Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, may be discussed together.
Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 39, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"(2) Prior to making a levy order the Authority shall once every three years present to the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee a three year budget including the levy intended to be imposed for the information of the Joint Committee prior to a levy order being made.".
Members have returned to the establishment of this new quango and, regrettably, it seems as though the Minister is intent on proceeding with it. However, if it is to be set up, it is extremely important for Members to ensure that there is robust oversight of what it does and how it pays its way. Broadcasters will have an obligation to pay a levy to keep this body functioning and while I do not detect that they are objecting to the principle, clearly there are concerns at a time when they are operating in such straitened circumstances that any draw on their resources will have an impact. There is no fat in the sense that they can easily pay for the running of another regulator.
I recall that the Minister stated on Committee Stage that he expected it would cost approximately €5 million. Subsequently, this figure climbed to approximately €7.2 million. Whatever the cost, it is important that it does not cost too much and as the Oireachtas joint committee will have a role, in that it will participate by putting forward names for consideration for inclusion on the boards, Members also should ensure that the Oireachtas has a monitoring role in respect of both the body's expenditure and with regard to the kind of levy that will be required of broadcasters. In others areas, such as the damning example of FÁS, it can be seen how expenditure went out of control completely. While such things do not necessarily happen, they have happened and do happen and Members must ensure that they learn from the experience.
As I recall, I adapted this amendment following the discussion on Committee Stage because the Minister stated that a three-year plan was acceptable to him. We adjusted the amendment to meet his point. I hope he accepts it as being part of democratic oversight. I hope we can ensure that funding for this regulator and the workings of the regulator are characterised by value for money and forward planning. The three year arrangement for budgeting can set out a strategy for the future rather than a short-term one, which is possible if we do not have the three year framework.
I support the comments of Deputy McManus. Amendment No. 34 has the same provision, except that I have suggested a report should come before the Oireachtas committee once every two years. I am happy with that being once every three years if the Minister accepts this amendment.
I proposed a number of other measures. Before the levy for the financing of the broadcasting authority is imposed on broadcasters each year, it is not unreasonable that it require approval by the Minister for Finance and that there be an estimate of expenditure before the approval is given. The approach of the Minister is that the levy can be imposed and, if the Oireachtas has a problem within 21 days, it can act upon it in the set timeframe. What I propose is that, each year, before the levy is imposed, the authority is required to bring an estimate before the Houses of the Oireachtas and get approval from the Minister for Finance for it before the beginning of each financial year.
Deputy McManus referred to the creation of another quango, which this is. We are trying to avoid this becoming any bigger than it needs or costing more than it needs. The industry is struggling and adding an extra levy to broadcasters is another burden they do not need. Let us ensure this is not an empire building exercise within the new broadcasting authority. Let us require the authority to set an estimate before it gets finance through a levy so that we can ensure the broadcasting authority is seeking value for money in everything it does. That is not an unreasonable request, particularly in the current environment.
I propose that it is the Minister for Finance and the Department of Finance which gives the final approval. I do not propose a long, drawn-out debate in the Oireachtas committee to approve the levy each year. I suggest putting an estimate to the Oireachtas and getting the green light from the Minister for Finance to ensure he and the Department of Finance are satisfied the new authority is getting value for money, is not getting bloated and is not seeking too much finance from the broadcasting sector to run itself efficiently. That is not too much to ask.
Amendment No. 33 is not directly related to the other amendments but it concerns the levy. It proposes to remove section 33(5)(a), which suggests that money left over each year can be retained by the authority to be offset against the levy obligations for the subsequent year. That is not necessary. If money is not used, it should be given back to its source, the broadcasters. A broadcaster may go out of business halfway through the year. There is the option for the authority to refund to broadcasters proportionately but if money is not needed it should be returned rather than rolled over into the next year. I will not press this amendment. My main amendment supports Deputy McManus’s suggestion, to ensure we are not creating a bloated, overly expensive structure to regulate the broadcasting sector.
I fully agree with both Deputies that we do not want to create an expensive administrative system with economic consequences for broadcasters, but the proposed legislation provides the right cover and strictures for the broadcasting authority of Ireland. A key determinant of the cost of a public service body such as this is the staffing level. Section 15(1) requires the consent of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Finance for an increase in staff. At this moment, that will not be an easy obstacle in terms of unchecked growth.
Section 33(7) requires that a levy order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, where such an order may be annulled by resolution. In section 37(7) there is an obligation for the broadcasting authority of Ireland to publish the three year revenue and expenditure estimate that is part of its business plan. The Oireachtas then has the power outlined in section 20 to bring in the chairperson and CEO, where previous legislation did not include the chairperson. There is an obligation that the three year plan is transparent and is published on the broadcasting authority of Ireland website. The Oireachtas committee may question, investigate and pass a resolution if it sees fit. There is sufficient power to provide a three year review. All this amounts to the administrative check by the Oireachtas on what might be termed regulatory creep. For the reasons set out I do not propose to accept the amendments.
I refer to the principle of whether such a levy is a valid charge on the industry. It is common practice in most of our regulatory systems, such as the energy regulator and the communications regulator, that they are funded directly by an industry levy. It is more appropriate and works better than dependence on Exchequer funding, which is less predictable and less dependable.
I attended the annual event for independent broadcasters and spoke to the chief executives of a number of companies that have been in existence for some 20 years. Each recognised that the presence of a regulatory system worked to the advantage of the companies. The setting and maintenance of standards had guaranteed a more secure future than would otherwise be the case. Taking the example of local radio stations, the initial instincts might have been that people would want music 24/7 and that the 20% local content provision was an encumbrance or a financial cost to the station. However, in operation over the past 20 years, they found that the obligations and maintenance of standards and news content gave radio stations a real character and a connection to audiences that was to their benefit. The regulatory system benefits those in the industry by providing a fair level playing pitch and the cost, when it is of the order of €5 million to €7 million and spread between the players in the industry, is very good value for the security of being in a competitive yet regulated market.
The Minister is amusing us. He has made a speech as if someone had argued against regulation. None of us is arguing against that. He has outlined the benefits of regulation, for which I thank him, but we are aware of them and do not need to have them rehearsed. That is not the argument or the point at issue.
The industry accepts that it must pay for regulation but I have heard from many different sectors within the industry that it is daft to have two regulators when we only need one. The integration of technologies requires us to have one regulator, and that will happen eventually. The current Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, may not be there to oversee it but somebody after him will argue in future that we should have done this years ago and will do it then. The process will be more efficient as a consequence.
