As I was saying when we adjourned, I feel I must express my opposition to the concept of disorder and incitement to crime as it appears in the Bill before us, both in the context of an obligation laid on the authority and in the context of directions which may be given by the Minister. My opposition to this concept, as I explained, is based on a number of grounds. Two with which I dealt before the adjournment were, first of all, the intense legal ambiguity attaching to the phrasing, and secondly the almost, as far as I can see, unanimous criticism of it which comes from authorities in the field and from practitioners in the media.
I should now like to add very briefly two more reasons to underwrite my opposition to this set of phrases in the Bill. The first is that in both cases, it seems to me, this kind of provision seriously undermines the trusteeship function of the RTE Authority. This trusteeship function has been the bedrock of the original Act and I am quite sure it is the bedrock of this Bill also. I see it as being undermined by these provisions. We either accept that there is a trusteeship arrangement operating in which the RTE Authority acts as public trustees, or we do not. If we accept that it acts as trustees for the public we should give it all liberty to carry out that trusteeship. If, in the belief of the Minister or the Oireachtas, it has failed to carry out this trusteeship, then there is a course of action open to the Minister and to the Oireachtas which, in the last analysis, the Minister and the Oireachtas must take. I am not in favour of any intervening mechanisms, much less intervening mechanisms which are framed in such a very vague sort of way.
I should like to make one or two detailed points again on the legal side before I leave this area. I should like to question the thinking behind the drafting of these two sections. For example, it is not at all clear to me whether we are here creating a new crime. If we are not creating a new crime it seems to be pointless to write something like this into the Bill. If we are creating a new crime, which in this case would be the failure of the authority to honour an obligation laid on it by the Bill, or to respond to a direction given to it by the Minister, there is no sanction written into the Bill for a breach, or for having committed this offence. So we have the odd situation in the Bill in which either an offence is being created or it is not, and if it is being created no sanction appears in the Bill anywhere.
There is one other very minor point which I feel I should bring to the Minister's attention which may land him or some subsequent Minister in trouble at a later date. There is provision in the Bill for the dismissal of the Authority, subject to resolutions which may or may not be put down and discussed and voted on by the two Houses of the Oireachtas. I presume that if the Minister disposes of an authority in this manner, he will appoint a new authority. If, through any extraordinary happenstance, we had a situation in which an authority was dismissed and a new authority appointed, a motion to annual the dismissal was put down in the Dáil or the Seanad, or both, and voted on there, had the Minister's decision been reversed by this vote we would then be in a position in which we would have two authorities. Which authority would be the legal one? What would be the position of the Minister and the Department in respect of these two bodies of people?
The next thing I should like to talk about is specifically the Minister's power to direct the Authority in certain regards. Here I should like to make a point which, to my knowledge, has not been made before. We talk in an omnibus and portmanteau fashion about the Minister's power to direct, but under this and the other legislation, he has two powers to direct. He has power to direct the Authority to broadcast something, and he has power to direct the Authority not to broadcast something. These two powers are fundamentally different and should be treated in a different way. It may be sustainable, and it probably is, that in the interests of national security, the Minister and the Government should have the power to direct the national broadcasting station to broadcast anything they wish it to broadcast.
That is a reserve power and a marginal power which we can, perhaps, without any difficulty at all, see as legitimate in the exercise of Government. Even at that, I am not altogether sure that the present legislation provides enough safeguards in this respect. While it may entitle the Minister and the Government to require the Authority to broadcast certain matter, as far as I know, it does not give the Minister the power to direct the Authority to broadcast such matter, at a certain time, and in a certain way. It would seem to me that it would be a very necessary corollary of the power to direct the Authority to broadcast certain matter, that the Government should have the right to direct when and how that matter should be broadcast. A recalcitrant authority, assuming that it had not already been sacked, might easily operate in a conflict situation in such a way as genteely to frustrate the wishes of any Minister or the Government in this regard.
On the second power, the power to direct the Authority to refrain from broadcasting something, I am, as I have said, much less happy. This is something which again tends to vitiate the trusteeship concept which I have spoken about and will also abrogate the editorial responsibility of the RTE Authority. To my mind, the ultimate sanction on an authority, the sanction of being fired, is the one which will effectively operate to maintain standards in broadcasting. If we are to be stuck with a section like this, if we are to be stuck with the power to direct, then I must also query the particular wording of this section.
