Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Bill, changed from Major Events Television Coverage Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to open this debate which provides an opportunity for the House to consider the important issues contained in the Bill, which relate to the television coverage of cultural and sports events of major importance to the public. I am interested in the views of Senators on these issues.

Viewers in Ireland have traditionally enjoyed access to major events, sporting and otherwise, through the services of RTÉ. TV3 has begun to provide coverage of certain events and I hope it continues to expand its services. A substantial proportion of the population has had access to the services of UK terrestrial broadcasters, which have also sought to cater for wider audience tastes through the years. Given the demands on the radio frequency spectrum for broadcasting purposes, the number of broadcasters was necessarily restricted in the past. In this scenario, coverage of sporting events was restricted in that broadcasters who were attempting to cater for a wide range of tastes with one or two channels could only cover a limited range of events. However, in the past ten years the emergence of satellite delivered broadcasting services, operated on an almost entirely commercial basis, has changed the broadcasting map considerably.

Channels dedicated to sports events have emerged. It is undeniable that these channels have provided increased choice to those fans who can afford the price of such services. The potential of digital broadcasting to vastly increase the capacity for the provision of broadcasting channels has already begun to cause revolutionary change. Commercial services have discovered the importance of sport to their schedules. Indeed, the market for programming with popular appeal is becoming more and more intense leading in turn to increased costs in acquiring broadcast rights. In addition, some sports organisers and clubs have begun to explore news ways of providing coverage of their events beyond the confines of the stadium where such an event might take place.

The relationship between the broadcaster who provides essential technical expertise and the organisers of these events who may be able to acquire such expertise more easily now than in the past is changing. The area of broadcast rights is becoming increasingly complicated. There have been reports of disputes between BSkyB and the English Premier League about terrestrial versus satellite rights, digital as opposed to analogue rights and subscription as opposed to pay-per-view rights.

In recent years the pace of technological change in broadcasting has been breathtaking. The broadcasting scene in Ireland has changed radically over the past 30 years. As a society, Ireland has moved from a position where there was one national television broadcaster, RTÉ, showing programmes in black and white, to today's position where there are two television broadcasters, RTÉ and TV3, operating four television channels in addition to the large number of television channels broadcast from countries overseas which are available via cable systems and satellite dishes. The advent of digital television will lead to an even greater number of television channels becoming available over the next few years. Some of these will be available only on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.

The transmission of hundreds of channels by numerous broadcasters, some of which operate on a pan-European scale across national boundaries, has changed the broadcasting scene in Ireland forever. Some of these companies have financial resources which far exceed those available to our national broadcaster, RTÉ. The demand for quality popular programming is increasing and already competition for programmes that will attract significant audiences is fierce. Many sporting events on television already attract large audiences of committed followers and fans. Premier sporting events have an appeal which goes far beyond this and create a passionate interest on a national scale.

In today's world sport plays an important part of our lives and offers different levels of participation. Those of us not lucky enough to be able to participate in sport at the highest levels have been able to do so through coverage on television. Thus, major events become a shared experience at community, local and national level. Success, or simply a good performance, at a national or international level can be an important morale booster for a county or country. Indeed, without our sporting heroes life would be much poorer.

The growth in broadcasting channels has changed the relationship between sports organisations and broadcasters. In the past the number of broadcasters was relatively limited due to radio frequency availability. Accordingly the opportunity to provide coverage of sporting activities was limited if broadcasters wished to retain a wide audience. Indeed, some event organisers were not that enthusiastic about television coverage. It may seem amazing now, but there was a time when some sporting organisations did not want certain events to be covered live because they felt that it might reduce the number of people attending a particular event.

Nowadays if a sport wishes to attract some of the vast sponsorship on offer, it must be covered on television. Successful sportspersons become national and international television personalities through television advertising and participation in sports and sports related television programmes. The growth in the number of television services made possible by the technological development of television in Europe has had a significant effect on the revenues which organisers of major events can attract. Owners of the rights to television coverage of such events now find themselves in a seller's market where competition for the right to cover such events is intense. Broadcasters, particularly those who operate pay services, are keen to attract as many viewers as possible to sign up to their services. The influx of money from TV stations has revolutionised European sport. The sale of exclusive broadcasting rights has become sport's largest source of income ahead of ticket sales, particularly in respect of the Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer. Closely linked to the sale of television rights is the question of sponsorship. Sporting events with guaranteed TV coverage quickly find a backing from sponsors.

