Private Members' Business. - Radio and Television (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Hanafin, Michael Moynihan and Eoin Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I support the Minister's opposition to this Bill. There does not seem to have been much thought put into it or research done on it. The approach of Deputies Kenny and Deputy Gay Mitchell is reminiscent of the approach of the Labour Party in 1998 when it introduced the Broadcasting and other Media (Public Right of Access and Diversity of Ownership) Bill. This Bill has some merit but more investigation needs to be done into the problem it attempts to address.

Section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act, 1988, provides that no advertisement shall be broadcast which is directed towards any religious or political end or which has any relation to an industrial dispute. This provision is in line with section 20(4) of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960. This prohibition has been in force for almost 40 years. I agree that it may need to be revisited and the Minister indicated last night that it could be revisited in the new Broadcasting Bill she will bring before the Dáil in the coming weeks.

Today's society is more sophisticated and critical of what it sees, hears and reads in the media. We no longer accept the written word as gospel. We see television reports of events at home and abroad but we do not accept them at face value. We are quick to look for any major political slant in media coverage. In my parents' time there was a newspaper with the slogan, "the truth in the news". This assertion was accepted unquestionably by those who read it. What was printed in that newspaper was dogma. Today's readers and journalists are a different breed who merit the description of investigative bodies. They want to know the facts and accept nothing at face value.

In 1997 much publicity surrounded the decision by the Independent Radio and Television Commission to instruct a local radio station to discontinue its advertisement of a video with religious connotations. This decision became the subject of legal action. The sitting High Court judge ruled that the Independent Radio and Television Commission action was legitimate and that it did not, as contended, constitute discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. It was not unconstitutional. The judgment was appealed to the Supreme Court in May 1998 which upheld the previous ruling and further ruled that the alleged limitations and constitutional rights were of a minimal nature.

We are now being asked by Deputies to amend legislation which has received the seal of approval of both the High Court in 1997 and the Supreme Court in May 1998. The sensitivity of the issues involved was acknowledged in both courts. To confer on the Independent Radio and Television Commission the right to make decisions on the religious context of advertisements would be unfair to the Independent Radio and Television Commission and unjust to other parties.

The Minister has stressed that she is not critical of the stand taken by the Independent Radio and Television Commission on the advertisement which was the subject of legal action. Under current legislation, there was no option but to follow the course laid down in law. The Minister stated there may be grounds on which a more selective ban might be developed but she also makes the point that in doing so we might be accused by some of curtailing free speech.

It will be extremely difficult to come up with an agreed mechanism to regulate religious advertising. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that we are promoting matters on which certain people hold sincere views. There are now standards by which the truth of what is said or its suitability for broadcasting can be measured. There is a strong possibility that the religious opinions of the different bodies will cause offence to those who do not subscribe to the viewpoint being promoted.

A fear has been expressed that it would be easy for rich men or bodies to tie up the advertising airwaves through their limitless funding.

And women as well.

The poorer religious bodies would then find themselves without recourse to the same outlets. It could then be justifiably argued that it was a breach of our Constitution.

There are those who believe that the most sensible approach would be to remove the ban entirely. If this was done, it could create its own set of problems. Some people want to expose themselves or their families to the views of other religions or cults. They could claim the removal of the ban would be a major infringement on their constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs in the privacy of their homes. These problems will not go away. The only sensible solution is methodical and in-depth consultation with the churches, the Independent Radio and Television Commission, the media broadcasters and the public. This may be a slow process but it would guarantee an agreed and considered input from all concerned parties.

I support the Minister's stance. I hope she takes my points on board when she introduces the Broadcasting Bill in the near future.

The right to communicate and freely express convictions and opinions and the free profession and practice of religion as well as freedom of conscience are guaranteed in our Constitution. There is also a ban on discrimination on the basis of religion and the profession of beliefs or status. One would have thought that the mature society in which we live would be able to accept the differences of colour, creed and political persuasion and that people would be able to realise that not all messages broadcast refer to us individually at all times and appreciate that we have a diverse but equal society.

In our legislation we must realise that people, particularly our educated population, are not easily influenced nor do they easily take offence. The finding by Mr. Justice Geoghegan that the ban on religious advertising was constitutional, which was upheld in May 1998, does not take due regard of our educated population.