The Minister said—and I have no doubt of his motivation—that the main reason for this redrafting is to narrow down the field under which directions may be given in comparison with what appeared in the original Act. It is my belief that the present section does not do that satisfactorily. If we are to have a situation in which the Minister or the Government may issue directives to the national broadcasting station in the interests of security and security alone — and this is something which the Minister has stressed very strongly in his speech — then the words: "In the interests of national security alone" should be the most important restriction on any such right by the Minister. I would almost prefer to leave the definition of what matter may or may not be transmitted an open one, as open as it was in the original Act, but to restrict the circumstances under which a direction is issued to include only occasions on which national security is in danger. The question of whether or not national security is or is not in danger could then be determined in some way, and possibly in a judicial way.
Another way in which the Bill sets up a mechanism which, to my mind, could be used to abrogate the editorial responsibility and the public trusteeship function of the Radio Telefís Éireann Authority is in the field of impartiality. As a working journalist, and an occasional part-time lawyer, I must query this term and the use of it in this particular Bill. Again, I must give the Minister credit for the motivation which lies behind this subsection, but I must query its effectiveness and its enforceability. As a legal concept, I find impartiality in the context of modern broadcasting and communications generally, to be almost meaningless. As a professional goal I find it useful if abstract. Here I should like to quote another very brief extract from a commentrary on the Bill by Dr. Anthony Smith on Radio Éireann. Dr. Smith, who was asked specifically to comment on the impartiality provision said:
It could be justified on the grounds that it is meaningless and that no one intends to take any notice of it, which has been the justification for its inclusion in certain other broadcasting constitutions. The BBC was set up without any such obligation of that kind but only with an obligation not to publish its own views and upon that single, very slender obligation, it built up its own code of changing practices in a constant flux and evolution which is how it should be. Of course it is a worthwhile goal but it is a worthwhile professional goal. It is not a worthwhile legal goal. It cannot be enforced legally and any attempt to invoke that clause as a way of judging the actual material of a programme or series of programmes will lead to nothing but a general sense of inhibition over the whole broadcasting profession.
When you come down to it, and when you try to analyse current issues in terms of impartiality and the presentation of issues in impartial terms, you are forced to admit to failure. There is basically, as far as I can see, in actual practice, no such thing as impartiality except in situations of contemporaneous total communication— basically the face to face relationship between one individual and another or between groups of individuals.
Once you introduce the idea of selection—and everything which goes out on the media has been selected, for purely physical reasons of space— you make impartiality as an absolute unattainable. The good professional journalist operates in terms of impartiality by the seat of his pants. He does not need maps to guide him. He has, I would hope, an in-built professional instinct born of his experience and of his training, if he is lucky enough to have any, which tells him whether or not he is being fair not just to the people with whom he disagrees but to people with whom he agrees.
In regards to a newspaper with which I have been associated for a long time, I have often remarked that there seemed to be only one house rule in the paper and that was that anybody who had a policy with which the editor disagreed was far more likely to get space and publicity for his or her or their views than somebody with whom the editor agreed. Many very conscientious editors will lean over backwards in this matter of impartiality, or will introduce positive discrimination in favour of minority groups, and people whose views are opposed to their own, not just so they cannot be accused of partiality, but because they have a genuine interest in protecting minority rights and in seeing that justice is seen to be done as well as being done.
The introduction of the concept of impartiality into a legal instrument of this kind may however lead to all sorts of unhappy although unintended consequences. It may lead, in particular, to a failure to inform the public on matters of serious national importance. My example for this is drawn, like others I have drawn during this speech, from Northern Ireland and specificially from that period just prior to the resignation of Major Chichester-Clark as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, when the BBC had prepared and was actually contemplating the transmission of a programme which showed that among what is widely known as grassroots unionism there was a substantial and growing opposition to Major Chichester-Clark, to his policies and to his continuance in office as Prime Minister. This put the BBC of the day into a very thorny dilemma and indeed one with which I have every sympathy. They resolved it in a way in which, perhaps they were swayed more by an exaggerated notion of impartiality and by the sense of public service which a broadcasting organisation should always embody.
