I very much appreciate Senator O'Toole's comments. I am glad that we were able, through the discussions on Committee Stage, to improve the Bill in that regard. I will take into account what he said with regard to amendment No. 85 and the possibility of improving teletexting in the Irish language.
Broadcasting Bill 2008: Report Stage (Resumed).
Amendment No. 81 is a Government amendment and has already been discussed with amendment No. 80.
Amendment No. 88 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 89 to 91, inclusive, and 95 are related. Amendments Nos. 92 to 94, inclusive, are alternates to amendment No. 91. Therefore, amendments Nos. 88 to 95, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
We are seeking to take on board here some of the discussions on Committee Stage, particularly with regard to the commissioning of programmes from independent radio producers. Senators argued on Committee Stage that this be changed to a fixed percentage rather than a fixed amount, and such a percentage should result in a higher level of mandatory commissioning by RTE from independent radio producers. Having heard the view of Senators and considered the appropriate balances between legitimate interests of RTE radio services and those of the independent production sector, I propose in amendments Nos. 88 to 91, inclusive, and amendment No. 95 to increase the statutory commissioning requirements on RTE to a minimum of 3% of the value of the independent production account over a period of five years, beginning in 2009. While 3% is a significant figure, it is important not to lose sight of the primary objective of section 116 when focusing on percentage levels. The objective is to ensure RTE fully engages with the independent radio production sector, to the benefit of all — including RTE, independent radio producers and most importantly, the listening public.
I have no doubt that over time such engagement will result in commissioning in excess of the statutory requirement. We are not seeking to put a limit, in setting such targets, but rather establishing a base camp from which further progress can be made in the use and development of the independent television and radio production sector. That has already occurred in the independent television sector. We are seeking to replicate that and expand it in the radio sector. The limits, as set out in independent television production, are exceeded by a multiple at the present time. The purpose of this provision is to provide a base for such a development of an independent radio sector. I believe the Government amendment, as proposed, will achieve such an engagement.
I acknowledge that the Minister and the Government have moved somewhat on this issue. Two of these amendments are in my name and that of Senator Bradford. Amendment No. 93 has more or less been accepted by the Minister. Amendment No. 94 has not, however, and that is the one I want to speak about. The Minister has come a part of the way along the road towards accepting amendment No. 94 and setting a target of 5%.
I disagree with a couple of things the Minister said. He said he was setting a base figure. The legitimate fear is that the base figure will be a limit rather than a base, and that it will be used as such into the future. I acknowledge that the increase to 3% is an improvement on where we were when we discussed this on Committee Stage, but I disagree with his opening comment to the effect that 3% was a significant figure. It is not a significant figure in the overall context, although an improvement from where matters stood. The fund we are speaking of is the RTE independent production account. Over the past few years there has been a significant development in the independent radio sector. Compared to their colleagues in independent television, which has been part of the Irish broadcasting system for a number of years, the independent radio sector has found times more difficult. The proposal that just 3% of the RTE independent production account would be allocated for independent radio production is not enough and the Fine Gael amendment seeks to increase it to 5% over a period of a number of years, as suggested. I accept that it would, perhaps, be difficult to do this in a single move, but it would be a significant step in the right direction to increase it over a period of four or five years.
I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively to this issue. I acknowledge that he has made a step in the right direction. The Bill provides for an increase of about €10 million per annum in the independent production account to bring it up to about €40 million. In other words, what we are speaking about in terms of the 5% is just €2 million out of the total, a very small proportion of the overall cake. I hope the Minister will be able to accommodate and increase the figure from 3% to 5% on a staged process over a number of years. It is not too much of an increase to ask for and it would be a significant positive development for the independent radio sector. We should be trying to encourage that sector. Not enough has being done by Government and by radio networks over the years to try to promote the independent radio sector. I believe this would be a significant step in the right direction if the Minister could see fit to increase the percentage up to 5%.
In fairness, we cannot but say that Deputy Ryan is a listening Minister, in terms of the number of changes and amendments that he has been prepared to take on board as we have gone through this Bill. I always believe this reflects a confident Minister in charge of his or her brief. I welcome the fact that he has listened to our arguments on this general area of the issue under discussion, independent radio production.
Starting from where he began he has come to the point he is at now, and that is to be welcomed as measurable quantifiable progress. I shall support his amendment because I like to tie down progress when I see it. However, will the Minister not think further on this as it goes through the other House? Perhaps he will come to the Seanad again, afterwards. I want to give a couple of reasons for this. Just to get critical mass into radio production, more money needs to be diverted in its direction. I speak of somebody who is completely supportive of public service broadcasting, as the Minister is well aware. I am very much supportive of RTE and of its line with regard to the division of moneys.
It would be very good for us to have thriving independent creative and self-sufficient independent production. Speaking as a trade unionist, I am appalled at the conditions of service — pay, salaries and everything else — that are available to people working in independent radio and broadcasting. I ask the Minister to talk to a few people in this regard. The next time he is being interviewed by somebody on local radio or on independent television he should ask what he or she is earning. The next time he dealing with anybody in those areas, he should ask about his or her career structure, if only to inform himself.