In stressing that three types of advertisements are banned, advertising directed towards any religious or political end or which has any relation to an industrial dispute, we are removing three elements of life which are at the core of our society. This means that if I want to advertise a pilgrimage in honour of Padre Pio to Holy Cross, I cannot do so but I can pay for an advertisement to warn people about traffic on all roads to Holy Cross because of a religious function. If the Church of Ireland wants to advertise tomorrow that the Archbishop will be opening a new Church of Ireland school and hall in Dalkey, it cannot do so but it can pay for an advertisement which states that it regrets the Archbishop will not be available because he will be opening a school and hall in Dalkey.

The decision not to allow the advertising of a bona fide newspaper, such as The Irish Catholic, presumes in this legislative context that the people are not able to decide for themselves what is or is not bona fide. As regards advertisements designed for a political end, we cannot pay for an advertisement to ask people to vote for Fianna Fáil. We must, therefore, avail of the free party political broadcast RTE gives us. The Labour Party cannot pay for an advertisement to promote its members, for example, so it sends Deputy Rabbitte to take part in every programme from “Morning Ireland” to “Don't Feed the Gondolas”. That you cannot pay to give any information about an industrial dispute or any side of it, it must be in relation to it, means you cannot advertise to inform the public of a serious delay in the airport and all roads leading to it because of a baggage handlers' dispute, not taking one side or the other. The result is chaos on the roads and at the airports.

The Supreme Court said this decision relates to issues which were divisive in our past. Are we going to bound by our past? We learn from our past but we should not be tied into our past. It mentioned specifically that religion was divisive in Northern Ireland. It was and it is. We have come a long way, particularly with the Good Friday Agreement, since making it a purely divisive issue. It also said the Oireachtas was entitled to take the view that such citizens would resent advertising touching on these topics and that it might lead to unrest. The Supreme Court decided what view we might have taken. Perhaps it is time for us to take a different view and to clarify what our view is. An advertisement for a bona fide paper, political party or trade dispute would be much less offensive than some of the advertisements which are currently being broadcast. A radio station which is banned from broadcasting certain advertisements is broadcasting an advertisement both on radio and in picture form which sickens me, that is the can of live worms, every time I pass it. An advertisement which is particularly offensive to women is broadcast on radio and is allowed. It shows a man approaching a woman who says "nice breasts"; she takes offence and he says "I am talking about your chicken fillets". I also wonder about the value of Claudia Schiffer without her clothes advertising the Citroen Saxo. I should add that when discussing this with my colleagues a few moments ago they could all remember the model but not the car. Perhaps it was having the correct end. Those types of advertisements are offensive but are not banned. Some of the more recent decisions should be reviewed in light of those types of advertisements. What it means, in reality, is that if you cannot place an advertisement to give a factual position you are bound by the opinion or the goodwill of broadcasters. We have seen over a long number of years that popular national and local broadcasters are moulding public opinion. I am not convinced it should be left to them and perhaps advertising religious events, political parties or giving details of an industrial dispute should be allowed so that people can make up their own minds.

The Supreme Court said it might lead to unrest. Does it think the public will take to the streets because one political party says "vote for me" over another or that a riot will break out because the advertisement says an event is taking place.

I commend Deputies Gay Mitchell and Kenny for raising this issue in their Bill ach creidim go láidir go mbaineann na nithe sin chomh maith le RTE, TV3, TnaG, RnaG, is a mbaineann siad leis an Independent Radio and Television Commission agus go bhfuil i bhfad níos mó i gceist. Tá fhios agam gur éirigh sé ón gcosc a cuireadh ar an bhfógra le haghaidh an Irish Catholic. The Minister has said she might review it in the context of the Broadcasting Bill which will cover everything. There are difficulties.

Having said we are an educated and discerning population, I for one would not like to see advertising of sects and cults. As legislators we should accept not the view of the Supreme Court but our own view that the public is discerning. We do not have to watch the advertisements for dog food if it does not concern us. I do not look at advertisements for hair restorer, it does not concern me. I listen but I do not hear. However, advertisements concerning religion, politics, political parties and industrial disputes can be broadcast in a sensitive, legal and non-offensive manner. I hope the Minister will take on board the issues raised when she introduces her broadcasting Bill. I appreciate she cannot accept the Bill because it is narrow in its focus.

