Future of Media in Ireland: Discussion

I am delighted to be joined by our guests from the Future of Media Commission. I ask colleagues to bear with me while I go through some housekeeping matters. The format of the meeting is that I will invite Professor Brian MacCraith to make his opening statement, to be followed by an exchange of views with committee members. As our guests are probably aware, the committee may publish the opening statements on its website following the meeting.

Before I invite Professor MacCraith to deliver his opening statement, which is limited to three minutes, I advise the witnesses of the following with regard to parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they may be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction. As some of our witnesses are attending remotely from outside of the Leinster House campus, they should note that there are limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirements that they must be physically present in the confines of Leinster House or the convention centre to participate in the public meeting. Any member who is not so present will be asked to leave the meeting. I ask members to identify themselves when contributing for the benefit of the Debates Office staff who are preparing the Official Report. I also ask them to mute their microphones when not contributing in order to reduce background noise and feedback. I ask our guests and members to use the raise hand function on their screen if they want to contribute. I remind all those joining the meeting to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or on silent.

I welcome the following witnesses who will be joining us from committee room 3 remotely via Microsoft Teams: Professor Brian MacCraith, chair of the Future of Media Commission; and commission members Ms Sinéad Burke, CEO of Tilting the Lens; Professor Gillian Doyle, professor of media economics at Glasgow University; Ms Siobhán Holliman, deputy editor of the Tuam Herald; and Mr. Mark Little, CEO of Kinzen. I welcome, too, Mr. Andrew Munro, secretary of the commission, who has been most helpful in arranging the meeting. I thank all our witnesses very much for attending. We are delighted to have them. I am sure they know well the format of the meeting, whereby we will hear the opening statement and then have questions from members, who will get a certain amount of time for their questions. We will try to keep matters moving and give all members an opportunity to contribute because it is a short meeting and there is a lot to get through.

Without further ado, I invite Professor MacCraith to make his opening statement.

Professor Brian MacCraith

Gabhaim buíochas ar dtús leis an gCathaoirleach, leis na Teachtaí Dála agus leis na Seanadóirí as an gcuireadh teacht anseo chun labhairt leo inniu. Táim ag súil go mór le comhrá dearfach. On behalf of the Future of Media Commission, I thank the committee for the kind invitation to have an exchange of views on the future of the media and the work of the commission. I am joined by some of my fellow members of the commission whom the Chairman kindly introduced. In the interests of time, I will just refer to some small sections of the written statement I have provided to the committee.

Broadly, our terms of reference identify four important public services: to inform, educate and entertain the public with regard to Irish culture, identity, sport and language; to ensure access to high-quality independent journalism; to bring the nation and diaspora together at important moments; and to ensure the work of Irish creative talent reaches audiences in Ireland and further afield. We have been asked to identify the Irish experience in delivering the above aims and the challenges created for the media by new global platforms and changing audience preferences with regard to how content is delivered. We have been tasked with examining whether current models are appropriate for the future and reviewing best international practice in this regard. Arising from that work, the commission will propose how public service aims should be delivered in Ireland over the next ten years, how this can support the cultural and creative sectors and how this work can be funded in a way that is sustainable, ensures independence and delivers value for money. We are to make recommendations on the role and financing of RTÉ, as well as on oversight and regulation, having regard to our EU obligations.

Engagement and consultation have been a significant part of our work. To give one example, more than 800 members of the public and stakeholder organisations took the time to make a submission to our public consultation process. We held six online thematic dialogues that enabled a broad range of stakeholders, experts and members of the public and the commission to engage with each other. The importance to the public of the media is and was evident. The public really values the service provided to it by the media at national, local, and community levels. Those three areas are important.

As I explained in my reply to the invitation of the Chairman, the commission has not reached its conclusions or submitted its report to the Government. It will do so in July. The commission is, therefore, not in a position to discuss its findings and conclusions at this stage. We understand that the committee is engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny of the online safety and media regulation Bill. The commission has been briefed on the Bill and its provisions to transpose the revised audiovisual media services directive, AVMSD, establish the media commission and provide for online safety and other matters. Although the proposed legislation is of interest to the commission, we are not in a position to express a definitive view on it today. What we can say is that our recommendations for the future of media may have implications for legislation and, where they do, we will endeavour to express them at a high level in terms of the underpinning principles and desired outcomes. The finer detail of the legislation will be a matter for legislators, parliamentary counsel and departmental officials.

