I am glad to be able to contribute to this RTE Bill. I listened with interest to the debate. I would like to start by welcoming the new Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to this Chamber. Had I spoken ten minutes ago he would not have been here, but I sincerely wish him very well. I do not know him very well. I was a Member of the last Dáil, he was not. I have heard of him at a distance. He is from a part of the country that is not too far from my part of this country west of the Shannon. I am sure he has an understanding of our problems there. I wish him well with the very difficult tasks in the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs with the broader issues, of course, of RTE. If his problems were confined to those which exist in RTE, it would be a relatively simple matter, but certainly in the area of telephones there is a job to be done in the interests of this country and I wish him well in that task.
Some aspects of television disturb me a little bit We are living in a very strong consumer society and obviously in RTE, as in a great many television authorities in the world today, revenue is one of the most vital interests because without it you do not have your television at all. Revenue from advertising is vital but it is creating all kinds of problems with the relative poverty that exists in this country and the displays of luxury goods every day and every night. However, this is part of the consumer society and we have got to live with it, but it is creating all kinds of problems and a lot of human misery in many homes where people are aspiring to more material goods than many of them are able to afford.
I can take all of that, but there is one aspect of advertising which appals me completely and which the Minister and any enlightened government in this age should do something about. I am talking about the advertising of alcoholic drink. I take a drink, as a great many other people do in this country, and I get a lot of pleasure out of it. I am not suggesting for one instant that people should not drink, nor am I moralising to young people growing up who want to live a reasonable life. I object to drink advertising because we are living in a country which historically has a drink problem. I see the Acting Chairman, probably because of the institution he works in, smiling at me. But we have had historically in this country one of the most serious drink problems in the world. It is something that we have to face up to because the price we are paying for that drink problem is incalculable. I do not need to spell it out.
I would like to compliment the Brewers' Association of Ireland on the very intelligent type of advertising they have been engaging in in the press recently in an attempt to stimulate sensible drinking. I object to the advertising of alcoholic drink on television and the insinuation that if you are young to be popular, a good footballer and a hit with the girls, it is all based on the pint of Smithwick's, Light Guinness, or Bacardi and Coke. This is immoral, it is encouraging young people to move in a direction that is not in the interests of this country. The revenue in 1977-78, according to the last available RTE accounts, from advertising alcoholic drink on television was about £¾ million, and on radio was about £88,000, totalling something of the order of £850,000. In recent times, we have been talking about something of the order of £1 million.
In narrow terms, that is revenue for the State, to help to run a television station, but in another sense it reminds me of the man who had a great deal of money and lacked discernment in what he should do with it; the saying was that he knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing. What one must put against that paltry £1 million revenue is the price we are paying in the corrupting of young people; helping to increase our rate of alcoholism; contributing to the broken homes problem; building up an enormous social cost for the various health boards; building up the medical cost for psychiatric and general hospitals and, in addition, the extent to which this flaunting of alcohol is contributing to inefficiency at work, absenteeism from the job and warped and twisted attitudes to work, to life and in the home. There is one answer, a very simple one, and I shall give the Government credit if they provide it. When the new budget comes in they must ban alcoholic advertising on television, simply that. We can talk around it for months or years, but the simple answer is to cut it out and the Minister has the power through the Authority to do that. It would be of incalculable benefit. Leave the RTE loss of £1 million, or even £10 million aside. One cannot attempt to quantify the intangible. We had a debate in this House last week on the admittance of Greece to the EEC and the extent of subsidies which would be necessary and what it would cost the English, the French and the Germans. It begged another question, if one can ensure the democracy of Greece and make a stronger Europe, a World War will not take place. Do Britain or France put a price on what two World Wars cost them in this century? I shall be the first person in this House to give credit to the Minister if he takes this action, which I very strongly believe should be taken.
This Bill concerns, to a degree, the question of people in RTE becoming involved in politics and in elections relating to the Oireachtas. One disturbing aspect of television is that it is a vastly powerful medium in this country. You have the Fourth Estate and television moving in, and it is an immensely powerful organ in this country today. Presenters of programmes, in many cases justly, are extremely popular for good presentation but there is this enormous influence on every household in the land. There is a dangerous trend, politically, and a parallel with much that has been said in this House about the erosion of democracy in this country. In terms of a democracy, the Oireachtas supposedly run this country. However, we see immense power building up in semi-State organisations where, down to fourth or fifth level, we have people working, each with four walls and a private secretary, yet when we come into the Oireachtas, the legislature of this country, we have six or seven Deputies working in one room, sharing one secretary between them, which is farcical and against democracy.