Developments in the coverage of club soccer matches in Britain and elsewhere in Europe over the past decade or so are worth consideration. With the coming on air of new broadcasters, such as B Sky B, there has been a big increase in the number of soccer matches shown live on television, particularly club matches. Before the existence of B Sky B it was rare to have live soccer matches on television, apart from international matches. The regular showing of live soccer matches on television, largely on a subscription or pay-per-view basis, has certainly raised the profile of soccer at an international level and given consumers a greater choice, even though they have to pay extra for seeing these games on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.

Football matches have become the most watched television programmes throughout Europe, demonstrating the importance of relations between sport and television. This has led in turn to the recent trend in soccer where large powerful audiovisual companies have sought to purchase football clubs. Senators will be aware that earlier this year the British Government blocked the purchase by an audiovisual company of Manchester United. However, other European Governments have adopted a different policy. In France, Canal Plus controls clubs not only in France but also elsewhere. European clubs such as Inter Milan and Paris St. Germain are backed by media groups. Since its attempt to become the majority shareholder in Manchester United was blocked, B Sky B has begun to secure small stakes in other clubs at a level that does not attract regulatory control.

Sports organisations realise the importance of their particular sport being shown on television. We know that television is a powerful medium to influence society. The showing of sports on television leads to a higher public profile for that sport, with the result that it attracts greater sponsorship.

Against this background of rapid change, the European Commission organised in May of this year the first European conference on sport. One of the main themes of the conference was relations between sport and television. On this matter the Commission identified a number of key issues for discussion and debate including television's role in broadcasting sport and its impact on the development of sport as a spectacle; the concept of solidarity applied to sports and relations between inter club competition and international competitions; individual or collective selling of television rights, the ownership of rights and the redistribution of money from television rights; conditions for awarding a contract, the lack of transparency and publicity, the duration of exclusive contracts, equal opportunity for operators; the problems inherent in the growing interpenetration of the sporting world and the audiovisual sector; the independence of journalists of a channel owning particular teams or clubs; the national lists of major sports events and the Television without Frontiers directive and the conditions for applying it to sports events; the citizen's right to information; debate over pay channels; and the survival of a sport linked to presence on television and ratings.

The main conclusions of the discussion on the theme of television and sport were as follows. On the growing interconnection between sport and television, participants agreed on the recognition of intensified relationships between broadcasters and sports organisations in a competitive market context, characterised by a growing number of distribution channels and a diversification of television services – thematic channels, pay television, pay-per-view – favoured by digital technology. This intensified relationship requires the sports organisations, broadcasters and public authorities to pay renewed attention to the need to preserve the values, the autonomy and specificity of sport.

Although the presence of sports on television is desired by the sports movement, in particular for promotional and educational reasons, the constraints of television broadcasting in an ever competitive environment may negatively affect the very nature of sport disciplines and bring about changes in the organisation of sports activities.

The integrity and autonomy of sport must be preserved and there must not be any confusion of roles between broadcasters and the sport movement nor must the media exercise control directly – for example by acquiring ownerships of clubs – or indirectly, on the organisation and schedules of sports competitions. In this connection, concern or even outright opposition was expressed by some participants against the acquisition of sports clubs by broadcasters.

The vast majority of those who contributed on the theme of the collective sale of rights and the redistribution of revenues considered that the interests of sport are best served by a system of collective sale of rights, in particular by federations. This collective sale system is deemed to be a necessary condition for the functioning of redistribution and solidarity mechanisms that must characterise European sport. Redistribution of revenues within each discipline should be in favour of less wealthy clubs and amateur clubs.

On the issues of duration of exclusive broadcasting rights to sports competitions, the majority of participants, while accepting the need for limiting duration for obvious competition related reasons, considered that such duration must be sufficient, in particular in respect of the investment needed for producing and programming such events. The participants believed that it was not desirable to have a single rule applying to all sports disciplines and that the maximum duration must be adapted to the characteristics of each discipline, taking into acount the diversity of sport and the impact on the sports rights market.

The conference recognised the importance of measures aimed at ensuring access by the public to information on sports events of major importance for society, taking into account the influence exercised by such events on sport practice and social cohesion. In this respect, the necessity to strike a balance between the protection of public interests and the development needs of clubs and federations was underlined. The participants expressed their desire to take forward the dialogue between the sport movement and broadcasters, together with the representatives of EU member states and the European Commission.

The Commission will prepare a report for the European Council meeting in Helsinki in December 1999. The Commission believes that the report offers a unique opportunity for putting the relationship between sport and the European Union on a satisfactory footing. From the foregoing, Senators will appreciate the growing complexity of sports administration and the many issued raised by the question of television coverage.