However, my colleagues and I are happy to speak about what we have heard and learned during our work and about the major themes and issues that are emerging from that. These include, for example, the importance of fostering and maintaining quality journalism, independence in journalism, collaboration, innovation, platform neutrality and a very strong emphasis on equality, diversity, and inclusion. We are eager to hear the reflections of the members of the committee, as elected public representatives, on the future of the media as they will be of assistance to us as we formulate our findings and recommendations in the coming weeks.

I will keep my questions brief, given the time limit. What kind of examination did the commission carry out with regard to the licence fee, other than the thematic dialogue that took place in March? Did it speak to experts in other jurisdictions, for example, regarding their approach? What other work was done with Irish experts, etc., when looking at the issue?

The issue of advertising was considered by the commission but I ask our guests to further address, in particular, potentially harmful advertising such as that relating to alcohol, betting, junk food and other advertising targeted at children.

Has the commission carried out work on Irish-language media and the importance of protecting and supporting it?

Professor Brian MacCraith

I thank the Deputy. I will give some high-level comments on her questions and then hand over to other members of the commission who have specific expertise in some of the areas she mentioned. In terms of the licence fee and the broader funding of public service broadcasting, we looked at a broad range of international models. I am pleased to be joined by Professor Gillian Doyle, a professor of media economics who is an expert on these matters and can say more about that issue. We have spoken to experts in several nations across Europe, as well as the European Broadcasting Union, EBU, but I will let Professor Doyle comment on that.

As regards language, of course the Irish language is an important part of our remit. We are still engaged on that matter. It is certainly significant. It is in our terms of reference. It is something we will make comments and recommendations on in our report, as appropriate and as the committee would expect us to do.

Before I call in Mr. Andrew Munro to comment on the matter of harmful advertising, I will go to Professor Doyle on the licence fee and alternative funding mechanisms for public service broadcasting which we have considered.

Professor Gillian Doyle

In the course of our deliberations, we looked at a variety of different models. The compulsory licence fee used to be prevalent in many countries. A number of them have moved in recent years away from it, however. While it still prevails in the UK and in some other countries, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and so on have moved away from it in recent years.

The licence fee has an advantage for consumers and citizens. There is still a very visible social contract between those paying the fee and the provider. We all recognise that, however, in this era where people are consuming content via devices other than the television set, a device-specific charge looks outdated. The licence fee is an approach which has merits because it safeguards autonomy and editorial independence of public service media.

A problem with the licence fee is that it is regressive in that it charges the same amount whether one is rich or poor. Another issue in the Irish context that we have heard about is that there are high collection costs and high evasion rates. The main problem with it is the device-specific nature of the charge.

We have looked at a range of alternative models as well. As the link between the receiving device and fee liability does not make sense anymore, one of the other options that would make sense would be to shift the basis of liability to a household levy. That would allow one to make it a universal charge. Potentially, it could bring in more revenue and the cost could be spread differently. It could include businesses and bring in more progressive elements to it that take account of ability to pay. It would be better future-proofed. That sort of switch to a household charge was made in Germany in 2013. In an Irish context, it could provide an opportunity to create a larger fund-----

I must stop Professor Doyle as we have run over time. Does Deputy Munster have any other quick questions?

We have not touched on the answers to the other two questions. Could I get short answers to my other questions?

Professor Brian MacCraith

We are still considering the Irish language element. It is actually on the agenda for this week's meeting and it will come up over the coming weeks as we formulate our conclusions. It is clearly called out in our remit and terms of reference looking at RTÉ and TG4 and across the broader media ecosystem. We had some significant submissions on the subject of the language. We also engaged with TG4, Conradh na Gaeilge and others around the matter. I hope that reassures the Deputy that it is a significant priority for us.