I commend Deputies Kenny and Gay Mitchell on introducing the Bill which is a direct result of what happened with The Irish Catholic and Waterford local radio. A few people have voiced their concerns to me at constituency level. They considered it was a deplorable state of affairs that an Act of the Oireachtas banned The Irish Catholic from placing a certain advertisement. That Act provides that no advertisement shall be broadcast which is directed towards any religious or political end. While I can understand why it was banned, we have to explore ways which would give greater freedom. We cannot preside over a society that closes people's minds and whatever legislators may regard as unsuitable.

The proposals in the Bill would place the Independent Radio and Television Commission, as the governing body, in the difficult position of having to distinguish between publications of whatever creed or religion in coming to a decision on whether a particular publication is a bona fide political or religious journal. It would have to evaluate the goals and beliefs of the particular organisation or publication. Most people hold dearly political and religious beliefs. These beliefs are personal but cannot be proved on paper. The Independent Radio and Television Commission would become more than a broadcasting authority, it would become a moral judgmental bureaucracy. That is an aspect of the Bill about which I would be concerned. The Minister is also concerned that it would cause problems for the Independent Radio and Television Commission.

An aspect of the Bill with which I would have a difficulty is whether it is legitimate to consider whether a more selective ban on advertising directed towards religious ends might be developed. For the ban to be selective, any system which assesses the suitability of advertisements would have to be applied within the limits of the Constitution and in a constitutional manner. At the very least the rights contained in Article 42 of the Constitution would have to be respected and fair proceedings for those aggrieved would have to be provided. In other words, there would have to be a mechanism outside of a broadcasting authority to evaluate objections.

A comment was made to me when this matter came to the fore by the religious ministers of one church. It would be unfair to mention any particular religious grouping or organisation because of the newspaper which experienced difficulty. They were angry that because of an Act of the Oireachtas in 1988, their organisation was not getting fair play. I could have said that the organisation to which I belong was not getting fair play and that it too is outlawed. We can never go back to a situation where one religion has complete control. In the last couple of hundred years one religious organisation had complete dominance and control over the State. A similar situation almost arose when another religion became dominant.

The Minister said she will consider the matter and perhaps introduce an amendment on Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill to cover the points raised by Deputies Kenny and Mitchell. However, we can ensure there is fair play and balance for everybody. I wish the Minister well in her deliberations.

I congratulate the Fine Gael Party on introducing the Bill. Everybody was amazed by the ban on the advertisement for The Irish Catholic and fascinated by the reason for it. However, there was more to it than appeared to be the case at first glance. While I accept the policy and principle involved, the Minister and others outlined where the problems lie in progressing this complicated matter.

As previous speakers mentioned, a number of forms of advertisements are banned. These include advertisements directed towards religious or political ends and those which relate to an industrial dispute. I strongly support the ban on advertisements directed towards political ends because political parties have enough problems raising funds without individuals constantly placing advertisements. This happens in the United States where a huge amount of money is spent in this area. Such a development in Ireland would create another huge problem for the political system. In addition, industrial disputes can be sensitive at certain times.

The proposals with regard to how religious issues could be handled would leave the Independent Radio and Television Commission with a difficult problem in terms of deciding what safeguards should be included and who should be considered under the heading of religion. Obviously, the main churches would come under the heading, but what would be the position regarding cults and sects who might want to place advertisements? People might say they should not be allowed to advertise and disagreements could arise. The Church of Scientology appears to raise the hackles of many people who are concerned about it. However, undoubtedly, the Church of Scientology feels it has something to say and that people could lead a better and more fulfilling life if they followed its teachings. The proposals involve many difficult issues and would leave the Independent Radio and Television Commission in the difficult position of trying to decide how to regulate this area in terms of who should and should not be allowed to place advertisements.

The best example of how to get around this problem is the method used by some of the more extreme American Christian churches in Latin America to convince people to join. They give people free radios, but they are jammed into the church's station. People can turn on the radio but they can listen to only the church's propaganda. This causes many problems in poorer areas of Latin America, but it is one way of getting around the problem.

