I welcome the opportunity, firstly, of taking part in this debate because I feel it has been very constructive up to this point— I hope to continue in the same vein— and, secondly, of associating myself with the remarks which, by and large, have commended the television and radio authority particularly for the work they have done in recent years. I feel, like the other speakers, that I am justified in confining my remarks almost entirely to the television side in that I think we are dealing with a new medium, a medium which appears to have, as I might say, invaded the lives of the people in a way in which sound radio never could.
I am no expert on the effects of either of the media but I feel that a major factor in favour of the influences of television is that one has an opportunity of assessing the personality almost as if he were physically present, rather than merely hearing a voice and not being able to balance one's views in regard to the delivery also. Some of the remarks which I will make could scarcely relate to the sound broadcasting side of the Bill before us this evening because, in fact, I think, in all fairness, radio programmes are already catering for the type of thing that I would like to see the television programmes invading.
Before I come on to make what I think are one or two constructive suggestions, I would like to make reference to what Senator FitzGerald expressed some concern about. The first is in connection with section 17 of the Broadcasting Act, 1960, which says that:
In performing its functions the Authority shall bear constantly in mind the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture and shall endeavour to promote the attainment of those aims.
Unlike Senator FitzGerald, I do not see that section as being an exclusive definition of what our national aims are. I do not see it as defining once and for all what are the national aims of this country. In fact, I see it as merely referring to some of our national aims which can be most effectively found in sound, or as it now happens, in television broadcasting.
Anybody obviously will agree that we have other national aims. I think we must have, beyond that of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture, praiseworthy as it is, aims of industrial development and aims of social betterment of the community, and to make better use of them than has hitherto been made by many of our people. We have so many national aims that I fail to see that they are all being interpreted and defined here. That is slightly wide of the mark. I feel the Authority are being asked to bear in mind the aims of restoring the language and developing the culture of the country, which can be very effectively done both in sound broadcasting and in television because those are matters which they are required to bear constantly in mind. That is, in fact, what it says—"shall bear constantly in mind and shall endeavour to promote," nothing more than that. I do not see in this an insidious attempt and, if I did, I would certainly express the same anxiety as Senator FitzGerald. No group, however well-meaning their intention, should be allowed to impose their views on others who do not share them, or should be given the service as an instrument for doing so.
I feel that in referring to a particular debate which, apparently, he himself took part in he showed fairly effectively —if what he said is quite accurate— in that particular case that those who would have questioned the national aim of restoring the Irish language came off very well and have had a very effective opportunity of expressing their views. In this obviously the legislature are endeavouring to set guidelines of principle rather than to be strict or to inhibit in any way the further development of any national aims. This is one man's interpretation of it but it is an interpretation which I feel is the only sensible one which can be put on the section.
As to section 18, I feel that here he and Senator McQuillan have certainly pointed to a matter which, so far, has been rather sadly neglected in our broadcasting, either television or sound broadcasting. They have both made the case very well. I do not have to go any further, except to also reiterate that the politician and the man engaged in public affairs, should both have the right and responsibility of appearing not merely on political platforms or in a particular refrigerator so to speak; they should be placed face to face with people from other vocations, with people whose interests should coincide with theirs, with others whose views may differ from theirs and they should, in fact, have an opportunity of expressing and testing their views in the light of such opposition. I can appreciate the strong criticisms which would be levelled against the Television Authority for endeavouring to implement what I would regard as such an enlightened policy. I can, unfortunately, imagine some of our politicians, some of ourselves so to speak, taking the opportunity of raising the issue that more time was being allowed to the representatives of one Party than to the representatives of another. But I think any person would certainly agree that we should recommend to the Television Authority that public figures be given an opportunity of taking part in discussions which are not confined to public figures themselves. I am not sure that this has not, in fact, been done.
Senator FitzGerald, before he became a member of this House and I presume while he was at all times a member of the Fine Gael Party, had many an opportunity of expressing his views on Telefís Éireann. I presume his views changed in no way whatever when he became a Member of this House. His views should have been political views, because a member of a political Party who believes in that Party's policy must always, I feel, in honesty and principle do what he can to further the aims of that Party. I presume Senator FitzGerald will admit that though he was not, at the time, a Member of this House, on his many appearances on Telefís Éireann he had that fact in mind himself. I should like to go as far as he himself would go in saying that Members of either House should be given the same opportunity for comparison purposes as he was given before becoming a Member of this House.