I quote from a September, 1974 edition ofThis Week magazine in which Dr. Smith commented:
...By pointing out forcibly under what behind-the-scenes pressure Chichester-Clark was subjected to at that time Maguire——
he is referring to the controller of programmes——
——and his staff feared that the BBC would help to bring about the very collapse of his power which it was predicting. But neglecting to point out to a British audience the kind of pressures that existed within the Province at that moment made it if anything harder for Chichester-Clark to bring home to Maudling why the processes of reform were proving so difficult. Once broadcasting tries, for reasons however liberal, to lighten the burden of government, it steps upon a slippery slope in which fear and reality become progressively indistinguishable.
The key point in that passage is the last one — the reference to broadcasting trying to lighten the burden of government. We have to accept that the function of government and the function of broadcasting in a modern state are, at certain important points, different. I would never agree with the proposition that a broadcasting authority should break the law or should encourage breaches of the law. Equally, I do not think that it is the function of a broadcasting authority to enforce the law. The enforcement and maintenance of the law is the responsibility of the Government with the goodwill of the citizens, including, I need hardly add, those citizens who work in the media. We must beware of the situation in which the functions of government and the functions of the media in this regard become so confused that the primary function of the media to report what is actually going on somehow becomes submerged.
There are a number of other related problems in this whole question of impartiality. The idea of impartiality was introduced, as the Minister said in his opening speech, into the independent broadcasting legislation in Britain. It has led to problems there. For example, it has led to problems in the question of balance. Notwithstanding the provisions of the independent broadcasting legislation, the programme companies have been encouraged to try to achieve the impossible: to try to achieve balance within individual programmes rather than leave themselves open to the much more difficult task of proving that they have achieved balance over a series of programmes. The independent broadcasting media in Britain have been faced with considerable difficulties by this clause in the matter of satire—we may not all agree with satire but we could certainly regard it as a legitimate function of broadcasting from time to time—and with regard to the growing trend towards access broadcasting. There is no point in dealing with satire at any length except to say that it poses unique problems for any organisation labouring under an impartiality clause like this.
The question of access broadcasting is more important in a sense. Access broadcasting, as it has been developing over the past few years, is aimed specifically at promoting participation in the media, in promoting access to the media by groups who, for one reason or another, hold minority positions in society. There may not always be such groups but because of the way in which the consensus in society tends to operate to exclude such groups or to make their voices marginal, perhaps even more marginal than they need be, has prompted a reassessment of the way in which the media contribute to this, it has prompted the growth of the concept of access broadcasting whereby individual interest groups, however limited their appeal may be, are entitled in some way to some time on the air or in front of the camera.
This is a valuable extension of broadcasting freedom, one which does not tend to undermine society as a whole and one which we have already introduced here and there in our own broadcasting system. I bring to mind specifically a recent programme on RTE which dealt with the problems, the views and the attitudes of Irish humanists—hardly an enormous body in our society. They were allowed on the screen. I had my own objections to the way in which the programme was handled but not with the concept of the programme, which was that basically minority groups do have this right to exposure on a public service in a certain way at a certain time. How do you operate an impartiality proviso when it comes to the promulgation of minority and sometimes intensely minority viewpoints like this?
There is another problem related to impartiality and that is the problem created by situations in which people may act to frustrate the public service role of a broadcasting system by declining to take part in programmes and thus jeopardising the impartiality of a programme or of a series of programmes. The most obvious area where this could happen is in the matter of political discussion. If the Controller of Programmes in RTE, or any of his producers or directors, wishes to have a balanced television discussion on a serious topic and if he is bound by a hard and fast rule of impartiality such as we see in this Bill, effectively we are creating a situation in which any one political party can veto discussion of an important subject by the elected representatives of the people as a whole by simply refusing to appear to put their side of the question.