Mr. Andrew Munro

Our terms of reference are not specifically directed at advertising. However, we are conscious of the space when we are talking about the standards which should apply to public service media and content. We are looking at the regulatory environment that applies to both public service broadcasters and the other independent broadcasters regulated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. We are also conscious that if we are to make any proposals about extending public funding support into any other areas of the media, standards and principles should underpin and go along with that funding. We would be conscious of the need for high standards, not just in journalism but in terms of the protection of children, as the Deputy outlined with regard to advertising.

My first question is for Ms Siobhán Holliman. Professionally, she is au fait with the situation of local newspapers. There are over 50 local newspapers affiliated to the Press Council of Ireland but many are in desperate financial straits. The Tánaiste has been quizzed by me in the Seanad about supports for local newspapers commensurate with what has happened in local radio. He stated in the Dáil that the business model is broken and has to change. Is that a view shared by the commission?

Some people would like to paint local and regional newspapers as dinosaurs and as an outdated media. If that is the case, we are throwing local journalism and local reporting of important events to the wolves. If local newsrooms are not supported, they will die. How strongly will the commission support local media? If we go down the route of the UK and the US, we will not have the breeding ground for journalists to go to a national level nor the recording of important events.

I welcome Ms Sinéad Burke, a fellow Navan person. I compliment her on the excellent thematic dialogue that she chaired on how available the media output to an increasingly diverse audience is, such as to people with a disability, the LGBT community, as well as representatives from Black Irish Media. It made sure they were not just tokenistic characters when represented in the media.

It is abundantly clear from these hearings that traditional media, such as the big beast of television, are dying. They are being replaced by online media, such as Twitter and Facebook. How will Ms Burke and the commission deal with this? We have seen high-profile stances in the UK with the Premier League having a complete social media blackout when it comes to Black Lives Matter. What is the commission's stance on this? Progress has been made among traditional media outlets such as television but they have changed drastically where the game is now online.

Ms Siobhán Holliman

I am aware of Senator Cassells's keen support for the local media industry. At a personal level it is very much appreciated that it continues to be highlighted. I have first-hand knowledge of the local media industry. It has been my job all of my life to date. I can assure Senator Cassells that I am not a dinosaur. I do not believe local media is in any way extinct at this stage. We are alive and well.

I agree. However, there are some people who want to paint us as dinosaurs. Unfortunately, many young people are not buying the product.

Ms Siobhán Holliman

Indeed. One cannot force people to make a consumer choice. That is their right.

What is evident from the submissions and the stakeholder engagement is the high value that the public places on it. It is something that people value. They see it as something that provides unique content. You cannot get the same content that is in a local paper, whether it is online or in the printed product, elsewhere. The last few years have shown the importance of their availability across all platforms. This is evident in submissions and in the discussions we have had with people in the industry. That is one of the challenges that they face. Local newspapers are highly regarded and have been much discussed by the commission. We have taken a lot of time to take people's views on this subject on board. Local newspapers are integral to communities in rural and urban areas. It is important that media outlets have a connection to their communities, that local democracy continues to be reported upon and that items which might not always be of interest to the public but are in the public interest are also covered. I assure the Senator that these issues are very much to the forefront of the Future of Media Commission's discussions and will be dealt with in our final report.

Ms Sinéad Burke

A Chathaoirleach agus a chomhaltaí, for accessibility purposes I will give a very brief visual description of myself. I am a white, visibly disabled cisgender woman who uses the pronouns "she" and "her". I have long brown hair and I am sitting in front of green flower wallpaper in Navan.

On the diversity and inclusion question that the Senator posed, in the work of the commission we were really intentional about ensuring that the learnings we undertook within this space lived within the mandate of "nothing about us without us". Through our thematic dialogues, we have engaged with stakeholders representing organisations and individuals with lived experience to compare to international best practice in thinking about the increasing representation of diverse people, in front of the camera but also behind it, with regards to our media entity. As already stated, we have not yet come to our final conclusions within this but it is intrinsic to the work of the commission in terms of who we learn from and how we consider diversity and inclusion. The Senator made specific reference to the digital landscape. We have seen from international best practice is that digital has been a space where diverse voices have been most welcome. We have also learned from our discussions, including our thematic dialogue, that these communities have a desire to ensure the digital landscape is not the only one in which diversity is represented. We are currently trying to create recommendations which understand the desire, importance and relevance for diverse voices to exist within our media landscape as they do in our society.

