Broadcasting Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages.

I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1 is out of order.

Mr. Manning: A Chathaoirligh, perhaps you might explain why because I did not move a similar amendment on Committee Stage in the hope that I might be able to raise the matter on Report Stage.

I understand your amendment is out of order because it has the same effect as amendments which were negatived on Committee Stage.

I have been scuppered by my colleagues.

Exactly, but not intentionally.

The Senator now knows who his friends are.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 22, line 39, after "her" to insert "and that such rules be introduced not later than 12 months after the enactment of this Bill".

This amendment incorporates what Senator Manning was seeking to do in amendment No. 1. Rather than calling for the provision of a full subtitling service, the amendment addresses the section providing for a commission that will make rules to deal with problems experienced by persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. Given that the rules deal with the accessibility by all citizens to what is being transmitted they should be compiled without delay and the legislation should impose a time limit on their introduction of not be later than 12 months after its enactment. That is a reasonable period.

Many of those experiencing difficulty are members of the Irish Hard of Hearing Association. They met me and a number of other Members yesterday. They are adamant that the legislation should be more in line with what is the norm abroad, especially our nearest neighbour where a specific element of subtitling is provided for in the legislation. I have obtained figures on people with hearing loss in the UK. People between the ages of 51 and 60 experience 18.9% loss, it rises to 36.8% loss between 61 and 70 and to 60.2% loss between 71 and 80. If we do not provide subtitles or an alternative means of listening and communicating we are discriminating against the elderly, especially as they suffer disproportionately more, and to others who have become partially incapacitated in this respect during life or at birth.

Everything to do with broadcasting is about communication. I am always a little reluctant when I see something which is very critical to the values expressed in legislation being sent to a commission or being referred to a committee which will go about its business. We need to put time limits on when that body will report back to the Minister who will introduce whatever recommendations are made. We need something better than what is here for people who are partially sighted, blind, hard of hearing or deaf. The Minister should give us some comfort on the issue by assuring us that the matter will be addressed urgently.

I second the amendment. This is so important for such a large number of people that the Minister should try to make sure there is some sort of timetable. People who are hard of hearing were mentioned. Yesterday I mentioned that, unfortunately, an increasing number of young people are hard of hearing, probably because of the use of headphones, Walkmans and so on and because of disco music. The timetable Senator Costello has set down is not unreasonable.

I come to this debate with a certain amount of baggage. I first became aware of the difficulties the hard of hearing have in accessing programmes when I started to present radio programmes on RTE. I exchanged correspondence with many of those who are hard of hearing and I was acutely aware when going on air that they had this difficulty. It is considerably compounded by the viewing of television and that is why the area of subtitling has become controversial in recent weeks and days.

I have the strongest sympathy with this amendment and the contributions Senator Costello and Senator Henry made. However, I also acknowledge that the Minister and her advisers have been acutely aware of the frustrations of those who are hard of hearing. Most of their frustration has been directed at the national broadcaster, RTE. However, it is important to point out that this legislation is all encompassing and places obligations on all broadcast contractors, not just RTE.

As we are dealing with the here and now, perhaps it might be of some assistance to the House if I outlined briefly RTE's position in relation to this. I already referred to it on Second Stage and quoted from the 1999 annual report. The simple reality as far as RTE is concerned is one of resources. There is a glaring lack of resources in this area. I think RTE, if asked – it was subjected to some criticism at the various public meetings it held around the country in recent weeks when this question arose – would put its hand up and admit that there has been inadequacy in this area. That, of course, has led to continuous frustration among those who represent the hard of hearing. The Minister has already seen a number of those organisations and they have exchanged views with her. I am sure she will take this opportunity to expand on her views in this area.

If RTE, in particular, because it is the national broadcaster is to discharge its responsibilities in this area, it must be resourced. We have already heard in great detail about the difficulties RTE has in meeting the needs of all its viewers because of the increasing cost of producing programmes. I do not wish my remarks to be interpreted as representing the corporate view of RTE but unless there is an increase in its licence fee which will allow it to address this and other areas, it will prove difficult for the commission to implement this section as written. I think that was the point Senator Costello made, that is, unless a timeframe is included and unless there is a specific obligation on television contractors to respond to the obligations contained in the section, which states that the commission shall make rules requiring each broadcaster to take specified steps, television broadcasters, especially those in the private sector – irrespective of RTE's continuing role in this – could plead lack of resources or finance or, indeed, indifference. They cannot be allowed to do that on a continuing basis but they could make appropriate noises to the commission without taking specific action. That is the spirit in which this amendment has been put forward and with which I have a great degree of sympathy.

