Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1975: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As I indicated last night, the remainder of my remarks will be concerned exclusively with the question of the second channel and the proposal to rebroadcast.

Several Senators during the long debate commented at length on section 6 of the Bill, and several considered that I had dealt with it too briefly in my opening remarks. In view of the interest of Senators in this question, I accept the criticism and shall try to compensate for any inadequacy in my opening remarks by considering the question in some detail now.

I am sorry that the detailed consideration comes so late, but Senators will of course have an opportunity of considering on Committee Stage the remarks I made. First, let me emphasise that section 6 is an enabling provision only. It makes it possible for the Government to direct RTE to do certain things: it does not oblige it to so direct it. Nor does it rule out the possible establishment of a second RTE channel. As a matter of priority, it is the Government's view that retransmission of an outside channel, say BBC 1, would give more satisfaction to the pressing demand in the single-channel area than would a second RTE channel without direct access to an outside channel. But this Bill leaves the options open: it neither necessitates rebroadcasting of BBC 1, nor precludes the establishment of a second RTE channel, if at any stage that course is considered desirable.

I made the point briefly last night there is nothing in this Bill that is irreversible. We are not handing over anything to an outside channel. We are using what we have, the mechanisms of transmission that we have. We propose to use them for the transmission of an outside channel. We retain control over this apparatus at all times. At no time do we give up anything. We use it for a given purpose and if that purpose should not work out satisfactorily, if it is not satisfactory to the people, if a future Government do not like it, if technological advances supersede it and make something else—say, a second RTE channel—more desirable, then we remain free to choose any of these alternatives.

The Government do, however, consider that the second television network currently being installed would in present circumstances be more advantageously used to rebroadcast BBC 1 (Northern Ireland) or UTV than to transmit a second RTE channel consisting mainly, as it would, of a selection of British television programmes.

There are two basic reasons for this preference. The first, and most basic one, is that it appears clearly to be what the people of the single channel area want. I shall come to some of the reasons for that later. The second reason is that such an arrangement would seem to fit more closely with an aspiration, still shared I know by many people in this country, towards the gradual growing together of the two parts of this island into greater mutual understanding.

If I may deal first with the more immediate problem of what the people of the single-channel area want. It is true, as Senator Horgan pointed out, that their basic demand is for the same choice of television channels as is currently enjoyed by the people of the north and east of the country, particularly those who have a cable television service. However, in a series of discussions on the subject with the various associations of people interested in multi-channel television, it was made clear to me beyond any doubt that there was a distinct preference for a direct rebroadcast of one entire channel —if that was all that could be had— rather than a channel broadcasting British material selected by RTE. Spokesmen for the Opposition will no doubt have had the same experience, most notably in the recent Galway by-elections. Certainly I was left in no doubt in the matter at the many doors I knocked on in Galway. The subject was always raised there with me because I was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. The reason for this preference is not hard to understand; it relates, as several Senators have pointed out, to the difference between complementary and competitive programming.

What we are trying to do, with the limited resource of the one extra channel that is currently being provided—and that is what is being discussed in connection with this section: what do we do, as Senator Robinson said, with the rails; what will go on these rails—is to bring the position in the single-channel area as near as possible at present to that enjoyed by the multi-channel area.

That, I think, is the common objective which is shared by both sides of this argument, not perhaps by all but in the main argument. One of the chief characteristics of the kind of television choice which is available in the multi-channel area is precisely this quality of competitive programming. There is also the complementary element, added by the availability of BBC 2, but of its nature this is a secondary characteristic, hardly arising.

This competitive element provides the main attraction of cable television in the multi-channel area, and correspondingly it is the element whose lack is so keenly felt in the single-channel area. Again the reason for this is obvious: the competitive system is attractive to the general public precisely because that is what it is designed to be.

Let us examine the reasons put forward as to why a complementary system should be preferred:

Senator Mary Robinson said, and I quote from column 944, Volume 79 of the Official Report, of 19th March, 1975:

But in the area of television— and perhaps uniquely in the area of television—competition is competition downwards.

She added:

It means that the programmes have to compete directly for a larger audience. Therefore, they have to compete by having mass entertainment programmes.

That in a sense is the core of the problem. It seems very clear to me that the general public in the single-channel area are aware that a second RTE complementary channel would be free from this kind of pressure to put on programmes attractive to the general public and that is precisely why they are suspicious of it.

Senator Horgan voiced these suspicions—rather strangely in view of the general position he takes up— earlier in the debate when he said, and I quote from column 846 Volume 79, of the Official Report of 12th March:

I must confess that I sometimes suspect the Minister of being a culturalist or believing that culture as he knows, loves and understands it is so good that it should be taken by everybody. Part of the problem is that not everybody agrees with him. If I have misinterpreted the Minister no doubt he will correct me in due course. It seems to me that we must accept that in laying a responsibility on the broadcasting Authority with regard to culture we are talking about the entirety of culture and not just about high culture. Highly educated people tend to think that high culture is all that matters, whether it is the Dublin Grand Opera Society or history or music of some other kind——

I like that.

——they generally feel there is a hierarchy of values in culture with Beethoven at the top and the Beatles at the bottom. This is a very mistaken assumption because it is basically an elitist assumption. It is an assumption that there is a certain small corps of people in this country, and in every country, who know what is good for themselves and what is good for everybody else and who feel, fundamentally, that they are the sort of people who should be in charge of all the media of communication.

