I would first like to welcome the Bill and say that I am glad to have the opportunity to address the House on this issue.
It could well be said that we are becoming a video-watching society and that a video culture is developing throughout our society. The popularity of videos is not confined to any one section of our community — it is not confined to our young people or to our unemployed — but goes right across the board.
The way in which the distribution of videos has been allowed to develop without any order and without prohibitions has led to the problems now being experienced in the whole video industry and especially in the proliferation of violent videos.
In general, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. However, I am disappointed that the Bill fails to give protection to young children, especially in the purchase or rental of videos. The 1989 legislation on video recordings failed to give that protection and that failure is not remedied by the present Bill. There is nothing to stop a child from going into a video shop and purchasing or renting a video of his or her choice. That is a failure of the Bill. No penalty is imposed on those who serve young children. This Bill should have made it an offence to sell or rent videos to young children and it should have provided for the imposition of fines on the owners or employees of video outlets who commit that offence. I understand that the Fine Gael spokesman in this area, Deputy Cotter, has already referred to that aspect.
The provision for the licensing of wholesale and retail video outlets is certainly welcome. The development is not before its time. The widespread sale and distribution of videos from unauthorised outlets has been a major problem. It is to be hoped that the Bill will ensure that video outlets will now be controlled and be subject to regulation.
People operating video outlets will also have to be responsible. They will have to comply with regulations. That is another positive measure. To a certain extent those people can control the kind of videos being made available to the public at large.
The Bill also enables the Film Censor to prohibit the supply of video films that he considers unsuitable for viewing. This is a very important step. Ireland generally has a good censorship record in the sense that we are not overcensored. Many of the videos now freely available do need to be censored, however, which is, as the Minister has explained, one of the primary purposes of the Bill.
One of the most important provisions is that concerning the classification of video films in terms of suitability for viewing by different age groups. In this regard the appointment of assistant censors is vital. A major commitment in personnel will be required merely to review the existing videos in the country, of which there is a bank of 13,000 to 15,000. I understand that about 700 new titles come on stream every year. To examine all of those films will require a major commitment in personnel, which makes the services of assistant censors important. Questions have been raised in relation to the way in which the assistant censors will be appointed. That is another matter. The important issue is that assistant censors are appointed and that the appointees have expertise.
When in operation the classification will provide parents with a means to monitor what their children watch, as videos, I understand from this legislation, will be clearly labelled as to their suitability for viewing by younger age groups and so on. However, this puts the onus on parents because, as stated by the Minister, the law cannot interfere with what goes on in the privacy of a family home. Are parents sufficiently responsible to decide what is right for viewing by their youngsters? For example, in a case where both parents are working can they control what goes on in their home? In the case of large families where some children may be viewing videos in one room and where some other activity is taking place in a different room, can parents control what is happening? A major emphasis is put on the role of a family, which must be questioned.
Also there is a trend nowadays for people to leave home at a young age either to go to school or to go into digs. In those instances there is no one to decide what is suitable for viewing. The video culture has taken off since the early eighties. Almost 1,000 new titles are introduced each year. It is important to point out that most of these videos are not objectionable. In fact, they can be of educational and recreational value. Videos are very important in that they provide safety valves for society. Most unemployed people have no recreational facilities, no gymnasium, and were it not for videos would have nothing to occupy their time. The whole video culture has advantages but videos are becoming so much part of the life of ordinary people that monitoring is important. Up to now there was little or no control.
A number of objectionable videos have become available recently. These have been referred to as video nasties but I feel they should be referred to as vicious videos. That would describe them more accurately and appropriately. Most of these videos are directed at violence and pornography and, as many previous speakers have said, they downgrade women and young children especially, who are treated as objects in the videos. I agree totally with previous speakers who said they had led to violence being directed at both women and young children. They have created the impression that violence in certain forms is acceptable, and that society, by making these videos available, is giving tacit acceptance to the form of behaviour portrayed in these videos.
Nowadays we are all very impressed by the visual media. It could be said that the American Presidential election will be won on television. When we see the influence videos have on young people it is easy to understand the fears expressed by people concerning the transfer from video nasties or, vicious videos, to real life. That is why it is important that we as legislators do something to control what is happening, and I thank the Minister for making some effort in this regard.
This matter is not just a problem for young people. Crime is also perpetrated by the older generation in our society. When one watches some of the serial murderers throughout the world one finds they are mostly older people, all of whom have been influenced by different events in their lives but, no doubt, the influence of videos must also be taken into consideration. A statistic recently showed that on average each young person views television or videos about three hours a day, mostly in the evening time. That is an alarming statistic. That is why we have a very unfit generation of young people, but it also leads to more crime, especially violent crime. I hope this Bill will do something to control this trend.
Both the Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Rourke, and I have said time and again that young people must be educated in life skills. At present there are very few life skill programmes in our schools principally because of the race for points and because of exam pressures. Both young people and parents must be educated in how to cope with the visual material being thrown at them at present. Newman said many years ago that an educated person is a person who can detect what is sophistical. It is important that our young people are able to detect what is sophistical. It is important that our education system produces people who can make mature decisions for themselves. The conclusions reached on the contents of a video are personal decisions.
I welcome the attempts being made in this Bill to do something about the uncontrolled manner in which our video industry has been allowed to develop. I am disappointed that it does not give the protection to children that we on this side of the House would have desired but I welcome it as a step in the right direction.