MINISTERS AND SECRETARIES BILL, 1923. - COMMITTEE ON BROADCASTING (QUESTION OF ADMISSION OF THE PRESS).

I beg to move:

"That it be an instruction to the special Committee on Wireless Broadcasting that the Press be admitted to future sittings of the Committee."

This motion provides that the deliberations of the Committee on Broadcasting be henceforth open to the Press and, through the Press, to the public. Already we have met the public clamour to a pretty large extent by deciding to publish the evidence given before this Committee up to a certain point. I think that decision is all to the good. I said on a former occasion I believe it will disillusion many people in regard to their conclusion under this particular heading, but at the same time I am quite satisfied that the matter has assumed such a serious rôle in the public mind that anything in the nature of withholding their entire demand for the expeditious publication of the evidence is open to misconstruction.

at this stage took the Chair.

Now while the majority of the people in this community of ours are prepared to concede to men holding responsible positions the virtue of honesty, I must say there is a small and active element which seems to thrive on the prospect of petty scandal. I suppose we do not differ from most people in this respect, but nevertheless we have to recognise that that element is there, that it is active, and as long as it gets any material whatever to feed its soul on it will readily grasp it. I fear that our failure to admit the Press on the occasion of this Committee's sittings is rather an incentive to people of that type of mind.

There is, of course a further aspect. The more decent element of the community have been roused to the importance of Broadcasting as a medium of social life, if you like, and because of that fact they are naturally anxious to know what is doing and what the immediate future of Broadcasting is, or is likely to be. One can scarcely blame these people if they express a natural desire to be permitted to follow the fortunes of this discussion. I think they are entitled to that because of the fact that their curiosity has been aroused. I do not think anybody desires to deprive them of the luxury of reading these matter-of-fact reports; but, nevertheless, I feel it is our duty to say here and now that as far as we are concerned we are prepared to facilitate, rather than to hinder them. I do not wish to occupy the time of the Dáil on this matter except merely to say that my own feeling is this. We ought at once to decide to make these sittings of the Committee public, and to give the public anything that they derive from these discussions. I beg formally to move the motion standing in my name.

I think it would be well if we understood exactly what it is that is intended here. The motion is: "That it be an instruction to the Special Committee on Wireless Broadcasting that the Press be admitted to future sittings of the Committee." Does that mean that every sitting of the Committee, including those at which they will be discussing the nature of the Report, and deliberating upon the evidence received, will be open to the Press? Is that the intention, and will that be the effect? I think it will be the effect if this motion is passed, and I suggest that it would be an unfortunate decision of the Dáil to give an instruction that the Committee shall in the consideration of its Report conduct its discussions in the presence of the Press. That is the effect of this motion if it is carried, and I just think it well to draw the attention of the House to that fact.

I think that is a very fair point to raise. If the effect will be as Deputy Johnson has stated, I may say that is not what was in my mind, because I take it that Committees generally do not admit the Press to their proceedings after the evidence has been taken, and that it is not the rule to include the Press when the Committee resolves itself into private sitting to determine what is to be the outcome of its proceedings. That certainly has not been my desire, at any time, and it certainly was not my desire in moving this motion, and if it should be the case and if it should appear possible to depart from what one considers to be the settled policy in regard to this matter because of this motion I may say, at any rate, that my position in the matter is quite clear. If there are special Committees and special meetings of Committees at which evidence is not being taken, if there are sittings for the purpose of deciding the Committee's attitude in regard to past evidence—evidence already taken, or to hear corrections or correcting points from those who gave evidence in the past, I do not think that the Press has any particular claim to be there for the simple reason that the whole matter is contained in the Official Report. My sole desire in this matter is that in the future evidence—I will emphasise the word "evidence"—that in the future taking of evidence the Press be admitted. I would not consider the private sittings of the Committee as taking evidence.

I must rule on the point of order. If the motion is carried as it stands the Press will be entitled to attend every meeting of the Committee. If the Postmaster-General, to safeguard against that, wishes to add the words at the end of his motion:—"At which evidence is taken," and if the Dáil agrees I would take an amendment to that effect.