There is something very odd about this in the context in which we are speaking and in the context of what I am proposing and in the context of how other people are resisting that, because it seems to me that this very eloquent attack could be much more accurately directed at Senator Mary Robinson than at me. I, after all, am trying—and it is perhaps a low, degraded ambition—to provide the people of the west and south with the entertainment they want and not taking the attitude which Senator Horgan describes, but Senator Mary Robinson perhaps rightly—it is all a question of a hierarchy of values—is taking that attitude. She wants to give the people of the west and south what she thinks is good for them, what she describes as the cream and what they might not think of as cream at all.

Do they not want all five?

Yes, they do. I am not in a position to give them all five and the question is: if offered the choice would they take BBC 1 or RTE 2? We will come back to that. They want all five and they may be getting eight, ten or 15 in a certain number of years, I will come back to all that.

However, if even Senator Horgan feels and voices sentiments along these lines—and he is almost by definition, as editor ofThe Education Times, a highly educated person—it is small wonder that I hear precisely the same points put less eloquently but no less forcefully when I discussed these matters in the single channel area with people who want multi-channel viewing and who, failing multi-channel viewing, want at least one outside channel and do not want a channel edited by RTE.

However, even from the point of high culture, as Senator Horgan puts it, it is far from certain that a complementary system of programme scheduling achieves the desired balance when we talk about the actual viewing of the audience as opposed to the balance in scheduled output, that is to say, people can switch off. There are two separate concepts involved which have been to some extent confused. One is the concept of providing the people of the single channel area with a variety of choice such as they want and for which they call. The second is the concept of a second national broadcasting channel catering to some extent for minority tastes and providing opportunities for more creative and experimental broadcasting. This second concept is a very attractive one, but it is quite different from the first concept, and at variance with it. Unfortunately, an attempt is being made at present to sell a package under the label of RTE 2 which is supposed to contain these two largely incompatible elements.

Of course since RTE 2 does not at present exist, it is possible to present an infinitely attractive picture of it, such as one cannot make for RTE 1, BBC 1 or 2, or any other programme service which actually does exist and of whose faults we are all conscious. It is possible to claim for the as yet nonexistent service that it would provide the fullest possible satisfaction in terms of real choice to the viewer in the present single-channel area, and that it would cater for minority tastes, provide programmes superior to the low level of mass entertainment and so on.

In fact, I fear, it could at best do only one of these things, not all, because when it was providing high-level minority-type programmes, it would by definition not be providing the majority —in the single channel area—with a valid choice. It would be offering that majority a choice between a programme which it might want to see and a programme which it certainly does not want to see, a programme designed for the tastes of a minority. This form of choice offering to the west and south—we have our own choices here—is given an attractive-sounding name, "complementary programming", which has a more attractive sound than competitive programming. Unfortunately competitive programming offers the majority of viewers a choice which they feel to be real—and they may be wrong—while complementary programming offers them something which they are quite right in perceiving to be no choice at all for them.

What does the Minister propose to do for minority viewers?

(Interruptions.)

Interruptions are interesting, but perhaps on Committee Stage we might get to those questions when the Senator has heard what I actually have to say. There is quite a lot more of it, and I did not interrupt him or Senator Robinson. I am glad of the interest that has been taken in what I am saying. If we were all starting from scratch we might very well say: "We are going to provide two channels: a more popular one, and one which aspires to excellence, irrespective of popular appeal. That might be fair enough—and we may get to doing it some day—if it applied to everyone. Unfortunately or not, we are not starting from scratch. We start with a situation in which people in part of the country—the part in which this Legislature happens to be situated— have already very wide freedom of choice. I was surprised, I must say, during the debate at the frequency with which certain Senators who oppose retransmission ignored the whole situation in the multi-channel area and referred to this as if we were for the first time bringing in to pure and holy Ireland this foreign channel with its lowly morals and so on, as if half the population were not watching it half the time already.

We have here in this part very wide freedom of choice, which includes choosing between various popular programmes, not between a high level and a low level, while the remainder of the island enjoys no freedom of choice at all. If, in these conditions, we provide a second RTE channel, with what might be called a minority dimension, we are doing something which has different implications in these two parts of the country. In the present multi-channel area the proposition will be greeted with, at worst indifference— which will, I fear, be in fact the attitude of most people in this area— and at best, on the part of certain minorities, with enthusiasm. These minorities include a very significant minority: the broadcasters themselves, the overwhelming majority of whom live in the multi-channel area, and who have a quite legitimate professional interest in RTE control over the second channel. That minority has, of course, a quite exceptional capacity to make its views heard: a capacity far exceeding, on aper capita basis, the capacity possessed by the ordinary viewer in the single-channel area. The basis of the whole debate is to a significant extent slanted and distorted by this factor.

Let us consider what we in the multi-channel area appear to be saying to the people in the single-channel area. We appear to be saying something like this, and I will put hypothetical quotation marks round a section of what I have to say now. We here in Dublin, and other areas, already, of course, receive British and other channels and we watch these channels a great deal of the time, those of us who are interested in television at all. The main way in which we receive these channels is by means of cable systems, authorised and controlled by Government action and in large part operated by RTE itself.

We could, of course, have banned those cable systems and did indeed do so for ten years for the self same reasons which we now advance against rebroadcasting. Such action would have meant, and did mean at that time, that reception on BBC and UTV channels was purely a matter of geographical accident. However, we took the political decision, and that was in 1970, essentially to overlook the many arguments advanced against more competition. We relaxed the bounds of geography and provided the whole of Dublin with first-class reception of four or five competitive channels. These are not things that just happened; they result from deliberate choice.