I raise this for the following reason. If there was a thriving independent production sector, where there was movement in and out of local and independent radio and RTE, with some equality in terms of the conditions of service that could be offered in all cases, we should all be the beneficiaries. People can argue that this is not about conditions of service. To me, it is one of the issues that arise from it. If we want to match like with like, some element of security must be given to those involved. I know the private sector does not like the idea of employment security, instead preferring to give employees short-term contracts and then kicking them out the door when finished. If that is the society people choose, then it is fine. A balance, however, is needed.
The Minister's proposal gives the start to what I want to achieve — a thriving independent radio production sector, which is very important. Less money is being put into independent radio production. If the Minister examines this he will agree with me. While I accept and welcome the proposal which will give some life to and recognition of independent radio production, it is not enough. I cannot add to the argument put forward on Committee Stage. I know no further progress will be made on the issue and the Minister does not need to kill my arguments with his briefing. However, when the buckets and spades are out in the summer and the Minister will be around the country listening to local radio, will he consider the issues I have raised?
He should examine also some of the overheads and margins for independent radio production companies and compare these with the quality of their productions and the outlets they provide. Many young graduates in broadcasting production from colleges of technology can make an input in this sector. I want a career structure to be identifiable in the independent radio sector. Many graduates get several years' experience in the sector but cannot afford to stay in it. I know it is not the Minister's fault. However, ensuring a thriving sector would be beneficial to everyone.
As a supporter of public service broadcasting, it is not healthy that RTE is the only customer in this market. Ways must be examined to ensure similar demand comes from independent radio. This debate went through Second and Committee Stages. The Minister listened and said he would return on Report Stage with proposals. I welcome the Minister's amendments which meet some of the issues already raised. However, it does not go far enough. Will he examine how to extend this proposal to the peripheral areas I mentioned?
I started daydreaming during Senator O'Toole's contribution, which does not often happen.
I will go back to college then.
I found myself imagining the scenario where the Minister returned from his summer holidays, full of vim and vigour, to tell his civil servants it would be better to give 5% to create a proper independent radio production centre. I also imagined him telling them to re-examine the heritage television channel. I would like to think it was more than a daydream. Since the Bill will not be passed by the Dáil before the summer recess, I hope the Minister will listen to more of our suggestions.
I commend the Minister on going some way with these proposals. The Association of Independent Radio Producers of Ireland and others, however, believe the Minister is not going far enough in providing for 5% of the budget. It is worth noting Senator O'Toole's comments on the importance of radio in people's lives. We are trying to promote a quality independent radio sector.
The amendment will allow for funding of €1 million to be spent by 2013. On year one allocations, this will mean one programme per week and just two at the end of the five years. This does not envisage the expansion in the production of independent programmes that the Minister is serious about. The reasonable 5% only accounts for one-fifth of the increase of €10 million which brings the overall total to €40 million, with television programmes being guaranteed 95% of this. Given that the Minister accepts the principle, why does he not take it further?
I know the Minister has been listening to the argument for some time. He was part of the discussion on the e-consultation process in the 29th Dáil. There may be arguments that this fund is only a kick-start. What is the point in having one if it comes with such a low ceiling? Whereas the provision states "no less than 3%", in the real world that figure becomes the maximum. It would be unfair to suggest the Minister is striking a balance between this new radio venture and the television sector. A budget with 3% versus 95% does not represent a balance. The importance of radio in many people's lives is often understated.
I do not know if the Minister is in mind to get more adventurous over his summer holidays. I welcome the step he has taken, so far that it goes. I support the other Senators and the Association of Independent Radio Producers of Ireland in seeking a provision of 5% and not 3% as a maximum to be devoted to the production of independent programming.
While I welcome the Minister's increase to not less than 3%, I am inclined to agree with the arguments that it should be greater. I am sure the Minister wants a vibrant independent radio producing sector providing good quality programmes. Between this Stage and when the Bill goes to the Dáil, will the Minister consider a ministerial regulation without recourse to further legislation to increase the allocation if it sticks at the 3%?
The programmes that will be produced by the independent broadcasters should be available not just to RTE, a point I highlighted earlier. There is tremendous potential in this area. Good quality television programmes have come from the independent production sector. I hope this can be replicated in the radio sector.
I am taking suggestions on board as the Bill progresses and I am sure there will be further amendments. I agree with Senator O'Toole that it is very important for us to recognise there are obligations on independent commercial broadcasters just as there are with public service broadcasters. Each broadcaster has access to a valuable public commodity in the spectrum which can be used in a range of different applications outside of broadcasting. With that allocation of a public resource, there come public obligations. One of these obligations is that the employment conditions and career opportunities in the area are progressive. I have a real concern that in the radio sector in particular, which has smaller stations, it is difficult to get the scale in a newsroom or a current affairs producer's environment where experience and talent is being developed on a long-term basis but that is what must be done to be successful in radio production. Money must be put in to human resources to build up a pool of talent. A two-tier type system cannot be allowed to develop. Independent radio may become an area where a person would start his or her career, get experience and then look for better pay and conditions, possibly in public sector broadcasting where I understand the conditions are typically much better.