Now that the Minister is persisting with this particular misguided view, he must ensure the process is transparent. It is one thing to have plans put up on the web — we have all seen plans and grandiose strategies — but this is about budgets, estimates, where the money will go, where it will come from and who will be behind it.
The Minister mentioned staffing that will need to be sanctioned. We all know what has happened because of the embargo in the local authorities and HSE. In these cases, the embargo is avoided by taking on temporary staff and employing consultants. I have not had a chance to check this in the Bill but I would like a guarantee from the Minister that the same sort of activity will not happen in setting up this board.
It seems the Minister is setting up a regulator and indicating it will not cost a cent more than the BCI, yet it will have many extra duties and responsibilities. Such an objective means the Minister is living in fairyland. If there is to be no extra staffing, will the controls apply that clearly did not apply to local authorities taking on temporary staff?
I support Deputy Coveney's point with regard to paying back levies which are not spent. It would be grossly unfair on broadcasters not to accept that amendment. The Minister is saying he will keep the money even though it has not been spent. The broadcasters may not have it back although they may need it desperately, as the law will state that the Government can decide to hold on to it. That is grossly unfair.
I will respond to the Minister's statements on this specific issue rather than the need for regulation in general as we are not arguing against that. There is a big difference between a requirement on the authority to put an estimate together before it raises money through a levy, for us to see that estimate and for it to be approved by the Minister for Finance and, on the other hand, laying a levy order before the Houses of the Oireachtas after it has been made. That is the crux of the issue with regard to my amendment. We should require the authority to put detailed costings together on how it will spend money for a 12-month period and then allow it raise the money, as opposed to allowing it decide how much it will need without giving us any estimate or costings, with the levy put in place, the levy order put before the Houses of the Oireachtas and without the opportunity to reverse it if required after the decision has been made.
No budgeting process works like that and there is no way the Minister would spend money in such a manner in his Department. A detailed planning process is required of how money is to be spent, how many staff are required, the likely decisions to be made and the cost to ensure this is done properly. The money is then raised rather than having it the other way around. I do not see any provision in the Bill which will give the Oireachtas the detail of the estimate of how the authority will spend its money over a 12-month period.
Section 37(1) states:
The chief executive, following the agreement of the Authority, shall not later than 30 September in each year, submit estimates of income and expenditure to the Minister in respect of the subsequent three financial years, in such form as may be required by the Minister, and shall furnish to the Minister any information which the Minister may require in relation to such estimates, including proposals and future plans relating to the performance by the Authority, the Contract Awards Committee and the Compliance Committee of their functions, as required.
Section 37(7) states:
The Authority shall publish, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, on a website maintained by the Authority, such estimates of income and expenditure as are required to be prepared under subsection (1) or a summary of them.
An estimate of what the three years of expenditure will be is a budget and that will be published on the website. The Oireachtas committee can question any such authority on the nature of its budget. The provisions are there and I do not believe the amendments should be accepted.
In response to Deputy McManus's comments, she is engaging in a separate exercise going back to the structure of the regulatory authority, although we will not go back to that. There will be additional duties and responsibilities. It is planned that the legislation we are introducing will also bring efficiencies, with complaints procedures and the likes of right to reply. It will not all be about additional work, it is about making work easier. With regard to the work programme in terms of development of codes, where there is a large responsibility, certain work is done and it is replaced by additional work.
We will not stop looking at further efficiencies to be gained, perhaps by taking on resources from other similar control functions in the audio-visual area. In the past we mentioned that we would look to see whether the Irish Film Classification Office could be amalgamated into this and bring about efficiencies and additional resources.
There are ways in which additional resources can apply through public service reform and that is what everybody is talking about here. Our mantra is to gain efficiencies.
None of that is in the Bill.
The Bill sets out the structure of what this authority will do. The ability to meet those is not given in statutory form as it is done by a chief executive and the Minister within the powers they have to get more from our public service commitments.
There is nothing in the Bill about those kinds of reforms so I do not know how the Minister can claim that it can or will happen. That is not the nature of the beast, which is instead to set up a little empire and try to draw in resources. The Minister did not answer the staffing question, which is very important. I would be grateful if he would comment on that issue.
Is the right of the regulator to hold on to levies which it has not spent anomalous? If the Minister's Department does not spend all its allocation, my understanding is that the money goes back to the Department of Finance and the Minister's Department would be judged on that in terms of future allocations. The Department must operate under certain rules. Where broadcasters are to pay a levy, often with difficulty, they cannot receive back unspent money, which is fundamentally wrong.
That concludes the debate on the amendment. Is the Deputy pressing it?
I would prefer to have an answer.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 40, to delete lines 1 and 2.
May I make a final comment? Perhaps not while I am in my seat.
Exactly. I would do it if I were the Deputy.
I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment as I do not see how it creates even an inconvenience for the authority. This is about returning unspent money to the source, which currently comprises hard-pressed broadcasters who could do with the money if it is not required. In other words, if the authority puts in place the kind of efficiencies that will allow it to save money, the surplus funds should be returned to broadcasters.
I agree with the principle of carrying over funds because this ends the bad practice whereby people might be frantically seeking to spend money at the end of the financial year. It is better management and practice to have a certain level of flexibility. Such flexibility exists in respect of my Department's spend, in respect of which carryover facilities exist. I am of the view that carrying over funds is the right thing to do.
The Minister did not reply to the question on staffing. He is being extremely selective in the context of the answers he is providing.
I will answer the Deputy's——
I must intervene and state that while it is possible for the House to disaggregate grouped amendments, Members are supposed, if amendments are being discussed in a group, to deal with the relevant issues within the time allowed.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 40, to delete lines 8 to 18 and substitute the following:
"(7) (a) The Authority shall be required to bring an estimate before each House of the Oireachtas and get approval from the Minister for Finance for such an estimate before the beginning of each financial year.
(b) Approval of the Minister of Finance and the Houses of Oireachtas will be required for the estimate of expenditure for the financial year, before any levy orders are constructed or made.
(c) The detail of a levy order shall require the approval of the Minister for Finance.
(d) A request shall be made available to the Joint Oireachtas Committee at least once every two years on the levy order mechanism being adopted by the authority and the multi-annual budgeting in place for the Authority.”.
I do not accept the Minister's assertion to the effect that section 37 covers the issue of a requirement for estimates of income and expenditure. It does not make sense to separate a presentation of estimates to the Minister from the raising of a levy. Surely it would make sense to link the two. In other words, the estimates would be presented, the Minister and Government would be persuaded that they represent value for money and then the money could be raised. This would be better than putting in place a levy-raising procedure that would be entirely independent of the discussion on the estimates that would take place in September each year.