But having done these things and now being in a position to receive four or five channels here in Dublin, we are very concerned lest our national culture be swamped with British influence—Senator Yeats's phrase. He made no such objection as far as I know when cable television was introduced in Dublin. "The way to prevent it being swamped"—I continue the hypothetical tirade—"is to protect the single-channel area, which will, as it were, hold our national culture in trust for us who are unfortunately swamped with British influence. Although we are so swamped, we remain the best judges of what national culture is, and therefore we will decide for you what choice of programmes you will receive, so that you will not be swamped and that you will receive such foreign programmes as we judge to be good for you and compatible with your status as an un-swamped cultural reservation. These approved foreign programmes will include programmes in French, Dutch, German and other foreign languages, since we are not narrow-minded on your behalf. We ourselves will not be much interested in these programmes, since most of us do not know these languages, but we hope you will like them. If you do not, you can always switch back to RTE 1. You will have freedom of choice, after all". That is what we appear to be saying. Is it a travesty? Some will think so. No one person talks quite like that, but it is a fairly accurate though unsympathetic identikit reflection of the range of arguments that have been used on that side of the debate——

It is an exercise in theatre.

——both in this House and outside. Nor have individuals on that side been too concerned whether their opponents are internally consistent, whether their arguments are internally consistent or intellectually respectable. Senator Yeats, for example, argued both that there was no evidence that anybody in the present single channel area wanted to watch BBC 1 and also that RTE could not face the competition of BBC 1 in the same area. The Senator cannot have it both ways.

Why not? They are not inconsistent.

If the Senator cannot see the inconsistency I will leave it at that. Some of this is funny but, as often with us, the fun has a sad side to it. The cultural divisions in our country that are most conspicuous are those that are thought of loosely as between North and South. But there is also a north-east/south-west division, also a loose expression but referring to something real——

Did we discover another one?

I would appreciate if the Senator would not interrupt me. I did not interrupt him. I believe that division has been seriously widened by the development of television and the significant social-cultural gap that is expressed by the terms single channel and multi-channel. I believe it is being widened still further by some of the arguments used on the other side of the debate. These arguments, I am afraid, sound hypocritical and paternalist when they are used by self-diagnosed denizens of a cultural swamp, who are obviously quite happy in their situation and would not tolerate for a moment a drainage of that swamp. If people are serious about this thing they should be suggesting illegalisation of cable television in Dublin. Tear out those cables and protect our people from this filthy foreign culture which is pouring in. All right, propose it.

Senator Markey had some cogent remarks on this point: If we who have been fortunate for 20 years to have received BBC and UTV were told that from tomorrow we would have to pay an increased TV licence because we are receiving BBC and UTV, would we accept that without demur? Would we further accept it without demur if told that there was to be a form of selective viewing? Let me add to Senator Markey's very proper questions a further one. Would we in the east and north be prepared to tolerate a ban on cable television in order to protect ourselves from being swamped by British television? All of us who represent Dublin and similar constituencies know that would be politically impossible. That being so, I am afraid it is hypocritical for some of us to offer to the west a cultural protection which we reject for ourselves. We could have it. We could protect ourselves. I am afraid the division between east and west would be further widened, even to danger point, if the debate were to culminate in the offer to the present single channel area of a form of choice which did not appear to them to be a real choice.

It will be said that I have no right to speak for the west. Certainly I have no such right, nor do I claim it. All that I would claim is that I have listened carefully to people living in the west and concerned about this matter. I am thinking about ordinary people at the doorstep when you go on a canvass and who will tell you their minds on the subject. Senator Mary Robinson reminded the Seanad that she came from the west. Quite so, she comes from the west. She did not stay there. She came here into Senator Yeats's swamp.

I did not use the word "swamp". The Minister is being very clever, but I am not going to be misinterpreted in this way. I did not use the word "swamp" nor did I make any suggestion of that kind.

It is excellent theatre.

It is excellent politics——

The Minister is entitled to make his speech in his own way provided he does not transgress the rules of order.

When I said Senator Yeats's "swamp"—I am sorry that he objects to the phrase——

I did not use it.

The Senator used the verb derived from it. He thought that if BBC 1 was transmitted to the west and south they would be swamped by an alien culture. If they are swamped by an alien culture by receiving one British channel, what happens to people who receive four or five British channels? I suggest that they are swamped and more swamped than those people would be. If they are swamped, then this is a swamp. That is why I referred to Senator Yeats's "swamp". I hope the Senator now understands properly——

In other words, it is the Minister's terminology, not mine.

Yes, I think it is a legitimate inference from what the Senator said. Nor does Senator Robinson represent the west. Her constituents—of whom I am one—live mainly, I believe, in the multi-channel area of the Republic or in Northern Ireland, or outside Ireland altogether. As far as I have been able to check, only about 10 per cent of them actually reside outside the "swamp" in the single-channel area. In these circumstances I do not see that the undoubted fact of her western origin adds all that much weight to her argument that the west ought to be protected from the BBC. Great as is the weight which I attach to her remarks generally, and on many subjects, I confess I shall attach even more weight to what will be said—and even to what might not be said—in the Dáil by people directly responsible to territorial constituencies in the single channel area. Those are the men and women who have the undoubted title to speak for the people of that area, and I hope they will speak. Of course, several Senators here from the west, particularly on this side, have also spoken in that sense, and some Senators, I agree, also from the west have spoken in the other sense. But there is the point of representing actual territory and people living in the territory which has to be taken into account and tested, especially in the other House.