I am not one of those people who say that all politicians are instant game for television and should be subjected to inquisition by television personalities at every turn of the road. One can go too far in the other direction. There is the danger of a situation developing in which this rigid application of a rigid code of impartiality can give to all sorts of groups in society ade facto veto on public interest broadcastings. I have mentioned the area of politics but there are at least two other areas where this could be equally relevant —the area of religion and the area of consumer affairs. It is not so long ago since, in the wake of a particularly controversial statement by a very prominent cleric, RTE attempted to mount a programme on that subject and failed to do so because they could not find anybody prepared to come on television and defend that cleric, or to adopt the same point of view or to follow in his footsteps. In the whole consumer area if we are to have, as I hope we will have, on the public broadcasting station more and continually better programmes designed to enlighten the public about their rights as consumers and enlighten them about the goods they are being offered— goods which may or may not be of good quality, which may or may not be marketable—are we to have a situation in which the manufacturers of these goods, who have a responsibility to reply in a reasonable way to criticism, will be able to veto discussion of their products and of the marketability of their products simply by refusing to appear on television? One can use the device of the empty chair —“we asked a spokesman from Messrs So and So to appear and he refused.” There is the empty chair with the placard on it saying this space is reserved for Messrs So and So. That palls after a while and in any event it is a technique which can be overused.
If we write this provision on impartiality into this Bill in this way we run the risk of giving in a whole number of important areas effective vetoes to people who do not want to be held accountable for their actions or for the standard of the services they provide.
The final point I want to make on the question of impartiality refers to a section of the Bill which to my mind is as serious as any we have dealt with so far, and that is the section in the general provisions for the complaints commission which authorises the Minister to issue directions to, I presume, the complaints commission but this is not at all clear. The reference is in subsection (13) (a):
Where a code is drawn up by the Authority governing standards and practice for programmes (apart from advertisements) broadcast by it, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, after consultation with the Authority, give a direction in relation to the code, and in case the Minister so gives a direction he shall as soon as may be, inform the Authority of the direction.
It is not clear here to whom the Minister must give the direction. Indeed, it is worthwhile pointing out that this direction—unlike directions in other areas—is not at all subject to parliamentary review.
I am opposed to giving any Minister the power to give directions of this kind in relation to the internal workings of the organisations and possibly, in relation to the internal workings of the commission. It will, I argue very strongly, tend to vitiate the trusteeship function of the authority, and even that of the commission, which operates under the general umbrella of the authority.
I should like very briefly to say a word about the privacy concept. Again I am not at all sure, as in relation to the earlier matters discussed, whether a new offence is being created here. As a working journalist, I am aware on many occasions of cases where, to some extent, people's privacy may be infringed by working journalists. The extent to which this is legitimate or illegitimate is a very complex matter and cannot, I suggest, be dealt with adequately in the way in which we are attempting to deal with it in this Bill. The Minister in his earlier speech, referring to the section in question, said that this gives statutory recognition to a problem on which the authority already have an internal code. With respect, I do not see it as the function of legislation to give statutory recognition to a problem. To my mind the function of legislation is to give statutory recognition to institutions, to create offences and to creat sanctions for offences. There is probably a wider definition of legislation, but it does not include statutory recognition of a problem. Statutorily recognising a problem does nothing towards solving it. If we are to solve the problem we do so either in accordance with the law of the land, with regard to privacy, trespass and so on, or if we think it necessary, we create new offences with new penalties to match them.
I should like to move on to a few final remarks on journalism in general, the Minister's remarks on the IRA and on the role of the media. I should like to begin, again by quoting from the Minister's earlier speech in which, referring to the sort of person the broadcaster is, he said that the broad-caster's professional instinct inclines him towards exposure of what is exciting, even sensational, and to regard the possible social effects of such exposure as conjectural and outside his sphere.
Again, with all respect, I find this a travesty of the profession of which I am a member. One might as well say of politicians that their professional instinct inclines them towards the accumulation of power and its utilisation without regard to the social effects of such utilisation. I suppose that people enter the profession of journalism, as they do that of politics, for all the wrong reasons; but that is no reason why all journalists should be tarred with the brush destined for the bad journalist any more than the politicians, as a race, should be tarred with the approbium attaching to the bad politician.
In his speech the Minister gave three or four which he found wanting examples of journalism specifically in regard to illegal organisations. With regard to examples which the Minister chose I find myself in complete agreement with him. In this regard and perhaps in other areas of journalism there are many areas in which standards can and should be improved. Only this morning I read in a news report in at least one newspaper a reference to "Free State troops". The reference was, admittedly, in a paragraph which as a whole was within quotation marks but to my mind there was nothing gained, in journalistic terms by the inclusion of this specific set of epithets with regard to what is the National Army. I do not defend sloppy journalists. I shall never be found in the ranks of those who will defend journalists rightly or wrongly. Equally I do not use this position as an excuse to do down all journalists. Again I shall not defend sloppy politicians. Yet it could be argued that sloppy politicians are a great deal more dangerous to the nation than sloppy journalists; and yet, compared with journalists, politicians are men of comparative privilege and standing in our society.
