I welcome the Minister and his officials. We are on section 122, amendment No. 236 in the name of the Minister, which has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. We are on section 122, amendment No. 236 in the name of the Minister, which has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.
I move amendment No. 236:
In page 122, subsection (1), line 47, to delete "and(2)and section 133(1) and” and substitute “or (2) or section 133(1) or”.
Amendment No. 237 is in the name of Deputy McManus and has already been discussed with amendment No. 235.
I move amendment No. 237:
In page 123, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) RTÉ shall provide and maintain LF broadcast infrastructure capable of operating at the full allocated power as licensed by the ITU and ComReg being an emergency service across the island of Ireland, its offshore islands and territorial waters.".
Very briefly, this amendment is a recognition that there are specific requirements on RTE, which it must comply with. A very good example is the diaspora channel, where there was a statutory obligation which the Government set out and it was agreed by the Oireachtas to provide this channel. RTE was required to provide this service and finds it cannot do so because of the present financial difficulties the sector is experiencing in terms of advertising. It seems to me to be a rather untenable position to be in. Other people in the sector are concerned that there is undue pressure on RTE to reduce its advertising rates to make them more competitive and attractive to advertisers, which can create difficulties in the general market for advertising. There are pressures that have been caused by Government policy and that put a particular onus on RTE from time to time. The classic example of this is the diaspora channel. Something has to give and the issue needs to be addressed in this Bill.
The Bill only allows that the Minister may provide a sum of money, if it is considered reasonable, for the purposes of defraying the expenses of its public service "objects". Incidentally, why do we use the word "objects" rather than "objectives"? Is it a legal term?
I understand from my officials that the "objects" of a company is the legal term that is used. The primary legislation mainly outlines objectives rather than the specific technology standards and parameters needed to operate such objectives. This is a logical approach given the rapid pace of technological service development. In addition, radio services are licensed by ComReg under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts. For each licence, ComReg sets out the maximum permitted powers and relevant technical parameters under which this service can operate. In the case of a long wave radio service, the radio wave travels further at night than during the day, so the maximum licence power is less at night than during the day.
I do not think that is the answer to my amendment.
Amendment No. 235 has been withdrawn.
I thought we had covered amendments Nos. 235 and 237.
I was talking about amendment No. 238.
We still have to dispose of amendment No. 237.
I move amendment No. 238:
In page 123, lines 46 to 47, and in page 124, lines 1 to 3, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:
"(3) The Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance may from time to time pay to RTÉ such an amount as he or she determines to be reasonable for the purposes of defraying the expenses incurred by RTÉ in pursuance of its Public Service Objects, subject always to RTÉ being in compliance withsection 108 of this Act.”.
Section 108 requires RTE and TG4 to maximise revenues from their commercial endeavours and to channel any gains made towards their public service objectives. It ensures transactions between their commercial endeavours and their public service objectives are made at arm's length. Section 108(3) provides that the compliance committee may, at the direction of the Minister, report on compliance by RTE or TG4 with these revenue maximisation and arm's length provisions. We had a fairly lengthy discussion of this at our previous session.
Section 108 imposes a continuing duty on RTE and TG4, and sections 108 and 109 provide the means for investigation on whether such a duty has been complied with. Non-compliance can be considered by the broadcasting authority of Ireland and the Minister in the context of setting the level of public funding for RTE and TG4 under sections 123 and 124. As such, I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment.
I will withdraw this with a view to resubmitting it later.
I move amendment No. 239:
In page 124, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) The Minister when determining allocation of funding to TG4 shall take note of the importance of multi annual funding to the ability of TG4 to develop and broadcast at consistently high standard.".
This amendment is an effort to try to reinforce the importance of the consistency of funding and multi-annual funding for TG4. I suspect the Minister may say this is in the wrong section. If we look at funding for RTE, we do not mention multi-annual funding in previous lines and subsections. However, there is a significant difference between funding for RTE and funding for TG4. RTE has the consistency of knowing it will receive licence fee money. TG4 is funded differently and is at the mercy of the Minister for Finance. It is important we signal in this Bill the need for multi-annual funding for TG4 so that the station can plan two to four years ahead. It needs to know there will be a consistent stream of funding for the projects it is planning.
I would be interested to hear the Minister's view on this. If he can introduce the same sentiment in a more effective way somewhere else, that might be more appropriate. However, from my reading of the Bill, this is a pretty good place to put it. All it does is to require the Minister, when determining funding for TG4, to take note of the importance of multi-annual funding to TG4 in its efforts to broadcast at a consistently high standard. This is about giving some element of certainty to the station's revenue stream that goes beyond a 12-month period. The ability of TG4 to be able to plan beyond a year is compromised if it does not get some assurances its funding decisions are made on a multi-annual rather than annual basis.
I take the point the Deputy is making. There is a fundamental difference between licence fee revenue and Exchequer revenue. There is more of an uncertainty to Exchequer provision. The figures from the past five years show that there has been very consistent support for TG4. There was a 7.3% increase in 2005, an 18.7% increase in 2006, an 8.1% increase in 2007, a 14.7% increase in 2008 and, even in difficult times, a 6.3% increase in the 2009 Estimates. There has not been an erratic record from the State, but rather a consistent budgetary improvement. However, when a station is dependent on such funding, there is always that difficulty, especially for current spending. If there was capital spending, it would be much easier to introduce this as part of the multi-annual capital spending programmes. However, in the current circumstances, I do not think the Minister for Finance will agree to multi-annual current spending provisions.
Over the course of its history, TG4 has gone from operating in a close association with RTE to a more independent entity. In this Bill, we are legislating for further independence for the station. To ensure the continued success and development of TG4, we must continue to monitor and consider the funding arrangements as part of wider funding reviews. Section 124 allows the broadcasting authority to conduct an annual and five-year review. It will provide recommendations to the Minister about whether existing financial resources are adequate or otherwise, and whether the current level of public funding is working. There is a medium-term, five-year review mechanism and an annual review. However, I take the Deputy's point that the nature of the funding brings some uncertainty with it, even if the experience of the past five years in particular has been very positive. The amendment does not bring any certainty because it cannot amend the Minister for Finance's consideration. We could indicate a desire in this regard but the reality in terms of getting it——
That is true. This amendment does not achieve certainty in terms of multi-annual funding and, as the Minister correctly stated, the Minister for Finance will not accept that at this time. What the amendment does is to require the Minister when determining the allocation of funding to take note of the importance of multi-annual funding. In the other words, putting this in the legislation will require the Department and the Minister to consider multi-annual funding when they are factoring in all the other things they must factor in when making decisions on funding relating to TG4. It is important to have that check in place.
As an example, Deputy Noel Treacy might become Minister, having said in a Second Stage speech that we should just divide up the licence fee money and give a third to the independent sector, a third to RTE and a third to TG4. One never knows what is coming down the tracks in terms of who will be in charge and the decisions they will make. The consistent and secure flow of increased funding to TG4 over the past four or five years was welcome but we are talking about planning for the next 20 years.
This amendment does not ask for much. One would expect an amendment such as this to ask for a lot more, for example, a guarantee of multi-annual funding, but it is very realistic in what it requests. All it does is ask the Minister to consider the importance of multi-annual funding for TG4 because of the very specific situation in which it finds itself. It is independent and small in terms of budgetary consideration, but it is hugely important in the role it plays in the promotion of the Irish language and for the audience that watches it.
There is an ambitious group of people running TG4 who want to see it expand and grow, and want to be able to plan on that basis. All they ask is that when the Minister for Finance is considering the funding for TG4 for the years ahead, he would consider in that process the importance of multi-annual funding so this organisation can plan beyond a 12-month period. Whether we are entering a downturn or another tiger period, TG4 still needs to produce the programming and access funds.
What we are asking for in principle is not a significant commitment from either the Minister or the Government. The Minister probably agrees with the principle but is not yet convinced this is the best way to achieve it. The amendment asks for a consideration of the need for multi-annual funding, which is much more important in the context of TG4 than RTE given the certainty RTE has with licence fee money.
I support Deputy Coveney. TG4 is unique. All the amendment does is essentially to establish a principle, which is its strength. It is not an enforcing amendment, which should make it more acceptable to the Minister. It sets down a principle and gives TG4 some kind of basis on which to make a case for multi-annual funding. Frankly, I would be surprised that the Minister would reject such an amendment.
TG4 does present multi-annual funding proposals and the Department does take this into account. Its presentation to the Department of Finance is made in the context of that multi-annual funding. I do not see that the amendment has any real effect beyond replicating what is happening in reality. I would consider it but the key recognition is that it does not lead to any commitment because, ultimately, it is Department of Finance current spending which is the current revenue source. There is a capital element in the allocation but the vast majority is on the current side. We obviously take into account multi-annual plans, and the Department of Finance does not ignore this and obviously takes them into account as well. It is happening and it will happen.
The Minister is missing the point as to what we are trying to do here. We recognise it is happening at present. I suspect TG4 is not that unhappy with its current funding stream and it has had steady increases, although obviously it would like more, as would all broadcasters. We are suggesting that we should ensure that in future it continues to have the kind of consideration that exists at present in terms of multi-annual funding because we do not know who the Minister will be or the way in which the Department will treat TG4 in the future.
We are trying to ensure we have a belt and braces approach. There is consideration at present about the need for multi-annual funding. If the Minister says this is the case, I accept it, although I do not know it is the case. However, that is not really the point. The point is that in five or ten years' time we will need to ensure this is the case. One of the ways we can increase the likelihood of the Minister being forced to consider the importance of multi-annual funding is if we put it in the legislation.
I am quite happy to do that. What the Minister may think, when he is forced to think, is something we cannot completely regulate. It is not a point with which I fundamentally disagree. I am merely arguing about the effect. We can consider it and come back on Report Stage.
Can I take it the Minister will table an amendment on Report Stage in the spirit of this amendment?
We will consider that.
If that is the case, I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 240 has already been discussed with amendment No. 174. Does Deputy McManus wish to comment further?
I move amendment No. 240:
In page 124, lines 18 to 22, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:
"(2) The Authority shall in each year carry out a review of the extent to which a corporation has during the previous financial year fulfilled the commitments stated in an annual statement of commitment for that Financial Year and the adequacy or otherwise of public funding to enable the Corporation to meet its public service objects. The Authority shall take the Corporation's compliance withsections 106 and 108 of this Act into account in the context of any such review.”.
I will not repeat myself as I covered the same points earlier. The amendment seeks that the authority would carry out a review covering the previous financial year to ascertain the adequacy of public funding and also in regard to compliance as regards advertising. I would have thought it was the natural part of an authority to do this. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
Section 108 requires RTE and TG4 to maximise revenues from their commercial endeavours and ensure all transactions between these endeavours and their public service objectives are made on an arm's length basis. It is the same point about separating the commercial and public service aspects of their remit.
