bhí sé ag plé le cúrsaí raidió agus rudaí eile.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, which is extremely important for the country and its people. The Bill is also important for the Legislature, which is being given the opportunity to put in place clearly defined rules and regulations that will define public service broadcasting and, it is hoped, broadcasting in general in Ireland for many years.
Raidió Éireann commenced operations in the 1930s and RTE began broadcasting television pictures in the early 1960s. The latter was a major breakthrough for the country, which was presented with an opportunity to expose all that is good and great about its people, traditions, culture and value system and its uniqueness as a nation. If one were to carry out a critical analysis, however, one would discover that our traditional value system and the great culture of our nation have not always been exposed in the way that they should.
I hope the new broadcasting authority of Ireland will interpret the provisions of the Bill in a way that reflects the views of those in this House who, in turn, reflect the views of the people they represent. When the relevant structures and parameters are put in place, I hope a level playing field will be put in place in respect of all broadcasting systems, corporations and agencies that are indigenous to the island of Ireland.
It is critically important that we go forward given that we live in a global age of mass communication, of instant opportunity to change systems and channels, to exploit the mindset of our children, young people, students and others. Through this Bill we have transferred to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the editors, sub-editors, broadcasters and presenters the serious responsibility to ensure that we purvey and convey by way of broadcasting communication and technological devices only the best for our country and for future generations, and that reflects all that is good about our nation since its evolution over the ages, taking into account our heritage and the unique culture we are proud to espouse and that has had a major impact across the world.
This is a small country with an open economy, an island on the western edge of Europe at the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean. There are only 5 million people on the entire island of Ireland but across the world we have an Irish diaspora of 100 million who love Ireland, its traditions and its value systems and who are proud to carry the flag of Ireland in everything they do. Wherever our emigrants find themselves, there is an Irish nucleus and it is critically important that it is reflected in our broadcasting system as part of the enhanced and enlarged Irish nation whose emigrants have brought us great credit internationally in industry, sport, judiciaries and parliaments in different parts of the world. It is important, therefore, that we should have a broader vision of the responsibility broadcasting has in conveying to the masses across the world, in so far as it can be transferred with modern communications — there is no barrier now to communication from this Chamber or from any part of this country — the activities of our nation in all their diversity, its successes and challenges and the opportunities that present themselves that make us proud of our nation. It is not just for the people on this island, but more particularly our brightest and best who had to leave to sustain themselves and make their homes on foreign shores. They too should be able to have that broad vision and lateral communication that is so important for them. We can use broadcasting on television and radio as a medium that gives them a home from home atmosphere wherever they find themselves and whatever challenges they meet.
We need a new Bill. We need to reflect on the changes that have taken place in society and in our country. We need to take into account the diversity of our people, the multicultural society that now prevails, the dramatic increase in population. Twenty years ago we had a productive sector of approximately three quarters of a million people and the rest of the nation were dependent on those people to create the wherewithal and the resources to run this nation. That situation has been transformed as a result of economic success over the past 20 years. Today 2 million people are gainfully employed on this island. We hope that broadcasting and communication will continue to make an even greater contribution towards the sustainability to our country and pride in our nation, fulfilling patriotism in all its ramifications.
People have a duty not just to themselves, their families, communities and traditions but above all to this nation and this country. Broadcasting has a major role to play and it has not fully discharged that role. There are many challenges ahead. It is my hope that when this Bill comes before us and we tease it out during the five Stages of parliamentary debate, the Minister will be open to suggestions from all sides of the House so that we can pass a strong, well worded, textually correct, legally powerful instrument that will assist the broadcasting industry and assist us as legislators and citizens as we go forward together in the knowledge that we have the confidence as a nation to carry ourselves at the highest level of international opportunity and international challenge, and that we have the confidence as a people to face any challenges there may be, financial or otherwise, irrespective of whether they are on this island or elsewhere. Together, with good leadership, consolidation, coherence, focus, and positive communication from all our broadcasting organs, we can build a nation not just for this generation but for many future generations, and discharge our responsibilities as Members of Parliament so as to leave a better country when we leave Parliament than we inherited when we entered. That is the duty of every generation, not only in politics but in society.
The broadcasting industry and the broadcasting organs have a serious responsibility to ensure they are inclusive, that they take into account diversity and different interests. It must also take into account the common good and ensure balance in society and in communication and a reflection of our sporting, industrial, urban, rural and other traditions. It must reflect the views and wishes of all our people, taking into account strong interests in particular sectors of society, particularly aspects of culture. I do not believe that balance has been properly struck. I hope this Bill will ensure balance in the future and that as we go foward together we will discharge our responsibilitties as legislators, taking into account the advice that is available, our experience and collective wisdom gained in this House from representing the people in our constituencies, constantly inspired to serve them with the knowledge that is transferred to us by those people, by our experience as individuals, family members and citizens, and by the experience we have gained as Members of this House, whether in Parliament on Oireachtas committees or in Ministries in which we have been privileged to serve over the years.
Tá sé an-tábhachtach go gcuirfimid an-bhéim ar an Ghaeilge, ár dteanga náisiúnta. Is í an Ghaeilge, an seoid is luachmhara atá ag an tír seo. Molaim an Teachta Ó hUiginn as ucht an éacht iontach a rinne sé nuair a bhunaigh sé TG4. Chuir sé airgead ar fáil don staisiún. Rinne a chomhghleacaí as iarthar na Gaillimhe, an iar-Theachta Máire Nic Eochagáin Uí Chuinn, an-obair freisin chun na saoráidí sin a fhorbairt sular ainmníodh an Teachta Ó hUiginn mar Aire. Mar Aire, chabhraigh an Teachta Ó hUiginn go mór leis an ealaíon. Tá sé tábhachtach seans a thabhairt do dhaoine éagsúla, daoine óga ina measc, a bhfuil scileanna speisialta acu. Ba cheart dúinn béim speisialta a chur ar an ealaíon. Ba chóir dos na craoltóirí éagsúla seans a thabhairt do ealaíontóirí óga ag cuid oibre a chur os comhair an phobail. Tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbeidís in ann na scileanna, nósanna agus intinní iontacha atá acu a chur faoi bhráid na ndaoine. Tá súil agam, mar thoradh ar an reachtaíocht seo, go gcuirfí béim níos fearr ar an ealaíon sna blianta atá os ár gcomhair amach, pé deacrachtaí a bheidh i gceist. Tarlóidh sé sin nuair atá an Bille sínithe ag an Uachtarán agus i ngníomh mar dhlí na tíre.