There is, as the Minister said—and I have agreed with him—a certain amount of evidence of inadequate standards in journalism. I think—I do not propose to do so here—that one could draw on many other examples to show that. There is also evidence of a high sense of public responsibility and probity in Irish journalism, whether in broadcasting or in the Press. However I would argue very strongly that such evidence should not be used as a basis for the type of statement which the Minister made in his speech where he referred to some of the dangers he saw existing in the situation. He said:
I think our history, both in the more remote past and recently, has placed us today in a situation where the defence of the democratic State, together with the liberal values and civil rights for all citizens which that kind of State alone sustains, requires a high degree of intelligent vigilance and that such vigilance should be turned on our use of words and images and particularly on the broadcasting of these.
It is one thing to say that not all journalists are perfect; it is another to invoke this kind of language in an attempt to justify a measure which will affect inevitably all journalists, the good as well as the bad. We are left almost with the situation in which we are urged to a type of vigilance without regard for the consequences. This is the situation some writers have seen as the beginning of the wrong kind of tyranny, the kind of tyranny which the Minister has so forthrightly proclaimed himself against. When we warn people of the need to be vigilant we run the risk of setting up a fear syndrome, a terror syndrome, a denunciation syndrome. We run the risk of emulating Squealer inAnimal Farm, who, on the eve of the wave of executions told the animals:
I warn every animal on this farm to keep his eyes very wide open. For we have reason to think that some of Snowball's secret agents are lurking among us at this moment.
We run the risk of creating a society in which non-conformity of any kind, and not just that so rightly reprobated by the Minister, becomes actionable and a matter of concern to the authorities of the State and indeed to its broadcasting and supervisory operations also.
We run the risk—this may sound absurd, but not all scenarios are absurd — of creating ultimately the kind of society in which vigilance has become the norm; a society in which the fundamental thing is that people are watched, not whether what they are thinking or saying or doing has any validity in itself. George Orwell in his bookNineteen Eighty-Four affected everybody in general, but more especially members of the ruling party. Describing the life style of the party member he said:
Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever. On the other hand his actions are not regulated by law or by any clearly formulated code of behaviour. In Oceania there is no law. Thoughts and actions which, when detected, mean certain death are not formally forbidden, and the endless purges, arrests, tortures, imprisonments, and vaporizations are not inflicted as punishment for crimes which have actually been committed, but are merely the wiping-out of persons who might perhaps commit a crime at some time in the future.
I do not want to strain the parallel but not least in regard to crimes that may or may not be committed in the future there is a certain resemblance to at least one section of this Broadcasting Bill and the possibility that in the hands of a future Minister this kind of legislation could be used in this kind of way.
In broad terms it seems to me that two of the main grounds on which the Minister makes the justifications for the type of provisions he has included in this Bill are, firstly, the effect of broadcasting—in particular, news, information and views of the IRA—on people in this part of the country and, secondly, what it does or does not do to our credibility in Northern Ireland.
I should like to deal first with his belief, which is fundamental to his speech, that broadcasting information and views of a certain kind on our national broadcasting system can underwrite the quasi-legality of this illegal organisation and the quasi-justification which may or may not attach to its activities. This is a simplistic view of the effect of the media on individuals. There has been a great deal of research into the effects of the media on people. The one common link between the various pieces of research is that they tended to prove very little. One of the main authorities on this—Professor Klapper—has said in regard to media research.