I move amendment No. 241:
In page 124, subsection (2), lines 20 and 21, to delete all words from and including "commitments" in line 20 down to and including "commitments" in line 21 and substitute the following:
"commitments in respect of its public service objects stated in an annual statement of performance commitments".
I move amendment No. 242:
In page 125, subsection (9)(e), line 13, to delete “broadcasting charter” and substitute “public service statement”.
I move amendment No. 243:
In page 126, subsection (2), line 12, before ", fund" to insert the following:
"or work in partnership with RTE or another established broadcaster".
This section deals with an entirely new area, relating to the establishment of an Oireachtas channel. The amendment reflects my lack of confidence in the capacity of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to set up a new parliamentary channel on its own. It would require the establishment of an entirely new broadcast unit and a significant increase in experienced personnel to provide a product that would entertain, as well as inform the public. I am not convinced the Oireachtas commission has the capacity to do this without significant expenditure.
It clearly makes sense for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to be central to the establishment of a future Oireachtas channel, but it should do so in partnership with RTE or another established broadcaster which can prove itself capable of doing the job. I have a strong view in this regard. There has been a view for several years that we should try to improve our communication to the public of how business is done in the Houses and committees. An obvious way of doing this is via television broadcasting. We cannot afford to get it wrong by setting up a channel which may turn out to be dull and only watched by school children who are learning how the Oireachtas system works or by the niche audience made up of people who have a particular interest in political debate and discussion.
We should use the vast experience among broadcasters, particularly in RTE, to help us make political broadcasting interesting in how to facilitate debate and devise interesting commentary on what is being said and why it is being said. We must find interesting and imaginative ways of explaining the business conducted by the Oireachtas and how the process works. For example, there should be an explanation of the five Stages through which legislation must pass, of why there is nobody in the Chamber for much of the day except three or four Members who specialise in the topic being debated at a given time, why budget day is such an important event in terms of the speeches made and so on, how a Finance Bill is passed, and the scrutiny the Oireachtas gives to European Union directives and legislation. These issues are potentially hugely boring for an audience if their presentation is not elevated and sold in an imaginative and interesting way.
If the Minister's idea of an Oireachtas channel is simply to broadcast what we are saying on the national airwaves on a free-to-air basis, by switching between committees, the Dáil and the Seanad, that is insufficient. We are simply not interesting enough, barring some interesting debates that may take place from time to time such as on a motion of no confidence, the banking system or medical cards. People will tune in when a major political issue of the day is being debated. In general, however, the run of the mill, day-to-day business is interesting only if presented in an interesting way. There is a significant danger that we might spend time and money in putting an Oireachtas channel on the air which nobody wants to watch.
My amendment seeks to address this concern by allowing the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to work in partnership with RTE or another established broadcaster in setting up the channel. I am of the view that the commission should be required to do so. However, my amendment would provide only that it may work alone to set up the channel or do so in partnership. In other words, such a partnership is presented as an option. However, I am confident that it will ultimately be a no-brainer. What I envisage is free-to-air coverage of interesting debate, followed by interesting commentary on that debate, including analysis of what was said, the various positions of the parties and so on. There could also be analysis of public views via vox pops and so on.
These are the elements that can be introduced to political debate to make it more interesting. In this way, we would be able to find effective ways of communicating the importance of the work we do here. There may not be a great difficulty in this regard at this time because the decisions we are making on a weekly basis have a massive impact on people's lives. However, that has not necessarily been the case in the last ten years. I would like to see RTE or another organisation working with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission which should also be heavily involved. I would not like to see the Government expending resources on the establishment of a new broadcast unit which, because of budgetary restrictions, is not given the capacity or expertise to make the service interesting.
I would prefer not to have an Oireachtas channel than to have a dull, boring, academic channel. The amendment I have proposed is not asking for much. I would have liked to go further but did not think the Minister would accept this. The amendment proposes that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission be given the option to link up in partnership with RTE or another established broadcaster if it is of the view that this is the best way to go. I envisage that it would choose that avenue. By including this proposal, we would ensure a far more realistic and viable proposition.
I support the amendment. As Deputy Coveney outlined, it offers the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission an option of assistance in setting up an Oireachtas channel. We are fortunate to enjoy the professional service provided by the broadcasting unit. However, the scale of the new project is considerable. I am not sure whether even RTE or another broadcaster could make an Oireachtas broadcast a popular show. It calls to mind the saying that one can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig. However, apart from the major set piece debates to which Deputy Coveney referred, people will have particular interests in specialist areas that are relevant and debated within the Oireachtas. An important public broadcasting service will be provided by the channel. I ask the Minister to accept this entirely reasonable amendment.
I absolutely agree that the Oireachtas channel will have to be more than a straight feed of parliamentary business. Not only would that be difficult to navigate but it is sometimes the case that the work we do requires an introduction or explanation. In other words, the context must be set. If that is done, the proceedings can be interesting. When I lived in the United States, I enjoyed watching broadcasts of Congress hearings. They provided a interesting insight into American life. It was fascinating to have access to the Congress committee room via the television broadcast of proceedings.
It was an education because Oireachtas committees often deal with matters of public interest. However, as it would be better if prepared and presented with broadcasting skill, that should be done. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to allow the Houses of the Oireachtas to decide how they wish to do so do. Section 125(6) states: "The Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas may enter into such contracts as are necessary to establish and maintain the Houses of the Oireachtas Channel.". I do not wish to be prescriptive by citing RTE as such a service could be provided by a number of different broadcasters, but it would be appropriate to get someone in.
It occurred to me that if the Oireachtas appears to be tough going at times, meetings of the European Council of Ministers are not exactly Hollywood material either as one may be obliged to listen to 27 presentations. However, it occurred to me recently, while attending a Council of Ministers meeting, that where possible there should be ready and free access to such Council meetings as part of our democratic engagement with Europe because they deal with important aspects of daily life.
Commentary also is required to explain what it is about as people would not have a clue otherwise.
I do not disagree. Editorial decisions must be taken throughout the day. Moreover, technological developments arising from the introduction of digital channels should be considered in which one may give the editorial decision to the viewer. For example, although the front page could be the Dáil, the new digital technologies enable one to provide the facilities to move from the Dáil to the Seanad, Oireachtas committees, the European Parliament, the European Council of Ministers or other parliaments. While such digital technology will provide a certain editorial flexibility, there also will be flexibility in respect of the main Oireachtas channel's front page. For example, an experienced broadcaster will be able to make sensitive decisions, such as running with the day's Order of Business because it looks interesting, followed by moving to proceedings of a committee that is considering the ESB and then going over to the Seanad for a debate.
While I agree there should be a certain amount of time on the introduction, I do not believe Giles and Dunphy should be back in the studio giving their opinion on whether it was a good debate, a great debate or whatever. A certain style that is appropriate will go with it. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is aware of this issue and is apprised of its importance. The Bill's provisions set it out and I do not wish to be prescriptive by mentioning a broadcaster that might be successful in the bidding that must take place.
While a vote has been called in the Dáil Chamber, Deputy Coveney wishes to respond.
RTE should be mentioned because it is the public service broadcaster in Ireland. If ever there was a role for a public service broadcaster, it is the development, in an imaginative manner, of a service of high quality pertaining to how the Government does its work, how democracy works in Ireland, how decisions are made and so on. I have no difficulty in stating that the likely partner in this regard should be RTE, unless there is a reason to the contrary. We pay for RTE's public service element, which is the reason it is more than likely to be the suitable partner in this respect. In addition, it has a vast amount of experience, as well as archival material, to reinforce the parliamentary channel idea. I am anxious to press this issue as I have the impression the Minister is not in favour of turning.
We are on amendment No. 243. How does it stand?
I would like to press it. I accept that the Minister will not accept it because he believes it is covered under subsection (6), but the point should be made.
I move amendment No. 244:
In page 126, subsection (4), line 23, to delete "in" and substitute "of".
I had proposed amendments on the Irish film channel.
Is that not addressed later in the Bill?
It is section 127. I cannot see where they have gone on the list of amendments.
No amendments have been tabled to section 127.
I am certain they were submitted. As we are about to pass section 127, I will introduce amendments on the Irish film channel on Report Stage. I do not know where they have gone. I do not want to delay the meeting.
Under a different amendment, we discussed a matter about which I have concerns, namely, the viability of a film channel that does not carry advertising. In a sense, we are expecting the Irish Film Board to become a broadcaster. It does a good job and it should be central in any Irish film channel, but we should allow the channel a self-financing element. It would be crazy to legislatively prohibit advertising, given that we may be able to get some funding from the commercial sector to allow us to promote and develop a film channel, which is an exciting idea. The kind of film channel that I would like to see is one that would not only deal with a niche artistic audience, but also with more populist films so that we could expose people who are likely to watch a popular film to a short Irish film or animation immediately afterwards.
There are all sorts of possibilities, but precluding advertising from a film channel, whatever about the Oireachtas channel, would not make sense. I just wanted to signal this. The Minister need not respond, as I have not tabled an amendment formally. However, I will table one on Report Stage. I ask him not to be so prescriptive and to allow this idea to develop. If it has a commercial element to it, so what? I understand what he is trying to do in terms of promoting the Irish film industry and the use of archive material but this should be about the future, promoting Irish film and the talent, skill and imagination of Irish film makers, as well as those who make documentary and animation. This should be about future productions rather than the past.
By precluding a commercial element, we severely limit the capacity of this channel to grow into the success it can be. In the same way that RTE is the most suitable organisation to ensure the Oireachtas channel is a success, it has an important role to play in any future film channel. It has a role as a public service broadcaster. It is judged against that measurement. The film channel will have a strong public service broadcast element to it. I apologise that they are not in front of us but I had drafted amendments to the effect that the film board should consider working in partnership with RTE or another established broadcaster. There should not be a specific prohibition or exclusion of commercial advertising on the film channel.
We touched on this in an earlier part of the Bill and I would like to revert to it. It is a real problem if the film board must establish, fund and provide a television broadcasting service, which will be the film channel, and at the same time no advertising will be permitted. This is essentially taking funding from the work of the film board to promote and develop Irish film and siphoning it to produce a broadcasting service. We support the film channel, it is an important and interesting development. We do not have a large body of Irish films to draw on but we have a significant one. It is an opportunity for developing film makers to show their wares and make a connection with the public. The idea is very good and is one we want to support. It does not make sense to shackle the Irish Film Board. If it uses RTE, that is up to it. Themodus operandi of this channel will involve costs. These will not be major compared to RTE and these must come from somewhere.