I would be very pleased, and I move to add these words.

Question:—"That these words be there added"—put and agreed to.
Motion, as amended, again proposed.

It is difficult not to have sympathy with the Postmaster-General in this matter. He, as is indicated, has suffered more, perhaps, than any other individual concerned at the hands of those who circulate calumnies, and it is obviously natural on his part that he should require henceforth that all evidence should be taken in the presence of the Press, so that the machinery and engines of calumniation should, if not actually reduced to silence, at least find their work more of an inventive nature and more open to criticism on the part of the general public. I have thought of the Postmaster-General in this matter as he would appear to the political cartoonist. He is a sort of King Lear, biding the pelting of the pitiless storm—the whistling of broadcasting inferior reception instruments undergoing tuning up, so that the oscillations produce new noises for every listener-in, and the inscription underneath would be that pathetic line of the play: "I am a man more sinned against than sinning." But might I suggest to the Postmaster-General that the proper time for him to have brought this motion before the House was long ago when he, as a witness, was called more than once before the Committee, at first to give original evidence and later rebutting evidence. He knew very well how valuable it would be in his conception of the value of publicity. This motion comes when the Committee has ceased to take evidence. In its amended form, if it is put to the Dáil, it is an abortion, a dead letter; it is of no effect. The last meeting of the Committee to take evidence is over, and the Committee is now preparing its report so that the motion, as amended, simply means that you do nothing, and that you are called upon to do nothing.

The Postmaster-General has himself revised the script of his evidence for the final form of publication. Copies are sent out to all the witnesses to give them an opportunity of correcting the grammar and of making what are called verbal alterations, not, of course, of mending their hand, so that the Postmaster-General, of all men, ought to have been aware of the advanced stage reached in the proceedings of the Committee. A malicious-minded person might suggest reasons for this twelfth hour resolution, but I do not propose to play that role on this occasion. The Postmaster-General has forgotten in some of his remarks—it is obvious in making them that he had forgotten— that there was no resolution or determination, as I have already explained, on the part of the Committee to exclude the Press. The Press did not come to the meetings of this Special Committee. We have been comparatively silent upon this matter hitherto. There was one newspaper that did make application to the Committee, but it was not for the presence of a representative to hear the evidence and report it faithfully to the public; it was in the nature of an overture to a member of the Committee that he should disclose, prematurely, the report that the Committee would make to enable his paper to have a "scoop," as it is called in journalistic phraseology. That was the sole application made to the Committee on the part of the Press until the twelfth day of the proceedings, and had they been admitted on that day—and it is only fair to Deputy Johnson to say that he was one of the two who voted for their admission—but had the Press been admitted on that day it would have had the effect of giving to the public the answering evidence of A without hearing the evidence to which it was an answer as given by B on a previous or earlier occasion. The Committee, by a majority, more than a two-thirds majority, decided that in the interests of the public it would be better that as no Press representatives had been present hitherto that the Press should remain away until the end. That was not predetermined opposition to the Press; it was not due to any desire to curb the Press or limit its privileges or interfere in any way with the great service it renders to the public through the publicity, such as it is, which it affords.