Teachers, preachers, parents and legislators have asked us a thousand times over the past 15 years whether violence in the media produces delinquency, whether the escapist nature of much of the fare does not blind people to reality, and just what the media can do to the political persuasions of their audience. To these questions we have not only failed to provide definite answers but have done something worse; we have provided evidence in partial support of every hue of every view. We have claimed, on the one hand, and on empirical grounds, that escapist material provides its audience with blinkers and with an unrealistic view of life, and, on the other hand, that it helps them meet life's real problems. We have hedged on the crime and violence question, typically saying, "well, probably there is no causative relationship, but there just might be a triggering effect. In reference to persuasion, we have maintained that the media are after all not so terribly powerful, and yet we have reported their impressive successes in promoting such varied phenomena as religious intolerance, the sale of war bonds, belief in the American way, disenchantment with Boy Scout activities. It is surely no wonder that a bewildered public should regard with cynicism a research tradition which supplies, instead of answers, a plethora of relevant but inconclusive and at times seemingly contradictory finding.
I have yet to find anywhere else a better statement about the state of play with regard to media research. Media research has not yet got to the stage of telling us the answers. It is only slowly beginning to get to the stage at which it will be able to ask the right questions. All assumptions about the effects the media have on people are very often mistaken because they fail to take into account the very high degree of selectivity with which people watch the media. People watch the media—and basically this is one of the relatively few uncontrovertible things that can be said about it—for views, opinions and so on which reinforce their own views and opinions.
There is a classic example of what happened in the United States of America, when in an attempt to promote community harmony, the broadcasting authorities launched a whole series of programmes about the different ethnic minorities. Subsequent research proved only that each ethnic minority remembered only the programme about itself and none of the programmes relating to the other minorities in the country. People watch or listen or read the things which reinforce their own views. This does not mean that they watch or listen or read things with which they are in agreement: it is just as likely that watching a message with which you strongly disagree will reinforce your views as watching a message with which you agree. Thus if somebody appears on television or is reported in the Press or broadcast on radio as a spokesman for an illegal organisation or an armed conspiracy, my personal reaction to that is not to think he might be right but to experience an intensification of my feeling of revulsion for this particular practice and my feeling of criticism for the illegality which it denotes.
When talking about the effects of the media we must remember that the effect, broadly speaking, is not related so much to the content of the message in itself but to the interaction between the message and the person who receives it. His degree of receptivity or otherwise is usually the critical factor. I presume the Minister will refer to the whole question of media research in more detail when he replies.
I will go on to discuss the role of the media in regard to the IRA specifically in the context of Northern Ireland. I should like to quote from what the Minister said in his opening speech:
Of no less importance than this is the consideration of the impact of our broadcasting in Northern Ireland, where there exists among the majority a widespread impression —greatly understandably and most ominously strengthened by certain events of five years ago—that this State is in some kind of collusion with the IRA. Anything in our broadcasting that would seem to confirm that impression is dangerous to life, both in Northern Ireland and here.
This is a fair point. But I wonder whether in making it we are not in danger of straining after a gnat and swallowing a camel. If there is anything that will reinforce the feeling in Northern Ireland that this State is in some kind of collusion with the IRA it is not anything they may hear on RTE but the litany of unsuccessful attempts to extradite people from this State which has been made during the past few months. I shall not go into the merits or demerits of extradition. I am saying that if one wants to look at factors which make the Northern majority suspicious of us and of what we are doing here, the question of whether or not RTE is in league with the IRA pales into insignificance compared with the history of extradition proceedings. It could be said that, by virtue of the extended and frequent exposure which our national broadcasting station gives to some of the more militant political spokesmen on the majority side in the North, if anything the broadcasting station might be accused of having gone over the other way.
I should like to suggest a parallel to the Minister with regard to the situation in Northern Ireland and that here concerning the IRA. At present in the North a number of people are interned. As far as I know, it is part of the policy of this Government that internment should end. The risks to be run by the ending of internment are far more than counterbalanced by the gains that could be expected from the reassertion of a state of normality, by a restatement of trust in the ordinary processes of law.
On a different level—but not a different sense of principle—we might apply the same thing to our broadcasting situation in the Republic. The Minister and the Government may wish to impose restrictions on broadcasters but they would be better off to take the risk and allow the authority to exercise their trusteeship function as impartially as they can. If they do so, the gains in terms of public credibility of the broadcasting system in general will far outweigh any possible losses which may be incurred through occasional lapses from standards.