Having said that, and on a positive note, RTE has tendered for new technology to improve and introduce subtitling on its news programmes, hopefully by the middle of this year. That will be a major advance on what is currently the case. It might surprise the House to know that the subtitling section of RTE is severely under resourced and I appreciate this is a matter for RTE itself to address. Currently, it has 2.5 persons in the section – a head of section, an assistant and a part-time employee – and subtitling is being carried out by reporters from outside. Having said that, I acknowledge the Trojan work being done by that small group of dedicated people. I will give the House a flavour of what is involved. For example, RTE would be the first—

Senator Mooney is broadening the debate on this.

I want to explain the context of subtitling and the difficulties that might be inherent in this amendment being passed and imposing a specified time, mainly because the lobby, as it were, or the issues are being addressed to RTE. I will be as brief as I can. I appreciate what you are saying, a Chathaoirleach, and I do not wish to broaden the debate.

RTE was the first channel in Europe to receive a number of American programmes –"ER" and "Dawson's Creek" are two that come to mind. In America, the only obligation is on the public broadcasting system which currently has about 2% to 3% of the viewing audience and public broadcasting transmissions are 100% subtitled. However, the private broadcasters, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, are not obliged by law to have subtitling. Consequently, programmes like "ER", for example, come into this country with a master tape and a script accompanying that tape. The subtitling section in RTE has to introduce what is called a character generator and manually type in the subtitle using a time code on the master tape. One can understand the time involved in doing that. It has to do it with these programmes because RTE has managed to be very competitive in attracting some high quality America programmes which are shown here ahead of Britain, France and elsewhere in Europe and fair play to it. It does not have an existing subtitle tape and has to create it itself. That is on the recorded side; but on the live side, it is actually done as the programmes are being transmitted and it is time delayed.

I find it difficult to understand what is involved here. An individual sits at a character generator, which is like a typewriter, watches the news as it unfolds and types in a subtitle as it goes along. I am only giving Members a broad outline of the practicalities involved in trying to answer the very reasonable and justifiable demands of the hard of hearing lobby for full subtitling on all programmes. It is because of that system and the manner in which it is currently operated that I again put down the marker in the wider debate about an increase in the television licence fee, that unless RTE is given those financial resources it will not be in a position to fully discharge this function in the short-term. We are all very anxious that a timeframe is placed on this. I want to emphasise that there is not 100% subtitling on commercial programming from America and there is not as high a percentage of subtitled programming from the BBC as we have been led to believe, though it is significantly higher than from RTE.

RTE is currently taking steps to address what it admits is an unacceptable situation but it is an inadequate response to those who seek to have full subtitling on all their output. Finally, this is not a problem of TG4 as it is fully subtitled due to its use of digitalisation. This amendment is aimed at RTE, but the obligation on new programme contractors to address the requirements of the existing section is of concern to us all and hopefully the Minister can reassure us on that point.

I am in total sympathy with the principle of this amendment. For far too long broadcasters have not catered sufficiently for those with hearing disabilities. For this reason I took the step of inserting the provisions of section 19 into the Bill in the first place. Senators will be aware that I have placed onerous obligations on the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland with respect to advertising directed at children. As the Bill provides, I intend to make this issue the first priority of the commission as soon as it is established.

I will be opposing this amendment but I undertake to write to the Independent Radio and Television Commission in the immediate future. I will relay to it the House's strength of feeling and my total sympathy with these sentiments and that I want it to take these on board as a matter of urgency.

Hear, hear.

I would expect this to galvanise the commission to develop these rules in close consultation with the deaf and hard of hearing. I happily give that undertaking to the House.

I would have preferred there to be something specific in the legislation. I accept fully the Minister's good intentions in supporting the principle of the amendment and in writing to the Independent Radio and Television Commission putting on the record with them the feelings and sense of urgency expressed here. I withdraw my amendment on those grounds.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 33, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

"35.–Section 5 of the broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1993 is hereby amended–

(a)in subsection (1) (a) by the indention of the following subparagraph after subparagraph (iii):

‘(iv)the persons who undertake the distribution and exploitation of the said programme, other than its broadcast by the broadcaster itself, and any simultaneous re-transmissions thereof,',".

