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.