I would argue very strongly that the responsibility for the control of broadcasting should be left to the RTE Authority in their trusteeship function for a number of simple reasons. The first one is that the multiplication of rules, such as there are in the Bill, encourages evasion. It shifts the emphasis on the professional broadcaster away from his professional responsibility towards an Act of the Oireachtas. It will encourage people to find loopholes in the legislation. It will make them concentrate on the real or alleged restrictions under which they suffer to the extent to which they will totally lose contact with the reality they are supposed to be reporting.
I am in favour of leaving the responsibility for the control of broadcasting on a day-to-day basis to the authority and to them alone. It is a logical extension of the public trusteeship concept which is the bedrock of this Bill and of the preceding Acts. The third reason refers to the Minister and to the role he is playing in Irish society. The Minister, sometimes singlehanded and not always in a way with which I am in agreement, is undertaking a kind of cultural revolution here. He has been in the van challenging many of our myths. Many of the myths which, I hope, will be broken some day. If he is to do this successfully, and if the people who think like him are to work with him in this enterprise—I do not necessarily agree with all of it, but it is a very powerful and fundamentally healthy phenomenon—he will not help himself or the myth-breaking activity in which he and others are cheerfully engaged, if he alienates an important part of his constituency, that part which works and operates in the media at all levels.
It is very important, for the sake of the things that the Minister holds most dearly, that he should not become diverted into a battle on his flank, a battle which is not only irrelevant in one respect but one which will drain him of the vigour and energy to carry out his task. This would confuse the issue to the point that the original clarity of vision would become muddy and obscure. I would urge him to seriously reconsider some of the aspects of this Bill which will lead him into conflict, for all the wrong reasons, with this very important constituency.
I urge upon the Minister a view of broadcasting which was summed up in two quotations. The first is from Professor Kaarle Nordenstreng of the University of Tampere in Finland, who, when writing inEducation and Culture, a Review of the Council for Cultural Co-operation of the Council of Europe, defined communications policy in the following way:
The fundamental question of communication policy is in fact precisely this: to which do we want to give priority, the reinforcement of prevailing ways of thinking and strengthening of man's monetary sense of security, or the transmission of new information which will inevitably disturb the old view of the world? The latter alternative may lead to temporary increase in insecurity, but on the other hand the new world view, based on more comprehensive information, is better equipped to receive and assimilate further information about the world.
This question cannot be settled by appealing to the audience concerned, since people attach importance both to entertainment which reinforces the feeling of security, and to new information which gnaws away at the old world view. The right decision, in fact, is not to be found in the needs of the individual but in those of the whole society; we must think of what is best for the entire community formed by the media audience.
The so-called informational programme policy adopted in recent years in Finnish broadcasting, which defines the transmission of new information as the primary function of radio and television, is based on the fact that for democracy to function people must have information; information about the society and political activity carried on by their elected representatives. If such information is not available, the individual will become alienated from reality, and cease to develop; he will come to a standstill in the midst of a changing world. And what is most important, in the absence of information man is incapable of independent decision; he can be led at anybody's will, without even being aware of it.
That is a very adequate statement of communications policy and one which I should like to see written into a Broadcasting Bill.
If I have an overall criticism of the Bill, it is that it tends to look backwards rather than forwards. It does not appear to be a Bill which will stand the test of 20 years of activity. It has been constructed in terms of an understandable obsession with the immediate past, but it may not stand as an authoritative and sophisticated statement of the relationship between a democratic government and a public broadcasting service.
The final question I should like to inflict on the Minister and on the House is one which could more appropriately be regarded as the motto for a national broadcasting service, because it is from one of our own poets, Louis MacNeice. In this particular extract fromThe Autumn Journal, Louis MacNeice was talking about culture in the broadest sense and about the kind of society in which I hope the communications media would have a major part to play. The quotation is as follows:
It is so hard to imagine
A world where the many would have their chance without
A fall in the standard of intellectual living
And nothing left that the highbrow cared about
Which fears must be suppressed.
There is no reason for thinking
That, if you give a chance to people to think or live,
The arts of thought or life will suffer and become rougher
And not return more than you could ever give....
Finally, I should like to express thanks, not only my own but that of other people in this House, to the Minister for the way in which he has addressed us and for the attention he has given to his speech. At a time when it is easy to criticise democracy and its institutions, this high seriousness of the Minister has done more for the Oireachtas than almost anything else I can think of in the immediate past.