We are aware that today money plays an ever increasing role in sport. To be successful in sport means not only commitment and dedication by a team or an individual but also in most cases significant financial resources. The sale by event organisers to broadcasters of the rights to broadcast sports events such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer matches involves billions of dollars worth of business. These events attract huge audiences across all continents. This is reflected in the huge amounts of money broadcasters are prepared to pay for the rights to transmit sports events. Most broadcasters today operate in the private sector. Some of them operate on a global scale. They are answerable not to governments or to the general public but to their shareholders. I fully recognise that sports organisers wish to generate the maximum amount of income from the sale of broadcast rights to the events which they organise. This income is vital to event organisers and can be used, for example, to recruit new talent, undertake improvements to facilities at sports grounds such as new stands or to improve coaching and training facilities, etc.

Arising from these changes there is concern, not just in Ireland but throughout the European Union, that coverage of certain major events, in particular sports events, will migrate from free television, i.e. without payment by the viewers to a broadcaster, to a situation where these events will only be seen on a subscription or pay-per-view channel. There is the danger that, if market forces are left to themselves without some level of co-ordinated control by the member states of the European Union, a small number of companies will dominate the market for major sports and cultural events that are of interest to the general public leading to restrictions on access to television coverage of such events on those who cannot afford to pay.

These concerns are justified. Access to premier events is always limited. Up to now, television has provided a means to participate in such events to everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances. The shared experience of following the exploits of a national team or an individual representing our community is an important element of our society and our culture. It must be realised that such events are more than just another commodity to be bought and exploited by the highest bidder. Such events have a value that goes beyond normal commercial considerations. In the same way as certain buildings or archaeological sites are protected, there is a strong public interest in ensuring continued maximum access to television coverage of certain significant events.

The concerns that such events would no longer be available to broadcasters who provide free to air television coverage led to the insertion by the European Union of a new specific measure in the Television without Frontiers Directive, which was amended in 1977. Under Article 3a of the amended directive, each member state may take measures in accordance with Community law to ensure that broadcasters under its jurisdiction do not broadcast on an exclusive basis events which are regarded by that member state as being of major importance for society in such a way as to deprive a substantial proportion of the public in that member state of the possibility of following such eventsvia live coverage or deferred coverage on free television.

Member states may designate events which they consider to be of major importance to society and notify the European Commission accordingly. Within a period of three months from the notification, the Commission shall verify that the measures are compatible with Community law and communicate them to the other member states. Once the Commission has verified the measures, other member states must recognise the lists of designated events drawn up by other member states and ensure that no broadcaster under its jurisdiction operates in such a way as to deprive a substantial proportion of the population of other member states seeing events which those other member states have designated on free television.

Three member states have designated events and concluded the notification process with the Commission. These member states are Denmark, Germany and Italy. Major international sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer final have been designated by these three countries.

The philosophy behind the Bill is to implement Article 3a of the Television without Frontiers Directive. I wish to assure event organisers that this Bill does not propose to interfere on a broad scale with the commercial marketing of sports events, to distort competition or to interfere to an undue extent with the rights of event organisers to sell the commercial rights to sports events. What is required is a balance between the rights of event organisers to sell the broadcast rights to sports events and the rights of the general public to continue to see major sports events on free television or near universal coverage. It must be recognised that the citizen has rights too and these must be safeguarded.

This Bill, when enacted, will give me the power to draw up a list of designated events following consultation with the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Contacts have been made by officials of my Department with the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in this matter. In deciding which event should be designated, the Bill stipulates certain criteria which must be taken into account, that is, the extent to which the event has a special general resonance for the people of Ireland and the extent to which the event has a generally recognised distinct cultural importance for the people of Ireland.

The Bill does not identify what particular events will be designated by me under ministerial order. Once the Bill is enacted a wide ranging consultation process will be undertaken to ascertain the views of event organisers, broadcasters under the jurisdiction of the State and the public before any order is made by me. While some sports events readily spring to mind I intend to enter the consultation process with an open mind and without prejudice to any particular sport.

Section 1 deals with definitions. The most significant definitions are "near universal coverage", "qualifying broadcaster" and "free television service". Until 31 December 2001, a broadcaster in the State who provides a free television service with 85 per cent coverage of the population will be considered as a "qualifying broadcaster" under the Bill. Thereafter a "qualifying broadcaster" will be a broadcaster who provides near universal coverage as defined in the Bill. "Near universal coverage" is defined as a free television service which is available to 95 per cent of the population. However, where, at any time, only two broadcasters are capable of providing such coverage, a broadcaster who provides 90 per cent coverage will be considered to be providing "near universal coverage". "Free television service" is defined as a television service, which is free at the point of reception.