We have been accused of breaking all the laws, and the Ceann Comhairle has been accused of being a co-partner in our guilt. The Postmaster-General is evidently one of those who believe that under the Constitution, Article 25, the Press must be admitted. Article 25 of the Constitution lays it down that the meetings of each House of the Oireachtas shall be public, and they are public so long as the official notetakers are present. The highest and the best form of publicity is provided for all the proceedings of the Oireachtas, and the same form of excellent publicity was provided for at our proceedings by the presence of the official notetakers. The official notetakers attend the Dáil and give a verbatim report of our proceedings. They do not pick and choose. They report every word that is spoken; even surreptitious asides that I have been weak enough to indulge in occasionally I find recorded permanently in the pages of these most faithful official reports. That is the publicity that is called for in the Constitution, and that publicity is uniformly provided. A verbatim report is published and is available to the whole world at large. Similarly, we had publicity of that sort, too, and it now happens in the sequel that most of the evidence we took in the absence of the Press will be forthcoming for the public to read and study. I say advisedly that the evidence we took in the absence of the Press, because we did not consider its absence up to the twelfth day. These important sittings which might have provided such spicey and sensational items that they would call forth striking captions in the newspapers, took place, almost all of them, before the twelfth day—not all of them—and the Press was not present, not because we determined they should not be present, but because they determined themselves that they should not be present. They did not want to be there, and did not ask to be there, but one paper had sufficient interest to want to know the result before anyone else could be aware of it. Further than that, that newspaper interest did not extend. What good purpose does the Postmaster-General think he will serve by bringing forward this resolution now? It helps to fill the public mind with the idea that something is being kept back. I do not accuse him of having that as his motive, but that is how it will appear. It will appear that this inveterately villainous committee has been forced by the Postmaster-General, into whose administration it was inquiring, to come into the light of day. I could write the leading article on the subject myself with the utmost ease. I would invite the Dáil to say that this motion comes too late as a direction to the Committee. It was never necessary, never really or genuinely necessary, and coming now it is absolutely unnecessary, because too late.

I would support the last speaker in asking the Postmaster-General, in the first place, not to press this motion, and if he does, in asking the Dáil not to pass it. I lay stress, not perhaps quite so much as the last speaker did, on the probable uselessness of the motion, in view of the stage which the Committee has reached in its proceedings, just because it is fairly possible that an occasion may arise when some witness would be asked to come again in order to supplement some evidence that he may have given before. I think the last speaker drew attention in a very striking way to the fact that making a change at this stage of the proceedings of the Committee would be a very undesirable thing to do.

What will the Postmaster-General gain by it? Already every guarantee has been given that ultimately everything put in evidence will be made public. All that he could possibly secure would be that a more or less intelligible account of some supplementary evidence would appear in the Press before it appeared in the final report of the Committee's proceedings. I submit that is not an advantage sufficient to justify the Dáil in passing this motion. I do not want to go into the general question as to whether the Committee were or were not right on technical grounds in the decision to which they came. I hope that that point will be gone into by the Committee on Standing Orders, and that for future Committees it will be made perfectly clear what procedure ought to be adopted in such investigations. But the proper time to raise this was when it come before us some two or three weeks ago, when the general question of the Committee's action in excluding the Press at that stage of their proceedings was before the Dáil, and when, I think, the Ceann Comhairle ruled that the Committee were in order in taking that step. It is not a wise thing to prejudge that question now by the Dáil passing this resolution, which would indicate that, unless the Dáil did pass such a resolution, any future Committees may proceed in a different way. I think the resolution is quite unnecessary, that it will gain nothing, and that it will be a disadvantage to make a change in the procedure of the Committee at this very late stage in its work.

Ba mhaith liom a iarraidh ar Aire an Phuist gan dul ar aghaidh leis an tairisgint seo. Beidh an Coiste ag cur isteach a Thuarasgabháil sar i bhfád agus ní dócha, do réir mo bharamhla, go mbéidh a thuille fiadhnaise ag teastail uatha.

I would also appeal to the Postmaster-General not to press this motion to a division, because, as Deputies Magennis and Thrift have explained, the Committee is now at the stage of its proceedings when it is considering the question of the Report that is to be presented to the Dáil, and it is doubtful if it will be necessary to call any further witnesses. The newspaper people described the members of our Committee as so many Mussolini, but I think they were the real Mussolini, because they showed their strength by keeping away from the Committee until the twelfth day of its proceedings. Had they been allowed in at that stage they would not have been able to give the public a clear and a proper report of what had taken place there. The members of the Committee stood for the widest publicity all along, and it was their desire to secure that that publicity should be as fair and impartial to all parties concerned as possible, and that no injustice should be done to any person whose name was mentioned during the proceedings of the Committee. As has been explained already, no useful purpose would be served by passing such a motion as this at the present late stage. I would again appeal to the Postmaster-General not to press the motion.

