I commend Deputies Kenny and Gay Mitchell on moving this very timely legislation. It is very urgent, given the event which triggered its introduction and to which the two Deputies responded. Given the history of section 10 of the Radio and Television Act, 1988, and the Supreme Court judgment, it was imperative that that section be amended. While we may make some further comments on Committee Stage, the Labour Party commends the general drift of this brief but important Bill and we urge the Minister, Deputy de Valera, to accept it.
The basic purpose of the offending advertisement was to boost the circulation of The Irish Catholic. It is a commercial enterprise which plays a very important role in the Irish media. I do not always agree with the opinions of its strong-minded editor, Mr. Quinn, but he expresses his viewpoints very well.
There is no question that the Independent Radio and Television Commission's interpretation of the 1988 legislation was over-rigorous. Anyone who finds a religious or political advertisement offensive has always had recourse, as Deputy O'Shea said last night, to the Garda and the DPP under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act. However, this over-reaction by the Independent Radio and Television Commission leaves us with no recourse but to ask the Minister to support this Bill and to ensure a similar situation does not recur.
It cannot be argued that anyone could find the advertisement offensive. It is, perhaps, having a go at other media, such as the tabloid press, but there is no justification for the simple refusal to allow it to be broadcast on Waterford local radio and Highland Radio.
The Labour Party will never be comfortable with the idea of censorship and we have opposed it at every turn. Blatant censorship of sections of the media – radio and the written media in this case – is a major move against pluralism and the development of a pluralist society. It is essential, in the interests of that pluralist society, that we allow every institution and sector of society to have its voice heard, provided its message is not offensive or damaging to people. In the run up to the last hotly contested general election two years ago, there were allegations that offensive material was circulating in various constituencies with racist overtones and attacking the travelling community. Every Member of this House would deplore that and would say it should not be tolerated. However, there is existing legislation which can deal with that kind of damaging advertising which could cause violence and trouble in our society.
We must pay tribute tonight to the valuable role of local radio in our society over the past eight or ten years. We Dublin Deputies sometimes feel envious of our colleagues around the country, in that they often have access to very competent and competitive local radio stations and the full range of local media, whereas we must try to get a local message across in the national media. However, many Dublin Deputies are very proud of the role played by radio stations such as 98FM and 104FM and we are looking forward to the proposals which the Minister may sanction through the Independent Radio and Television Commission to give us an extra four or five local stations. I have heard that a senior political figure in the other House might have an interest in developing one of those stations at a later stage. There is very intense interest in Dublin, as in every area of the country, in Irish music. Local radio has played a vital role and the event which triggered this debate should not be allowed impede its development and progress.
Last night my colleague referred to the fact that our colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, was the previous Minister and, as an important aspect of his drive to create the most highly informed civil society, he wished to introduce legislation strengthening the plurality of all types of media. I ask the Minister to look at that area. We are increasingly faced with a situation where the media particularly the print media, are concentrated in far too few hands. We must maintain a situation where the greatest possible plurality of views can be presented because that is the best safeguard for a developed and modern society. Developments which have taken place in the United States and in many of our EU partner countries echo the need to try to create the most pluralist media we can.
I commend the movers of the Bill who have brought it forward at a very timely moment. Aspects of it such as the reference to bona fide publications and the need to ensure it is not directed purely towards sectarian or political ends, might be teased out on Committee Stage. However, we should commend the central idea of the legislation to the Minister and ask her to examine the situation so that radio stations, such as Highland Radio and Waterford Local Radio, are not censored and an important part of the Irish media, such as The Irish Catholic, can get its message across. I commend the Bill.