Cuirim fáilte roimh gach duine. I will focus on the legislation we are considering. What do the witnesses see as the primary roles of the new media commission that we are going to set up? Do they see it as becoming a regulator? Do they believe it will also have a role in education and in supporting content creation?

My next question relates to the commission's third thematic dialogue around dealing with misinformation and disinformation. Dr. Scott Ruston of Arizona State University has raised the question of transparency in the use of algorithms by social media companies. This is particularly important. We want to see a code around algorithmic decision-making and how algorithms are used to feed misinformation and disinformation. I am interested to hear the witnesses' views on how we should tie that into legislation or the development of codes by the new commission.

I will put a direct question to Professor MacCraith which is related to the misinformation and disinformation issue. He has headed up the very successful vaccination programme on behalf of the Government, and I think everyone is very appreciative of that. There was concern about the spreading of disinformation and fake news about the Covid-19 vaccine. What lessons can we learn from what we have seen over the last year? In particular, how would the new commission deal in such circumstances with the need to get very important information to people? When I raised the role of social media companies in tackling disinformation around Covid in the Seanad, I experienced a bit of abuse as a result. Ireland has been very lucky that we had such a high take-up level of the vaccine but there are important lessons that are there to be learned.

Professor Brian MacCraith

I will take the first question and pass the second question - on misinformation and algorithms - to Mr. Little, who is the most appropriate person to answer on the basis of his experience in the past and the role of Kinzen, his current company. I will turn to Mr. Munro on the role of the proposed media commission. The Senator is correct in what he says about the functionality and the role of that commission. While we cannot go into detail on that, the new commission will play a very important role.

I thank the Senator for his positive comments on the vaccination programme. At the very beginning, we knew from international experience that anti-vax sentiment on social media platforms would be an issue, particularly as we look down through the age cohorts. We are getting down through them, thankfully, and we will reach 30-year-olds very shortly. We had direct engagement with Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, in the first instance as a task force. Subsequently, the HSE and the Department of Health have had ongoing engagements with those platforms, as well as Kinzen. I will let its founder, Mr. Little, speak about that in a moment. We engaged in terms of their co-operation in tackling this and directing individuals to reliable sites with reliable information. As the Senator knows, it is a battle one can never win. One must keep engaging with it all the time. There have been Europe-leading levels of uptake of the vaccine in Ireland so far. We are now vaccinating those in their 40s. This is a good sign that people in Ireland have been turning to trusted sources of information and have not, so far, been overly influenced by continuing anti-vax activity. It was very noticeable at the weekend when the European Medicines Agency came out with a statement that it was experiencing a lot of negative anti-vax material on social media platforms. What is the lesson learned? Certainly, Ireland is fortunate to have a significant presence of social media platforms which have been very positive and collaborative with us in this regard. We have learned the importance of ongoing engagement and collaboration with them. There might be a broader message in that for other issues we must deal with.

I ask Mr. Little to speak about the more specific issues around technology, misinformation and the algorithms associated with it.

Mr. Mark Little

I have a personal perspective but also a professional one. Personally, I believe we should see misinformation and disinformation around the vaccines as part of an infodemic that parallels the spread of the pandemic. To that extent, we should focus on how we flatten the curve. How do we detect and intervene early? How do we help the essential workers, as I describe them, in those platforms - the trust and safety teams and the content moderators - to detect things that are global in their source? All misinformation is global even as it washes up to our shores. We need to watch out for the local accents and be able to give the platforms a sense of whether to intervene now, or wait and watch. That is one of the roles that we play in our company, Kinzen.

In a broader policy framework, as Professor MacCraith indicates, having a strong public service media, and I mean that in the broader sense, is absolutely the first step in fighting back against disinformation and misinformation. We need to paint our broader project here in that context. The commission is focused on looking at the ways in which international policy is starting to align - or, in some cases, to misalign - in how we tackle ongoing resilience around the ecosystem.