Section 2 provides that I may, following consultation with the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, by order designate events as events of major importance to society. In drawing up the list of designated events, I am required to take certain criteria into account. Subsection (1)(a) provides that I will have the basic power of designating certain events as events of major importance to society. Broadcasters who are qualifying broadcasters will have the right to coverage of such events. Subsection (1)(b) provides that when exercising the power to designate events I will determine whether such events should be available on free television on a live, deferred or both live and deferred basis and whether the event should be available in its entirety or on a partial basis. This enables me to take account of situations where a designated event takes place in a different time zone or where a number of different events take place at the same time.

Subsection (2) requires me to have regard to all the circumstances and, in particular, to certain criteria when designating an event under subsection (1). I must have regard to the extent to which the event in question has a special general resonance and a generally recognised distinct cultural importance for the people of Ireland. This is to provide that only events of an outstanding nature will be designated. Subsection (3) provides that in order to determine whether these criteria have been met, I may take into account whether the event involves participation by a national or non-national team or by Irish persons. Past practice with regard to television coverage of the event or similar events may also be taken into account.

Subsection (4) provides for the matters to be considered by me in making a determination as to whether a designated event should be available on free television on a live or deferred basis or in whole or in partial form. Subsection (5) provides that I may by order revoke or amend an order under this section. Subsection (6) provides that I must consult the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation before making, amending or revoking an order under this section. Subsection (7) provides that an order under this section shall be a positive order, that is, that the order shall not come into force until a resolution approving the draft of the order has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Section 3 provides that before making an order I shall consult with the organisers of events and with broadcasters under the jurisdiction of the State, publish a notice of the event I intend to designate in at least one national newspaper circulating in the State and invite comments on the intended designation from members of the public. Subsection (2) provides that where it is not possible to establish the identify of the organiser of an event or if an organiser or broadcaster fails to respond to efforts to consult, I am not precluded from proceeding to make an order under section 2.

Section 4(1) provides that where a broadcaster under the jurisdiction of the State who is not a qualifying broadcaster acquires exclusive rights to broadcast a designated event, that broadcaster shall not broadcast the event unless the event has been made available to a qualifying broadcaster, in accordance with the order under section 2, on request and on the payment of reasonable market rates by the qualifying broadcaster. Subsection (2) provides that where a qualifying broadcaster acquires the right to broadcast a designated event, the qualifying broadcaster shall broadcast the event on a free television service providing near universal coverage.

Section 5 transposes the mandatory provisions of Article 3a of the Television without Frontiers directive to ensure no broadcaster in our jurisdiction operates in such a way as to deprive a substantial proportion of the population in another member state of the opportunity of following events designated by that member state on free television.

Section 6 provides that where a broadcaster alleges that an activity or conduct prohibited by section 4 or 5 is being, has been or is about to be carried out by one or more broadcasters the broadcaster shall be entitled to apply to the High Court for civil remedies such as a restraining order or damages from another broadcaster.

Section 7 provides that if broadcasters are unable to agree on what constitutes reasonable market rates with respect to television coverage of an event either of the broadcasters may apply to the High Court for an order determining reasonable market rates for an event. Section 8 contains the Short Title to the Bill.

I intend that the consultation process set out in the Bill will be meaningful. I also take the opportunity to express my appreciation of event organisers and sports administrators. They are the inheritors of a long tradition of service to their sporting disciplines, to those who participate and to the general public. Theirs is an increasingly dif ficult task which requires them to establish a balance between the interests of their sports, their participants and the public interest in an increasingly complex world. I do not want to give the impression that I consider that they are about to sell the rights to their events without any concern for that public interest. When the Bill is enacted I will embark on the consultation process provided for with respect for their position and expertise.

While I have dwelt at length on the sporting dimensions to the Bill, it will also allow the listing of other events that are deemed important to society and meet the criteria of having a special resonance for the people and having a generally recognised distinct cultural importance for them. There is widespread interest among the people that certain events which are of such importance to our way of life and culture must continue to be seen on free television on near universal coverage. Widespread enjoyment of such events on free terrestrial television is a force for cohesion in society. I have no doubt that the people will welcome and support the provisions of the Bill.

I am sure Senators will agree that, given the important role sport plays in the life of our country, it is essential that sports events of major importance to society are accessible to the widest possible number of viewers via free television. Access to such events should not be restricted only to those who can affort to pay the rates demanded by subscription or pay-per-view television services.