I am not seeking to present BBC 1 or UTV or any other popular channel as being anything particularly splendid, nor RTE either. The entertainment which most of us enjoy most of the time includes much which some of us, in our most solemn moments, stigmatise as vulgar, trivial and so on. I am afraid it is part of human nature to enjoy vulgarity and triviality, as it is also part of human nature to aspire to more serious things. Senator Horgan accused me—rather oddly in this context—of being a cultural elitist. I am not sure that I understand the charge. If it be cultural elitism to think that Shakespeare is better thanThe Sunday World then I am indeed a cultural elitist and I have no doubt the Senator is one also and that we are all cultural elitists here. But if by cultural elitism we mean not merely acknowledging a reasonable hierarchy of standards, not merely acknowledging them but imposing on others a conformity to these standards: if we mean telling people who want to read The Sunday World that Shakespeare is what they are going to get and nothing but Shakespeare: if we mean that bundle of rigorously high-minded and condescending attitudes which in the history of broadcasting are identified with the name of Lord Reith—if this is what we are to understand by cultural elitism, then I plead not guilty to the charge and I believe that it is Senator Horgan and Senator Robinson also who have, in this debate, shown themselves to be cultural elitists in that sense of the term.

Some broadcasters and others have stated that I have abandoned the idea of open broadcasting. I have not abandoned it, and my adherence to it is reflected in this Bill. But in the long run it does not make a great difference whether I or any other individual abandon or adhere to the concept of open broadcasting. For open broadcasting is coming whether I like it or not and whether you like it or not. Apart from other possible developments, the development of satellite transmissions, as several Senators have pointed out, will make possible a choice of at least eight channels throughout the State within a decade. Those who fear the swamping of our national culture by the mere relaying of one British channel must indeed shudder at the prospect of these satellite transmissions. But it does not matter whether they shudder or not; satellite transmission is coming, open broadcasting is coming.

Technically possible but not necessarily socially acceptable.

The question then is not whether or not we are to have open broadcasting but simply this: what are we to do in the interval before open broadcasting on a massive scale becomes a reality?

That interval is probably about a decade; a little more or less. A period of ten years is quite short in terms of the cultural history of nations. But in terms of human life-span, in the lives of people who feel themselves deprived of satisfaction which others enjoy, it is quite a long period. During that period we have, broadly, two courses of direction—against the inevitable tide, or with it.

As regards the densely populated areas of the east we have already made our choice. By sanctioning the introduction of cable television in 1970 the previous Government made that choice, in respect of these densely populated areas: that choice was to open the floodgates and let the tide in. Essentially, I think that decision was right although those who took it do not seem to think it was right. I drew its logical consequences by removing the arbitrary limit of 500 homes which they placed on cable and by introducing a levy to compensate RTE for the effects of the inevitable expansion of viewing of other channels which is what cable is mainly about; that is what it is for. Section 12 (bb) of this Bill provides a retrospective confirmation of that Government decision and it has not drawn any opposition from Senators living in Dublin however strongly those Senators may feel about relaying BBC to the west.

The choice as regards the densely populated areas of the coast, on the east, is then already made. The real choice now is what do we do about the present single-channel areas during this relatively short but significant period before the whole island is a multi-channel area. During that interval, do we follow, as far as technical and financial conditions permit, the logic of the decisions already taken in respect of the densely populated areas? Or do we follow a radically different policy to that, a policy of cultural protectionism to be applied in relation to one part of the country only and applied to that part only during this remaining interim before that part too becomes exposed to the full impact of multi-channel television? These are the choices before us. Frankly, I can see little attraction or coherence in the second course.

I can understand the attraction which full-blooded cultural conservatism and protectionism has for some minds, the attraction of simply shutting our windows tight against the strident, vulgar and corrupting sounds and images being emitted by the outside world, the mood which W.B. Yeats so finely expressed in the last stanza of "The Statues". The logic of that conservative aristocratic attitude in relation to our debate is to keep out British and other foreign television, by jamming, if possible, and certainly by prohibiting the use of cable television. But we are not doing that. We have deliberately let in what Yeats called the "formless modern tide" into the east, under Section 16 (bb) of the present Act. What is now suggested is that we keep it out of the west for as long as possible—that ten years or so —by rejecting section 6.

Frankly, I cannot see grandeur or consistency or consideration for other people in that attitude. It is wrong also in what it presents: that cultural nationalism today is possible in a sense in which it is not possible on an island situated as we are.

It is not, as I say, a question of whether we are to have open broadcasting or not. It is a question of how we cope with the fact that open broadcasting has already overtaken most of the country, and will inevitably reach the rest. There is a dangerously strong tendency among us to think that if you pretend something is not happening it will go away and to blame anyone who refers to the fact of its happening for the fact that it has not gone away. Senator Butler, in his very interesting speech, gave a telling illustration of a man talking in one way and acting, apparently unconsciously, in quite the opposite way. I quote Senator Butler at Volume 80 of the Official Report, column 431, of our debate:

I know of a person here in Dublin who is very much opposed to a second television channel that is not an Irish-controlled channel. I visit that person very often and no night passes that that person does not turn on to BBC 1 or one of the other channels and enjoy looking at it. He selects his programme but he will condemn it if I ask him about it. I have said this to him and he just smiles and says nothing, but tomorrow he will again condemn BBC 1 and UTV.

I think that is very typical. Indeed yesterday, while Fianna Fáil were still murmuring about the west and so on, in another place Deputy Colley took me to task for a certain technical decision which would mean that cable viewers using certain sets might be for a time in danger of losing HTV, one particular foreign commercial channel. They might lose this and he was complaining to me about it. He did not seem to be concerned that HTV might carry filthy, immoral and anti-Irish programmes: it was just that the people who had cable must have this programme. There are profound contradictions and confusions over there. Fianna Fáil's famous twin national aims, and their ways of asserting and defending these supposed aims, are the great twin reservoirs of such forms of pretence and self-righteousness that were heavily drawn on in the broadcasting debate.