I moved this amendment on Committee Stage. It concerns the fact that if an independent producer gets more than 50% of money from the independent production unit of RTE they are obliged to give the distribution and transmission rights to a section known as RTE . When I spoke on Committee Stage the Minister said there was no such legal regulation and appeared to be so advised by her officials. She will now have received from me copies of draft contracts which RTE obliges independent producers to sign.

The situation is therefore that independent producers have to sign over distribution rights to RTE. I quote from the general terms and conditions of the contract:

Distribution: Unless otherwise agreed between the parties, RTE shall have distribution rights for a term of five years from the date of first broadcast in Ireland. On expiry of the five year term, the Contractor shall be assigned distribution rights unless otherwise agreed between the parties. 70% of the net receipts shall accrue to RTE after the deduction of print and post production costs, agency sales commission (normally 30%), freight and customs charges, copyright license fees, promotion and publicity costs and such other charges deemed by RTE to have been necessarily incurred in the selling of recordings of the Programme. The balance of the 30% shall be paid to the Contractor.

It can be seen that the contractor is not going to do terribly well. The more recent draft regulations regarding distribution state:

Unless otherwise agreed RTE will normally retain distribution rights in programmes where RTE provides at least 50% of the funding for a period of five years from the date of first broadcast in Ireland. Such distribution may cover TV broadcasts world-wide and subject to agreement between RTE and the producer and subject to availability of such rights in connection with the project theatric, non-theatric, cable and satellite sales, and in addition the exploitation of books, records, video, merchandising and other ancillary rights. The producer will warrant that required rights are cleared to enable RTE to transmit the programme twice within five years and where applicable to exploit and distribute the programme.

Things are very heavily weighted on the side of RTE.

RTE is an absolutely splendid institution but for independent producers to be really independent and to enable them to have their product transmitted internationally it is essential that they not have to go through RTE . This is one of the few areas in which the RTE management would be willing to agree that they do not have a great deal of expertise and personnel.

Senator Mooney spoke about the shortage of staff in the subtitling division. Apparently in RTE two people are employed. This is to cover the sale of all independently produced films to the rest of the world. They are in competition with specialised sales units in the UK which have some of the most sophisticated operations in the world and our small independent producers will not get a fair opportunity to have their product transmitted internationally. They should be allowed to choose an independent sales promoter here or to work with companies in the UK.

It is a very specialised area. There are specialised companies dealing in children's programmes which must surely interest the Leader of the House as it must Senators Mooney and Labhrás Ó Murchú. We want to give our producers the very best chance to sell their work internationally. There was a programme recently which has been a huge international success. "Irish Empire" about the Irish experience around the world was a co-production and so was able to be sold everywhere. It has been a great financial success. Other programmes have had a far more limited distribution. I do not wish to name them as that would be invidious but some people have been extraordinarily disappointed in the distribution they managed to get for their programmes.

In terms of books and merchandise there is a question of quite a lot of money. It is not only the money of course. Independent producers have to make a name for themselves. They have to do this internationally. The contracts they are obliged to sign with RTE stymie the independent producers. I realise the Bill covers all television stations but we are funding RTE and I urge the Minister to make this change.

RTE is trying to handle a brief which is really too wide. It has a very important job to do and should allow specialised companies to deal with sales promotion. Independent producers must be given some latitude. I note that a Government amendment has been tabled which means the Bill must go back to the Dáil. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. Our independent producers have produced very good work – I spoke earlier about the programmes on TG4 – and it is important that they are allowed to be really independent. I am sure that the taxpayers who fund RTE would like to see independent producers being provided with the best opportunity to sell their product.

I second the amendment.

I understand where Senator Henry is coming from with this amendment and I fully understand the manner in which independent film makers have interpreted the legislation. I am aware Senator Henry has been in contact with them and is perhaps representing their views here, although that does not in any way detract from the validity of the argument she advanced.

The Irish Film Board, which comes under the Minister's remit, has also produced some outstanding cinematic works in recent years. One need only glance at the board's annual report to see the number of films which have been made with State funding. Yet these films have had a relatively small international success rate. A significant number of the films financed and produced under the board's aegis have not recouped their costs and very few have been a commercial success. I do not deny that the independent sector produced marvellous programmes in co-operation with RTE but it does not always follow that such programmes will find a ready market. Notwithstanding that, there is undoubtedly a problem in the commercial enterprise section of RTE.

