(Dublin Central): Before tea I was referring to the Minister's Estimate speech on 10th May, 1973 when he first spoke about his concept of open broadcasting. In the new situation developing with RTE vis-à-vis a closer relationship with Northern Ireland, I was mentioning that we could get programmes from there and that RTE programmes might similarly be shown in the North. That is something we, on this side of the House, would favour when the second channel comes into being.
I was pointing out also the various proposals put to the Minister early on which should have been taken into consideration. As early as December, 1973, there was the first expression of views on this question by the trade unions concerned, Irish Actors' Equity, the Irish Federation of Musicians, the allied professions, the British Actors' Equity and British musicians. At that time they told the Minister in no uncertain fashion they did not approve of his concept of open broadcasting but still the Minister persisted in his view that BBC 1 should be rebroadcast in its entirety.
I should like now to go to other sections of the Bill. The Minister mentioned that people had tried to undermine the survey just concluded. Nobody on this side of the House— certainly not that I am aware of— criticised the fact that the Minister should carry out the survey. Once he had decided with RTE to carry out the survey certainly I had no objection. But I did have objections to other aspects, such as the fact that we had a very valid policy worked out on what we thought should be included in the survey. We travelled throughout the country. Deputy G. Collins attended a number of meetings and I attended others. At an early stage we had proposals on how we thought the second channel should develop. We proposed a programme council because, whether we like it or not, the view is held in certain parts of the country, especially in the west and south, that RTE is Dublin-orientated. I do not believe that to be quite true but one does hear the view expressed that RTE reflects the views of the east coast and does not give sufficient attention to the west and south. With regard to news in particular that view may be valid because a problem does exist where RTE is concerned; for example, it is not possible for them, say, to film an incident which takes place in Kerry, Sligo or Mayo. I am told they would not have an outside unit available for such purposes. We do see more films of news items taken around Leinster than, say, in the west.
We advocated the setting up of a programme council to be responsible for the selection of programmes on the new television channel. We thought that might remove the biased feeling genuinely held by some people regarding RTE. It was for that reason that we criticised the scientific survey. Being the largest political party in the country we believed, at that time, that our views should be put to the people also. I have no doubt that had our proposals been put to the people then, they might have examined their views more closely in the recent survey.
Perhaps I may quote from some of our policy in this regard:
In recognition of the genuine desire of television viewers in the single channel areas for choice of programme—the Fianna Fáil Party propose the establishment of a Second Channel Programme Council. This council which must be truly representative of viewers in the single channel area would control the selection of material and production of programmes to be transmitted through the second channel.
Its terms of reference would provide for a regional quality in its home-produced programmes, news and sports broadcasts. The headquarters of the new council of management body would be centred outside Dublin in a single channel area.——
and, as far as possible we would base that in the south or west
——The Programme Council would function under the aegis of the existing Broadcasting Authority whose membership would be enenlarged to strengthen single channel representations. RTE would continue to function in its present capacity—broadcasting its programmes as it does and it would co-operate in every way with the Programme Council of our new television channel in order that a truly alternative choice of programmes would be provided for the public.
We were sincere in putting forward that proposal. Now that RTE will be establishing a second channel I can see no reason why RTE could not implement those proposals. At present heavy responsibility is placed on broadcasters, producers and management in RTE. People have decided they will give them a trial in their capacity of how wide a choice of programmes there should be on the second channel. I know there was a dialogue between the authority and the Minister on how the survey should be carried out. I did not have any knowledge of the survey before it was carried out. The Minister kindly forwarded me a copy and the terms of reference a few days ago. During the fortnight or three weeks while the survey was being carried out had anybody asked any member of the Fianna Fáil Party could he give any indication as to the nature of the survey the answer would certainly have been in the negative.
I believe the Opposition should have been given a view of what exactly was taking place, what questions were being asked. We have positive proposals. We are the main Opposition party, and it would have been very difficult for us to advise people how to vote because we had not seen the survey. This is a rather unique situation. In a normal election or referendum the main political party in the country would be in a position to know what the issues were. On this occasion, especially during the time the survey was taking place, we were at the disadvantage that we could not decide "yes" or "no" if any supporter asked us: "What do you think of this survey which is being carried out?" All we could say was that these were our proposals, that we were not sure whether they were in the survey, and depend on people's judgement.
That is all I have to say about the survey. The result was very conclusive. It gave a clear indication as regards choice of programmes throughout the country. The national preference for RTE was 62 per cent against 35 per cent for BBC 1. This is a fair indication of the feeling of the people, and the Minister has summed it up in the very fair remark in page 15 of his speech with reference to how, in his opinion, people voted:
As will be seen from the survey report, in the section "Arguments for RTE 2" the first two arguments used to persuade viewers of the advantages of that service were as follows:
1. RTE 2 would be selected from BBC 1, BBC 2, the 15 ITV companies, other overseas sources, and additional home produced material.