One of the directions we will have to give to any new authority is that with that public resource, the spectrum to broadcast and the ability to use that public owned asset, comes obligations to ensure we develop high standards. I am not saying individual journalists are not meeting the highest standards against the odds but it is important we set standards to ensure broadcasting can flourish in what it is there to do, namely, present Irish life to the people in a way that is informative, entertaining and educational. The development of an independent radio sector both for public sector broadcasts and other independent broadcasters has the potential to improve that quality. It is something we will have to develop.
I asked my officials for a copy of the latest accounts to determine the current position and effectively it is at zero. As we move towards the amount set out in our proposed amendment, it is a significant step in a different direction but I will consider the comments made over the summer holidays and I am sure we will have further discussion on the issue in the Dáil.
Amendment No. 93 in the names of Senators John Paul Phelan and Paul Bradford cannot be moved.
Why can amendment No. 93 not be moved?
Because of a decision on an earlier amendment.
Minimum percentage of monies paid into account to be expended by RTE on independent sound broadcasting programmes(2)
1.25 per cent
1.50 per cent
2.00 per cent
2.50 per cent
Each subsequent financial year
3.00 per cent
Amendment No. 99 is in the name of Senators O'Toole and Bacik. Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 are related and can be discussed with amendment No. 99 by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 99:
In page 121, line 25, after "licence" to insert the following:
"and at all times practicable that RTÉ use the maximum power levels as sanctioned by the ITU and licensed by ComReg in the case of an LF broadcast transmitter serving the island of Ireland and or Irish communities abroad".
This amendment concerns the issue of long-wave broadcasting, which is of concern to people who speak for immigrant groups in parts of the United Kingdom and even in northern Europe. It has to do with people who are involved in the GAA in particular who wish to listen to sports broadcasts on a Sunday evening in different parts of the UK. It has to do with parts of Ireland such as northern Donegal and other areas where the reception is very weak. It has to do also with changing over from medium wave to long wave.
The Minister should be aware that for many years I have been interested in the issue of the availability of Irish broadcasts in different parts of the world, particularly Europe. My view is that arising out of the Good Friday Agreement, long wave BBC Radio 4 should be broadcast through our Summerhill facility and that RTE long wave should be broadcast from one of the BBC transmitters outside Belfast and outside London to get the sense of the agreement. Nonetheless, people in the Minister's Department remain of the view that despite what is contained in the Good Friday Agreement we should not have any great interest in the capacity of people outside Ireland to pick up RTE in other jurisdictions. We need to nail that lie.
The position is that from the foundation of the State we have always had a short wave, long wave, medium wave and FM service. We now have the new digital and other satellite broadcasts coming through, although satellite is also digital in another form. Issues arise in that regard which I cannot get to the bottom of. We have a licence to broadcast at 50 kilowatts during the daytime but we broadcast at far less than that. I will come to that shortly.
The issue is that we are not using our capacity. For instance, we have the Atlantic 252 long wave service but it is being interfered with every night by Radio Algérienne. Radio Algérienne is broadcasting at about eight times the power of RTE on the long wave station. They are all dealt with under the same international agreement reached in 1975.
I have two letters from the RTE Authority, one of which was written in 2002 and the other in 2008. One of the letters purports to tell me that long wave is not received well in London while the other purports to tell me that long wave is received far better than medium wave in London. Those letters are from the same office in RTE. I am not happy with that.
I realise elements of what I am saying may not come within the competence of the Minister's Ministry but how will the Minister respond to the problem? We are allowed to broadcast at 62.5 kilowatts from 6.30 in the evening until 6.30 in the morning. I cannot find out the reason that is the case. It was not the case when Atlantic 252 was leant by us to Radio Tara when it was broadcasting pop music, and it was well received.
We are broadcasting at well below our power but at the same time there are Irish emigrants in parts of London, north London in particular, who cannot receive it. I know from personal experience that is correct. There was a time I could receive RTE long wave on my car radio in most parts of the UK, particularly near Edinburgh and areas near London, but that is no longer the case. I tried to receive RTE in north London recently but could barely hear it. That is a real difficulty being experienced.
In terms of the night time operation, going back to what my old physics teacher taught me in Dingle years ago, long waves do not travel as well at night whereas medium waves, the shorter wave lengths, travel further at night. That is the reason some people of my age — fewer and fewer as I look around me — would remember Radio Luxembourg broadcasting to Ireland from Luxembourg in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Even in the 1960s.
We could receive it only at night when the signal could travel. The reverse was the case with RTE. Broadcasting on medium wave, its reception was much clearer at night than on long wave. Long wave radio needs to have its output and strength increased at night rather than decreased. Why is RTE broadcasting only at 62.5? I did not really want to start this speech and I have not even started it but I note the Leas-Chathaoirleach wishes me to conclude.