I commend the Bill to the Seanad.

I welcome the Minister and recognise the work she has done on this important legislation. Broadcasting laws are notoriously difficult to police, especially at international level. This is particularly true of the Internet. I am concerned that while the Bill is fine in theory – I am sure it is excellent legislation on which much work has been done – it may not be in practice. I have no regard for the ingenuity of the multimillion pound corporations in circumventing the law, especially international law. The explanatory memorandum states:

The Bill is also designed to prohibit broadcasters under this jurisdiction from exercising exclusive rights to events which have been designated by other Member States in accordance with the provisions of the Directive in such a way as to deprive a substantial proportion of the population in those Member States of following such events on free television.

While that is fine in this jurisdiction, other jurisdictions are involved. How will this impinge on our laws? While I am aware that three member states have complied with the directive, I envisage many problems. Reservations were expressed in the other House in relation to the mechanics of the consultation process. The Minister stated that there will be consultation, but with and by whom? Will public meetings be held and advertisements placed in the national media? Does the Minister have a timescale in mind for completion of the process as well as the analysis of reports? When will a list of designated events be published?

The Minister referred at considerable length to sports events. While we are all aware of their value and impact, especially on young people, there are other events which are of equal importance such as major cultural events which should be recognised. There is too much emphasis on sports events such as European football matches, the Rugby World Cup and the Ryder Cup in golf. There are many other events which may well come within the ambit of the Bill and it will be interesting to see how flexible the Minister will be in assessing them for inclusion.

With the advent of digital television the number of channels available will continue to increase. There is no means of stopping this. That is the reason I am gravely concerned about the effectiveness of this legislation. RTÉ 1, Network 2, TV3 and TG4 are competing well with these international channels. I compliment the national network on providing decent and respectable programmes which are attracting large audiences. This is to be commended. A new programme, especially on the national airwaves, is welcome and that is reflected in the number of people who tune in every night.

We have no control over transmissions from outside the State. As each year passes, more and more objectionable material is being broadcast to this country, particularly late at night. I am sure Members are aware of those programmes from the USA, Germany and other countries which are broadcast at 11 p.m. and 12 midnight, but we are powerless to control that. Any type of international law can be introduced but it will not change matters.

Likewise, I am concerned about the way the Bill will impinge on the type of programmes that should be available free of charge. It is a source of much annoyance to people that a world boxing championship or other major sporting event can be broadcast free of charge in, say, a public house – I am sure the publican pays for it – while viewers at home cannot watch it. That practice will continue with the scrambling technology that is now available. The ingenuity of the media corporations in circumventing any laws we bring in is astounding. That will continue to be the case because people are being paid to come up with ideas in this regard.

There was little emphasis on enforcement in the Minister's contribution or the type of penalties or other measures that will be imposed on corporations which transgress international laws enacted by various EU countries. In the 20 minutes available to me earlier today to read the Bill, I could not see any reference to that. The Minister might elaborate on the type of enforcement procedures that will be adopted or the pen alties that will be imposed on those multi-million pound corporations which decide to transgress the laws that will be enacted to cover these events. I am sure the Minister and the Department have given this matter a great deal of consideration but it was not mentioned in the Minister's contribution. Perhaps she will address that issue.

I do not have any adverse comments to make about the Bill. This is necessary legislation. It may be limited in what it can achieve in terms of the control or otherwise of the international airwaves. The Minister, in her contribution, summarised the philosophy behind the Bill when she said it was designed to provide free coverage of these major events to the people who cannot afford to pay for it. It is an injustice that these exclusive sports events are available to those who can afford to pay while others have no access to them. If the Bill can change that, it will be successful. I hope that will be the case.

I am sure the Department has examined all angles of this issue. This is difficult legislation to enforce effectively. It is not as if we were dealing with concrete structures requiring planning permission where strict regulations could be laid down and enforced. We are dealing here with corporations in other jurisdictions which do not have the same social, moral or national conscience as those of us in this country and who may be intent on imposing their views on us. That is happening on a regular basis. In that regard, perhaps the Bill could be extended to cover those unsavoury aspects of international broadcasting to which we are being subjected. I will be supporting all the measures in the Bill and I hope the Minister achieves the objectives set out in the legislation.