Like my colleague, Senator Cassidy, I have produced a number of music cassettes and CDs in co-operation with RTE and have almost always dealt with Mr. Michael Croke, who has worked there for a long time. Senator Henry is correct that only a small number of people work in the section. However, I would not go so far as to sug gest that an outside agency should be employed to sell RTE programmes. RTE should look into the mote in its own eye and head-hunt expertise in the area of programme sales, as it does in the areas of television programming, production and administration.

We are dealing with a Civil Service culture here, as distinct from a commercial one. That is not a negative reflection on civil servants; they merely have a different agenda. There is a need in the competitive world of international television marketing for sales expertise which will aggressively sell programmes. I do not wish to cast aspersions on the current operating procedures of RTE but I have been informed by representatives of Irish-based companies who successfully sell independent television programmes – television programmes are bought and sold on a regular basis in a number of international fora in the same way as music publishing deals are bought and sold – that there is a marked absence of RTE personnel where the real business of buying and selling television programmes is carried on. We must ask whether RTE is serious about promoting and aggressively marketing the excellent output of programmes to which Senator Henry referred.

I would suggest that the trading arrangements between the independent film makers and RTE do not lie at the core of the issue. The core of the issue is that they would perhaps be prepared to accept the type of agreement entered into if they believed the products had a fair chance of being sold on the international market, not only recouping their costs but also generating sufficient income to make a further series of programmes.

The 70:30 percentage ratio is currently under negotiation between the film makers and RTE and we await the outcome with interest. The commission on the sale of television programmes is of the order of 35% internationally. The detail of the trading agreement to which Senator Henry referred reveals that the 70% includes all pre-production and post-production costs. To draw an analogy, a royalty agreement between a performing artist and a record company almost invariably includes a section to the effect that royalties are paid following the recoupment of all production costs. The 70% retained by RTE does not go directly into its exchequer as it includes all pre-production and post-production costs and the 30% received by the film makers is provided after all such costs have been met. That is the reality of the commercial arrangement between the independent film makers and RTE and it is not for any of us to defend that.

Without putting a tooth in it, the RTE section is in serious need of an overhaul and additional resources must be provided in terms of the expertise to which Senator Henry referred. I have always found Michael Croke to be courteous, efficient and helpful and he has always discharged his responsibilities to the very best of his ability. It is a prevailing culture rather than individuals who are causing this problem. RTE must realise that its quality programming can find success on the international market. BBC commercial enterprises has very successfully exploited its programming, particularly its costume drama, and I do not see any reason why RTE should not follow suit. However, RTE appears to be absenting itself from international sales fora or failing to profile itself to the extent others who are selling programmes in the independent sector would wish it to.

I am not sure if this will advance the debate, but in the wider context of RTE's application for a licence fee increase it is something the Minister could highlight, in her deliberations on this issue, as an important income generator for RTE. I am sure RTE knows that already but obviously there are serious deficiencies in the manner in which it is currently being carried out, to the extent that the independent film makers feel so chagrined that they wish to have a change introduced in enabling legislation. It gives a valuable insight into how strongly the independent film operators feel about this issue.

I support Senator Henry's amendment. The case has been well aired by both Senator Henry and Senator Mooney. It is the old chestnut where one set of people produce the programmes, another is creative while another is good at marketing. If RTE is not putting the personnel, the resources or the ethos into the enterprise sector in terms of marketing and trading abroad with the independent film programmes, or indeed their own programmes, that matter needs to be addressed because we are talking about people's creations, products, careers and livelihoods.

It should not be impossible for RTE to get its act together on this matter because, as Senator Mooney said, it could be a lucrative part of its operation. At the same time, it is questionable whether it should be a monopoly and whether we should be examining an alternative option for international trading and marketing of programmes. As Senator Henry said, that option should be available. We need to ensure that the best possible marketer is available to the people who produce the programmes so that they can get the maximum tradability throughout the world. It is a difficult market but it is an international market and if, for whatever reason, RTE is not represented at world film fairs or does not attend the appropriate fora, the job is not being done adequately. That is important for our fledgling programme and film making industry. We are new to both areas and any independent programme maker deserves to have the best possible promoter of that product available to them in every arena where there is a market. I support the amendment.

I support the amendment also. Some logical points have been made and I do not intend to go into any of the detail to the extent that it has been already been done. Even if I wanted to I do not have the knowledge other people have of this area.