The Minister said the Independent Radio and Television Commission would have to consider whether a particular religious journal or newspaper is bona fide and, where it decides a publication is bona fide, whether the advertisement promotes the publication and is not sectarian or directed towards a political end. This would lead to many difficulties.

However, I agree the ban on the advertisement for The Irish Catholic appeared extraordinary. I am delighted the Minister will consider the principles of the Bill and, hopefully, bring forward an amendment which will allow people to advertise. This might include the Church of Scientology, about which I do not know much, the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland. It is important to consider the Bill and to ensure all possible measures are taken. People are concerned that individuals cannot place advertisements if they wish.

Deputy Hanafin stated that one cannot place an advertisement which people will knock, but one can tell people there will be difficulties along the road. This is ludicrous, although it is a way around the problem. As legislators we should try to find a better way to do our business so people can inform others about what they are doing and about functions that are being held.

I congratulate the Fine Gael Party on raising this matter. It is an interesting area and the more one reads about it, the more complicated it becomes in terms of solving the problems The Irish Catholic faced. I congratulate the Fine Gael Party and I urge the Minister to consider the matter. She has given a commitment that she will examine the issue with a view to introducing an amendment on Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill.

I understand Deputy Barnes wishes to share her time with Deputies Browne, Ring, Boylan, Carey and Perry. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for saving me the trouble of repeating the list of names.

In common with other Members, I find it a strange irony, in view of the sense of censorship we experienced and perhaps struggled against in the past, particularly with regard to the Constitution and the Catholic Church, and the censorship of other publications, that this matter has arisen because an advertisement for The Irish Catholic was banned. Who among us ever thought such an interpretation would be placed on it?

I also commend Deputies Kenny and Gay Mitchell on raising this issue. Perhaps the debate is a prelude to the type of discussion which will take place on the Broadcasting Bill when it is introduced. It is interesting that this issue has been raised in the context of an almost archaic interpretation by the Independent Radio and Television Commission with regard to an advertisement. However, perhaps the fact that it related to The Irish Catholic galvanised all Members into recognising how outdated and inflexible the legislation appears to be. It may also have reminded us how far we have moved on with regard to some of the fears expressed in the judgments of the High and Supreme Courts. Although the judgments are recent, in common with other Members, I feel they relate to a time far back in history.

As Deputies Kenny and Mitchell and the Minister, Deputy de Valera, said, we are confronted with huge contradictions in dealing with this mat ter. I hoped this amendment would be taken on board to test how effective it might have been for the Independent Radio and Television Commission, as we do with other codes, such as ASSI for standards in advertising and the censorship boards. It is not the only agency in the State asked to make a judgment. We rely on other State agencies to do that.

Deputy Hanafin recognised the excesses of some of the advertising which is permitted. The Minister, Deputy de Valera and I, during our period on women's rights committees, worked out a strong code for the ASSI on the exploitation of women and the explicitly sexual or commercial use of women and children. We have worked these issues out with State agencies, allowing them to make judgments, and that system has worked well. While there might be certain difficulties for the Independent Radio and Television Commission as outlined by the Minister and other Deputies, at least we could have tried it before the Broadcasting Act is in full operation. In the meantime we are stuck with this inflexibility which has ended up with the Independent Radio and Television Commission having to ban an advertisement for a perfectly acceptable national newspaper.

In looking back on the judgments and interpretations of the Supreme Court and High Court, which led to the Independent Radio and Television Commission feeling it was bound by this interpretation, we can all rejoice that today we would not see advertising at the level of the advertisement of The Irish Catholic being viewed as religious advertising coming from a different church, which could be offensive to many people and open to the interpretation of proselytising. Having heard the excesses of the PTL, praise the Lord channels which broadcast 24 hours a day in the United States, one can see that there can be an excess of proselytising. This amendment would not lend itself to that.

In the High Court judgment, advertisements directed towards any religious or political end, or any industrial dispute, would have to be looked at in the context of the more tolerant, secular society in which we live. That does not mean a lack of spiritual content or a lack of respect for people's religions. The more bitter divisions of civil war politics have been reconciled and we must be careful about rich parties being able to buy advertising. The Supreme Court said that such advertisements, if permitted, might lead to unrest. I hope that is something we will never have to worry about. The judgment went on to state that the Oireachtas may have thought that, in relation to matters of such sensitivity, rich men should not be able to buy access to the airwaves to the detriment of their poorer rivals. I was struck by that because I did not know if it was an acceptance that women would never have enough money to do this or that rich women are able to buy access – positive discrimination.