Fáilte romhat, a Aire. I welcome this imaginative legislation which the Minister has brought before the House. A few years ago, the focus of the Bill would be seen as belonging more to the realm of science fiction than to reality. Not many people at that time would have envisaged human ingenuity pushing out the boundaries of technology to the point where they are today. It is far removed from the time when a famous Tipperary hurler would milk the cows, cycle to the local station in Thurles, play in an all-Ireland hurling final and thrill the nation while Micheál O'Hehir explained what was happening on the radio. None of us will ever forget the picture of Ronnie Delaney when he won in the Olympics. Time has not dimmed that picture. Many sports stars are asked to promote aftershave lotions and other products but that is the world in which we live. The Minister does not have any choice but to react to that reality.

Apart from its legislative significance, the Bill also helps to highlight Ireland's excellence in terms of sport and cultural events. That is one of the reasons it is necessary for us to focus on our current requirements. It would be wrong of us to ignore the natural – and national – rights of an entire population to have free access to events which are of importance to them. We are all aware of the attitude of Irish people generally to sport; it is part of their lives. On the other hand, even though we are unable to contend with these requirements, which are often driven by commercial interests, it is important in terms of the character of our young people that sport is always viewed as man or woman pushing out the barriers of nature to see what can be achieved. We should not just focus on the team colours or the latest item being sold in relation to a sport. That sends out the wrong message. One should always look to the message of the Olympics, which has nothing to do with the matters focused on by this Bill. We should never be defeatist and say it is necessary for us to accept the total consequences of technological and commercial developments. There is an onus on us to realise that drug enhanced performance, for example, is part of that culture, where people feel, through commercial pressure or otherwise, they must go down that road.

The other aspect is the interference by the media in sports people's lives. This has happened in the areas of hurling and football. There was a time when one played the very best game possible for love of county and love of sport. However, there is a terrible intrusion in every sports column or programme today into the private family lives of sports stars, which has a psychological impact. It has become important for team managers and trainers to adopt a new approach. It is no longer a question of training the human body to achieve what is best in sport – team members must also be briefed on how to react to the media, how to absorb flak from the media and so on. We cannot control that but it does not help the spirit of what we would regard as healthy sport. We should always put down a marker in that regard.

The focus of the Bill is very important. One must compliment the Governments which foresaw the need to do this because it is impossible for a free television service to compete with the multibillion pound television industry. Television networks now want to own teams – it is no longer a matter of just having the rights to sporting events. That cannot be good, from an ethical point of view, because it brings the excesses often associated with highly competitive businesses to sport, which we had hoped would enhance and inspire the next generation. Governments have been right to recognise, even at a late stage, the necessity of introducing legislation which provides a protection, so that pay-per-view events are not available only to those with the means to pay for them. These events should be available to all the people, as they were in the past.

I would go a step further and say that, while money might not have been forthcoming, the participants in these events received a very deep seated loyalty. It was an edifying type of loyalty which did not die away when the person left a particular sports code or activity but continued for ever after. We still talk about the heroes of 20, 30 or 40 years ago. However, many of the sporting heroes of this period are no longer part of the folk memory a year after they leave sport. They disappear virtually completely and will never become retrospective role models for our young people, which is sad. People still talk of Christy Ring, Mick Mackey, John Doyle and many others as if they were around today. That built up consensus and loyalty is very important. We should not become defeatist and think that can no longer apply. I am not just referring to the amateur area – there should also be an element of that in professional sport.

The legislation has achieved a very fine balance between the rights of a community to have free access at the point of reception to the events designated by the Minister as being of exceptional importance – as she said, they must be of an outstanding nature, of national importance, in every sense – and the organisations which need finance to remain in existence and develop. Those who are designated may feel they have less chance to avail of the finance available in the marketplace. However, as the Minister pointed out, a very extensive consultative process will attach to this and the organisers and broadcasters will have the opportunity to express their point of view. In addition, there is an organic element in the legislation which allows the Minister to order, amend or revoke designated events on an ongoing basis, which is good.

I see a positive side to this, particularly for the more nationally minded organisations, because a seal of quality will be attached to designated events – the "Made in Ireland" seal, in the case of national games. I do not know what the position is in regard to other events, but any event which can attract 200,000 people and provide RTÉ with four hours of television, as the Fleadh Cheoil in Enniscorthy did, is a major event. I do not think the organisers of the Fleadh Cheoil would necessarily see the designation of the fleadh as a bad thing, provided there is an opportunity for them to be compensated. It is quite evident from the Bill that there will not be a heavy handed attitude on the part of the Minister or the Government.

We must bear in mind that we are talking here about digital television. We are no longer talking about pressing a button and seeing one angle of a game. We can now press three buttons and get three angles on one television programme. We will be able to see the umpire or what way the ball went without having to wait for the replay. We have no control over this, but we must also acknowledge that there are good elements in it. Radio may still have a place, but the needs of the younger generation must also be considered.