If we immerse ourselves in the tides of open broadcasting as we must, and as our people undoubtedly and visibly want to be immersed, and if at the same time we try to pretend that that is not happening or is not wanted— not happening here where it is happening, not wanted there where it is wanted—then we are adding unnecessarily to the psychological burdens of our people, by involving them in a kind of cultural schizophrenia.

Apart from the competitive aspect of the television choice offered by the Dublin cable television systems, there is another aspect which I think should attract us as legislators when we try to even up this imbalance between the two parts of the country. The aspect to which I am referring is the day-to-day contact with the television news and current affairs programmes of Northern Ireland.

Senator Michael D. Higgins, in his thoughtful and wide-ranging exploration of the basic issues with which society is presented by broadcasting technology, did, I think, remind us of the basic question that faces us here. Before we ask: "What kind of broadcasting system do we want?" we must ask: "What kind of society do we want?", he said. In particular, Senator Higgins drew attention in Volume 80, column 1010 of the Official Report to the danger of "having an awe for the mystique of technology". This point is absolutely crucial. We must at all times look at the end result of broadcasting in terms of people, what they want and what they receive, and not be overly preoccupied by the particular technology used to achieve the particular result, such as cable or microwave. We have almost reached the point where cable is a holy and purifying mechanism through which British television can be poured in whereas microwave fails to disinfect as it goes towards the west. Applications of technology are manifold.

I was very much struck by Senator Horgan's quotation from the Finnish professor Kaarle Nordenstreng that we must decide whether we are to give priority to reinforcing old ways of thinking or whether we wish to create a new world view based on more comprehensive information. The right decision, he said, is not to be found in the needs of the individual but in those of the whole society.

In dealing with questions of communications policy, I have often been faced with the question: "What is a community?" In dealing with questions of cable television one may find it variously defined as a street, a parish, a ward, a constituency, a whole city. And yet I feel the community that we need to give priority to is the community of this island: a community whose cultural pluralism has, however, to be clearly recognised. In this connection it has continued to amaze me through this debate that it is the very people who most insist that the output of our transmitters should be made available throughout Northern Ireland who most vehemently reject the idea that the output of the Northern transmitters should be available throughout the Republic.

Northern programmes, not British programmes.

That is the point I am making, Senator, as you will see when you read the speech.

Northern—not British programmes.

The point here is that the programmes available in Northern Ireland are Northern Ireland BBC 1 and Ulster Television. These contain, by the wish of quite a large majority of the people of Northern Ireland, large amounts of material made in Britain; so does RTE 1. We cannot say we want Northern programmes that do not exist because the Northern Ireland people set them up but we will have nothing to do with these vile British programmes which the people of Northern Ireland have, in fact, set up and agreed to. They make much of the fact that most of the output of these transmitters is British as, indeed, much of RTE's transmissions are British and American. But, of course, these are the transmissions that most people in Northern Ireland want and that, too, is part of the reality of this situation, a part at which we often do not want to look and at which some of us succeed consistently in not looking.

If Senator Yeats regards reception of a Northern Ireland channel as lying down on a doormat before the Northern Unionists, he should consider carefully the implications of that remark. He may not wish to act as a doormat, and that is understandable, but he professes to look forward to the metaphorical day when he will carry a Northern Unionist bride across the threshold. If he thinks that by admitting that he too enjoys her favourite TV programmes he will be acting as a doormat, that marriage is clearly headed for the rocks.

If the Minister put that into its context I think we might have a more intelligent debate.

I think we might have a more intelligent debate if the Senator would stop interrupting and reply, as he will have an opportunity of doing, on Committee Stage.

I will continue to interrupt so long as the Minister misrepresents me. If he ceases to misrepresent me I will cease to interrupt.

This is not the place for theatre.

I am trying to address the Seanad, a habitat, as is well known, of extreme courtesy and oriental grace. I do not mind the Senators interrupting. It shows interest. It shows they are awake.

If Senators feel this sense of territorial invasion by television channel broadcasts from an area with which they claim a cultural affinity, let them put themselves in those Northern Unionists' shoes for a moment. It is not a popular exercise, I know, but let them try. Let them ask themselves what their reaction would be to invasion by a television channel from what they regard, by definition, as a culturally alien and hostile country in the absence of any large public demand for such services. If Senators feel worried by the commercial effect on a relatively small RTE of competition by a non-commercial channel, would they not conceive that Northern Unionists might be worried by the effect on an even smaller UTV, unsupported by licence revenue, of competition from a commercial channel which was not subject to any restrictions on the amount of mass-entertaining programming it could draw from the huge resources of the American television industry? I am pointing out some of the difficulties.

I believe that we should aim for cultural pluralism in this island. I believe that suitable arrangements can be made for dealing with the various commercial difficulties to which I have referred. It is, however, particularly incumbent upon those of us who wish to see a greater growing together in this island to take a closer look at the mirror-image effect which is so noticeable on either side of the cultural divide. But, of course, it is those who talk loudest and oftenest about unity who in fact, do most to increase division, misunderstanding and mutual hostility.

We all need to become aware of ourselves as we really are with our differing levels of culture and loyalties. We need a communications system which reflects this need and reflects the reality of our diversity. We in the Republic are ideally placed to give a lead in this matter, first because it is our political culture which sees the island as a unit, and secondly because it is our people who at an individual level are pressing for such a development.