There is a natural break between films, either short or long, where people would be comfortable with the idea of advertisements. There is space for advertisements to draw money into the new film channel. The Minister is afraid that this would become another commercial film channel like those that exist and that it would be driven by the needs of advertisers. It is not beyond our ingenuity to ensure that is not the case. Part of the funding could enable film makers to draw down money to make films. Irish film makers have great difficulty in doing that at the moment and it can ensure there is a rolling fund to ensure we continue to have Irish films into the future and grow that sector. To cut off that source of funding makes no sense but we recognise that it must be managed. Otherwise, it becomes an end in itself.
Section 127(4) is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. It does not make sense in terms of how things work. RTE is a public service broadcaster and in many countries it would be expected to survive without any advertising. In this country there is much advertising to support RTE. I do not know anyone who complains about it except in times of economic downturn when there are difficulties in making sure that stream money is still there. If one goes to the cinema, one sees advertisements. On a film channel, when there are natural breaks where something needs to happen, why not have advertisements that will make the channel professionally viable and provide seed capital for film-making into the future? It seems an opportunity we would be stupid not to take up.
Other film channels are not free to air. They make their income from advertising but also a fee to receive the service. This could apply to Sky Movies or any other film channel. We are trying to set up a public service broadcast free to air film channel. Its remit will be run or influenced heavily by the Irish Film Board. The Irish Film Board is not likely to develop a channel based on the model of Sky Movies because the Minister will give direction. The Irish Film Board may decide it is viable to develop a channel without advertisements and that this will add to the attraction and purity of the channel. I suspect the Irish Film Board would view advertisements as a way to finance and develop the channel. I do not understand why we are taking the stand against advertising as if it will pollute the new film channel. We could put a tight management plan around it and give a strong signal of intent by working with the Irish Film Board to make sure that happens.
We had a good discussion of this when we debated amendment No. 217. I said that I would listen to the Deputies' comments and consider if a revised wording could include the possibility. We will come back to this on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 245:
In page 127, subsection (1), line 27, to delete "broadcasting charter" and substitute "public service statement".
I move amendment No. 246:
In page 127, subsection (2), line 33, to delete "broadcasting charter" and substitute "public service statement".
I move amendment No. 247:
In page 128, lines 12 and 13, to delete "and(2) and section 133(1) and” and substitute “or (2), section 133(1) or”.
I move amendment No. 248:
In page 130, subsection (9), lines 19 and 20, to delete "a provider of such television service" and substitute "the provider".
I move amendment No. 249:
In page 131, subsection (4), line 22, to delete "Contract Awards Committee" and substitute "Authority".
I move amendment No. 250:
In page 131, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) Powers under this Part to make television and radio frequency spectrum available, both analogue and digital, shall be exercised having due regard to the proposition that the service provided by community media is not to be assessed in terms of opportunity cost or justification of the cost of spectrum allocation but rather in the social value it represents.".
Community media, both radio and television, must be underpinned and specified in the Bill. The way the spectrum is developing allows many opportunities. Community media has the possibility of flourishing and growing. We have seen community radio but the possibilities of community television have not been developed fully. Community media is recognised in the Bill. This is a particular provision which underpins the principle that community media has a social value which is obvious but specific to it. It has been recognised at European level, I think by the European Commission and certainly by the European Parliament. The term "social value" comes from this source. I hope the Minister accepts the amendment.
Amendment No. 32 is intended to address the concerns of community radio broadcasters that their needs will be considered in the development of a digital radio strategy by the BAI. This amendment addresses the essence of amendment No. 250 submitted by Deputy McManus and as a consequence, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 250.
As I recall it related only to radio.
We debated the differences between radio and television and I prefer to treat radio distinctly in this regard.
This means the Minister will not deal with television.
Yes, in this aspect. There is a possibility of community television being carried on digital platforms but it has distinct considerations.
In effect, if this amendment is not accepted community television will be assessed in terms of opportunity cost or justification of the cost across this spectrum but not in the social value it represents.
No. Digital television has various characteristics with regard to transmission and costs. We debated this a number of weeks ago and, as I recall, the argument I made at the time is that various cost consequences exist for transmission of a national digital television service and several hundred thousand euro are involved. With regard to whether we would or could subsidise digital community television projects, the reality is that we could not do so.
This seems to go against European thinking in terms of the special case that community radio and television present. I do not state that everything must be overturned but we should recognise that there is a social value. We are not discussing a large sector. It is a minute sector.
Community projects are not national. The specific amendment to which it is related mentions the regulation of digital audio broadcast radio so television is not mentioned.
Amendment No. 250.
No, it states "community media".
Sorry, amendment No. 32.
If the Minister removed the word "sound" from his amendment it would be fine.
We have a solution. Amendment No. 32 states:
In page 34, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) In fulfilling its function undersubsection (1)(a) the Authority shall consider the needs of community sound broadcasters in respect of digital broadcasting.”.
Why not remove the word "sound" from this amendment?
This word limits it to radio.
The amendment I have is specifically to ensure that community radio is considered. There is a mechanism whereby the broadcasting commission considers community development and community television across a range of platforms. The development of community television on a must carry basis in terms of cable networks is ongoing. We went through a number of provisions in the Bill in this regard. My amendment is pro-active in terms of digital radio. However, I believe it addresses the essence, particularly with regard to radio, of what is proposed in amendment No. 250.
What has the Minister got against community television?
I have nothing whatsoever against community television.
The Minister has something against it. He does not care. He is only dealing with radio.
I respect that the Minister has included amendment No. 32 and it is to his credit. What is wrong with removing the word "sound" from amendment No. 32? It resolves the issue and enables community television to figure there. It does not place any requirement to provide special treatment compared with community radio. Because community radio is more developed it is on the radar and the Minister is providing for it. However, because community television is struggling it will be marginalised. The Minister would not like that.
I have no intention of marginalising community television. Amendment No. 250 suggests that community media would not be assessed in terms of opportunity cost or justification of the cost as spectrum allocation but in the social value it represents. There is a difference in this spectrum cost in terms of a national digital television platform which is approximately €500,000 to €1 million and digital radio. Even digital radio as it develops has different technical characteristics to FM radio allocation because it tends to be wider. We must be sensitive to the variety of various financial and technical aspects of each spectrum.
I appreciate the Minister will not give way on amendment No. 250. Therefore, I suggest that on Report Stage the Minister removes the word "sound" which has been introduced in amendment No. 32 so that broadcasting covers radio and television. The Minister agrees with amendment No. 32 because he tabled it. It states "the Authority shall consider the needs of community sound broadcasters in respect of digital broadcasting". This is a major climb-down from my perspective but at least it is a recognition that there is more to community media than radio which seems to be a blinkered view, particularly with the changes and developments in technology.
I can examine the suggestion to remove the word "sound". Our intention is not to restrict community television. However, one cannot ignore the significant costs which exist.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 251:
In page 132, subsection (5), line 19, to delete "and" and substitute "or".
I move amendment No. 252:
In page 132, subsection (3), line 38, to delete "sound broadcasting multiplex licences" and substitute "a sound broadcasting multiplex licence".
I move amendment No. 253:
In page 133, subsection (6), line 14, to delete "and" and substitute "or".
I move amendment No. 254:
In page 134, subsection (7)(d), lines 20 to 21, to delete all words from and including “sound” in line 20 down to and including “contractors” in line 21 and substitute the following:
"sound broadcasting multiplex contractor or contractors".
I move amendment No. 255:
In page 134, subsection (8), lines 23 and 24, to delete "shall be not more than 4 years" and substitute "shall not be more than 7 years".
Did the Minister accept this amendment?
This is the difficulty with grouping. We move backwards and forwards which makes it difficult. We have dealt with this amendment.
I believe the Minister stated he would look at it prior to Report Stage with regard to the time period for licensing. Will the Minister indicate whether this is the case?
The Deputy is right. I stated I would examine it. We will honour the record of the previous discussion.
I move amendment No. 256:
In page 134, subsection (9), line 26, to delete "and" and substitute "or".
Amendments Nos. 257, 260, 261 and 299 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 257:
In page 135, subsection (1), lines 3 and 4, to delete all words from and including "as" in line 3 down to and including "thereafter," in line 4.
Amendments No. 257, 260, 261 and 299 relate to the development of digital television services in Ireland and the consequent closure of the analogue free-to-air television services provided by RTE, TG4 and TV3 using RTE's terrestrial transmission network. These amendments fall within the context of Part 8 of the Bill which addresses digital broadcasting and analogue switch-off. Part 8 largely repeats the requirements for digital broadcasting as set out in the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2007.
Section 136(1) provides for the contracts awards committee to seek applicants for commercial digital television services. The original wording reflects the working in the Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2007 and this Act provides for the BCI as a matter of priority to seek commercial DTT providers. The BCI has already completed this work and a commercial digital terrestrial television, DTT, contract has been awarded to Boxer. Additional spectrum for DTT will not be made available until after analogue switch-off. Boxer is expected to launch commercial services in autumn 2009. For this reason, amendment No. 257 seeks to remove the requirement on the broadcasting authority of Ireland to offer additional commercial DTT licences as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted. In this context, I may revisit on Report Stage the functions of the contract award and compliance committees, which are set out in sections 27 and 28, in the interest of completeness and clarity.
Amendments Nos. 260 and 261 propose changes to sections 139(4) and (9). Subsection (4) provides that the Minister can issue a policy direction regarding the date or dates by which ComReg must revoke the analogue broadcast licences operated by RTE, TG4 and TV3. Amendment No. 260 seeks to change the original wording of the paragraph, which refers to the date or dates after which the communications regulator shall revoke licences, by replacing the word "after" with the phrase "with effect from". This is proposed in order to provide certainty. The amendment to subsection (9) is consequential on this change.
Amendment No. 299 provides for a change in copyright law to afford commercial DTT platform providers the same opportunities, and on similar terms, as cable, IPTV and MMDS operators. The amendment is concerned with the complex interface between copyright, broadcasting and digital terrestrial broadcasting and, accordingly, my Department is in close co-operation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to ensure compatibility with copyright matters. Should any problem arise in this regard I will revert to the matter on Report Stage.
Cable MMDS services are closed service offerings which are only accessible to their subscribers. In the same way, the commercial DTT service will be subscription based. The proposed amendment will amend section 174 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 to ensure the rules governing the acquisition of copyright by DTT operators are the same as those which apply to cable, MMDS and IPTV services. Section 174 reflects the copyright cable satellite broadcasting directive, Council Directive No. 93/1983/EC of 27 September 1993.
Existing copyright law provides a mechanism for cable operators to retransmit channels from other jurisdictions without directly clearing rights with the rights holders. This law differentiates between the retransmission service offered by the cable operator and the broadcast or transmission of services offered by broadcasters. The cable service is a closed subscriber-based service and is not accessible free-to-air to the general public. Under these circumstances, retransmission rights can be acquired which provide the right to retransmit programmes in a controlled manner to the subscriber base. For a cable service, a copyright collection agency is responsible for managing the acquisition of cable retransmission rights between the rights holder and the cable operator. Amendment No. 299 seeks to extend this legislation to provide a similar mechanism for the management of retransmission rights over subscriber-based DTT networks. This will mean that when channels from other jurisdictions are broadcast on the commercial subscription DTT platform the same collection agency approach will apply, thereby helping the development of DTT in Ireland and allowing for a level playing fieldvis-à-vis the cable MMDS multichannel offerings.
