Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Motion to Recommit.

I move:

"That , pursuant to Standing Order 130 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Broadcasting Bill 2008 be recommitted to the Select Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

It is important that we take seriously the requirement of the Government to ensure that whatever new structures are put in place, they will not be cumbersome, inefficient and expensive. If we proceed with the structure that is proposed in this Bill to set up a broadcasting authority, that is exactly what we will get. At a time when we need lean government, we will get bloated government in the area of broadcasting. That would be an opportunity lost.

The structures proposed in this Bill would put an unnecessary financial burden on broadcasters at a time when they must cope with major cutbacks due to plummeting advertising revenues. Telecommunications regulatory and licensing matters are currently handled by ComReg, whereas broadcasting regulation licences will be the responsibility of this new authority. There are now many instances in which these functions overlap and there have been major changes even in the past year. For example, there have been changes in video on demand and mobile broadband. As the technology advances, it is up to the regulators to adapt also and reflect the convergences that are already in train.

In a converged age, many of the issues facing the communication sector transcend the old boundaries, and therefore need a converged response. This brings financial benefits with it. For example, the converged UK regulator means that there is one regulator dealing with telecommunications and broadcasting. This new system has benefited from lower operating costs since its establishment in 2003. Ofcom's budget for 2004 and 2005 was, on a like for like basis, 5% less than the combined budgets of its predecessors. During the year, it reduced its costs by 5%. That kind of model is what we need in Ireland. I regret the fact that the Minister appears to be blind to the necessity to think again in terms of meeting today's needs, and not to reflect on a report that was issued in 2002. Time moves on and technology leaps on, yet we have a Minister——

This is a recommittal motion and a brief explanation is required.

I am being brief. It is quite a complex issue, but it is very important. I appreciate that the Leas Ceann Comhairle has given me a moment.

The Minister's letter to me on this issue reiterated the old argument. If he is open to today's needs, then I urge him to support this motion. It seems to me that he is trapped in his Department. He has an agile mind and he understands the industries we are talking about, yet he is caught in this stasis at a time when we need appropriate thinking, lean and keen government and appropriate structures of regulation.

If we proceed with this Bill, we will end up with two parallel organisations. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is already costing a lot of money. In one year its cost went from €6.6 million to €7.2 million. That kind of spending in the overall requirements of the Government may be quite small, but in order to ensure that we get efficient governance, it does matter. I urge the Minister to accept this motion so that we can address the issues as convergences occur. We need a converged regulator to meet the needs of today and the future.

I support Deputy McManus and what she says. The Minister may recall that I raised this issue on Second Stage. What we are proposing to do in Ireland does not seem consistent with what many other countries across Europe are doing, with the best example being our closest neighbour.

The reality is that the delivery of broadcasting services is changing, as the Minister has conceded many times. He often watches the news via his computer screen because he is not home on time for the "Nine O'Clock News". We are rapidly entering a period in which people will be able to access various broadcasting services on demand through next generation broadband connections, whether fibre or mobile, as in the case of many people in rural Ireland. The regulatory model should take account of this convergence. The idea that there should be two large regulatory structures, one regulating telecommunications infrastructure and operations and the other, a new structure which we are setting up in quite a complex way to regulate broadcasting, whether radio, television or digital, should perhaps be reconsidered.

I appreciate that the Minister's officials and the Department have put a great amount of time and work into the legislation and I expect him to reject the motion, but that is not a good reason to proceed. There is a fundamental idea which Deputy McManus and I hold, that is, circumstance and technology are overtaking the work we do and we should be agile and flexible enough to respond to that. There is a great deal of sense in proposing an alternative regulatory model for broadcasting that could merge the regulators of broadcasting, telecommunications and, perhaps, other regulatory systems. These could be merged into one larger, streamlined, more efficient regulator. I am pleased to support the recommital motion, although it means more time and work for all of us should the Minister accept it.

I do not reject the idea out of hand because serious consideration should be given to the regulatory structures given the technological changes and the convergence between the computer, broadcasting and telecommunications industries. I accept there is an argument in that regard. However, in respect of the correspondence from Deputy McManus and the motion before the House, in the past two years and for some time before I have come to the conclusion that it is not best for us at present to establish a single regulatory system for both broadcasting and telecommunications. There are real concerns with respect to such a move and there is a possibility the broadcasting sector could be swamped. The economic importance of the telecommunications sector is approximately €4 billion whereas the figure for the broadcasting sector is only in the order of one eighth of that figure. There is a real risk and concern that the interests of one industry could tend to get ahead of the other.

The broadcasting industry does not believe that is the case.

That is the position as far as I can see. We will keep the matter under review and consider the synergy to be gained. Let us consider what would have to be done were there to be such a unified regulatory system. One would have to consider everything in the Bill, including all the provisions, such as those related to codes, right of reply, or structures in RTE. All of the detail of the Bill would be still required.

There is a certain urgency with the matter because it has taken some time to get the Bill to this stage. While I can appreciate the argument and understand some of the thinking behind it, at this stage that is not the correct or appropriate step to take. We do not envisage a great, new bureaucratic structure. Such are the constraints and difficulties at present that the proposed new regulatory system will not have substantial additional resources, or will not be able to consider major additional costs to be applied to the broadcasting sector via these levies. It must be a very efficient, tight service which builds on the successes that existed in the past 20 years.

Recently, I attended the annual event for broadcasters. Let us consider the introduction of local radio stations, some 20 of which were founded in 1988. The sector has been a significant success and one reason for this has been the success of the independent regulatory system. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, its standards, its logic and the thinking it has applied in terms of standards and licensing has worked well. The system has worked and continues to work well. I support the system by recognising that work and reconfiguring the commission into a new authority, by giving it additional powers over the public service broadcasters, additional codes and additional systems that it must manage. I am confident it can manage these changes. Given that it works well, I believe our current structures are right and appropriate and not something I intend to turn upside down.

Question put and declared lost.