We have the same thing with RTE as far as politics are concerned, that there is not sufficient or adequate political coverage. There is in news programmes, in discussion documents when you want to bring in the Minister of the day, or his Opposition spokesman to discuss policy matters or contentious issues, but, when you get down through the ranks, past the Government, members of the Cabinet, front bench people in Opposition, political coverage does not exist Some years ago there were political programmes where, throughout the country, debates took place. At times people complained about the quality of the programmes or the lack of attributes of some of the contributors. So what? This is a democracy; this is the Oireachtas. Television as a medium is one of the most important means of communicating with people and, irrespective of the merit or demerit of the participants, it is very healthy, especially now that we have two television channels, that there should be a continuing political debate, in the broadest sense, on these channels, so that our people, rather than being entirely dependent on what their newspapers tell them about people who are active in public life in this country, will have the opportunity, through the visual medium to sort the thing out for themselves and to decide on Government, Opposition, political parties and people within those parties. I say that in the broadest sense. It is very much in the national interest that that should happen, despite possible mediocrity of many of the future programmes. I will give you one small example: earlier this year we had the European Parliament elections and in the most recent RTE report, they take credit for producing two programmes in relation to Europe and Ireland in Europe:
Two important new programmes, designed to contribute towards the broadening of understanding of Ireland as a European nation, we introduced during the year. They are "Inside Europe" and "Parliamentary Europe".
I was a contestant in the European elections, in the Connacht-Ulster constituency—a constituency of eight counties—and was one of those trying to communicate with a great many people over an extremely wide area where, physically, it was not possible for any candidate to become involved with the electorate to the extent possible in a Dáil election or in a county council election. In that extremely difficult election, we had four constituencies, mine being Connacht-Ulster—eight counties stretching from Donegal to south Galway and east Monaghan—in a campaign that ran for a number of months. Apart from the political party broadcasts, which were extremely limited, the only coverage arranged by RTE for candidates in that election was approximately two minutes each. My point is that we are a democracy and communication is what politics is all about and, in that important election, with its relevance to this country, the candidates had to present themselves to their electorate over such a wide area in two minutes in a few months. There is something lacking.
Is politics important in this country? Fundamentally, is there a democracy? Does Government, does the Legislature rule, or does it not, or are elections to be contested on a sane basis in this modern age of communication? I want to make the point, not in a retrospective sense but for the future. These elections will take place again and when they do, whichever Government is in power will, I hope, have a more rational arrangement so that those who contest it from various political parties or from none will have the possibility of communicating with the electorate as they should.
Having said all that, there is much on which I can compliment RTE. My background was in the Christian Brothers' school in Westport, I have a limited knowledge of Irish and grew up in an English-speaking part of the country. The recent, type of presentation in "Trom agus Éadrom" by Liam Ó Murchú, where we have a bilingual programme, has been a great success. for many people who might find a programme completely in Irish fairly heavy weather, the excellent mix that he achieves in a bilingual programme attracts people to listen and to watch it. It is immensely more educational for those in this country who have the will to learn but who did not grow up in a Gaeltacht area. I compliment the Authority and the people engaged in that programme. It is a good approach to adopt.
RTE are doing a tremendous job as regards "World Week" since our involvement in the EEC and the extent to which we are involved in world affairs. It is an excellent programme and, by way of contrast, the incalculable advantage of this country that we also speak the English language makes it much easier for us, in comparison with countries like Greece or Holland, whose languages are spoken by extremely few people outside their own country. We have the immense advantage of being able to draw on the television resources of the English-speaking world which, in a programme like "World Week", makes for a very enlightened programme in a country as small as ours. We are fortunate to have that type of coverage.
It has been said a number of times that the coverage of the Papal visit was incredibly good for a television station with extremely limited resources in a small country. They had to cover, in two or three very short days, a very wide range of events; it was done brilliantly. It was not just to the Authority that the credit redounded, but to the country, by coverage through much of the world. They are to be complimented on the work which they did in that area.
I should like more emphasis on television on adult education. Last week, we were talking about education and the various educational authorities and technical education in universities. The point was made by a number of speakers that the single area where there is the greatest present gap is adult education, when so many people had not the opportunity to go to university or, in many cases, to secondary schools. So many houses have television sets today that there is the opportunity for adults who want to learn and who will participate in these programmes. Whilst we have programmes beamed at school children during day hours, a little more could be done in arranging programmes at more suitable times for adults in many areas of education.