Unfortunately, we cannot have a debate on the amendment because it has already been discussed with amendment No. 32.
Amendments Nos. 35, 62, 63 and 124 to 126, inclusive, are related, while amendments Nos. 125 and 126 are technical alternatives to No. 124. Therefore, amendments Nos. 35, 62, 63 and 124 to 126, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 42, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"(5) An annual report shall include a report to the Minister in respect of contracts entered into by the Authority under section 67 and any consequent strategy the Authority proposes to adopt to encourage competition in respect of the award of sound broadcasting contracts, excluding contracts entered into under sections 64 and 68.”.
Section 67 provides for a fast-track procedure in respect of radio licences where the incumbent is the only party interested in broadcasting to the chosen franchise area. This section derives from the radio licensing review in 2004 and addresses the concerns expressed by incumbent radio stations about the necessity to incur the significant expense of compiling an application for a new licence even when there is no other applicant.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 63 aim to address the concerns raised on Committee Stage in respect of the maximum licence extension period permitted under the proposed fast-track procedure. Amendment No. 63, jointly proposed by Deputies McManus and Coveney and me, will permit the broadcasting authority of Ireland to make licence extensions of up to ten years under the fast-track procedures. Amendment No. 35 amends section 38 to provide that the broadcasting authority of Ireland must report on an annual basis on its usage of the fast-track procedure and its proposals to encourage competition for the award of commercial radio licences. These amendments aim to provide for a fast-track procedure that will balance the need to ensure that the radio sector will not bear unnecessary costs with that of ensuring that competition will be encouraged in respect of the award of commercial radio licences. Amendment No. 62 replaces an incorrect subsection reference in the text of section 67(4).
Amendment No. 125 relates to the incentives offered to radio licensees to simulcast digital radio services in addition to their analogue services. Section 134 provides that the broadcasting authority of Ireland may extend by up to four years the terms of an FM radio licence, providing that the licensee concerned is prepared to provide its radio service on a digital radio multiplex. The aim of this section is to encourage the development of digital radio. While there may be an additional cost for broadcasters which choose to simulcast on a digital network, there will also be benefits and opportunities associated with the new digital environment. Having listened to the views expressed by the Deputies on Committee Stage, I tabled amendment No. 125 to increase the maximum licence extension term permitted under section 134 from four to six years.
These amendments have the potential to be one of the success stories to emerge from the Committee Stage debate. Amendment No. 63 proposes that we should replace the period of seven years with one of ten in the aftermath of a fast-track application process for the awarding of a contract licence. It should not be forgotten that this will give the authority the power to grant a licence that will not exceed ten years. If the authority deems it so appropriate, it may impose contract extensions of only seven years or five years. I welcome what the Minister is doing in these amendments because there will be cases where a ten-year period will be appropriate.
It is nonsensical to require radio stations to apply for licence renewals on a regular basis and to foot the cost relating to that laborious process. It is important that broadcasters will be provided with a degree of certainty that will allow them to put in place the necessary investment programmes to allow them to build up their audiences and their broadcasting capacity. I am sure the industry will appreciate the provision of a ten-year period.
The Minister proposes to increase the maximum period relating to digital radio licences from four years to six. He has come a considerable way in that regard and, in such circumstances, I will be happy to withdraw the relevant amendment in my name.
I welcome the changes the Minister is making. It must be acknowledged that he has listened to the Opposition and has made a good decision in the context of extending the period of a licence. It seemed particularly unfair that in circumstances where the incumbent had no competitor, the period was limited to four years. Like Deputy Coveney, I welcome the extension from four to six years and I will also withdraw my amendment in that regard. The extension to six years represents a good development.
A great many questions have arisen in respect of digital radio. Will the Minister outline the extent to which it has taken off or indicate the number of digital radios that have been acquired by citizens? What incentives have been put in place to encourage commercial radio broadcasters to spend money providing digital audio broadcasting, DAB, services? Will the Minister indicate what is the current position? When one considers what has happened in respect of digital terrestrial television, DTT, it is clear that a major problem has arisen following the withdrawal of the Boxer consortium. We are all probably guilty of engaging in hyperbole in respect of the creation of a digital Ireland. However, the position, as it stands, is not encouraging. Perhaps the Minister might outline the progress that has been made in respect of DAB.
The Minister is, by means of amendment No. 25, inserting in the Bill an additional subsection relating to contracts. I do not have a difficulty in this regard and I am glad community radio is being treated as a special case. However, it would have been no harm to have included another subsection dealing with other forms of contracts and circumstances where consultants are brought in, sometimes at enormous expense, to carry out particular tasks. The allocation of funding in this regard is not often seen in a very transparent way. To be fair to him, he was ruled out of order by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in terms of answering the questions of staffing, temporary contracts and consultants. Will they be permitted or not?
To answer the broad question the Deputy asked earlier in terms of staffing, one of the points I made is that what we are looking for in the public service reform process is the amalgamation of other agencies. That is not completed and, therefore, it is not in the legislation but there is nothing precluding us from doing that in this legislation. The amalgamation of such agencies into the broadcasting authority of Ireland would allow efficiencies and the addition of staff resources which could deal with some of the additional responsibilities. There is not a ban, as it were, on consultancy or short-term contract services but obviously that must operate within the authority's existing budget. That is in some way restricted by its full-time staff quota. It is not a vast budget within which large consultancy contracts can be written up.
One of the developments I see in the public service regulatory area, in terms of our own work in the Department, is that we will have to see increasing co-operation between regulators and the Department because our own consultancy budgets have been greatly reduced and, therefore, it behoves the public service, in regulatory and in departmental form, to work closer together and in that way also to achieve greater efficiencies. There are a number of different ways, therefore, that we will have to reform the public service to get more out of tighter budgets.
Regarding digital radio, it is in development phase here. RTE is operating trial digital audio broadcasting services using one multiplex. That provides space for approximately ten radio channels and carries content from RTE and certain commercial radio operators. It is on a trial basis which will come to an end.
The development of digital radio services here is not as advanced as it is in the United Kingdom. It is far from clear how it will be rolled out in the UK. RTE has applied for a national digital audio broadcasting licence from ComReg and I understand it is planning to develop an RTE only multiplex in the near future. It is anticipated that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland will invite applications for commercial digital radio services in the near future.
The overall success of digital radio will depend on the commercial interest in digital radio and the subsequent level of consumer take-up. My view is that it will be taken up and, to a certain extent, it will be driven by the availability in standard cars of digital audio broadcasting tuning rather than FM. Once that becomes readily available, that will drive it here in large numbers.