I am alarmed at amendment No. 299 for two reasons. The amendment was added at the last minute to an already long list of Government amendments which were described as technical in nature. Although some of them were technical, others aimed at transforming the Bill. In regard to this specific amendment, while I do not have a complete grasp of the issues that have been raised regarding this complex area, I am aware that the concerns being expressed by TV3 in particular are significant. I ask that the Minister withdraw the amendment rather than merely offer to revisit it on Report Stage if further changes are required. He can table the amendment again on Report Stage if he wishes to do so but this approach would at least allow a breathing space.
The grounds for objecting to this amendment include assertions that the measure is contrary to Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29/EC, which confers an exclusive right on copyright owners to make available to the public their works by wired or wireless means, including DTT retransmission, and Article 3(3) of Directive 2001/29/EC, which provides that the making available of a right is not exhausted by an act of making it available to the public, and that it conflicts with Irish and EU obligations under the TRIPS agreement, the WIPO copyright treaties and general principles of EU law. It is also claimed that the measure breaches the rights conferred on TV3 by the Constitution. These grounds for objecting to the proposed amendment were presented to us by a certain broadcaster and I put them on the record because they appear to be so grave as to require the Minister to reconsider his proposals.
I do not doubt that he is acting with the best of intentions. Particularly in my constituency, people have been enjoying a spill-over in respect of DTT but that is clearly coming to an end. DTT needs to be managed in a way that not only meets future needs but is also practical and fair. While I am notau fait with all the complexities of this issue, it is clear to me that a problem has arisen. It would be grossly unfair to expect us to agree a complex amendment that was suggested at the last minute and we would be irresponsible to do so. The Minister has clearly indicated his interest in this Bill and I do not doubt that he would be extremely concerned about any attempt to proceed with this amendment if he was on this side of the House. We need time to reflect on the amendment rather than passing it on a nod and a wink. I urge the Minister to accept my proposal.
Other than amendment No. 299, I do not take issue with this group of amendments. It would be helpful if the Minister heeded Deputy McManus's request by withdrawing the aforementioned amendment. I understand what he is attempting to do but in the effort to support free-to-air services on a digital platform we need to be careful that we do not create huge problems for existing broadcasters in terms of protecting their exclusive rights to programming for which they may have paid or received payment.
The amendment provides for a collective licensing regime for television programmes that are retransmitted via the new DTT system. However, existing Irish television channels which can at present purchase exclusive rights for programming will no longer enjoy this ability because broadcasters will be able to apply to retransmit programmes on the digital platform. In a sense, it circumvents the protections for a broadcaster which pays to have exclusive rights to a certain programme. Presumably, TV3 and RTE pay to have a competitive advantage in certain areas by having exclusive rights to broadcast certain programmes or events.
I cannot overstate the level of concern expressed to me about the amendment. We will not ask for this approach with any other amendment. We are not playing games. There is a real concern that the amendment could do very serious damage to Irish broadcasters in terms of the exclusive rights advantage for which they pay. I can understand the Minister's approach to DTT is not to be restrictive but to try to free the broadcasting of programming and make it easier for other channels which may transmit from the new platform to introduce new programming. We are willing to go with him but have not alleviated the concerns on the new section sufficiently.
I do not want to debate the process and when it was introduced. My main concern is that people who work in the industry and want to continue to do so have expressed alarm at the new section and the impact it may have on their business and capacity to survive as broadcasters in Ireland. It would be helpful if the Minister were to say he was withdrawing the amendment because we wanted to explore this issue further. However, if he were to withdraw it on the basis that there would be consultation and further checks with the Attorney General's office before Report Stage with a view to having a comprehensive debate and getting the matter right on Report Stage, that would be very helpful. From this side of the House he would receive constructive assistance. There are very few amendments on which I would go out on a limb but I ask the Minister to withdraw this one with a view to introducing something similar but amended on Report Stage.
I thank the Deputies and understand the concerns expressed to them. There is no intent in this provision to disadvantage, hammer or impede any broadcaster. There is a broad intent to see DTT delivered on time. Next summer Deputy McManus's constituents and mine and even some of Deputy Coveney's will find that the service they have been receiving on a spill-over basis will no longer be available because of the switch-off of the analogue service in the United Kingdom. We need and want a digital service up and running here. For broader reasons there is this urgency to ensure we can use the spectrum we will gain when we switch off our analogue system to create significant employment. It is imperative that we get DTT up and running to ensure a public benefit. The free-to-air channels which will be carried on such a system will also benefit.
We are seeking to ensure the process will work effectively and in a timely manner. The timing of the amendment has to do purely with the concerns expressed to us about how the mechanism would work. We worked with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which has a strong role in the area of copyright and the Attorney General's office to try to draft an amendment that would make it easier to deliver DTT more effectively. The mechanisms — one of the outcomes of the amendment — will not see it being treated differently in terms of copyright from cable, MMDS, IPTV or other such transmission systems. We are not seeking to do something exceptional.
I am aware of the concerns expressed by one broadcaster and we are willing to sit down and analyse in good faith its concerns to see what we can do. I was careful to say we would revert to the amendment again on Report Stage. That is a clear signal that we will examine the matter, listen to the genuine concerns expressed and ensure they will be analysed. We will maintain the amendment but revert to it again on Report Stage. I intend to try to address some of the concerns expressed. There will be a gap and a breathing space between now and Report Stage within which that analysis can be done. It is difficult for an Oireachtas committee to undertake such an analysis because we are dealing with complex legal issues on which we have engaged with the Attorney General's office and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is best to work with them and broadcasters to see if we can find a solution that will still see us delivering what we all want, an effective digital television service, while not discriminating or adversely affecting any broadcaster.
Given that the Minister has said he will reconsider the matter, it is a pity he will not do what is logical and withdraw the amendment and reintroduce a fresh amendment after consultation. He would have our support and shown he was taking the issue seriously. Nobody is trying to impede progress or a resolution in introducing DTT. We are all conscious that there is a certain urgency attached to the matter. It took a long time to have the Broadcasting Bill published; therefore, I am not wholly convinced by the argument. Since the amendment will be changed in some way, it would be cleaner and more appropriate to take it back. Nothing would stop the Minister from reintroducing parts of it again. We will have an amendment in place that he will force through today and probably amend on Report Stage. That is not a particularly good way to prepare legislation. If one believes in an amendment, one gives people a chance to consider it properly and then debate it, but that did not happen in this instance. The amendment was sneaked in at the last minute and there are problems with it. There may be very serious problems with it which require reflection before we know the way forward. I would have thought the Minister might accept that the more appropriate way to proceed was to withdraw the amendment and alert us to the fact that it was being brought back. We all understand why and accept this. However, to say he will force the amendment through and that he may return with little bits and pieces changed is not very convincing because, clearly, he does not believe it. Why is he insisting on having it passed?
I believe in the amendment. It was not sneaked in. It was brought forward on Committee Stage. It can be considered and we can revert to it on Report Stage. I am not predetermining that there be a amendment to it. My instinct is that the proposal is exactly correct but I am willing to listen to concerns, as I said. There are real concerns, as the Deputy has heard. I am willing to take them seriously and engage to see how such fears can be allayed. However, I am not in any way determining what the outcome will be on Report Stage. In signalling that I will revert to it on Report Stage I am signalling that the concerns are understandable, valid and will be listened to and, I hope, addressed. That approach is both valid and correct.
There is a vote in the Dáil. I do not want to finish this discussion until after the vote. Will the Minister respond on the example given in our briefing document? I ask the Minister to explain whether that is his intention in the amendment.
There is a very realistic example in this regard. Let us imagine that TV3 has been granted exclusive Republic of Ireland terrestrial broadcast rights for a drama series by a UK production company which is also broadcast in the United Kingdom by, say, ITV. The licensed DTT provider in Ireland agrees with ITV to retransmit its channel via the new DTT multiplex in the Republic of Ireland. Under the proposed collective licensing agreement, the DTT provider will be able to obtain a licence to allow for retransmission of the drama series in the Republic via DTT. In effect, TV3's exclusive terrestrial rights will have been circumvented, even in the case that the UK production company has no desire to upset the exclusivity offered to TV3, for which it will have paid for. TV3 will lose its exclusivity and receive no compensation for its loss. This possible effect is of concern. I ask the Minister to discuss the issue. If it is being misread, we need to know this, and if not, there is an understandable concern. I understand what the Minister is trying to do in terms of the positive reasons behind it, but we must examine the consequences of the loss of exclusivity and the ability of broadcasters abroad to be able to essentially circumvent the system by going to a collective licensing regime. Perhaps the Minister might reply on this issue after the vote.
As there is a vote in the Dáil, we will suspend until immediately after it.
I shall return to the specific case mentioned by Deputy Coveney. In general, the right to retransmit such a programme depends on the copyright clause between the producer and the distributor. The intent of the amendment is to make it easier for us to develop DTT.
Let us take another example. We might wish to set up a DTT platform but find it would take us two or three years to clear all the copyright issues that might arise, for instance, with a BBC Worldwide production. That company might say it could not provide anything for us because there would not be the same level of cover as with a cable network but that we should come back in two or three years after the company had talked to all the lawyers in Los Angeles. Material might then become available. In these circumstances we would be deferring the launch of DTT for the period it would take to manage the copyright process. The intent is not to affect any one company but to make it easier to provide for the same legal arrangements for the new digital platform that apply to cable and MMDS operators.
This is an evolving platform technology. It is difficult to get it completely right and offer comparative examples. The United Kingdom is slightly different because, in the main, it tends to have its own home produced programming, even on a multi-channel platform. Other examples we looked at included Scandinavia, the countries of which are more similar in size to Ireland and which buy in a mix of programming. They have similar arrangements to what we propose. The intent is to try to provide flexibility for the introduction of digital television services without hammering an individual operator. One might cite a range of instances, depending on the legal contract and its specific terms a distributor or production company has. It is very difficult for us to proceed on a contract by contract basis. We are trying to provide for the general intent.
I listened to what the Deputies had to say. During the break I was considering whether we should withdraw the amendment. I have signalled clearly that the intent is to see if we can work with TV3. I will be happy to withdraw the amendment if it creates an environment within which we can find a solution to meet our objective of having a digital platform up and running next year, to meet Deputy McManus's constituency objectives and which, at the same time, will not inadvertently or excessively affect the rights of an individual company. I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that I do not wish to predetermine what we will do. Let us go away and consider it and return to the issue on Report Stage.