I am acutely aware that for many years it has been a sore point with independent producers and Irish film makers that while they do very well in terms of making a film and getting it to a certain audience, they fall down in terms of distribution and marketing. That issue has been raised over the years. In the context of the Bill and the amendment put forward, we now have an opportunity to seek to put it right.

We have a small cohort of highly intelligent, creative and imaginative people who have made stunningly good films and excellent documentaries and television programmes. They are the best ambassadors we have abroad for the only real asset we have as a nation – our intelligence and our creativity. When an Irish film sells well abroad, every Irish person living abroad raises his or her head and is proud to be from Ireland. When we try to break into markets with other commodities, that reputation that film makers gain for us is of great benefit. We should regard our film and television industry and the people who work in it as an important overall resource. They have mastered a whole range of skills, including script writing and technical skills, to enable them put the production in place.

What has been lacking in terms of the measure that ought to be forthcoming is in the distribution and the marketing areas. Some of the reasons for that have been touched upon, and I will not go into that except to say that this section of the Bill gives us an opportunity to remedy that situation and to unleash the potential that exists. It is important for the producers, and for the country, that this should be done. It is well known that films are not being marketed either at home or abroad in the manner they deserve. I am not saying every film that has been made deserves that kind of treatment but every film deserves a fair chance to reach the market.

Film makers say there has been a minor improvement recently in terms of distribution but a great deal of potential remains to be exploited. I appeal to the Minister to take Senator Henry's amendment seriously, to listen carefully to what has been said by all speakers and to seek to put in place, in the context of the Bill, a better system that will serve the overall needs in the way that has been outlined.

With regard to the marketing issue and RTE Commercial Enterprises, that is very much a matter for RTE. I note, however, that Senators have said this matter needs to be addressed.

With regard to the amendment before us, Senator Henry raised this issue on Committee Stage and she has since sent me further material on the issue for which I thank her. The fact remains, however, that there is not a statutory requirement on the producers to accept these terms of trade. They are a matter for negotiation between RTE and the independent sector. RTE receives over £60 million in public funding each year and it is important that RTE has the autonomy to do the best deal it can in spending those funds. I cannot make it illegal for RTE to disagree with the independent producers and, accordingly, I am still opposed to the amendment.

The Minister's response was as I had expected but I am very disappointed because section 5 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1993, defines so much about independent television programmes and producers. It states that producers are the persons who can decide the persons who are to participate in the said programme, the persons who are to be involved in the making of the said programme and the equipment and facilities to be used in the making of the said programme. The only people who are left out are the persons who undertake the distribution and exploitation of the said programme other than as broadcast by the broadcaster itself, and any simultaneous retransmission thereof.

I thank my fellow Senators for their support, which even came from the Government benches. I know Senator Quill is a fan of the Cork Film Festival and she has such a knowledge of the film making industry here.

Senator Mooney has great knowledge of the making of films and of RTE. So much is set out in the Bill regarding independent producers and I cannot see why my amendment, which would allow them choose who distributes their work, cannot be included. Everybody has agreed there is a problem with distribution of these films, at least 50% of the funding for which is provided by taxpayers. I suspect taxpayers would like to see the very best use being made of these films. While I understand only too well Senator Mooney's comment that not all films are a great financial success, we should not be too pessimistic. Many films are excellent and if given more exposure they might be a better financial success.

I reiterate that the contract states:

Distribution: Unless otherwise agreed between the parties, RTE shall have the distribution rights for a term of five years from the date of first broadcast in Ireland. On expiry of the five year term the contractor shall be assigned distribution rights unless otherwise agreed between the parties.

Then comes the important piece:

Seventy per cent of the net receipts shall accrue to RTE after the deduction of print and post production costs, agency sales commission (normally 30%), freight and customs charges, copyright licence fees, promotion and publicity costs and any other charges deemed by RTE to have been necessarily incurred in the selling of recordings of the programme. The balance of the 30% shall be paid to the contractor.

Therefore, there will not be huge sums unless the film is a great financial success. My concern is not just about financing, but that talented young people in every field – scriptwriters, actors, camera operators, people involved in lighting and costumes – who must get international exposure if they are to be successful, are not getting it at present. We should not blame RTE for this, though its contract is at fault. I am not enthusiastic about RTE diversifying into merchandising, an area in which it has not been very satisfactorily involved over the years. RTE cannot do everything. It has enough on its plate. I want to ensure independent producers, who make films using our money, are in a position to give films to specialised agencies who go to all the international shows, including the Cork Film Festival.