In the UK, despite some of the difficulties, there is a large volume of digital audio radios. It is very popular and I believe it is the way to go. The higher quality and higher transmission capabilities make it a development we should and will see here.
I wanted to come in on the discussion on digital radio and, to a certain extent, digital television. I am interested to hear that the BCI will be seeking commercial interest in digital radio roll-out. That is welcome but it flags a major problem we have regarding DTT and RTE's exposure because of the Boxer DTT withdrawal.
I realise we are moving slightly from the amendment but there is an obligation on RTE to have free-to-air DTT services up and running by the end of this year. It has already spent approximately €40 million rolling out the infrastructure and it will cost it another €60 million to €70 million to finish that job. That is only financially possible for RTE if it has revenue coming from a commercial operator also using that platform.
Does the same problem apply in regard to digital radio in terms of the cost of rolling out the platform, that is, masts and aerials, to provide a digital radio service? Is the financing of an RTE roll-out programme contingent on a commercial digital radio operator or operators doing a similar job to what Boxer DTT had proposed to do with DTT?
We are straying slightly from the amendment but I do not mind doing it——
We are, slightly.
——because the development of digital terrestrial television is a crucial area. It is crucial because the switch off of analogue transmission services in 2012 gives us a major economic opportunity to switch on a range of broadband and other services we can use in that spectrum. What I have said to people in the broadcasting area is that this is a crucial economic development for the country and one we will achieve. That is the reason that provision is in the Bill in terms of recognising we are on a path towards analogue switch off.
The advantage of the system we have in terms of the procurement process the BCI was engaged in is that there was a number of different bidders and because the first bidder, for its commercial reasons, was unable to progress the contract, the BCI had to go to the second bidder. That process is in train and I am confident that DTT will be delivered here. It may be slightly delayed but it is on track to allow us make the switch off I mentioned on our key target date.
By the second bidder?
I will not prejudge the process the BCI is engaged in but there will be an outcome which sees us having an effective DTT service combining a free-to-air service with a commercial allied service.
The second key reason we want to see that delivered is not only do we get a benefit from the analogue switch off, but we also need a variety of platforms here to ensure that we are not dependent on outside platforms, as it were, and that there is a real benefit in terms of having a State supported terrestrial system. That is what the licence fee holders pay for and that is what we want to deliver.
The same analogue switch off date does not apply to radio. The spectrum used is much smaller and, therefore, there is not as big an economic issue, nor is there an imperative from the European Union which is the case regarding the analogue switch off in television. In the same way that FM rolled out in the 1980s because it could provide a better quality service, I believe we will see digital radio coming here because it provides a better quality service. Major efficiencies can be gained in the transmission system, and that is in the long-term benefit of the broadcasters.
Amendment No. 36 is in the name of Deputy McManus. Amendments Nos. 37, 42, 43, 45 and 47 are related. Therefore, amendments Nos. 36, 37, 42, 43, 45 and 47 may be discussed together by agreement.
Can I propose an alternative to that?
The Deputy can do so.
Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 are linked but my amendments Nos. 43, 45 and 47 deal with a separate issue and I would like those three amendments to be taken separately, if that is possible. I do not want to make an issue about it but it will make the discussion clearer.
Does amendment No. 42 remain part of the group?
Amendment No. 42 deals with a separate issue to that which I am dealing with in my amendments.
I am happy with that.
We will take amendments No. 42, 43, 45 and 47 when we reach them. Can we take those as a separate group?
We are now taking amendments Nos. 36 and 37.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 43, line 29, after "crime" to insert the following:
", anti-social behaviour, exploitation or commercialisation of children or bullying".
An issue arises in regard to the type of material broadcast to children. We are all conscious of the fact that we should not overdo the restrictive approach but the problem of anti-social behaviour is a real one which is increasing. None of us doubts that the influence of television is significant when it comes to children's attitudes and learning behaviour.
The Minister has said that the issue of exploitation, commercialisation of children or bullying are already covered in section 39(1)(d) but that is a vague section. It would be better if the Minister were more specific and included amendment No. 36.
Amendment No. 37, which I do not expect the Minister to accept, raises issues about which he is concerned, that is, the commercial exploitation of children through broadcasting. Television is such an important phenomenon in children's lives that in some countries there has been a recognition that for a period of time when children are watching they should be free of advertising and the pressures that arise. The example with which we all are familiar is the period coming up to Christmas when there is a bombardment by companies of products for children which can be extremely onerous and which will be increasingly so in a time of recession where people cannot buy what are often expensive presents.
The Minister has made a concession in terms of the food advertising, although it is fairly anodyne in terms of impact. However, I would favour it. Perhaps a more radical step would be more appropriate to the Minister's viewpoint which, I suspect, is not that far removed from mine.
I support both of these amendments.
I should have stated we are also including amendment No. 42. We are discussing amendments Nos. 36, 37 and 42 relating to children.
Amendment No. 36 is a belt and braces approach towards ensuring that exploitation or commercialisation of children and the bullying and anti-social behaviour issues are raised explicitly in that section of the legislation. I support these amendments.
In respect of amendment No. 36, as proposed by Deputy McManus, on the duties of broadcasters under section 39(1)(d), I would argue that the rewording of this paragraph on Committee Stage by the substitution of “causing harm and offence” for “offending against good taste or decency” in effect covers the issues of anti-social behaviour and bullying. Broadcasters would be under a duty not to broadcast something that is likely to cause harm. Subsection 5(6) of the children’s advertising code already states that children advertising shall not encourage children to engage in or be portrayed engaging in anti-social behaviour, in particular, bullying, taunting or teasing other children unless the sole purpose of the advertisement is to discourage such behaviour.
This change is also carried through to section 42 in respect of the broadcasting codes to which I have referred. Section 42(2)(f) requires the broadcasting authority to develop a code which ensures that audiences are protected from harmful or offensive material, in particular, that programme material in respect of the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct shall be presented by a broadcaster with due sensitivity to the convictions or feelings of the audience and with due regard to the impact of such programming on the physical, mental or moral development of children.
With regard to the exploitation or commercialisation of children, in amendment No. 23, as already discussed, I have provided that the broadcasting authority of Ireland is obliged, in section 25, to protect the interests of children taking into account the vulnerability of children and childhood to undue commercial exploitation. As such, I believe that these changes address the matters raised in the Deputy's amendment.