Senator Horgan spoke of the potential source of programming material for a second RTE channel which could be found in the production of the British regional ITV companies. When people talk about the potential for regional programming on a second RTE channel, it is as well to be clear that it is British regions they are talking about, not Irish regions. I know this question of regional access to the ITV network is a fashionable issue in British broadcasting circles, but that particular argument has always seemed to me largely irrelevant to Ireland. But the primary type of regional programming is local news and current affairs, and it is quite clear that a second RTE channel would not include the main regional output of the UK region with most relevance to us, that is Northern Ireland. This point applies with equal force to those who say that the output of the Belfast transmitters is lacking in a truly Ulster content, that a second RTE channel would provide greater links with Northern Ireland.

The proposal from the Fianna Fáil speakers that a second RTE channel would give an opportunity for a wide range of continental programmes to be shown fails, I think, to meet the reality of the demand from the single channel areas. I am, of course, personally an admirer of many aspects of the life of Continental Europe. But I think we have to face the fact that for most people in this country there are very considerable language barriers, and experience has shown that for most people these are not adequately overcome by sub-titling. If Fianna Fáil are really trying to convince the single channel area that an RTE second channel will be an adequate substitute for the kind of choice available in the cable system of Dublin, I do not think that an emphasis on continental programmes will prove to be their most effective argument. They did not make much use of it in the Galway by-election. It would be a mistake to think that we are alone in facing these tensions.

In a recent article, referred to by Senator Halligan, in theEuropean Broadcasting Review, Richard Dill, International Controller of German Television, drew attention to the attempt of legislators and politicians to reshape broadcasting all over Europe. One of the chief causes of tension was the clash between the policy of the determination of programming by the majority, a process familiar to politicians, and a programming policy devised for the majority by an elite, by a minority, a process familiar to moralists, educators and idealogists.

The distinction is the same as the contrast between competitive and complementary programming which we have been discussing. The competitive element has frequently been added in Europe by the existence of neighbouring television services using the same language, overlapping— another form of open broadcasting. We are not alone in this situation. Nor have we been alone in the belief that the natural frontiers of our State lie beyond the present legal frontier. The shifting tides of history have produced many such disputed areas. Europe has learnt through the grim lessons of war that it is better to work towards greater understanding between people, partly through communication, rather than to emphasise views about territorial rights and wrongs.

In the broadcasting field the fruitful concept of the "cultural area" has emerged as an alternative or parallel concept to the sovereign State. This concept of the "cultural area" is, of course, of most significance to the development of the satellite television of the future. Because variety is a positive asset in cultural terms as opposed to the unambiguous exclusivity of territory and loyalty required by the State, the concept of the "cultural area" offers scope for a many-sided flexibility.

On the large scale demanded by satellite television the "cultural areas" will be determined by the criterion of having the same or similar languages. On this scale Ireland would find itself part of a "cultural area" composed of the English speaking offshore islands of Europe.

On a smaller scale, and within the present decade, the cultural area concept has been used to recognise the links between a state and certain minorities in adjoining states with which it has linguistic and cultural affinities. This concept has been used formally in the Val d'Aosta and Alto Adige regions of Italy. This has been followed up by the Italian Broadcasting Act which has just authorised the private enterprise rebroadcasting throughout Italy of foreign services. The Scandinavian countries have also been discussing the possibility of creating the broadcasting expression of their cultural area by means of cable television.

I was quite interested in the remarks of Dr. Donal Keenan, President of the GAA, reported inThe Irish Times on 31st March, 1975, for, as leader of a 32-county cultural organisation, he is naturally aware of the tensions that arise from that wider cultural tradition being associated with a 26-county state. He criticised the thought of rebroadcasting BBC 1 (Northern Ireland) and advocated instead the rebroadcasting of UTV.

I would have sympathy for this preference, but clearly the difference between BBC 1 (Northern Ireland) and UTV are not the subject of our discussion at the moment. Section 6 would permit the rebroadcast of either. What Dr. Keenan seemed to imply is that we should take Ireland as a cultural area, as opposed to the whole archipelago, and at this stage in technological development this is clearly the right course.

What we have to develop however is the separation of the "cultural area" concept from the sovereign state concept. Broadcasting has always been closely linked to the sovereign state and so any interpretation of broadcasting carries with it the strong overtones of an invasion. There is a psychological resistance to it. What we need to develop is a broadcasting equivalent to the realities of the cultural overlap across the Border. However, if we in the Republic, who cast ourselves in the historically expansionist role, were to regard such give and take as an invasion of sovereignty when it happens to us, we clearly would be on weak ground when advocating cultural plurality North of the Border.

The way to proceed in this matter is not by insisting on some kind of reciprocal deal, as some Senators suggested. That might seem to be saying: "We will agree to inflict your propaganda on our people, if you agree to inflict our propaganda on your people". Put like that the proposition is clearly nonsense. What we have to say is that, while traditional modes of thought mean that there are certain technical and legal problems in arranging for interpenetrative broadcasting, the fact that people on either side of the Border want this arrangement is a good reason for providing it. The whole thing is rooted on what people want and are calling for. Since our people—people of the single channel area—are more vociferous in their demands and since our political culture sees cross-Border links as an advantage rather than as a threat, we will go ahead with the arrangements to serve our people. That is the principal priority involved here. There is no conflict but rather a complementary link between bringing in BBC 1 to the south and west and eventually RTE into Northern Ireland.

If we succeed, as I am confident we will, in coping with the technical problems, we can then offer our experience and advice in this matter to the parties in Northern Ireland who are attempting the very difficult task of introducing pluralism and tolerance in cultural attitudes.

Fears have been expressed about the "cultural effects" of unrestricted, free broadcasting. I do not think that one makes foreign programmes any less foreign merely by transmitting them under a native label. Indeed, I feel any deleterious effect is minimised by straightforwardly showing such programmes in their original labelling context.