Mr. O'CONNELL

I am rather surprised by the line which has been taken by the last two or three speakers on this matter. They seem to question the wisdom of the Postmaster-General in bringing forward this motion. I think that it is not a matter for us to decide whether or not the Postmaster-General was wise in bringing forward the resolution, but the motion being before us, the question for us to decide is the wisdom of rejecting it or adopting it. I can see no possible reason why the resolution could not be adopted, and why the Press could not be admitted to further sittings if they want to come. I do see many reasons why it would be unwise for the Dáil to reject the motion. I have not the slightest doubt whatsoever, if the motion was rejected, that that fact would be used by outsiders to make a lot of capital out of the action taken by the Dáil and to say, wrongly, of course, that there is something to hide.

The members who have opposed this motion are all members of the Committee, and undoubtedly conclusions— wrong conclusions—will be drawn. As against that, what is to be lost by admitting the Press? I cannot see, in spite of the eloquent speeches of the last three Deputies who have spoken, that there is any serious objection to allowing the Press in. The last Deputy who spoke, I think, said that no good purpose would be served by admitting them at this stage. I would say, as against that, that no good purpose will be served by rejecting the resolution. I therefore suggest that the Dáil would be extremely unwise, in the circumstances as they exist now, to reject this resolution of the Postmaster-General. Whether the Postmaster-General was wise in bringing it forward is altogether another matter, and one that we have not to decide on.

May I remind the Dáil, at this stage, that the people outside have got absolutely sick of this discussion about wireless. I do think that this motion of the Postmaster-General ought to be passed without any comments at all, because the people have got so absolutely sick of the whole thing, that they will not take the trouble to read anything that is put into the papers about the matter. We ought to realise that this country, at the present moment, is practically in a state of chaos, and we ought to try and do something for the people who are suffering, and stop all this cant about wireless.

I only want to say that at the time my motion was put down, I had no intimation that no further evidence was to be taken. In fact, I am rather inclined to think that evidence has been taken in the interval, and we are not perfectly sure just yet that no further evidence will be taken. One Deputy has said that it may be still necessary to bring back a witness or two. Deputy Magennis wants to know why, at the outset of the Committee's deliberations, I failed to request that those proceedings be conducted in public. I must say that I realise more fully than any one else that I made a very grave mistake, from my own point of view, in not so requesting. I have myself to blame for that, though, of course, the Committee had the option of getting this evidence produced to the public. I am prepared, at any rate, to shoulder my own responsibility for that failure and, had I an opportunity of covering the same ground again, I most certainly would insist, at the outset of the proceedings, that the whole thing should be done in the light of day. I have learned a lesson from that. In view of the fact that the evidence is practically concluded, I do not see any great reason for pressing this motion. I do not want to score any point on it. But at the time I put down this motion —I want to make this clear—it appeared to me that the taking of evidence would go on for a considerable time. I do not want to score a point on the matter, and if the members of the Committee, who have been very fair to everybody, think that no good purpose would be served by pressing the motion, I am in favour of withdrawing it.

at this stage resumed the Chair.

On a point of order, last Friday week I submitted to you, A Chinn Comhairle, a question as to whether or not the Special Committee on the Broadcasting White Paper Report was acting in accordance with the Constitution and with the Standing Orders, in exercising its discretion with regard to the admission of the Press to its meetings. You were good enough on that occasion to consider the matter and to rule that it was quite in the discretion of the Committee to do as it had done. There is now a motion before the Dáil to take away that discretion from the Committee, without showing cause. Is such a resolution in order, Sir, in view of your previous decision?

The motion is perfectly in order. If I recollect aright, I was not asked to decide anything about the Constitution but rather about a particular Standing Order. I decided that the Standing Orders may, in fact, be defective, as when they were made we did not contemplate this particular kind of Committee, and I ruled that since they got no special instructions the Committee was justified in using its own discretion. But a motion to give the Committee a specific instruction is certainly in order.

The motion is to take away the discretion of the Committee, without showing cause why it should be taken.

I cannot go into the question of "showing cause." That is not a question of order; it is argument.

I ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.