With regard to amendment No. 37, I provided a requirement in section 42 that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing the standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters in relation to children — a continuation of one to which I have already referred. Section 42 also provides for the continuation of the existing codes, namely the code on programme standards which was delivered on 10 April 2007, the children's advertising code which was introduced on 1 January 2005 and the general advertising code which was introduced on 10 April 2007. In addition, section 25 now requires the broadcasting authority of Ireland to protect the interests of children taking into account the vulnerability of children and childhood to undue commercial exploitation. These provisions provide a level of protection while recognising the need of broadcasters to finance their operations by means of advertising. Overall, I consider that sections 25 and 42 provide a balanced response to the concern raised by the Deputy and as such I cannot accept amendment No. 37.
In respect of amendment No. 42, I would argue that the existing text of section 42(2)(f), which provides that the broadcasting authority of Ireland has a code which protects audiences from harmful material, in particular, material in respect of the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct, encompasses the issues raised by the Deputy and as such I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I accept that there are certain protections in this section but there is a slightly different emphasis in amendment No. 42. There is a growing understanding that we need to know more about the impact of violence and explicit sexual behaviour as broadcast on television on people generally. I do not know how far we can take this but there has been a reaction because in the past those of us of a certain age lived under a severe censorship. However, we need a greater understanding of this aspect. It is more a matter of considering, looking at and exploring what is going on in terms of the influences that are coming from television. There are times when one doubts that codes of conduct have any impact. If one broadcaster is competing with another in terms of graphic material, I suspect that codes of conduct tend to be set aside because they are more akin to guidelines than anything else.
Amendment No. 42 is concerned with a cold analytical approach to the impact of such material, not on children but on adults and children. We need to look at the level and forms of violence in our society and understand why, generally speaking, we have become a more violent and aggressive society and what part television plays in that. It is not a problem we can solve alone. It is the kind of work that must be done at EU level. We should put this specifically into the Bill, not merely stating that we would protect people from offensive material but also that we will consider the impact. If we do not look at what is happening in that relationship between broadcasting and the individual in the audience, we are missing the point in terms of what is going on in our lives and the role television plays in it.
I would agree with Deputy McManus. I would refer to section 26(2)(c), which empowers the BAI to conduct that research. I agree that if it is not measured, it is hard to know the effect. However, there is provision in the Bill for such research to be done.
Amendment No. 38 in the name of Deputy Coveney arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendment No. 39 is a technical alternative, therefore, amendments Nos. 38 and 39 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 44, to delete lines 30 to 34 and substitute the following:
"(2) The total daily time for broadcasting advertisements in the television broadcasting service must not exceed a maximum of 20 per cent of the total daily broadcasting time and the maximum time to be given to advertisements in any hour shall not exceed a maximum of 12 minutes averaged over 2 consecutive hours.".
Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 deal with the same issue of the maximum amount of advertising that we will allow broadcasters to broadcast. The Minister's view is that there is enough advertising on television and radio and we do not need any more. The Bill provides for 15% of the total daily broadcast and ten minutes in the hour can be attributable to advertising.
I propose that we increase those figures. We are concerned here with giving the authority the power to set a maximum. There is no reason that the authority should not have the power, under certain circumstances, to increase the figure to a maximum of 20% or 12 minutes over consecutive hours.
Many Irish broadcasters are financially on their knees. When one examines what is considered best practice, many EU countries, including the UK, have no limits on radio advertising. They have decided that if there were too much advertising on one radio station, people will switch over to another. Ireland, however, regulates this area with a cap on the amount of advertising broadcast. Will the Minister allow a little more flexibility in the Bill's provision in this area? My amendment would provide an opportunity to allow broadcasters to increase revenue stream at certain times in the day. The proposed cap in this Bill is too limiting. Will the Minister examine how other countries have approached this area? I believe the Minister will find that my amendment is more in sync with the practice of most countries that regulate this area.
Having spoken to several broadcasters on this matter, allowing 12 minutes to be averaged over two consecutive hours is considered practical. We do not want a television or radio station having to end, say, an interesting interview because a certain minutage of advertising must be fitted into one hour. It makes sense to have a flexibility to allow a station carry that minutage into the next hour.
Minutage should be averaged out over two hours rather than having hard and fast exact minutage rules per hour. Will the Minister consider some flexibility in this area? If it were to be abused, the authority would have the power to impose the maximum limits that the Minister is proposing in the legislation anyway. All this amendment will do is give the authority the extra power to apply a slightly looser arrangement to advertising rules. It is a pragmatic response to a credible appeal from the broadcasting sector.
Amendment No. 39 accepts that because of the way broadcasting can operate, it is not always possible to ensure the requirement of the ten minutes in the hour limit for advertisements is adhered to strictly all day every day. To average it over two hours provides a certain amount of flexibility which would be fair to broadcasters.
The current provision as it stands has only led to micro-management with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland watching out for broadcasters to fail the test. If the new authority is meant to be taking on extra duties, it does not make sense that it must carry the old duty of managing per hour the amount of advertising by each broadcaster. A journalist, for example, falling by the wayside in letting a politician talk longer than he or she should must not become an issue for a broadcaster.
I do not support Deputy Coveney's amendment allowing for additional advertising time. The problem lies more with the current difficult economic climate. Broadcasters cannot get enough advertising to fill the spaces they have, let alone us giving them more space.
There are also issues about transparency. We have a dominant player in RTE, a public broadcaster which does a fine job. However, issues arise with broadcasters competing for advertising revenue not just in the broadcasting sector, but in the print media too, another area that needs to be addressed. The advertising revenue pool has shrunk dramatically. There are concerns about how advertising rates are being applied and whether fair competition applies.
I am sorry I cannot support Deputy Coveney's amendment but I ask the Minister accept mine. It is a modest and minor amendment which will mean the authority will not be wasting its time micro-managing broadcasters which, at this stage, know how to operate in this area.
Deputy Coveney is correct in claiming there are examples elsewhere of much more lenient and flexible advertising regimes in broadcasting. Ireland, however, has one of the highest radio listenerships in Europe and I believe this has been achieved on the back of good regulation. Listeners have much loyalty to our radio stations; they are not tuning in to hear advertising but people communicating. While I accept the advertising cap may be difficult for some broadcasters in this current economic downturn, the system is to the benefit of the industry.
Section 41(2) sets the statutory cap for advertising on radio broadcasters at 15% of the total daily broadcast time and ten minutes in any hour. Chapter IV of the audio-visual media services directive sets the upper cap for advertising by television broadcasters of 20% of broadcasting time, 12 minutes an hour. Section 43(1) provides that the broadcasting authority of Ireland shall set the daily and hourly minutage maximum for radio and television advertising by commercial and community broadcasters in the context of the upper cap set by the legalisation. While the broadcasting authority of Ireland would have some discretion in respect of advertising minutage, it should exercise that discretion with due care to ensure that any change does not have a negative impact on the viewers' and listeners' experience or have a detrimental impact on the overall quality of Irish broadcasting services.