Is the Minister referring to amendment No. 299?
I am. There are other amendments.
I warmly welcome what the Minister said. I am grateful to him and commend on this. We are all aware that this is a difficult issue to get right. For my own part, I shall assist in any way I can. I appreciate that the Minister has made this decision and I thank him for so doing.
I move amendment No. 258:
In page 137, subsection (2)(b)(ii), line 33, to delete “multiplexes” and substitute “multiplex or multiplexes”.
I move amendment No. 259:
In page 138, subsection (4)(b), line 23, to delete “and” and substitute “or”.
I move amendment No. 260:
In page 139, subsection (4), line 37, to delete "after" and substitute "with effect from".
I move amendment No. 261:
In page 140, subsection (9), line 17, to delete "after" and substitute "with effect from".
Amendments Nos. 262 to 280, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 262:
In page 140, subsection (1), to delete lines 24 to 28.
Amendments Nos. 262, 264 and 265 propose the deletion or replacement of text which is no longer required as a consequence of amendments made on Committee Stage to the definition of broadcasting service in Part 1. Amendments Nos. 263, 267, 270 and 274 are proposed to improve the position of the text of Part 9.
Amendment No. 271 proposes to cater for the identification of licences issued via the new television licence website launched successfully by An Post earlier this year, rather than those issued at a particular post office branch. Amendment No. 272 is required to allow An Post to identify, within the context of a statutory declaration, whether a device used in conjunction with a screen brings that screen within the legal definition of a television set, requiring a television licence. The question is whether a PC has a television card. Amendments Nos. 273 and 275 to 277, inclusive, are rewordings by the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure greater clarity around the fixed payment notice process set out in section 149. Amendments No. 278 is a new section introduced to avoid any ambiguity as to when the term of a television licence begins in instances where the reminder notification process under section 149 has been utilised. Subsection (3) is intended to offer another alternative to criminal proceedings, namely, that the television licence fee may be pursued by An Post as a civil debt rather than prosecuted as a criminal offence. Amendment No. 279 deletes a duplicate reference.
Amendment No. 280 amends references to "television set" in the Communications Regulations Act 2002 to incorporate the definition of a television set as provided for in section 140 of the Bill. Every effort has been made in this part to strengthen the television licence system while being mindful of some of the current difficulties. To this end, I intend that the amendments will strengthen the hand of An Post and help make the system work more efficiently and reduce evasion. In addition, the intermediate options before prosecution offer people even greater opportunities to comply with the licensing requirements before being faced with a court appearance which frees up valuable court service time and reduces the costs incurred by An Post.
I shall address Deputy Coveney's proposed amendment, No. 266. I agree that at some stage we may have to move away from the television licence as a basis for funding public service broadcasting. As the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, said on Second Stage, many European countries are attempting to grapple with this issue. However, despite its limitations, the licence fee has served us well during the past half-century. It has ensured a measure of independence for RTE from both political and commercial pressures. It has also acted as a direct link between audiences and RTE, reminding the national public service broadcaster to whom its ultimate public service duty is owed. As a result, we must review the proposed alternative with caution and diligence. All issues for consideration suggested in the amendment are valid as policy matters for further consideration, primarily to be carried out by my Department. It would not be appropriate to assign such general tasks to the broadcasting authority of Ireland in legislation. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I will now address amendment No. 268 proposed by Deputy McManus. Under existing law, any device capable of exhibiting television broadcasts requires a television licence, with the exception of 2G and 3G mobile phones which are exempt by means of statutory instrument under telecommunications law. The rationale behind the redefinition of a television set in the legislation is to move its basis away from wireless telegraphy legislation to allow for the future wholesale revision of such legislation which is crucial for future economic development, rather than to widen the scope of devices falling within the television licence regime. Recognising that it may be preferable to allow new technologies to seed and develop in the Irish market, under section 142(3), the Bill allows the Minister to exempt certain categories of devices covered by the definition of a television set from television licensing requirements, for example, mobile phones or laptops. The powers serve to exclude rather than include. As regards the timeframe for the exercise of such ministerial powers, I believe it is an issue for the Minister and as a consequence, do not propose to accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 269, also proposed by Deputy McManus, seeks to ensure a person would not require a second licence if he or she possessed a television licence for a short period at a second address from the main residence. Under section 144(1), the Minister is empowered to make such regulations as necessary to achieve the effect proposed in the Deputy's amendment should such a policy be adopted. Such a policy has not been adopted and any such proposal would require a detailed analysis, especially of operational matters. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. I am conscious that we must continue to get through the legislation, although I could spend a great deal of time discussing the current licence fee system and its flaws. Perhaps we could deal with the source of my first concern, that is, the definition of a television set. I am confused by the Minister's response and what he now considers to be a television set according to the legislation. The definition on page 141 of the Bill states a television set is any electronic apparatus capable of receiving and exhibiting television broadcasts for general reception and any software or assembly comprising such apparatus or other apparatuses. Does this refer to a computer screen? I realise the Minister has said on numerous occasions that he does not consider computers to be television sets. However, he will be aware of this problem, as someone who watches television programmes on his laptop occasionally. It is only a matter of time before computer screens and television sets become one and the same. In many households this is already the case. Anyone who has a Nintendo Wii or Sony PlayStation uses the same screen to watch television programmes and play computer games. The development of digital television and next generation broadband has meant the screen in the living room has become a multi-media device, probably linked with the telephone for video conferencing or visual telephone calls, the vehicle for watching television, playing computer games and a computer screen for research and surfing the web. The Minister knows this will happen. Will he provide a definition, in a language we can understand, of what he considers to be a television set and what he does not consider to be one? What is his view on the appropriateness of linking television ownership with the funding of public service broadcasting? I recognise that the television licence fee system has served us well. However, it is not easy to levy the country to sponsor or financially support public service broadcasting. It is the correct decision, but we must find a new way that reflects the realities of modern Ireland.
I also have a difficulty with the level of evasion. It makes no sense to have an army of people knocking on thousands of doors every week, checking under the bed for the presence of a television set and a licence. The system is about as effective as the dog licence regime. It is impossible to check whether people hold licences in their main homes and holiday homes. It is somewhat easier when one is dealing with businesses such as pubs which have television sets. However, it costs €12 million to collect fees totalling €220 million. It is an outdated, expensive and inefficient way to finance public service broadcasting and it facilitates evasion. The new system put in place by the Minister to avoid the cost of going to court actually adds to the problem rather than solving it. He has indicated that people will be fined if they do not have a licence, rather than taking them to court. This is appropriate, because taking up a judge's time to deal with non-payment of a television licence fee is nonsense. The idea is to impose a fine on someone for not holding a television licence and then instruct him or her to pay for one. However, the level at which the fines have been introduced means it makes no sense for someone who does not hold a licence to get one, apart from doing so for moral reasons. Such persons are better off waiting until they are caught, then pay the fine and for the licence. The level at which fines have been introduced means that if a person can get away without paying for six months, he or she has effectively made money.
We should be serious about requiring everyone to pay and make a fair contribution, rather than the current system under which there may be an evasion rate of up to 20% or perhaps even higher. The official figure is somewhere between 12% and 15%, but no one knows the number of television sets in the country. Those of us who pay for a licence are also paying for those who do not. It would be more equitable to impose a household broadcast levy, rather than linking the funding of public service broadcasting with television ownership which is very difficult to define. People now watch television on mobile phones.
I realise the Minister has tried to introduce new concepts and ideas. He is supportive of the technological revolution and ensuring we promote all the available technology, advancements and new thinking on broadcasting which he believes we should facilitate in legislation. He also believes we should not be restrictive in that regard. It does not make sense to continue to plod on with the existing notion of television ownership, to struggle with the definition of what constitutes a television set and to continue with an inefficient form of revenue collection. It is fine if the Minister is seeking to have such a system in the interim while we put a better one in place which I accept will take time. However, I cannot accept that we should legislate for what will happen in the next 20 or 40 years by continuing with a system that is outdated. It served us well but is outdated. That is why I proposed amendment No. 266.
I would like to support Deputy Coveney's amendment and I will withdraw my amendment No. 268 in favour of amendment No. 266, which sets out a template for the way forward. There is a dichotomy between the rapid advances in technology and the old-fashioned mode of collection for licences. It does not tally with the way we are now. We have adopted all sorts of changes due to technological advances and the collection of the fee for television licences should be facilitated in a different way.
The fundamental connection between people and their national broadcaster is very important. It gives people a certain sense of ownership and it is important that we maintain that link while making a system efficient. At the moment some people pay and others do not. That is unfair, and the costs and difficulties of chasing people is a factor against being fully efficient in collection. The service needs to be paid for and licence fees must be paid but we need to look to the future. The issue of a household or broadcasting levy which recognises all the new technology needs to be addressed. Deputy Coveney's amendment sets out clearly and simply how we need to move forward.
We all recognise that there will be changes as technology changes. There will be a change in the format of licence fee collection. The question is whether we have reached that point. In the consultation process on this Bill Mr. Conor Hayes of RTE was asked if he would change the licensing arrangement and if we were in a world where that was outmoded. It was interesting to hear his answer as he comes from a financial perspective. He said that everyone recognises technology is evolving and changing and a point will come in the not too distant future where the television licence will go the way of the radio licence, where the radio transistor became so small and commonplace that the old wireless radio licence was no longer appropriate. His answer on whether we are there yet was a strong "No". I am following RTE's line. They have a financial interest in the success or otherwise of the method of collection of the licence fee.
As we said at the start of the debate on Committee Stage, I wish to see us becoming a country which uses the latest new mobile telecommunications and computer systems. We need to create an environment where developments such as cloud computing and video streaming on mobiles, laptops and computers become commonplace. We will get economic opportunities and employment from that. My instinct is not to be restrictive on the developments of new technologies and I want to deliberately regulate to create a fairly free environment to see which applications and devices evolve. As soon as we try to put a licence, tax or charge on such applications or devices, it becomes restrictive and may restrict the development of new public use of those goods which we may want to encourage. I believe Germany is putting a tax on mobile phones and laptops. Do we want to encourage or discourage the use of laptops? My instinct is to encourage their use.
We are always cited our broadband figures and statistics as to how poorly we are doing. Some 56% of households now have broadband connection but only 70% have a computer. Anything we can do to raise that to apply broadband and other applications will be to the good. On that basis, I am reluctant to restrict the development of those technologies at this point in time.
The Bill continues the traditional model, where the tax applies to a location where there is a television set. It puts in place regulations where that can be evolved as appropriate, and can be done on a flexible basis by regulation rather than statute. There can be a computer with a television card, such as for DTT when it becomes available, and the laptop can be used on a digital terrestrial basis.