The way in which a culture expresses itself most validly in television terms is by producing its own TV programmes, not through the method by which it distributes imported programmes. The question of resources is important here, as a number of speakers remarked. The capacity of a country to produce its own television programmes is related to its absolute size in population and wealth, hence small countries tend to import more programmes. The number of television channels it can distribute, on the other hand, is related to its geographical position, the distribution of its population and its terrain, as well as itsper capita income. Thus Canada and Belgium are, like Dublin, very well served in terms of the television channels they receive. Because they have relatively dense populations they can achieve all this by means of cable television.

Ireland, particularly the single channel area, has a very scattered population, but its geography means that it has frequency allocations for six broadcast television channels. It seems merely reasonable to use our advantage in terms of frequency allocations to overcome our disadvantages in terms of population distribution since a broadcast channel is, in essence, as neutral a means of communication as a cable channel in a Dublin communal aerial system. Both are controlled by the State and require political decisions about their use. Fianna Fáil took these decisions about multi-channel cable systems in 1967—Ballymun—and 1970. The present Government are proposing to even up the lop-sided result of these past decisions.

I should like to dispute the claim that the rebroadcasting of BBC 1 (Northern Ireland) would cause 600 people at RTE to lose their jobs. Let us look at the facts. In 1970 the Fianna Fáil Government authorised a massive increase in the degree of competition which RTE experienced in Dublin by authorising cable television. The significance of that was two-fold. I will deal with this in its relation to jobs and job security. In relation to that, the introduction of cable did seem quite significant, and to some people quite dangerous.

Firstly, Dublin is disproportionately important to advertisers, because so many of our better paid citizens live there. This means that, for many products, Dublin would account for as much as half the market and advertisers would think and act accordingly. Secondly, cable television brought in Harlech and Ulster television with advertisements featuring many products which were sold in Dublin as well as Belfast and Wales. Consequently these advertisers could shift the weight of their advertising expenditure from one channel to another very easily. Not only that, but some purely Dublin advertisers, like shops and discotheques, thought it worth their while to advertise on UTV purely for the Dublin audience.

That is the real threat to RTE advertising revenue, because RTE lost its monopoly of television advertising in by far the richest market in the State. Yet Senator Mullen who has expressed concern about the effect on jobs of extending British television to the west seems to be aware, in relation to the east, that competition has not in fact threatened jobs. He asked me to arrange for improvements in the quality of BBC and ITV signals provided by the cable companies so that his Dublin members, including his RTE members, may enjoy more fully the services which he wishes, unfortunately, to deny to the south and west of the country. There appears to be some misunderstanding here.

But let us look at the effect which this increased competition did in fact have on RTE. While advertising revenue has in fact increased over the last five years, it is fair to assume that it could have increased still further if there had not been this intensifying of competition. This intense competition, let us recall, was introduced by Fianna Fáil, in spite of all of Senator Lenihan's present concern for RTE, and his colleagues Deputies Colley and Haughey are at one with Senator Mullen and myself in wishing to see the quality of cable systems in Dublin improved—not torn out, improved. The outcome of this five years of increasing competition on employment at RTE has not been to reduce it by 600 or even by one but in fact to increase it.

In so far as RTE derived less money from advertising than it might have, the balance has had to be made up from increased licence fees. These licence fees are paid equally by every viewer, most of whom are single-channel viewers. I and the Government have been prepared to accept the risk of unpopularity with these single-channel viewers and the viewers have been on the whole prepared to pay these increases because they believe in sustaining the RTE output of home produced programmes. But it is trying the patience of the single-channel viewers a bit much to ignore that past record and to oppose any redressing of the balance by the introduction of a far smaller degree of competition into the single-channel area.

I say far smaller degree of competition for a number of reasons. Firstly, RTE would retain the monopoly of television advertising. This is all important—assuming that it is BBC 1; secondly, while the single-channel audience is larger, it is less well off and correspondingly less significant from the advertiser's point of view; thirdly, the very high ratings which advertisers obtained in single-channel homes could often be regarded as superfluous or certainly of less value, as advertisers geared the frequency of their spots to their fickle but affluent targets in the cabled suburbs of Dublin; fourthly, we are talking in terms of one extra channel rather than three or four extra channels.

There will be a cost and I am not denying it, but the record shows that it will be of the order of that which has already been experienced and which has already been paid. Should experience show that this was not so, it would of course remain open to the Government to reshape their broadcasting policies accordingly, since the maintenance of the level of home production at RTE must remain a priority with any Government. However, the maintenance of a balance in broadcasting terms between the south-west and the north-east of this country is a question which this Government consider to have become urgent.

Senators have forecast that in the future competitive situation RTE might be forced either to programme nothing but American entertainment or concentrate on minority-interest home produced programmes. I reject the idea that Irish programming cannot appeal to majority Irish audiences. There is clear evidence that it can, even in the area of television—where the larger producers have an advantage —and very clear evidence indeed in the field of radio, where RTE holds its own audience very comfortably in the teeth of the widest possible competition.

But even in television it is known that popular home produced programmes which are also of good quality attract very wide audiences. RTE's response to the inevitable growth of competition has to be along these lines. Otherwise RTE would have noraison d'etre: no one could be asked to pay a licence fee just to provide RTE with the means of importing programmes for broadcast through one channel or two or three. On the other hand, by concentrating on home-produced programmes of the right type, RTE can certainly face the future with confidence, whatever the degree and range of outside competition.