The proposed digital services Act, DSA, is a great place to start. We are way ahead of the Americans with the regulation we currently have in process, particularly as it relates to the role of trusted flaggers, which is how the company that I run is described. We are waiting to see exactly how the code of practice on disinformation will translate into the online harm legislation, an area on which the committee's work will be key. The code of practice is lagging behind. Right now, the DSA defines illegal disinformation. It does not address the threat coming from things that are still legal.

We are also watching how the European Digital Media Observatory starts to get rolled out locally in countries such as Ireland. Work on that is ongoing. Regarding media literacy, how do we train ordinary citizens to be able to see the telltale signs of things that are designed to reduce our faith in public health?

The Senator addressed the key question. Regulation banning disinformation will not be the silver bullet. He is right in saying that we need closer oversight of how the algorithms work in these recommendation systems. We need to allow independent researchers to have access to the data sets these platforms are using. Work remains to be done on how the DSA will address that bigger issue. I am confident that we in Europe have a head start on the US. Due to historical factors relating to the development of cutting-edge information economic companies like ours, we have an edge here in Ireland. That is very much to the front of our mind. It will require a partnership between policy and the practical everyday work of fighting back against this infodemic.

I welcome the witnesses. Newspaper circulation has more than halved and advertising spending is moving online. The financial model underpinning traditional journalism is slowly beginning to crumble. The question of the long-term viability of journalism has been looming for some time and it has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic. Does the Future of Media Commission accept the need for remuneration for content or the implementation of a digital tax, a system by which local media companies are remunerated for the use of their content by tech companies, remediating their problem, including the implementation of the copyright directive and the consideration of the new Australian model? Has that been reviewed?

What are the witnesses' views on a tax on global tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, to create a fund to support public service content creation to address the challenges they face?

Professor Brian MacCraith

I thank the Deputy for his questions. He will appreciate that we cannot give very specific answers because they would divulge our recommendations, some of which have not yet been made in this context. I will shortly ask Professor Doyle to elaborate. We recognise - it was a very significant part of our engagements and consultation - the challenges for the long-term viability of many sectors of the media system because of the absolute takeover of the advertising space by the big tech companies. Senator Cassells spoke earlier about local and regional newspapers, and local and community radio. That is very much to the fore in our deliberations, as is the very important issue of supporting high-quality journalism. So much of what is important in our society and democracy relies on our sustaining and maintaining high-quality journalism. Those issues will form part of our recommendations.

We have looked at the Australian, French and UK models in terms of how one engages with the big tech companies and how one addresses the difficult problem of the use of news content on those platforms. We have discussed issues of the copyright directive, a digital tax and so on. However, we are not at liberty to outline our exact thoughts in this regard, except to say that it is a very important part of our deliberation and has rightly consumed much of our time. I will ask Professor Doyle to give some more specific detail on that.

Professor Gillian Doyle

We have heard much discussion about the shift of attention of audiences to online and also the shift of advertising. That has been very damaging for public service media and for print media. This structural change appears to be ongoing. There will be more migration which means less money from advertising to support professional media content creation. We have heard that addressing this will require some combination of traditional media finding new revenue models, market solutions plus interventions.

Consideration is being given to subsidies for public service media and for public service content that is more platform-neutral and perhaps some form of redistribution of revenues from big tech companies to traditional media. This might be achieved voluntarily or through some form of collaboration and support schemes in which big tech companies might play a part, or, as the Deputy mentioned, through the imposition of a requirement for payments under copyright law for substantive use of content or through use of competition interventions. There is also the option of imposing targeted levies to support local production, as exists in France. We have looked at all these and our considerations are ongoing.

I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee. How is it proposed to protect small local media outlets? We are in a sea of media outlets at the moment with more coming on board. Particularly in rural areas, local newspapers and local magazines are very important to the community.

The areas of disinformation and media literacy are important but are also notoriously difficult to legislate for. How is the content defined? How is it possible to get around issues such as freedom of speech and expression?