A fundamental review will be needed and there is ongoing review to see at what point that becomes no longer plausible and a fundamentally different revenue raising exercise is needed. I recall that the UK Government did a very similar detailed review two or three years ago which looked at the issue in depth, considered alternatives and in the end plumped for the traditional method. For all its flaws and costs in application, it is effective.
I take Deputy Coveney's point on the €12 million cost of collection versus a receipt of €220 million or more, but taxation often has a cost. If one did a similar analysis of other taxation systems——
If one did the analysis in Revenue, it would cost approximately €2 million to raise the same amount of money.
It varies depending on different types of taxation. I contend it is not disproportionate to similar tax regime measures in place. It is something we need to review continually. It is right for the Department, rather than the regulator or broadcasting authority to carry out that review, because it has a wider policy consideration, such as the development of computing applications.
The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is the appropriate place for such work to be done and will continue to be. In the meantime, in the provisions here, we have set up a relatively flexible mechanism based on the historic system. Many people, myself included, are watching more and more material coming from a computer rather than on a television set. A large percentage of broadcast material is still carried by traditional means. The measure also applies to any other devices, such as a computer, in houses with a television licence. A licence fee is collected from a house as long as there is a television set there.
We had a long debate on the changes to the mechanisms at the publication of the Bill and on other Stages. I was pleased to be able to introduce more effective and flexible mechanisms to prevent everyone going into the courts, which is a phenomenal waste of resources. There can also be a time delay where one wait 18 months, gets to court and the District Court judge inevitably shows a degree of flexibility and leniency and gives someone a relative fine. What is proposed in the Bill is similar. It is a mechanism to get us out of the court or allow the option of avoiding the expense and bureaucracy of what can be an ineffective court system. I was pleased to be able to put that provision into the Bill.
We will move on.
We cannot move on for the moment. I want to make some points. I will not labour the point on other amendments but I feel strongly about this one.
I agree with the new measures the Minister is introducing. We need to try to keep these cases out of the courts. If one is introducing a fine for not having a television licence, one should at least make sure the fine is more than it costs to pay for a television licence for a year. The chances of getting caught for not having a television licence are very slim. That is a fact. There is advertising to the contrary to try to encourage people to buy a licence because they will be caught and 15,000 houses a month are checked. There is no fear factor that people will be caught. Under the proposed new regime, if people are caught, they will have three weeks in which to pay the fine and carry on as usual if they get a licence. There is no incentive to pay one's licence fee if the only consequence of not doing so is one pays a small fine and carries on as normal. At least under the old system the fear of going to court and being shamed was, perhaps, a deterrent. The effort of getting these ridiculous cases out of the courts by introducing a fine will only work if the fine is considerable. If people are seriously stung by being caught, they will feel there is adequate punishment, but that is not the case under the present proposals.
Either the Minister is misinterpreting me or I am not explaining myself correctly. I am not suggesting in any new regime that laptops or PDAs should be added to any television apparatus. I am saying that rather than linking ownership of a television screen with the funding of public service broadcasting, it should be based on a household levy or something similar so that enforcement becomes easier. Everyone who has an address would need to make a contribution towards public service broadcasting rather than everyone who has a television. At the moment, the television must be found before it can be proved that a person is required to have a licence. This would mean placing a significant onus on An Post or whoever it employs to find out who owns what and where, for which there is a cost. Likewise with businesses, a similar model could be implemented for pubs and hotels.
I agree with the Minister that we should not tax people for having the latest technology because that is what we want to facilitate and encourage. We want all schoolchildren in Ireland to have a laptop. The Minister is misconstruing my suggestion. I suggest the system should be streamlined to enable a much simpler means of collection whereby it is almost impossible to evade this tax, assuming we believe public service broadcasting should be funded through a tax or a levy. At present, the system is not equitable. There is too much evasion, the licence is too expensive to collect and it is outdated because increasing numbers of people watch television on computer. For example, is the screen behind the Minister a television? I understand the two on the side are televisions. I understand the screen behind the Minister will never be used to broadcast RTE, TV3 or any other channel but it will be used as a computer screen to show us graphs, models and presentations. It would also be a television if it happened to be in the living room of a house.
We are already at a stage where this definition is outdated. That is the reason I propose the amendment. I accept the point that it is more appropriate that the Department, rather the authority, would carry out the review. I did not have the faith that the Department would produce a report within 12 months on this area. That is the reason I suggested the authority should do it.
I agree we will need to move to an alternative system, whether for houses or apartments. I do not know how many houses or apartments are in the State.
On the current licence fee that would bring in about €350 million, which would be a very attractive prospect from a broadcasting viewpoint. I would not preclude such a development. We should consider a move to an alternative system, but are we at that stage? At this moment, the answer is "No" because the current system, for all its flaws, has public support in terms of the level of collection that takes place. It provides that connection with the public service broadcaster that one is paying for a service. If people decide not to have a television, and a significant number of households of which I am aware do not, do they have the right to say they would prefer not to take that service? If it is a household charge, it is a slightly different matter but I would not rule it out as an idea for consideration. In terms of the particular sets to which it would apply, I am informed that where one has a licence and one set in the room, it covers any other devices in the room, but fundamentally——
I am talking about a definition.
Yes, that was slightly pedantic. If it is a television set which can receive free-to-air programming on the transmission system, be it terrestrial, cable or satellite it must have a licence.
Deputy Coveney raised the issue of fines. It is in the hands of An Post, or the collector, to decide whether such a fixed payment notice would apply. Obviously, An Post would have to apply that notice judiciously in its own way to ensure it was not being used as a get-out clause. We have taken account of some of the points Deputy Coveney has made to bring it back to the point of first notice. It is more expensive and there is an additional cost. It is not an easier or cheaper option. I believe there will be a significant saving as it avoids people and the collecting agencies going the court route. There is also a certain benefit in not having our courts clogged up with cases that can be handled in a different manner while still providing the option of that court route, which would be a real deterrent.
I move amendment No. 263:
In page 140, subsection (1), between lines 37 and 38 to insert the following:
" "reminder notification" has the meaning assigned to it insection 149(1);”.
I move amendment No. 264:
In page 140, subsection (1), to delete lines 40 to 47.
I move amendment No. 265:
In page 141, subsection (1), line 3, to delete "broadcasts" and substitute "broadcasting services".
I move amendment No. 266:
In page 141, before section 141, to insert the following new section:
"141.—The Authority shall prepare a report which shall be completed and laid before the Minister and Joint Oireachtas Committee within 12 months, on the most appropriate and efficient method of public funding for public service broadcasting. The report shall consider the following;
(a) The funding of public service broadcasting outside Ireland, in particular in other EU states.
(b) The appropriateness of linking funding of public service broadcasting with television ownership and television licence fee system.
(c) Evasion of payment of Television Licence fee and the cost of enforcement and collection of such a fee.
(d) Modern advances in technology and new ways of accessing programmes and production financed by funds collected to support public service broadcasting.
(e) The difficulty in defining what a “television set”, as television programming is being accessed across an increasing number of new media devices.
(f) The need to ensure a long term, stable and consistent source of public funding to support public service broadcasting that will enable multi-annual budgeting for broadcasters.
(g) An efficient and fair collection mechanism of funds that will minimise evasion.”.
I move amendment No. 267:
In page 141, subsection (1), line 28, to delete "below" and substitute "insubsection (3)”.
I move amendment No. 270:
In page 144, subsection (1), lines 22 and 23, to delete all words from and including "or," in line 22 down to and including "person" in line 23 and substitute the following:
", or be served by registered post on, any person requiring that person".
I move amendment No. 271:
In page 144, subsection (2)(d), lines 39 and 40, to delete “, and office of issue” and substitute “or other identifying information in respect”.
I move amendment No. 272:
In page 144, subsection (2)(e), line 42, after “set” to insert “or any apparatus used in conjunction with it”.
I move amendment No. 273:
In page 145, subsection (2), lines 39 to 43, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
"(c) a prosecution in respect of the alleged offence shall not be instituted during the period specified in the notice, and—
(i) if the payment specified in the notice is made during that period, and
(ii) evidence of having obtained a valid television licence in respect of a specified premises or place to which the notice relates is given, no prosecution in respect of the alleged offence shall be instituted.".
I move amendment No. 274:
In page 145, subsection (3)(a), line 45, to delete “a person” and substitute “the person”.
I move amendment No. 275:
In page 146, subsection (3), lines 7 to 11, to delete paragraph (c) and substitute the following:
"(c) a prosecution in respect of the alleged offence shall not be instituted in the period specified in the notice, and—
(i) if the payment specified is made during that period, and
(ii) evidence of having obtained a valid television licence in respect of a specified premises or place to which the notice relates is given,
no prosecution in respect of the alleged offence shall be instituted.".
I move amendment No. 276:
In page 146, subsection (4)(a), line 15, to delete “56 days” and substitute “28 days”.
I move amendment No. 277:
In page 146, subsection (4)(b), line 17, to delete “28 days” and substitute “a further 28 days”.
I move amendment No. 278:
In page 146, before section 150, to insert the following new section:
150.—(1) Where a person has received a first reminder notification and the person——
(a) has held a television licence, within the 12 month period previous to the reminder notification, in respect of keeping or possessing a television set at the premises or place to which the notification relates, any renewal of the licence takes effect from the expiration of the previous licence, unless the person can satisfy the issuing agent that he or she was not in possession of a television set at the premises or place during the material time after the expiration of the previous licence, or
(b) has not held such a licence, any television licence obtained by the person to keep or have possession of a television set at the premises or place takes effect from the date of the notification or such later date as the issuing agent may decide.
(2) Where a person having received a first reminder notification obtains a television licence after the notification, which is not in accordance withsubsection (1), to keep and have possession of a television set at the premises or place specified in the notification, the licence is deemed to have effect from the date of expiration of the previous licence or the first notification or such later date as the issuing agent may decide, as the case may be. The issuing agent may alter accordingly any licence so obtained.
(3) An issuing agent may recover, as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction, any fee owing by a person in respect of a television licence which has not been obtained by the person to keep or possess a television set at a specified premises or place at any material time.".
I move amendment No. 279:
In page 147, lines 18 to 23, to delete subsection (1).
I move amendment No. 280:
In page 147, after line 27, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) Section 2(1) of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 is amended by substituting for the definition of "television set" the following:
" ‘television set' has the meaning assigned to it bysection 140 of the Broadcasting Act 2008;”.
Amendment No. 281 is in the name of Deputy Coveney. Amendments Nos. 282 to 293, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 282 and 283 are technical alternatives to amendment No. 281. Amendment No. 292 is a technical alternative to amendment No. 291. Amendments Nos. 281 to 293, inclusive, may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 281:
In page 148, subsection (1), lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:
"(a) New television or sound broadcasting programmes of interest and relevance to an Irish audience, for initial broadcast by a free to air broadcasting service located in Ireland including films the subject of which are:”.