In respect of the upper limit of 12 minutes for television advertising proposed in amendment No. 38, this is covered by the requirement in section 43(4) for any broadcasting advertising rule, prepared by the broadcasting authority of Ireland under section 43, to accord with Chapter IV of the audio-visual media services directive.
While it may be argued that the average mechanisms proposed in amendments Nos. 38 and 39 would allow for more free flow and elimination of petty breaches, it would still have the effect of extending the amount of radio and television advertising over and above the ten and 12 minute maxima provided for in the Bill.
Having reflected on the matter since Committee Stage, particularly on the likely impacts on audiences and quality of broadcasting, I do not believe it is in the general interest to allow a greater amount of advertising in any one hour than the maxima proposed. The audio-visual media services directive requires a limit of 12 minutes per clock hour and does not permit an averaging over several hours. Accordingly, I will not be accepting these amendments.
I am willing to withdraw my amendment on the basis of the Minister looking again at amendment No. 39. The Minister is taking a legalistic and theoretical view on this matter rather than a pragmatic one. I would be surprised if he has spoken about this issue with radio broadcasters as he does not seem to understand what we are getting at about two consecutive hours rather than one.
Many examples could be given of radio stations which would turn away viewers by doing what the Minister proposes. It would be crazy if a station had to cut short an interesting interview with a Minister simply because of a requirement to broadcast three minutes of advertising before the end of the hour rather than delay the advertisements to the following hour. No radio station wants to reduce its audience.
The Minister argues that moving from an hourly requirement to a slightly more flexible arrangement that would allow advertising time to be averaged over two hours will in some way damage radio listenership. However, the motivation behind this amendment is to improve radio content rather than force advertising breaks to meet strict criteria. I fundamentally disagree with him in this regard and ask him to reconsider.
We are not seeking a complete clampdown on radio stations so that any oversight leads to immediate revocation of a licence. In 2008, 11 stations were notified of 50 breaches to the ten minute rule. Common breaches included sponsorship announcements, competition announcements and other mechanisms, which were in effect advertising, not being included in the minutes, incorrect timing of recordings whereby a 40-second advertisement was logged as 30 seconds and the overrun of advertisements from one hour to the next. I understand that a very limited number of these breaches were due to the overrun of an interview. The broadcasting authority must have the flexibility to manage this issue, including mechanisms to address flagrant breaches, without requiring broadcasters to stop dead on the clock. The Bill provides for certain standards so that, for example, rush hour audiences are not forced to listen to lengthy advertising breaks.
How stands the amendment?
I withdraw it.
Given that amendment No. 38 has been withdrawn, we have not decided on the question "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the Bill." As such, Deputy McManus may move amendment No. 39.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 44, line 34, after "minutes" to insert "averaged over two consecutive hours".
Even if amendment No. 38 had been pressed, this amendment could still have been moved.
By way of explanation of the procedural point, the question on amendment No. 38, had it been put, was: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the Bill." Had that question been carried, there would have been a decision by the House not to amend the words in the Bill. However, as the amendment was withdrawn and I did not put the question, it was proper to move amendment No. 39.
Amendments Nos. 40, 41, 44 and 46 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 44, to delete lines 38 to 41.
I recognise this is a sensitive area. As the reintroduction of religious advertising to broadcasting in Ireland should not be done lightly, I have been careful to propose a form of wording that would allow the broadcasting authority to put in place a code of conduct for such advertisements. I have also proposed in amendment No. 46 to give the authority the power to prohibit if necessary any form of religious advertising should the experiment be abused. I do not propose a radical free-for-all that would allow any form of religious or faith promotion.
Amendment No. 44 provides for the insertion of a new paragraph (j) which reads:
[T]hat any advertising, teleshopping material, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion employed in any broadcasting service which relates to a religious organisation, publication or teaching is in no way divisive or discriminatory in relation to any community, section of community or person and that a positive tolerance towards diversity and multiculturalism is shown at all times.
This is the basis for the code of conduct I would like the authority to put in place. As an insurance mechanism, amendment No. 45 provides the insertion of a new subsection (5), which reads:
A broadcasting code prepared by the Authority under subsection (2)(j) may prohibit advertising, in a broadcasting service of religious advertising considered by the Authority to be intolerant of diversity, or divisive in its content or message, indeed the Authority shall reserve the right to prohibit all forms of religious advertising, as was the case prior to the Broadcasting Act 2009, should the Authority deem it necessary to introduce a new code to do so.
Amendment No. 47 requires the authority to appear before an Oireachtas committee at least once every year to report on the effectiveness of the broadcasting codes in place, suggest amendments to established codes or propose entirely new codes. These amendments recognise that Ireland is mature enough to allow responsible forms of religious advertising, whether in the run-up to Christmas or in respect of the country's various minority religions. However, a mechanism will be available to shut these provisions down if they are abused.
I do not expect the Minister to accept my amendments but I ask him to consider them nonetheless. I recognise what he is trying to achieve in the existing text of the Bill in terms of permitting the advertisement of religious newspapers, magazines and periodicals. However, we should go a little further. It would be brave to do so but Irish society is mature enough now to handle that as long as an insurance mechanism is in place that can respond to abuse of the code of practice and oversight by an Oireachtas committee of the operation of the codes of practices on an annual basis is provided for in order that we can have an input into tightening, amending or introducing new codes of practice for advertising.
This is a sensitive and, in some ways, difficult issue, which we rightly considered in depth on Committee Stage. Further consideration has been given to the amendments tabled by Deputy Coveney and me.
Section 24 of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, as extended by section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act 1988, provides that a broadcaster shall not accept any advertisement directed towards any religious end. Section 65 of the Broadcasting Act 2001 modified this requirement by providing that the prohibition on religious adverting does not preclude the broadcasting of a notice of the fact that religious newspapers, magazines and periodicals are available for sale or supply or that any event or ceremony associated with any particular religion will take place.
Section 41(4) provides for a lighter, more focused restriction on religious advertising, that is, "A broadcaster should not broadcast an advertisement which addresses the issues or merits or otherwise of adhering to any religious faith or belief or of becoming a member of any religion or religious organisation", as opposed to the original restriction on any advertisement directed towards any religious end. This change is intended to place the emphasis of the restriction on the content of the advertisement rather than on whether the organisation proposing the advertisement has objectives of a religious nature. Section 41(6) continues the original exemptions, as outlined in section 65 of the Broadcasting Act 2001.