The responses to a recent newspaper query to its readers on the subject of the second channel—The Sunday Independent, 11th May—appear to show a very marked preference indeed among the readers of that newspaper for the rebroadcasting of BBC 1 or ITV as against a second RTE channel. It was over 80 per cent. Upholders of giving priority to RTE 2 may however say—and I think they will—that those who responded to the newspaper query did not understand what RTE 2 would really be like—that point has been made quite often in this debate—and therefore they should be given RTE 2 even though they seem to have a quite marked preference for something else. There are some weaknesses in that argument from a democratic point of view.

However, I am prepared to concede that one should not draw final conclusions from an inquiry conducted among the readers of one newspaper, even one which enjoys a very wide circulation. I am also prepared to concede that the case for RTE 2, as against rebroadcasting a Northern Ireland channel, may not yet have been adequately made to the people of the single channel area.

I should like, therefore, to propose an experiment. Let RTE put on a programme or programmes describing how RTE would use the second channel, if that were entrusted to it. There are a number of precedents for broadcasters discussing broadcasting on RTE. They would be free to present the advantages of their concept of RTE 2 in those bright colours which they believe pertain to it. Let them do that. They can be sure at least that their message will reach all those who are interested in this matter in the area where it is of most concern. Viewers in the single channel area will, by definition, have no option but to witness RTE 1's case for RTE 2. So let them make that case in the certainty of a wide and attentive hearing. And let them put this proposition to the viewers in that area.

The mechanism for transmitting a second programme channel will become available about the end of next year. Do you want this extra channel to be used:

(a) For a second RTE channel as described in our recent programme or programmes, or

(b) For rebroadcasting BBC 1 from Northern Ireland?

I think that is a fair experiment. Let me assure the Seanad, as I shall also assure RTE, that if this experiment is tried and if it shows a clear preference among single channel viewers for the concept of RTE 2, as explained by RTE, then I shall have no hesitation in reversing my priorities and recommending to the Government that the second network should be devoted to an RTE second channel.

If, on the other hand. RTE refuse —as is of course its perfect right— to try any such experiment, then I also have the right to draw an inference. The inference I shall draw is that RTE considers, as I do, that the people of the single channel area not only do not want RTE 2 now but are highly unlikely to want it even after it has been explained to them in the most favourable possible light. If that is not the case, the experiment is available to prove it wrong. If it is the case, then what the proponents of RTE are now asking me to do is to ignore the wishes of the inhabitants of the single channel area. I do not think I have any right to do that.

Senator Alexis FitzGerald made, as usual, a valuable contribution to this Stage of the debate. I hope very much that he will give the Seanad the benefit of his wisdom and knowledge throughout Committee Stage, if he can. He said however one thing which, while true, lends itself to misunderstanding. He said at column 816 of Volume 79 of the Seanad Official Report:

If we Irish fail to put things Irish first nobody else will put them first.

Senator FitzGerald must have been disconcerted at the delight with which some Senators opposite, including Senator McGlinchey, pounced on that phrase. One thing we know about Senator FitzGerald is that he is not likely to seek the approbation of Senator McGlinchey.

I will qualify Senator FitzGerald's formulation only in this way: we should put things Irish first among things, including institutions. For example, our concern must be with RTE more than with BBC. All that is perfectly true. Above all, we must put first the living Irish people, as they are, with their actual preferences. We must not obscure or distort these preferences with hypocrisy and cant as some traditionally have done.

It appears to be—few Senators really doubt it, I think—that Irish people want to have a choice. They do not reject RTE. They want to have a choice between RTE and an outside channel or channels. This is crystal clear. Part of the country already has that choice. We want the rest of the country to have it.

On which grounds should it be refused? The grounds I have heard urged most strongly can be reduced to this—as imaginary quotations: "BBC, UTV, HTV and so on, do no harm to the people of the east coast when carried by cable, but BBC if carried to the west by microwave would do incalcuable harm, swamping our culture and drowning our people in immorality.

I would say this in conclusion. What is really doing us harm, swamping and drowning us, is the kind of nonsense which is typified by an argument like that. Let us make a clean break from all that and respect the wishes of the people as they actually are.

Could I put a question to the Minister? He said nothing about the legal problem of transmitting BBC 1 raised by a number of Senators. Could the Minister tell us anything about these problems or whether anything has been done to solve them?

I am prepared to discuss the legal problems on Committee Stage.

That is all very well but we have had a very long dissertation on section 6 and the Minister has said nothing at all about a matter, raised by a number of Senators including myself, and that is the legal problems involved in transmitting BBC 1.

I have answered the Senator.

The Minister will be asked these questions on Committee Stage.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 12.

  • Blennerhassett, John.
  • Boland, John.
  • Burton, Philip.
  • Butler, Pierce.
  • Codd, Patrick.
  • Connolly, Roderic.
  • Daly, Jack.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • FitzGerald, Alexis.
  • Halligan, Brendan.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Horgan, John S.
  • Kerrigan, Patrick
  • Kilbride, Thomas.
  • McAuliffe, Timothy.
  • McCartin, John Joseph.
  • Mannion, John M.
  • Markey, Bernard.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • O'Brien, Andy.
  • O'Brien, William.
  • O'Higgins, Michael J.
  • O'Toole, Patrick.
  • Owens, Evelyn.
  • Prendergast, Michael A.
  • Robinson, Mary.
  • Sanfey, James W.
  • Walsh, Mary.
  • Whyte, Liam.

Níl

  • Brennan, John J.
  • Cowen, Bernard.
  • Dolan, Séamus.
  • Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí.
  • Hanafin, Des.
  • Keegan, Seán.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McGlinchey, Bernard.
  • McGowan, Patrick.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Yeats, Michael B.
Tellers : Tá, Senators Sanfey and Halligan; Níl, Senators Hanafin and Killilea.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 4th June, 1975.