A number of issues relating to this section are dealt with in my amendments Nos. 281, 284, 288 and 290. They are separate issues and I will deal with them one by one.
Amendment No. 281 seeks to broaden the definition of the areas money can be spent on as regards the sound and vision fund. Concern has been expressed to me that the definition of the way this money is spent is very specific in terms of Irish culture, heritage and experience. I want to broaden that definition to include areas that are of interest and relevance to an Irish audience, which is modernising what we are trying to do.
For example, it is of interest to an Irish audience to have a programme on the AIDS epidemic on the continent of Africa and the way it has developed and spread. There does not need to be an Irish element to that broadcast in terms of it being an Irish aid agency or an Irish individual who is a member of a religious congregation working in Uganda or whatever. Those programmes can be made under this fund but if a broader programme was to be made by an Irish producer which is of interest to an Irish audience or even an issue closer to the Minister's heart, for example, a programme on the challenge for the developing world of climate change in terms of an adaptation fund or whatever, that is relevant to an Irish audience in the context of the challenges we face in meeting our obligations in terms of emissions but it does not necessarily involve an Irish individual, organisation, heritage, experience or culture. However, it is of huge relevance to an Irish audience. I would like the Minister to accept this amendment; I would not have tabled it otherwise. I am hopeful he will accept it and understand my reason for tabling it.
Amendment No. 281 is linked somewhat with amendment No. 284 in that I am looking to add a number of new subsections to the areas that can be covered by this fund — Europe and international affairs, development aid issues in the developing world and current affairs issues. In other words, we allow this fund to finance programming that deals with slightly broader but equally relevant topics and, in some cases, programmes more relevant to the Irish audience watching them than the current restrictive definition.
The idea for this amendment started with discussions I had with people who are promoting the work in which Irish people and organisations are involved in the developing world. They felt it is wrong, in terms of raising a valid issue that is relevant to Irish people, that a programme must be focused on an Irish personality, heritage or diaspora somewhere in the world. We should have the ability to focus on the topic of the conversation rather than the Irishness of the personalities involved. I hope I have explained myself adequately in terms of what I am trying to achieve. I will address amendments Nos. 290 and 291 later because they deal with a slightly different issue.
I support the principle already outlined, particularly now that the fund will be grown. I welcome the decision by the Minister to bring forward his amendment. I support him on that and withdraw my own amendment.
On the terms of reference and the parameters of this fund, we should be looking afresh to ensure they are sufficiently wide, both internationally as Deputy Coveney said, but also locally at community level to enable people avail of the fund, have that richness of product and ensure the fund is sufficiently flexible to allow for the various requirements because it is an important fund. It is very oversubscribed but it would be a pity if people were excluded unnecessarily because of the requirements of the Bill. Opening it up at both the local and global levels is sensible.
I do not disagree with either Deputy. On the last point about the community level, the history of the broadcasting fund is that it has been hugely successful. On the television side some 15% of the spending out of €44 million, approximately €6.5 million, has gone on community television projects. On the radio side it is a smaller overall budget of some €4 million but over half of it has gone to community radio. That area has significant support in the existing system, therefore, and on that basis I do not intend changing that system.
My amendment No. 285 addresses the wider point Deputies Coveney and McManus made in terms of the benefit we may accrue from opening up the fund for programming on wider global issues. I believe the wording of my amendment is broad enough to achieve that. It states that we want programming that raises public awareness and understanding of global issues not just impacting on Ireland but on other countries. That is sufficiently broad to cover the issues and the intent Deputy Coveney has in mind.
We are a small country which historically has been more aware than some other countries of what is going on in the wider world, going back to our connections with Africa. Increasingly, as a small country whose people have travelled a great deal, we have an interest in international affairs and global issues that ultimately will come back to affect us. I refer to issues of real importance such as AIDS and climate change. I do not want to be prescriptive in terms of what a creative broadcaster might say to the broadcasting fund about a programme being worthy of supporting. That is the intent of my amendment No. 285. I accept the intent of the Deputies opposite but I am putting forward this amendment and do not intend accepting the alternatives.
I am happy to withdraw amendments Nos. 281 and 284 on that basis. The Minister's wording is probably better than the wording I proposed.
I move amendment No. 283:
In page 148, subsection (1)(a), line 2, to delete “films” and substitute “feature films, animation and drama”.
Animation was mentioned in a number of contributions. There are a number of animation companies working very effectively in this country. This is an attempt to be specific. The logic of the amendment was to be explicit. It is not a huge deal but it is in recognition of the good work that is being done in that sector and the potential we have to create an export industry in the film business, particularly in animation.
I move amendment No. 285:
In page 148, subsection (1), between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
(c) new television or sound broadcasting programmes which raise public awareness and understanding of global issues impacting on the State and countries other than the State,”.
I move amendment No. 286:
In page 148, subsection (1)(c), lines 16 and 17, to delete “and (b) in the Irish language, and” and substitute “, (b) and (c) in the Irish language,”.
I move amendment No. 287:
In page 148, subsection (1)(d), line 19, to delete “State.” and substitute the following:
(e) such ancillary measures as are necessary to support schemes prepared under paragraphs (a), (b), (c) or (d)
I move amendment No. 288:
In page 149, subsection (2), lines 1 and 2, to delete paragraph (d).
I do not believe we should prohibit this fund from being used for a current affairs programme. It should not be used for financing the news but if there is investigative programming that involves current affairs issues, we should not specifically exclude that programming from the fund. Anybody who is proposing to avail of the fund for a current affairs programme should obviously have to make a case in the context of the other subsections in the legislation but there is no reason that a current affairs programme might not revolve around other matters such as contemporary arts, the Irish language and global issues that impact on the State. There is an overlap between those issues and current affairs. The legislation states that it may not provide funding for programmes which are produced primarily for news or current affairs. I do not necessarily have a problem with news not being part of this but excluding current affairs it too restrictive. That is the reason I propose deleting paragraph (d).
I must disagree with the Deputy. The clear intent of the broadcasting fund is to provide for additional programmes beyond those that are required under licensing conditions. All broadcasters in radio and television have licences with requirements for current affairs and news content, and there is nothing to preclude them going beyond those requirements. The difficulty with using the fund for news and current affairs is that it would lower the amount of money that would be available for the intent of the scheme, which is to provide for additional programming beyond the licensing requirements.
I move amendment No. 289:
In page 149, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) The Authority in preparing a scheme, may have regard to the developmental needs of community broadcasters.".
I move amendment No. 290:
In page 149, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following subsection:
(5) The Authority shall take account of other funding sources available to financially support programmes which qualify for funding consideration under section153(1)(a) to (d), in particular other forms of state funding that may be available, when applying for funding under the Broadcasting Fund.”.
The amendment would require the authority to take into account other funding sources available to a production company, be it an independent company or an internal company of an existing broadcaster, when assessing the merits of a project. Some production companies will not have the same access to funding that others will have. That should be factored into the mix. It need not be a singular issue but it should be a consideration when assessing projects for funding or partial funding. It is not an unreasonable request.
I believe the broadcasting fund organisers would examine what available funding there is. I am nervous about setting such an obvious continuing consideration in the legislation, as those details are best left to the administrator to work out in its regulatory systems. It could tie it up in difficult questions. By legislating for this, we would force the fund to do it and then get it into a quite difficult complex process. I do not disagree with the intent of the amendment but I do not believe it should be in the legislation. We should leave it to the fund administrators to apply such a review in a non-legislative but real manner.
I understand the difficulty the Minister has with the amendment. However, perhaps he would clarify something. If an applicant is refused or accepted, is an explanation given to the applicant of the grounds for refusal or acceptance?
There is. A great deal of feedback is provided to broadcasters. This is a complex issue but, by and large, it has been successful. One of the considerations I had was whether we should give the producers greater powers in terms of not having the requirement, for example, to have a broadcaster on line initially. I considered that a great deal because I would have a slight concern that broadcasters might use the fund as a means of funding programmes that they would otherwise fund anyway. It gave the broadcast companies a great deal of power in the process so I considered whether we should change it in a way that would increase the flexibility of the production companies. It is a difficult area. We must leave it to the people administering the scheme to apply their own good sense in selection and in providing feedback. The broadcaster must have editorial control in terms of what programming is broadcast, and there is a certain value in the broadcaster giving a pre-check by giving its approval of the programme. There is a balance to be struck.
As to whether it will be broadcast?
Yes, it does that as well. We are requiring the people operating this fund to apply a certain amount of nous with regard to what is quality, which is a difficult thing to apply, and how their rules and regulations apply in allocating funding. My instinct is that they have done well to date so we have not carried out a radical reform of the system. We are continuing it along the lines it is working at present.
The Minister agrees with the sentiment in the amendment but he does not wish to put it down in black and white. I believe it should be there so I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 291:
In page 150, subsection (2), line 40, to delete "5 per cent" and substitute "7 per cent".
If the Minister agrees on this, I am happy to go with that. Like someone famously said, "You can talk your way out of this house". Generally, the more I plead with the Minister, the less I achieve.
I am also happy that the amendment has been tabled and I will withdraw amendment No. 292.
There was no co-operation in advance on this. We separately arrived at similar figures without consultation with each other.
That is true. I thought we would have a battle on this to justify what we are seeking but that has not been the case.
Great minds think alike.
Let us not stretch it. We agree.
It should be acknowledged a price will be paid for this, especially by RTE, but it also has benefits in that producers can apply. It is a good decision, which I welcome.
Section 178(3) concerns transitional provisions in respect of the boards of RTE and TG4. RTE has suggested a minor amendment to ensure there is no ambiguity in the text. I intend to reflect on this and, perhaps, table an amendment on Report Stage. The wording is not significant but I have the option of tabling an amendment.
Amendments Nos. 295 to 298, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 300 to 303, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 294 and all may be taken together.
I move amendment No. 294:
In page 162, subsection (3), to delete lines 22 to 29 and substitute the following:
" "(3) (a) A person who keeps, has in his or her possession, installs, maintains, works or uses any apparatus (other than a television set) in contravention of this section commits an offence and is liable—
(i) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000, or
(ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €250,000.
(b) In this subsection ‘television set’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 140 of the Broadcasting Act 2008.”.”.
This amends section 3 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 by deleting the penalties for non-possession of a television licence as inserted by section 12 of the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act 1988 and updating the penalties for generally possessing a working wireless telegraphy devices in contravention of wireless telegraphy legislation. It increases the fine on summary conviction from €1,270 to €5,000 and from €25,395 to €250,000 on conviction on indictment. I am replacing the definition of a "television set" as inserted by section 2 of the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act 1988 with a definition provided for in section 140 of the legislation reflecting the changing legislative basis for the television licence regime. Amendments Nos. 295, 296 and 298 are minor drafting amendments necessary to excise errors and improve the clarity of the text in Part 13.