On foot of the Committee Stage debate and following consultation with the BCI, it is proposed to retain the wording of section 41(4) but to delete section 41(6) in my amendment. The purpose of the deletion is to address concerns that this subsection would be legally interpreted as an exhaustive list of exemptions from the restriction on religious advertising, thus negating the effect of the lighter, more focused restriction proposed in section 41(4).
I agree with the general intent of Deputy Coveney's amendments that the existing position should be liberalised somewhat. However, given the highly contentious nature of religious advertising, some restrictions are still necessary and it is important that the Oireachtas gives a clear direction to the BAI. It is appropriate to concentrate on the content of the advertisement and try to retain a restriction, as we agreed on Committee Stage, in order that, for example, we do not open up a scenario where a religious group with access to funding could try to attract members or promote itself over another. We do not want that to happen. The retention of section 41(4) provides a proper restriction in that regard while, at the same time, the deletion of section 41(6) gives the authority greater flexibility in how it interprets the restriction. The provision allows the authority to concentrate on the content of the advertisement and it is not exhaustive. It is impossible to be completely exhaustive by legislative means. We are better to allow the commission to use the powers it is being given.
One of my frustrations in this regard is that on Committee Stage we tried to open the Minister's mind to accepting some form of tolerance of religious advertising. However, he proposes to delete section 41(6) but not to follow through and accept my amendments. In other words, he will make the Bill more restrictive. With regard to religious advertising, section 41(4) states, "A broadcaster shall not broadcast an advertisement which addresses the issues of the merits or otherwise of adhering to any religious faith or belief or of becoming a member of any religion or religious organisation", while the Minister proposes to delete section 41(6). Does that mean, for example, The Irish Catholic, can be advertised on television or radio? I do not see how that is necessarily the case. A judgment call is required of the authority as to whether anything in the newspaper promotes joining the Catholic faith.
At least section 41(6) makes it clear religious newspapers, magazines or periodicals can be available for sale but the Minister is saying that will no longer be catered for in the legislation and the only subsection that could guide the authority is section 41(4), which is very restrictive. I attempted to open up a discussion on a slightly more liberal approach to religious advertising because society is mature enough to deal with that but what is proposed shuts off the original provision, which is unfortunate.
I appreciate this is a difficult issue and we are all conscious that we need to adopt a certain prudence but I agree with Deputy Coveney. The Minister is deleting section 41(6) on legal advice because it might be seen to be prescriptive, as only newspaper, magazines or periodicals and events or ceremonies could be exempt. I do not understand how that can be the case because the section is clear that nothing in section 41(4) is to be read as preventing the broadcasting of a notice of the fact and it then specifies and copperfastens two exemptions relating to publishing and an event or ceremony. It does not provide that it automatically excludes other issues because section 41(4) states an advertisement cannot be broadcast to address the issues of adhering to a religious faith. However, as the Minister pointed out, it is opening up, and, therefore, it is a matter of judgment.
There must be a question over the legal advice. If something is factual, which is clear, it is difficult to see how it could be open to an interpretation that would further restrict religious advertising. Were issues raised about whether the legal advice was correct or overly cautious because it does not stand up logically? Two specific exemptions are provided for and we all know and understand them. People will be paid good money to make a judgment on what complies with section 41(4) and we hope we will get over silly decisions, such as the banning of the Trócaire advertisement and the reference to a crib being censored. However, I question the legal advice. The Minister must accept that there is a common sense approach in section 41(6), which states clearly and without any ambiguity that certain things will not be prevented because they are straightforward and clear-cut and that other issues will come under the ambit of section 41(4).
To clarify, it is not legal advice, it is in consultation with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, which has been engaged, as Deputy McManus indicated, in a multitude of cases such as the advertising of a crib. Under the existing legislation the commission tries to interpret the direction of the Oireachtas, including what is included in specific provisions, as that is part of its interpretation. After its consideration and our consideration, including the debate we had on Committee Stage, it was considered that the way to achieve the dual objective of protecting ourselves from the introduction of religious advertising that would go over the line we would all consider appropriate, would be to keep that line but at the same time give the commission or the new authority the powers to judge whether an advertisement goes across the line or otherwise. The experience of what is happening on the ground and a desire to be more flexible drew us to the conclusion that this was the best way to proceed rather than having a list that referred to two particular areas, namely the publishing and the event or ceremony itself, because a crib does not fit in to either of those categories.
As to whether that would breach the original intent and if it was on the right side of the line, it was considered that it was better not to be prescriptive in that regard but to leave the judgment to the new authority. We are vesting it with the clear direction that we do not want religious advertising that tries to promote one faith versus the other but at the same time we want to provide flexibility. That is what we are doing by making the amendment. We are giving the authority greater freedom to make those calls based on the experience of what is happening and what type of advertisements are presented.
How stands the amendment, Deputy Coveney?
I am pressing it.
Amendment No. 41 is in the name of the Minister and Deputy Coveney.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 44, to delete lines 46 to 49 and in page 45, to delete lines 1 and 2.
Is it agreed that the amendment be made?
I am only supporting the amendment on the condition that the other amendments are likely to be passed, but from what I hear from the Minister they are not likely to be passed. I will not now support the amendment. I wish to record that. If the only thing the Minister is proposing to do is to take out section 41(6) then I will not support that.
Amendments Nos. 43, 45 and 47 will be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 45, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
"(g) that advertising, teleshopping material, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion employed in any broadcasting service, which relates to the promotion of alcoholic beverages, in particular beverages with a high alcohol content, shall have regard to general public health concerns,”.
These three amendments deal with how we address alcohol advertising. I have not been very successful with my amendments on religious advertising but I appeal to the Minister on this issue. What I propose is that, taking public health into account, we would ask the authority to put a code of conduct in place to deal with the advertising of certain alcoholic beverages. In the same way that we are dealing with junk food advertising, we would give power to the authority, should it deem it necessary, to introduce a prohibition on certain types of alcohol advertising, or at certain times of the day, and that would be reinforced by placing a requirement on the authority to appear before the Oireachtas committee to discuss the impact of its codes of conduct once a year.
My amendments are not likely to result in a legal prohibition on the advertising of any forms of alcohol. This is a stick to hold over the industry. Voluntary codes of practice are in place, and they are working to a certain extent but we need to continue to make progress on this issue. If that does not work then we have an alternative, and this is it. What the Minister is saying is that we need to give the authority the power to introduce a prohibition on junk food advertising for children but not alcohol advertising. I do not see the sense in that.