The relationship between the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation is a partic ularly important one. Its importance may not be seen in the very early stages, but it is important that there is interaction and consultation between those two Ministers. The broadcasting element cannot exist in isolation from the Department which deals with the events we are discussing. Consultation will avoid confusion and provide for a more expeditious handling of the process. That will be important because it is one thing to provide the legislation but another to ensure that unnecessary obstacles are not created. Those involved in sporting and cultural events will have their own plan of campaign, foreseeing what they want to do, when they want to do it and so on. From a democratic point of view, it is important that they should not feel they are placed at a disadvantage because they have to wait for a process to be completed or even to be assessed. However, it is evident in the Bill that where an order is intended, both Houses will have an input. That is healthy and removes the idea that the Minister will draw up a list in an isolated manner without giving people the opportunity of expressing their views. There is an ongoing organic element in the legislation which will be particularly important in the early stages. After a while it will be a very smooth operation but the Minister has foreseen the necessity for doing this.

The provision that the broadcasters must show that they are providing a service to a specific, designated percentage of the population – 90 or 95 per cent – is particularly important. If this were not the case a broadcaster could achieve certain rights, hopefully not seeing them as cheap rights because there is still a remunerative aspect to this, without necessarily delivering. That is specifically laid down in the Bill.

One has to consider the national broadcasting service or the free service, specifically RTÉ, including TG4 and Radio na Gaeltachta. I always felt there was a danger that the national service could be dissipated to the point where we would have lost the opportunity for dictating quality. I use "dictating" in the best sense because with a national service one can make demands because one is paying the licence fee. In effect, RTÉ has benefited from that. In my early visits to America, I found five or six channels then, not hundreds as now, but I always thought the quality of American television was dismally low, particularly documentaries, news coverage and talk shows. RTÉ developed an exceptionally high standard because it was not driven by commercial concerns and was able to do in-depth analysis, whereas many American talk shows had 15 or 30 seconds or a minute to broadcast an item, after which an ad for the soap powder had to be broadcast. It affected the quality of programming. It is important to be seen to be loyal to RTÉ and also make demands on it, particularly after an increase in the television licence fee.

In the context of the new Bill, we should focus on RTÉ and ensure it will not be swamped by those who are only motivated by profit, not by quality or ethics but by whatever they can get away with and what the investors in that station will demand. There is no board meeting of any commercially driven television station where the first item on the agenda is not profit. It has to be so because profit is the essence of their existence.

I accept that RTÉ has to work within certain budgets but it also knows that it has a statutory mandate and requirement from the people and Government and they must respond to that. This legislation supports broadcasters such as RTÉ. The onus will then be placed on that service to sell on the broadcasting rights at a reasonable price to another broadcaster, which is a very imaginative part of this Bill. It has not only been influenced by our international obligations, it has been influenced by the Minister and her officials. This is another safety net in this legislation.

There are safeguards in this legislation which could have slipped through the net but they have not. They will not only be safeguards but will also provide the dynamic because each one is provided with an obligation, from the Minister down to the broadcaster, and there is also protection for the organiser's right. I welcome this imaginative legislation and I wish it could have come sooner so that we could have staved off the worse excesses which commercialism has brought to this area. I am not decrying commercialism because commerce, culture and sport can rest very comfortably together, provided that commerce does not dominate negatively. I compliment the Minister, the Minister of State and the officials on this legislation. There is no doubt that it is in the national interest.

I welcome the Minister. It was interesting to hear her explanation of the Bill. We have been fortunate with the two Cabinet Ministers in this area and Deputy de Valera has quite a task to follow them. She may have doubted that she would be able to improve on that but she has exceeded our expectations in many ways, including her arts plan and plans for funding the arts. She has grabbed hold of a challenge and has done something that could have been done years before.

I also applaud her decision to undertake a root and branch examination of the Arts Council itself to see what could be improved. I recognise her achievements and her aims. However, I am not going to take a popular stand on this Bill, which is a disaster. It is bad law. It is fundamentally misconceived and possibly unconstitutional and smacks of a totalitarian tinge that should be anathema in a democratic republic such as this.

It is a transparent attempt to pander to populist prejudice by pretending that there can actually be something like a "free lunch". This has been discussed here before in previous years. I have spoken on this matter and disagreed with it on principle and for pragmatic reasons. We have heard something about the principles from the Minister and the previous speakers. There is a fundamental wrongheadedness about this Bill and that is the assumption that there are rights. The assumption is that there somehow exists a God-given right for every person to watch important events free of charge in their own homes. This right does not exist and certainly is not a fundamental right. Correspondingly there is an assumption that because many people may have enjoyed something free in the past they have a right to continue that forever in the future, no matter how matters change. The third wrong assumption is that the Government has the right to trample at will over property rights, provided enough people are interested in that being done. The reality in today's multimedia world is that viewing rights to important events have commercial value.