When issuing new television and radio licences, would the commission be prepared to recommend 5% use of the Irish language?

Professor Brian MacCraith

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I will call in my colleagues on specific matters, but I will try to deal with some of the issues he raised. We were very conscious of the importance of local print and broadcast media outlets. We had a significant engagement with Craol regarding community radio and so on. As some members have mentioned already and as we have heard throughout the consultation process, the pandemic has proven the importance of this, particularly for rural communities. We do not want to follow what has happened in other parts of the world including in the US with what are called media deserts or news deserts. We want to ensure this happens at a local level. It is forming an active part of our deliberations and we will be commenting on this. We will be seeking to address supports in this regard, but I cannot be more specific than that.

The Deputy also mentioned media literacy, which is another critical part of what we are discussing and goes back into the broader misinformation and disinformation situation.

There are some bodies like Craol that are addressing media literacy already. We will comment on its importance and protecting our society in that regard.
If I talk about licences, it brings us to our deliberations on what is a sustainable funding model for public service broadcasting. We are not in a position to comment specifically on that. The Deputy asked how one could use income to support the Irish language. Returning to what I said earlier, it is correctly an important part of our deliberations and we will make specific comments and recommendations in this regard.
I will turn to Ms Holliman to add more depth to my answers on local media outlets. She will provide a more informed commentary.

Ms Siobhán Holliman

As others have noted, there is considerable pressure on the local media in the community radio, independent radio, and local and regional newspaper sectors. We have heard considerable inputs from them during our work. The sector is extremely fragile at the moment, as the committee will be aware. The pandemic has heightened its reliance on its advertising income. We are very much aware that circulation has been impacted in the last few years. The sector has not yet come up with a solution. We have considered how its unique content can be supported for what it does in the public interest, but while remaining independent. In all this discussion, it is crucial that we have a trustworthy news sector and that our journalism is independent and transparent and has standards that it holds. It is important that it does not succumb to commercial or political pressures. That is the overview we are looking at in the local media sector in particular. There have been calls for support and different ways to help not only the media but also the many workers involved. We must ensure that they have a future and that there is a future for upcoming journalists at local and national level. We are considering how it can be done in a balanced way that is not interfered with by commercial or political sectors. We will bring the issues to the fore in our final report.

I will pick up on Deputy Munster's line of questioning around the licence fee and the different models that were explored. It has been said that the witnesses cannot go into it but inasmuch as they can, will they speak about the different models they looked at?

Education resources on disinformation have been mentioned. Has the commission explored the need for educational initiatives around the use of our data online? The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has announced landmark litigation today around online ads and people being tracked. It does not have to be that way. Is there education on the existing alternatives to WhatsApp, Google and Gmail that do not track our lives? Has the commission explored educating people about how their data is used online?

Has the Future of Media Commission considered sectoral stability for the community media sector? Community radio and television make one of the greatest contributions to diversity in media. The community media sector is a entry-level place for people who are interested in media to go.

Professor Brian MacCraith

The community media sector is a significant part of our deliberations. The BAI policy on community media is due to be launched formally in the coming days. Linked to that, last week I did a pre-recorded interview with Dundalk FM, which is part of that sector, and commented on the commission's views on that broader space, not only reinforcing the importance of community media - radio, newspapers and so on - but also., as the Senator said, indicating the particular role that community media can play in supporting equality, diversity and inclusion, and the whole representational aspect of the new Irish society that is with us. We looked at examples of migrants and refugees and giving them a platform, and so on, but right across the broader equality, diversity and inclusion area, as Ms Burke mentioned earlier. The theme of equality, diversity and inclusion will be evident in our report, with significant comments on the importance of the community media sector.

I will turn to Mr. Little on disinformation, and the education model around it, after Professor Doyle has finished her answer on the first part of Senator Warfield's question, which was an addition to Deputy Munster's question on other models to sustain and support public service media.

Mr. Mark Little

The thing to address here is the role that the data being collected are playing in the recommendations that are to be shown to citizens. That is a critical part of the media literacy brief. Someone said earlier that it is very hard to define what media literacy is. One of the key elements of best practice internationally that we looked at is helping people to understand that when one receives a friend or family recommendation, it is not from one's friends or family but from a recommendation system that has hoovered up a vast amount of data about one and is telling one what it thinks one wants to see based on its need to optimise for advertising. That is a key element of broader media literacy.