Ireland has an alcohol problem. The industry is very slick in terms of its advertising. Many in the industry have acted responsibly in the past two to three years in terms of implementing codes of practice and voluntary censorship on when alcohol advertising is broadcast and the type of alcohol advertising in terms of the alcohol content of certain drinks. I acknowledge that and wish to put it on the record. However, I also recognise that we are putting legislation in place for decades to come and I wish to ensure that if certain elements of the alcohol industry start to act irresponsibly, if the voluntary codes are not working because they do not have the teeth to persuade the industry to implement restrictions on a voluntary basis, then there is a fall-back position. These amendments would ensure that the industry would take legislators and the authority seriously because it knows that there is this nuclear option in the background in terms of prohibition and that there is a legally defined and recognised code of conduct in terms of alcohol advertising.
It is important to note that there are real drawbacks to asking the authority to implement codes of practice for alcohol advertising because much of our television is broadcast from outside the State and so we cannot control through legislation the advertising broadcast. My preference is to ensure we have a robust voluntary code of conduct that the industry would buy into, but we are aided in that process if we have the armoury in legislation to implement a more blunt mechanism to try to ensure that Irish broadcasters do not advertise alcohol irresponsibly in the future. I hope it will never come to that but it is worth having that provision in legislation. If we have it for junk food we should have it for alcohol. It is not just about protecting children, it is about protecting the public from any potential abuses in alcohol advertising in the future.
I strongly support Deputy Coveney on this issue. It is time we got to grips with alcohol and its abuse. We have talked about it for long enough. When one looks at the fairly dramatic changes that have occurred on another public health issue, namely, smoking, it is clear that political decisions can make a real difference. I am conscious of the fact that not that long ago, when Deputy Gormley was in opposition, he would regularly speak on the Order of Business about the need to legislate on this issue. He was very critical of the Minister at the time.
It seems that there is something missing in this Bill as the alcohol issue has been avoided, even though there is an emphasis on junk food. On the scale of things, alcohol is a more serious issue. I am not denying that childhood obesity is not a big issue, but alcohol is a very big factor in adult obesity. Looking at the range of conditions that lead to early death or serious ill health, alcohol is a key factor along with smoking. Enormous resources are put into the promotion of alcohol, particularly in making the connection between alcohol and sport. It is obviously in the interests of the industry to capture people who are young enough to get a really good habit of consuming alcohol, and very often they take up drinking alcohol to excess.
Either we accept there is an issue of binge drinking in this country or we do not. All the medical evidence suggests that there is a serious issue, be it genetic, cultural or due to the fact that we have become very wealthy, even though we seem to have lost all that wealth again. All these factors have conspired to give us the dubious distinction of being one of the great binge drinkers of Europe. Given the requirements on this new authority to deal with a range of cultural issues, be they multicultural issues or the effects of commercialisation on children, it is really remiss of the Minister to ignore the elephant in the room. Deputy Coveney is trying to give the new authority a form of clout with an industry that is very powerful and makes huge profits, particularly over the period of the Celtic tiger. These profits benefitted people on one side, but on the other side, they have lead to problems on an individual basis and on a societal basis that must be confronted. I regret the fact that the Minister has not done so, and I support Deputy Coveney in his attempt to bring this issue into the Bill where it belongs.
I am in accord with Deputy Coveney's views on the need to regulate the promotion of alcohol on television and on the protection of minors in this area, as well as the wider issues for society. I have provided a requirement in section 42 that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing the standard and practices to be observed by broadcasters. These provisions, under section 42(2)(h), approximate and develop the previous provisions under which the BCI prepares the general advertising code, and the code specifically addresses the central point made with regard to the advertising of alcohol. It prohibits commercial communications for drinks which contain alcohol content over 25%, which means that drinks such as vodka, whiskey, rum and so on are prohibited, and the same provision applies to alcopops. The code also states that commercial communications for alcohol should not be aimed at children, or encourage children and other non-drinkers to begin drinking. Under section 42(9), I have provided for the continuation of this code.
The regulation of alcohol in the State is also a cross-departmental issue. My colleagues in the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have all brought forward measures on this topic in the recent past, such as the revised codes on alcohol marketing, communications and sponsorship and the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. In light of that, I believe that the measures I outlined and those outlined by my colleagues in those Departments provide for the ongoing delivery of a governmental response which is both measured and complimentary, and which encompasses the concerns raised by the Deputy. Therefore, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 43 and 45.
In amendment No. 47, Deputy Coveney proposes a requirement that the broadcasting authority of Ireland appears once a year before the joint committee to report on existing codes, amendments to such codes or new codes, as well as subjecting BAI codes to the approval of the Minister of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Section 20 empowers the relevant Oireachtas committee to call the CEO and chairperson of the authority before the committee at any stage. Section 45 requires that any broadcasting code or rule made by the BAI must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and maybe annulled by resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas; something that is entirely new in broadcasting legislation. Section 45 also requires the BAI to review the effect of broadcasting codes or rules once every four years, and subsequently to lay the report of such a review before the Houses of the Oireachtas. These existing provisions already empower the joint committee to scrutinise the development of broadcasting codes by the BAI.
The second element of the Deputy's amendment relates to ministerial approval of such codes. I would not be in favour of this, as it would interfere with the independence of the BAI in respect of the development of codes. The purpose of section 45 is to recognise the independence of the BAI in carrying out its duties as an independent content regulator, while also keeping the Oireachtas fully appraised of its work. Accordingly, I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment.
That is disappointing. I do not understand why the Minister is treating junk food advertising targeted at children differently from alcohol advertising targeted at children. Nor do I see why he is treating junk food advertising targeted at children differently from alcohol advertising targeted at adults. My proposals would complement what the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister's Department should be doing on alcohol advertising, and would ensure that we have a holistic Government approach towards alcohol in this country. We need to give this independent regulator the power to do something about it, or to threaten to do something about it if it is not get the results it is looking for, but we are not doing that. Instead, we are relying on what's already there, which is disappointing.
With regard to amendment No. 47, there is a big difference between requiring an authority to come into the Oireachtas each year and discuss with Members how codes of practice are working and the amendments they would like to put in place to improve them, and requiring the authority to appear once every four years and allow the committee to call the chairperson or CEO before the committee if that is deemed appropriate by the committee. One of these styles is proactive as it ensures that there is an annual debate between policy makers and the regulator, while the other requires policy makers to make that happen by using the powers available to them.
I ask the Minister to take note of this. He will have time to reflect upon it and he should consider the points that have been made today. He should consult with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the Green Party's views on this whole issue. I suspect that the Minister is so busy he might have forgotten the Green Party position on these important issues.