The House had a very good debate on the Copyright Bill which attempted to strike a balance between protecting and rewarding creators and the legitimate rights of the general public who wish to avail of the material they produce. This was an extremely detailed argument but no one was brave enough to suggest that property rights could be trampled over by the Government simply because of the level of public interest in the work concerned. These may seem strong words.

Another assumption underlying the Bill is the notion that when something becomes important to a large number of people it becomes the property of those people rather than of those who created it. There are some obvious examples to which the Minister referred, such as international matches which are commercial events. An Irish international soccer match is as commercial as a U2 concert. It was interesting to hear Senator Ó Murchú's comments on the Fleadh Ceoil. If one takes the logic behind the Bill to its proper conclusion one is arguing that people have the right to watch a U2 concert free of charge just because enough of them want to do so. That argument does not stand up. I got the first hint of this when Senator Ó Murchú suggested that the Fleadh Ceoil was so important that people should have the right to watch it free of charge. That right does not exist and therefore this is bad law.

The language used in the Bill shows how uneasy the legislators are with the concept behind it. Section 2 includes the phrase "has a special general resonance for the people of Ireland". I am charmed by this metaphor as a regular critic of the over-legalistic language used by the parliamentary draftsman. The phrase clearly illustrates the flimsy base on which the Bill stands. This is populist pandering at its worst.

What about amateur sport – Croke Park?

Even amateur sports are commercial events. I am talking about principles. I deliberately used the word "totalitarian" because I associate measures such as this Bill with the atti tude to culture in fascist regimes between the wars. I like using that term as it upsets people. What if, during the communist era, someone stated that they knew what was good and that they were going to remove property rights whether owned by an amateur organisation or anyone else? That is the kind of law passed by communist and fascist regimes. This Bill is bad law.

The Minister argued that measures such as these have been taken in Europe and mentioned three countries who have introduced similar legislation. There is almost the suggestion that we joined the European Union as lemmings who would jump over the cliff along with everyone else. Surely we did not join the Union with that in mind. However, it seems that Europe adopts a form of protectionism with regard to cultural issues. That is the opposite of what Europe should be about. This Bill shows such a protectionist tendency.

I am against the Bill on principle but I am also against it on factual grounds. This brings me back to the GAA and other organisations. What if Rupert Murdoch offered the GAA £100 million to televise the football and hurling finals live? That is a commercial situation. He would make such an offer on the basis that viewing rights were restricted to those who paid. This would mean that people would have to go to pubs to see the games rather than watching them at home. The GAA would not accept such a deal because restricting the audience would ensure that the sport would no longer be a national sport. This applies to all sporting organisations – the GAA, the FAI or the IRFU. It would be commercial suicide to accept money and reduce the number of viewers, who would have to pay a lot of money to watch the events. This applies to amateur and professional sport. That is the common sense reality. Common sense tells us that there is no need for this legislation, even if it was harmless, which it is not. This is pernicious legislation. Under the guise of being populist it puts the State in the position of being a predator and makes it an invader instead of a protector of property.

This Bill is essentially and fundamentally misguided and I am afraid that we will regret it. During debate on the Cement Bill it was stated that we are very slow to repeal legislation when we make a mistake. This is one of those mistakes we are likely to make. I am sorry that the Bill is likely to pass and that mine is one of the few voices saying that we should stop and think twice about this. I urge the Minister to reconsider the Bill. It is a bad law which is not in the interests of sport or the citizens who believe they are getting a free lunch.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill, even if Senator Quinn does not do so. It is important to remember that sport is not about commercialisation or money. It does not belong to anybody but everybody. This is not just the case with sport but with other major events. One need only pick up any newspaper any day to realise how important sport is to Irish society and to see how interested people are in many different sports. The advent of televised sport has led to a situation in which interest in sport has grown enormously. People now understand sports they may not have understood in the past and that will continue to be the case.

When examining this issue one does not only have to consider the players but also the voluntary workers in many of these organisations. The benefits of their work accrue throughout society. One of the greatest things we can do for young people is encourage them to take part in sport. I am a great believer in encouraging sport among all youngsters, regardless of ability. Sport plays an important role in building character and in keeping young people off the streets.

Debate adjourned.