I should like to say a few things on Northern Ireland. It has been unfortunate but, of course, necessary from a news point of view that we have had a concentration over the last ten years or so on the atrocities which have occurred in Northern Ireland. We have had the news bulletins about the maimings, the bombings, the killings and the horrible words and deeds from that part of this island. Whilst it has been necessary to present these events because they have been news—any journalist would have a responsibility to present them—a serious imbalance has developed, because the notion is abroad among many people in the Republic that Northern Ireland consists of violence and everything that goes with it; that there is no other part to life up there. We have been told of discrimination and the resulting problems but there is a tendency to imagine that all is corrupt. I have had the experience, going back a large number of years, of travelling to the North and recently have had occasion to go up there four or five times a year. I am, frankly, struck by the extent to which life continues despite the violence.
Whilst we are committed in this State to providing coverage of events in Northern Ireland, through RTE and in our other media, we are somewhat lacking in our duty in not presenting adequately a broad picture of life there. In terms of everyday life, there are cultural events; events in industry, agriculture, farming; the scenic beauty of the mountains of Mourne and the lakes of Fermanagh. I have been on Strangford Lough in County Down a number of times and very few people here have been up there.
A very famous programme was made by the BBC of the very profuse and unique life under water, entitled "Down under Down", which could very usefully be relayed through RTE. In broadest terms, I am simply saying that we should look at a wider aspect of life than the events on which of necessity we have had to concentrate up to now. A good day's work would be done if we adopted that type of approach.
As a Mayoman, I am delighted to read the latest RTE report of the international awards in RTE. One programme, called "Pat Fergus— Solitude and Serenity", won the Golden Ear of Wheat at the Berlin International Festival of Agricultural Films competition, 1978. Pat Fergus is a sheep farmer in north Mayo. It was a marvellous programme and I would like to see it being relayed again. I congratulate him, as much as RTE, on the award because he made the programme—some Senators may have watched it.
The west of Ireland is quite a different area, where television is concerned. In the east, most places have access to BBC and commercial television, which means that the choice is a broad one. In the west of the country and many other parts of the south-west and north-west and parts of the midlands one is confined to RTE. Obviously we expect more from RTE than people in areas with a wider choice. Whatever the reason, there are still very severe problems regarding reception of RTE 2 in many parts of the west. I know nothing about the technical reasons for it, but it limits our options very severely. I should be grateful if the Minister would look into that issue and see what the problem is. Since we have that station it is a pity that it cannot be viewed.
Having said that, I compliment RTE on the development of RTE 2, which is a most successful development. In the debates that took place some years ago there were options: one was relating to the introduction to this country of the BBC 1 programme—the authority held the view that this approach of an RTE 2 station was a better one.
At the beginning of that debate I found myself on the BBC 1 side of the argument I visited the north of England at one stage and one evening found myself in an hotel with the choice between an excellent programme on a different BBC channel and a programme of very little value on BBC 1; we could not even watch the good programme, because other people in the lounge wanted to watch the other programme. I suddenly realised that we were buying a package, and the wrong package, if we took in BBC 1. We were buying a pop programme and were confining very much the range of RTE activity. The bringing in of RTE 2 has given more scope for educational purposes, musical events, cultural events, travelogues, for European and world politics and has been extremely successful. We are a small country with limited resources and RTE 2 is a tremendous boon to the part of the country where I live and where we were previously limited to a single station. My present deep regret is that not more people are in a position to get RTE 2. These special needs of the west should be urgently looked into.
In the welter of the debate about local radio and pop radio stations and having two stations—RTE 1 and RTE 2—the Minister would know more about this than I do, but I understand that the pop Radio Éireann station is on a better wavelength or has something to do with having more power than the main RTE radio station. This is not within the fitness of things. If there has to be a choice between two strengths or wavelengths to give the pop station preference over the principal RTE station, which carries the news bulletins, discussions and other programmes, is not in the rational order of things.
To summarise: I should like to see, first, the Minister, with his reputation for getting things done, persuading the Minister for Finance and RTE that we can do without the revenue from advertising drink and just cut it dead; secondly, a broader approach to the coverage of Northern Ireland events; thirdly, on the issue of politics, those involved in politics in this country should have the same opportunity to play their role in communicating with people through this medium as other people have. Again, I wish the Minister well.