2. RTE 1 plus RTE 2 would offer single channel viewers a range and variety of programmes as near as possible to those already available in multi-channel areas.
It has to be assumed therefore that those viewers who opted for RTE 2 were opting for a service so defined. The result can not therefore be interpreted as any kind of victory for cultural protectionism or rejection of multi-channel viewing.
That is a fair comment. That is exactly what they have done. They opted for the widest choice of programmes. It was not that the people in the multi-channel areas such as Dublin and the east coast were trying to have something better than is available in the west and south of Ireland. The cruel realities of the situation put before the people are that it is just not possible technically or financially in our present circumstances to provide such a wide service.
Having that position explained to them by RTE—we all did it to the best of our ability—they opted for the best choice available. There are some people in Cork, Dublin and Limerick who will probably be disappointed that the BBC 1 proposal was not carried in its entirety. Unfortunately everyone cannot be pleased, but if people study the matter in depth they will find that what is being offered will suit the majority.
I hope that the programme council we are proposing will be included as time goes on. I believe that RTE will do what they should do, that is, ensure a fair proportion of regional programmes. I am not suggesting that they should completely dominate the second channel but we should give our Irish broadcasters, scriptwriters, actors and technicians at least the opportunity of knowing that there is a future for them in this country. We propose that 20 per cent of the second channel should be composed of home-produced programmes. We should diversify and get away from the idea people have that we are dominated by Montrose, and move more into Cork, Limerick and Galway for studio productions. This will be decentralisation in a fashion, which we are all trying to achieve in this country. Everything is concentrated in Dublin and we know the consequences of the lack of services in an overcrowded city.
The Minister has mentioned in his brief that a certain amount of capital is being allocated and has been spent already in the development of regional studios. Having provided regional programmes, RTE will then select the best of the programmes to which the Minister has referred here, such as BBC 1, BBC 2 and a number of ITV companies. Anyone who has watched multi-channel TV in Dublin will know that there are many excellent programmes. There are those on current affairs, such as Panorama, and although I do not want to be taken as trying to have our children indoctrinated, there are other programmes during the evening time on BBC and other British channels which should be useful for them. I would like to see the new channel providing intelligent and useful programmes from different sources.
A big responsibility is being placed on RTE now. They have campaigned for it, and I agreed with the proposals they put forward. I believe they are capable of implementing them. They have the management and personnel. There is nothing worse in any organisation, in any business, than indecision. You weaken the whole structure of the organisation, and the quicker you make whatever decision has to be made the better. I am glad the Minister brought this in in the first few days of the new session, so that it would not drag on without a decision. RTE know now where they stand, and now that the decision has been made, they should settle down and do their job properly. I believe they will rise to this challenge which is being put before them.
I believe from now on we will see a new image. It is important that they be seen to represent the people, that they are not attached to any particular group. They are there to do a job for the benefit of people generally. That is very important in relation to broadcasting and entertainment in this country.
The Minister mentioned in relation to section 2 of the Bill the removal of the Authority. I do not believe anybody could dispute to any great extent that the removal of the Authority will no longer have to be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas. There is not a lot of difference here from the 1960 Broadcasting Bill. The basic principle is the same. The Government and the Minister can remove the Authority or members of the Authority. The Minister has said that this is to provide greater security for the Authority.
In reply to the Second Reading in the Seanad the Minister referred to Senator Horgan's remarks about writing into law the idea that a body set up by the Oireachtas are fundamentally responsible to the Oireachtas and not just part of the Oireachtas, the executive. The Minister's comment on that was: that he entirely agreed with that formulation and wished he had thought of it himself. The Minister now appears to be under the impression that because the Authority are established by the Oireachtas they should be brought before the Oireachtas. I know the Authority are established by the Oireachtas but they are selected by the Minister. The Oireachtas have very little say in the appointment of the Authority.
I do not believe any group in the country have had more criticism levelled at them than RTE. Some of it is not justified but because of the position the Authority hold in our society and how powerful a medium radio and television are it is very hard to ensure complete impartiality. The important thing is that the Authority should be seen to be impartial. If the Minister feels that before he can dismiss the Authority the matter should be brought before the Oireachtas, I am not sure that we should not also remove the appointment of the Authority completely from the Government. I believe that if people in all walks of life, such as farmers organisations, trade unions, the FUE and any other organisation had a say in the appointment of the Authority we would get away from the feeling people have that the Government of the day have their own people in the RTE Authority. That is damaging the function of RTE. I would say the very same if this party were in Government.