To diverge a little, one aspect we have seen in terms of supporting more community-based media is some good news around the world about international best practices. Where news deserts have emerged in the US, we have started to see the rise of alternative business models around things like subscriptions, donations and membership. We have been very aware of the extent to which we can help to incentivise business models for local community media that are resilient and will survive the next ten years, and not just rectify the pain of the last ten years. We have also looked at the services that community media provide in terms of civic reporting, and at how we can help there. Finally, we have been looking at some of the exciting stuff that is going on in community media around podcasting, for example. One of the key aspects of the Irish media system is the resilience of local radio. We want to see where there is optimism for what will never be a normal for-public media environment. We really need to be prepared for an era when the only constant is change. To that extent we are looking at some of the positive aspects of international best practice in supporting community media in its local formulation but also supporting the key communities around the country.

Professor Gillian Doyle

In looking across the range of options, we considered whether there could be more reliance on commercial revenues. There are questions around having a heavier reliance on advertising because as we know, expenditures on television advertising are in decline. That money is migrating to the Internet and it is not coming back so some degree of reliance on advertising makes sense but not complete reliance. Another possibility is voluntary subscriptions from citizens. That option is being debated in many jurisdictions but has not been adopted. The problem is the way it might cut across the universality principle. From what we have heard, there are questions about whether a subscription model could work in Ireland. There are concerns that you could not raise enough money, or that you might end up with a service aimed only at the privileged. Then we are back to considering publicly funded options. We have talked about the licence fee and the possibility of a switch to a household charge. The other possibility is a government grant or direct Exchequer funding. That would allow you to tap into Ireland's very progressive income tax system and perhaps spread the burden across businesses too.

It is an approach which would remove evasion and promote universality. It also has the advantage of making income more stable and predictable. The snag is that it runs the risk of political interference. One would need strong safeguards to ensure independence from the whims of the government of the day. A number of variants of the government grant approach have been implemented across Europe in recent years as a way of moving away from the licence fee. There are various variant models in Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. We have looked at all of those and are considering them.

I hear the concern about the general taxation piece and the influence of the Government. However, it has to be borne in mind that we already fund TG4 through the Exchequer and general taxation.

I call Deputy Cannon.

I thank the members of the commission for joining us. Looking at my laptop screen here, I am filled with confidence about the calibre and the quality of the people that we have chosen to do the work of the commission. I look forward to its deliberations.

Fine Gael is finalising a submission that it will make to the commission on foot of significant engagement with local media practitioners, both in print media and broadcasting, over the past two months. We have had some fascinating conversations with those colleagues of Ms Holliman who are on the front line in terms of the challenges they face with ever-dwindling advertising revenue, as well as the slow but steady migration from the traditional outlets to digital.

What brought it home to me was when I was listening to a podcast four or five weeks ago. It was produced in the US and all its contributors were from there. When it went to an ad break, the words "Loughrea" and "Salthill" were mentioned. It was extraordinary. It was this scalpel-like precision in homing in exactly on where I was listening, choosing the advertiser, who obviously paid to be on this platform, and feeding that advertiser directly to me because I happened to be listening in east Galway. It was fascinating, if somewhat sobering, to see what was happening.

Like many other countries have already done, we urgently need to look at some sort of model that supports, as Ms Holliman described it, the production of independent, transparent and trustworthy output and content. What has sustained us as a nation over the past year and a half is that our people have been able to turn to those trusted sources of local and national media, print and broadcast, to determine who exactly they could trust to give them strong, solid and reliable information. We have to back that production of strong, solid and reliable information to the hilt in terms of the work that is going to happen over the next decade or so.

We are now moving into an extraordinarily fascinating and exciting but, as Mr. Little described it, ever-changing landscape. We need to strike a balance between regulating the social media landscape and allowing people to use social media to communicate. We saw an example of the effectiveness of that communication yesterday when we had thousands of people coming from Donegal to protest in Dublin, an event which, in the main, was organised on social media. It is important that such a level of engagement is not suppressed in any way in an attempt to regulate social media.