The major fear which faces us in dealing with this new television medium is, as Senator McQuillan has pointed out, that it is a very new medium, a monster, a new phenomenon to most of us. To that extent, we tend to stand in awe of what is said on television, what is done on television. The views, unreasonable or reasonable, which may be expressed from any television forum are something for which I feel the Television Authority should be held responsible. This is, unfortunately—as of now—a characteristic of our own rather sheltered thinking. I have been somewhat disappointed at the uncritical attitude which the general viewing public has to programmes which they see on Telefís Éireann; particularly in regard to the views they hear expressed. Now I do not here argue for or against any of the views expressed but what I do argue against is absolute swallowing wholly and entirely as the last gospel the words heard last night on such a show or what So-and-So said last night on such a programme. If the particular person or particular panel were suddenly transported from the box into the realm of reality, the words expressed or which appeared to be an expression of infallibility in the television box would be robbed of all this impression when exposed to reality. It is not for me, or anybody else, to say why this is so. The fact is this is so and I dare say that if the proceedings of this House were televised we would probably get a more attentive audience and would be accepted more uncritically than we would be by a person who happened to come into the House and listened to the actual contributions we had to make.
In this regard, I feel the Television Authority must show a great sense of responsibility to the people at large, to present only the type of personalities, ideas, or entertainment for that matter, worthy of further dissemination and not personalities who may have a slick way of passing a phrase or the catchy way of hanging a fringe, or whatever it happens to be, because I am afraid in this, as in many other things, we must be protected against our own immaturity.
On many occasions, indeed, very soon after the Television Authority first came on the air, I was appalled at the suffocation of ideas which suddenly occurred throughout the country in places where previously one had an opportunity of listening to small parliamentarians and would-be Taoiseachs. I speak, of course, of the publichouses and the meeting places throughout the country where the would-be governors of Ireland and all these reformers exercised their own constructive ideas like some party show from Hollywood or something of that nature. The breakthrough had been made and I feel, now that it has been made, we must almost rely on the Television Authority to save us from what could be an almost complete suffocation of any constructive thinking on the part of the Irish viewer. In this I said originally that the suggestions I would make, the criticisms I would have to offer could scarcely be levelled against radio.
I might point very briefly to some factors which I feel would arouse a more critical and constructive attitude on the part of the viewer, programmes which would not allow him to sit back and gape but which would stimulate his thinking and end with the question: "What do you think? Do you wish to have an opportunity of studying the topic discussed this evening? Do not accept as gospel the expert views of the economist or whoever it happened to be. Go and inquire for yourself."
This would be a very commendable innovation. The Television Authority could also introduce to the viewers some of the recent publications in the various fields, be they political, economic, fiction, or otherwise. It might be possible to invite the authors of the books or articles to come on television and to give an idea of what they were trying to convey, to invite them to say: "I have tried to convey in this book the problems which I have tried to ease, or the social ills which I have tried to demonstrate". The Authority could then suggest to the viewer: "You have now heard A, B or C discussing the matters on which he has recently contributed. He has referred you to certain texts or books on which he has based his ideas. We invite you in a fortnight to submit your views based on the research which you have done. We invite you to examine the views he has expressed and to balance them against your own." In a fortnight's time some of the more critical letters might be assessed by the members of the panel.
I have no experience whatsoever of television broadcasting but I feel that the attraction of people hearing their own views criticised constructively on television would be a stimulus which our television programmes badly need. I have spoken particularly about books but the same thing would apply to music, matters of Irish culture, and our national aims. Programmes could be devised which would be more inclined to arouse this type of response from viewers.
The problems and growing-pains which we suffer here in the field of television as in every other field have been suffered in other countries too. Much can be gained from inviting people from outside who are conversant with these problems—the problems of industrial strikes, for example —to discuss these matters and indicate what the reaction has been in Italy, Germany or any other country. I need hardly labour the point by referring to other programmes. This could be extended ad infinitum. I plead not so much for more enlightened programmes but for more enlightened viewers, and the responsibility for this lies to a certain extent with the Authority.
I agree with what Senator McQuillan said about what have been so effectively called our hidden persuaders— the advertising campaigns which are directed to sweeping one off one's feet. This again is connected with what I have already mentioned. There is an uncritical acceptance even of the advertisements one sees on television. I appreciate that a large source of television revenue comes from cigarette advertising. In fact, I think the Minister may point out that the figure is in excess of £100,000. If that is so, we must all readily agree that it would take a major readjustment on the part of the Television Authority to restrict the amount of cigarette advertising. In common with the former Minister for Health in particular I think this should be done. It might have to be restricted by degrees. The cigarette companies themselves might be the last people to complain about this restriction. This was the same in the case of hoardings. The television advertisers, like the people who give stamps, are obliged to vie with each other to contribute this extra £100,000, and more, of which the Authority might not otherwise have the benefit. Perhaps I am living in cloud cuckooland, but I think the Minister should recommend some positive steps to decrease the very serious causes of a very serious illness—cancer of course.