Amendments Nos. 297 and 303 restate and revise in a new Schedule sections 5, 6 and 9 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926, as amended. Sections 5 and 6 were amended by six different Acts between 1956 and 2007 and they are key interlinked sections in wireless telegraphy legislation with significance for broadcasting. The Parliamentary Counsel has advised they should be restated and the language modernised for clarity pending a comprehensive revision of wireless telegraphy legislation. Section 9 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 permits the Minister for Transport as the appropriate authority to regulate maritime radio licences and maritime radio operators engaged on ships registered in the State. These amendments amend and restate section 9 to expand the regulatory provisions to cover all vessels operating in Irish waters, both registered ships and vessels and those vessels navigating or operating within Irish waters.
In addition, section 179(4) updates the penalties for breach of wireless telegraphy regulations made under section 9 of the 1926 Act. It increases the fine on summary conviction from €1,250 to €5,000 and from €25,395 to €250,000 on conviction on indictment. It also removes fines for continuing offences. The amendments are required to satisfy Ireland's international obligations to provide maritime safety navigational services, marine emergency search and rescue response and marine pollution prevention functions. The Bill provides an early opportunity to amend the relevant wireless telegraphy legislation. Amendments Nos. 300 to 302, inclusive, repeal sections 3(a) and Part 2 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926, section 12 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1972 and section 17 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1976 as these provisions are no longer required.
The amendments involve an element of trust in the context of whether are required to honour our international obligations. What is involved in regard to shipping? Section 179(3) states, "A person who keeps, has in his or her possession, installs, maintains, works or uses any apparatus (other than a television set) in contravention of this section commits an offence and is liable". What does this mean?
The main provision extends the regulations covering wireless telegraphy on vessels at sea in order that the safety and other requirements and certified distress and safety communications measures are met by all vessels. The Department of Transport, which is responsible for this, has a scheme that delivers education, training and certification for radio personnel on both registered and non-registered vessels. We are seeking to extend the provisions in place to non-registered vessels to comply with international obligations under article 48 of the International Telecommunication Union radio regulations. The provision is intended to ensure personnel on vessels are adequately qualified and trained and ensure safety standards among radio operators on all vessels in Irish waters.
I move amendment No. 295:
In page 163, subsection (8), line 6, to delete "12(1)(b)” and substitute “12(1)(f)”.
I move amendment No. 296:
In page 163, subsection (8)(b), line 10, to delete “pounds.” and substitute “pounds”.
I move amendment No. 297:
In page 164, before section 180, to insert the following new section:
180.—The Act of 1926 is amended by substituting for sections 5, 6, and 9 the sections set out in Schedule 2.".
I move amendment No. 298:
In page 165, line 22, to delete "they" and substitute "RTÉ or TG4".
I move amendment No. 300:
In page 166, column 3, to delete lines 4 to 9, and substitute the following:
"Section 3A (inserted by section 17 of No. 37 of 1976) and Part II.".
I move amendment No. 301:
In page 166, column 3, line 21, to delete "14" and substitute "12 and 14"
I move amendment No. 302:
In page 166, column 3, line 27, to delete "16" and substitute "17"
I move amendment No. 303:
In page 167, after line 7, to insert the following:
5.—(1) The appropriate authority may, subject to this Act and on payment of the prescribed fee (if any) grant to any person a licence to keep and have possession of apparatus for wireless telegraphy in any specified place in the State or to keep and have possession of apparatus for wireless telegraphy in any specified ship or other vessel or aircraft.
(2) Every licence granted under this section shall be in such form, continue in force for such period and be subject to such conditions and restrictions (including conditions as to suspension and revocation) as shall be prescribed in regard to it by regulations made by the appropriate authority under section 6.
(3) Where it appears appropriate to the appropriate authority, it may, in the interests of the efficient and orderly use of wireless telegraphy, limit the number of licences for any particular class or classes of apparatus for wireless telegraphy granted under this section.
(4) This section does not apply to television sets.
(5) For the purposes of this Act and any regulations under section 6, a vehicle is itself deemed to be a place separate and distinct from the premises in which the vehicle is ordinarily kept, and place and specified place shall in this Act and in any such regulations be read accordingly.
6.—(1) The appropriate authority may make regulations prescribing in relation to all licences granted by it under section 5 or any particular class or classes of such licences all or any of the matters following that is to say-
(a) the form of such licences,
(b) the period during which such licences continue in force,
(c) the manner in which, the terms on which, and the period or periods for which such licences may be renewed,
(d) the circumstances in which or the terms under which such licences are granted,
(e) the circumstances and manner in which such licences may be suspended or revoked by that authority,
(f) the terms and conditions to be observed by the holders of such licences and subject to which such licences are deemed to be granted,
(g) the fees to be paid on the application, grant or renewal of such licences or classes of such licences and the time and manner at and in which such fees are to be paid,
(h) matters which such licences do not entitle or authorise the holder to do.
(2) Regulations made under this section may authorise and provide for the granting of a licence under section 5 subject to special terms, conditions, and restrictions to any person who satisfies the appropriate authority that the person requires the licence solely for the purpose of conducting experiments in wireless telegraphy.
(3) If it appears to be expedient to the appropriate authority to do so it may by instrument in writing recognise as valid a licence issued by another country or state in respect of a class or classes of apparatus for wireless telegraphy subject to such conditions or restrictions as to the use of such apparatus as that authority sees fit.
(4) (a) Every regulation made under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made.
(b) Either House of the Oireachtas may, within 21 sitting days after the day on which a regulation was laid before it in accordance with paragraph (a), pass a resolution annulling the regulation or order, as the case may be.
(c) The annulment under paragraph (b) of a regulation takes effect immediately on the passing of the resolution concerned, but does not affect anything that was done under it before the passing of the resolution.
9.—(1) The appropriate authority may make regulations in respect of all or any of the following matters, that is to say:
(a) requiring operators and other persons engaged in the working of apparatus for wireless telegraphy on—
(i) all or any ships registered under the Mercantile Marine Act 1955, or
(ii) all or any classes or class of ships or vessels navigating or operating in the State,
to hold certificates of competency;
(b) requiring operators and other persons engaged in the working of apparatus for wireless telegraphy on all or any classes of aircraft owned or leased by persons in the State to hold certificates of competency;
(c) the grant and renewal of such certificates of competency, the terms and conditions on which such certificates will be granted, and the qualifications to be possessed and the examinations and other tests to be undergone by persons to whom such certificates are granted;
(d) the duration, revocation and suspension of certificates of competency granted under the regulations;
(e) the validity, duration, renewal, revocation, and suspension of certificates of competency granted otherwise than under the regulations whether by the appropriate authority or any other person;
(f) the fees to be charged for or in connection with the granting and renewal of any such certificates of competence as aforesaid and the collection and disposal of such fees;
(g) regulating and controlling the times and manner of working apparatus for wireless telegraphy in ships registered under the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 and, while they are in the State, ships registered outside the State and unregistered ships and other vessels;
(h) regulating and controlling the times and manner of working apparatus for wireless telegraphy in aircraft owned or leased by persons in the State and, while they are in or over the State or the territorial waters thereof, aircraft not so owned;
(i) giving effect to and securing compliance with the provisions (save in so far as the same relate to ships to which this section and regulations made under it do not apply) of any international convention in relation to wireless telegraphy entered into by the Government.
(2) Regulations made under this section may—
(a) provide that a breach or contravention of any specified such regulation shall be an offence, and
(b) in relation to convictions on indictment for such an offence, provide that the court by whom the defendant is convicted may order the interest of the defendant. Whether as owner or otherwise, in all or any apparatus in respect of or by means of which the court is satisfied a breach or contravention of a specified such regulation was committed to be forfeited.
(3) (a) Every regulation made under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made.
(b) Either House of the Oireachtas may, within 21 sitting days after the day on which a regulation was laid before it in accordance with paragraph (a), pass a resolution annulling the regulation or order, as the case may be.
(c) The annulment under paragraph (b) of a regulation takes effect immediately on the passing of the resolution concerned, but does not affect anything that was done under it before the passing of the resolution.
(4) A person guilty of an offence by reason of a breach or contravention of a regulation specified, by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (2), in regulations made under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €5,000, or
(b) on conviction or indictment, to a fine not exceeding €250,000.
(5) For the purposes of this section—
(a) a ship is deemed to be navigating or operating in the State if it is usually kept in Irish waters (within the meaning of section 2 of the Maritime Safety Act 2005), and
(b) an aircraft is deemed to be owned or leased by a person in the State if but only if it is owned or leased by a person who—
(i) in the case of an individual, has his or her place of residence in the State, or
(ii) in the case of an association, company (within the meaning of the Companies Acts) or other body (whether corporate or unincorporate) has its principal office in the State.
(6) In this section, ‘appropriate authority'—
(a) in relation to apparatus for wireless telegraphy on ships, means the Minister for Transport, and
(b) in relation to apparatus for wireless telegraphy on aircraft, means the Commission.”.”.
I thank the Minister and his officials and the Chairman. There has been a lot of publicity about the banning of a Veritas advertisement. I noted that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland had proposed an amendment to the Chairman. I am not clear from the discussion we have had whether this amendment is included in the Bill but I do not think it is. Would it be possible for a note to be sent to us about the wording of that amendment?
On that issue, the Minister will know I tabled an amendment which he did not accept but he said he would consider the issue of religious advertising and which I accept is a very tricky area for amendment. In that context, it would be helpful if we were given an indication as to how the Minister views the treatment of the recent Veritas advertisement and whether on Report Stage he wants to facilitate that type of advertisement. He will need to do that if he is considering an amendment. It would be helpful for us to know before Report Stage how the Minister intends to handle this issue so that we can draft our own amendments and have some realistic chance of having them accepted. I am not really interested in grandstanding on Report Stage on the issue of religious advertising unless I have some chance of having my amendments accepted, and that would be my preference.
To add my advice, there is a lot of public disquiet about the treatment of that advertisement but there is a bigger question which must be answered.
Veritas was concerned last year and it will be Trócaire next year.
I am quite happy to come back to the Deputies with a note and we can discuss it on Report Stage. It is a complex issue of real concern to many people as to how such advertising is regulated. We have had a useful debate on the matter and on a number of other issues. I thank the Deputies and I thank the Chairman and his officials for what has been a difficult Bill to deal with on Committee Stage as there have been many amendments. I thank my officials, Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Morrissey, for the work they have done over recent years on this Bill. They have been a great support to me and I commend them on their work. I look forward to coming back on Report Stage to refine the Bill further before it is enacted.
This is the last occasion before Christmas that the Minister will be in committee. I wish him the season's greetings and also to those in the Visitors Gallery who have borne with us for the past three weeks while we have discussed the Bill.