The Cork Film Festival, Cannes and all the others.

It is such a pity we are blocking the availability of these films from people who could sell them from a better position than RTE Commercial Enterprises. A Government amendment has been tabled, so the Bill has to be returned to the Dáil, and it would be a weight off the shoulders of these young film makers and all those involved if the Minister accepted this amendment. Why is it not possible to include such provision for an independent producer when the Bill includes other provisions for them? I find it very difficult to follow. It is cherry-picking and not to the advantage of those working with such enthusiasm. These people have to work extremely hard as the film industry here is not quite as good as it was a few years ago. I meet people who have good ideas, are full of enthusiasm and want to make films but who seriously worry that after spending our money they will be hog-tied regarding the sale of their product.

I am sure Senator Henry will be delighted to hear that according to the figures, this year is one of the best ever, if not the best, for the Irish film industry. Regarding this amendment, it is not a statutory requirement but a matter of negotiation between RTE and the independent sector. No doubt the Senator will think I am being particularly stubborn on this matter in not wishing to accept her amendment, but I am not convinced by the case put forward. I accept that much public funding is involved, to which I referred in my reply by saying that RTE receives over £60 million in public funding. Because of that it is important that RTE has the autonomy to do the best in terms of spending funds. I do not believe the amendment is warranted.

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Avril.

Hayes, Maurice.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.O'Dowd, Fergus.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kiely, Daniel.Lanigan, Mick.

Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.Norris, David.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Caffrey and Henry; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 4 is a Government amendment. Amendment No. 5 is an alternative and it may be discussed with amendment No. 4, by agreement. I wish to announce a minor correction to the amendment, as circulated. "Subsection (4)" should be included before the word "In".

Government amendment No. 4:
In page 48, to delete lines 35 to 39 and substitute the following:
"‘In considering the suitability of an applicant for the award of a sound broadcasting contract, the Commission shall have regard to the overall quality of the performance of the applicant with respect to the provision by him of a sound broadcasting service under any sound broadcasting contract held by him at, or before, the date of the making of the application.'.".

This amendment relates to the consideration to be given by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland in the awarding of sound broadcasting contracts. My Department met representatives of the independent broadcasters this morning and they have indicated support for my proposed amendment. The amendment will ensure that local radio operators' past performance is taken into account.

I am very pleased to accept what the Minister has said and I am delighted that she has provided this amendment following consultation with the independent broadcasters. It differs slightly from amendment No. 5 which I had tabled with Senator Manning. I am grateful to the Minister. Even though there is a difference between the amendments as regards the applicant's knowledge of the proposed franchise area, the Minister's intention is good and I accept totally what she has said. Would the Minister say that there is no difference in her mind between the two amendments?

This is one element of the Bill on which there was a very informed debate. There was near unanimity on our concern that existing licence holders would have the opportunity of their track record being taken into account. Amendment No. 4 put forward by the Minister is particularly astute. When one reads the wording, it could be interpreted that the elements in Senator Manning's and Senator Coghlan's motion cover that to some extent. I am pleased the independent broadcasters have been listened to. They have given a great service and were the pioneers where local radio is concerned.

In answer to Senator Coghlan's question, the wording put forward in amendment No. 4 is largely the same as the Fine Gael amendment No. 5.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister for taking us through this Bill which, as I said in my Second Stage contribution, is technical as well as administrative. Within the parameters of the legislation and the agenda set out, she has tried to establish a digital platform for the country. I thank her for her usual courtesy and the information she has provided to us throughout the passage of the Bill.

I join with Senator Mooney in thanking the Minister. We had a lot of differences on many sections but the Minister and I have amicably agreed to differ. I am very grateful for the Government amendment which has been accepted.

I wish to be associated with the compliments paid to the Minister. This is important legislation in terms of programmes, the independent radio and television operators and broadcasting generally. I thank the Minister for responding to our queries and amendments in a courteous fashion. We did not always agree and naturally I would have liked the Minister to accept a large number of amendments. However, she has dealt with them in a comprehensive and courteous manner.

I thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and all the Members of the Seanad for their contributions. It was a very enjoyable debate. It is a very complex Bill and has taken a great deal of time, effort and consultation. I was determined to bring in broadcasting legislation and I have been working on this from the moment I came to office. I thank my Department officials for their tremendous efforts in bringing the Bill to fruition.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.