Media literacy was spoken about at length in previous contributions. If at all possible, will the commission engage with the Department of Education to determine what is happening in primary and post-primary schools in this regard? Is there any element of digital or media literacy incorporated into general literacy? When I was growing up, if one saw the National Enquirer on the top shelf of a newsagents stating Martians had landed in Normandy, one could discern quickly this was a nice, interesting and fun read but not the truth. Do our young people, the nine- to 14-year-old cohort, have the skills and knowledge to be able to determine what is correct information? It must be borne in mind that the only time we were challenged by misinformation when we were young was when we walked into our local newsagents. Young people get it every day through computers, etc. Will the commission engage with the Department of Education to see what element of provision there is and how that can be improved?

I thank the witnesses again for the wonderful work they are doing. With the talent and skills we have, along with our exceptionally strong capacity across the whole spectrum of digital, Ireland can become the exemplar in how to develop a healthy, transparent and sustainable media landscape while, at the same time, not suppressing the opportunity for individuals and groups to keep communicating with one another in the future. I wish the commission every success.

I thank the Deputy for his observations and enthusiasm for what is a very distinguished commission.

I thank the witnesses for their comments, observations and presentations today. It is important that this happens along with the work that the committee is doing with pre-legislative scrutiny. I concur with Deputy Cannon that this is probably one of the most important pieces of work of our age in the media sphere. We have got a real opportunity to be a global leader in this.

Next week the committee is due to meet with the European Commission to discuss the strategy, A Europe fit for the digital age. In terms of media plurality and diversity, Ireland does not score favourably on risk factors for social inclusiveness compared to some of our EU colleagues. Of particular concern in Ireland is a lack of protections for minority audiences, in addition to a lack of active promotion of gender equality in programme-making. Do any members of the commission wish to comment on that?

Ms Sinéad Burke

I am looking forward to learning how that dialogue evolves. The necessity for greater representation of an intersectional society - "intersectional" meaning thinking about diversity and inclusion through a broad remit of gender, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, political belief and class - has never been more important. The greater cacophony of voices that we can have shaping our content and our media, both in terms of visual representation and craft behind the scenes, has been integral to the issues that we have discussed today. It has been central to our discussions both in terms of our thematic dialogue and the recommendations we will make going forward. We wish to have a media landscape that is meaningfully reflective of the diversity that exists in Ireland and that any person who wishes to participate in the media sees it as a viable, accessible and equitable opportunity for them.

Ms Siobhán Holliman

Over the past number of years, inequality regarding women in the media has rightly been highlighted. There is no doubt that they have a tougher job. There has been huge disparity regarding pay and even equal rights in the media. That could be explored further by the committee. We have progressed well in this regard but there is still a further way to go.

It is not just women but other communities and groups who need a stronger voice. That also comes through education and how they actually arrive into the media. Through our engagement over the past few months, we have seen how difficult it can be. We have mountains of media courses but they are not always accessible to everyone for various reasons, be it community or educational background or financial position. We would endeavour to have an equal playing ground. That also comes from the education point of view and opening up education for all. It is not just a media issue but a society issue in general.

Professor Brian MacCraith

This topic not only emerged from the viewpoint of the various members of the commission; it happened organically right across all of our consultations, thematic dialogues and submissions.

For example, there was a great submission from Black Irish Media. That notion of a truly representative media ecosystem, reflective of the diversity of Irish society, is one of the strongest messages we have received and will be reflected in our recommendations.

That concludes our discussion. I thank Professor MacCraith, Mr. Munro, Ms Burke, Professor Doyle, Ms Holliman and Mr. Little. I hope I have not forgotten anybody. We are delighted to have had this opportunity to discuss these issues with our guests and we wish them the best of luck in their continuing discussions and deliberations and with their report for the Minister, which we hope to see in July.

We will suspend briefly to allow the secretariat to make arrangements for the next session.

Sitting suspended at 1.31 p.m. and resumed at 1.36 p.m.