This amendment could be used positively. We consider how this issue can be resolved in this debate and the forthcoming debate on the broadcasting Bill. As the Minister said, in an era of ever increasing numbers of broadcast services becoming available via satellites, which are outside the legislative regime, the total prohibition on advertising directed towards a religious end is an anachronism. I welcome the Minister's statement that the ban could perhaps be removed. We are like King Canute with the waves coming in over his toes. There is not much point in us trying to have a rigid and inflexible sense of censorship in this State without realising that there are huge tidal waves which will overcome us unless we take this on in the broadcasting Bill.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I am fascinated by the problem which has arisen and many of the speeches which have been made about broadcasting religious programmes. The ban affects the advertising of a newspaper –The Irish Catholic. I do not see how anyone can feel they are being forced to live up to the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church if the paper advertises itself. The Irish Catholic is described as “a lively and provocative family newspaper”–“good reading which is often controversial but never dull”, “a thoroughly good read for all the family”. It could be Our Boys or Bunty. The daily papers can advertise their heavyweight writers looking profound and intelligent and we are expected to buy them. The advertisement says “This is a thoroughly good read, often controversial but never dull”. People are in a knot that this might upset the religious ethos of the State.

In a week when judges have had a bad time, one High Court judge, quoted by the Minister, stated that "Irish people with religious beliefs tend to belong to certain churches and, that being so, religious advertising from a different church can be offensive to many people and might be open to the interpretation of proselytising". For it to affect people, they would have to buy the paper. It is not a discussion telling people how good the Catholic Church is. It could be the Church of Ireland Gazette which came up with a good slogan. Would that upset me? It would not because I would not buy it unless I wanted it.

I compliment Deputies Kenny and Mitchell on introducing the Bill and I regret the Minister is postponing a decision under the Broadcasting Bill that may be introduced some time in the future. It was never the intention of politicians that one could not advertise a newspaper for fear of being accused of selling one's religious wares. If Fianna Fáil wanted to sell its fantastic newspaper, what difference would it make if it were advertised 150 times? It is only Fianna Fáil people who would want to buy it. The same applies to a Fine Gael paper. If one wants to broadcast programmes, that is a different matter. Many programmes on radio and television have a much greater effect than advertising a newspaper. The whole issue is absurd.

I am against censorship but there is a great deal of censorship in this country. RTE has engaged in censorship for the past 20 years. Deputy Donal Carey knows all about censorship. In 1994, when I stood in the by-election, RTE showed, not once but twice, Tommy Gorman interviewing the EU Commissioner. I call the Late Late Show the Fianna Fáil show because almost every week Commissioner Pádraig Flynn, the Minister, Deputys Dempsey, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, or the Deputy from Cork appears on the programme. Over the past two years there has been a Fianna Fáil representative on the Late Late Show almost every week. That is the worst kind of censorship as far as I am concerned. What is wrong with Deputies John Bruton, Dukes, Kenny, Deputy Browne or myself? Do we not have a right to appear on an RTE programme?

Another example of censorship concerns Objective One status, to which the Dublin brigade was totally opposed. Representatives of IBEC and many other organisations went to Brussels to meet Commissioner Wulf-Mathies, but as soon as the Fine Gael delegation arrived, Tommy Gorman could not be found. That is censorship at its best.

I do not read The Irish Catholic or Our Boys– I used to read The Beano when I was young – but I do not approve of censorship. The greatest development in this country was local radio which took on RTE and the newspapers. Local radio gives us all a voice. If people have something to say, they will be given an opportunity to say it on local radio and they do not have to be a member of Fianna Fáil. They can support Fine Gael, Labour or just be an ordinary Joe soap. Local radio is not censored. RTE has got away with censorship for the past 20 years. That is a disgrace. There is the hand of some political party in that practice. That type of censorship should be eliminated from the media.

I do not support censorship of any kind. If people pay to advertise in the national or local papers or in other media, they should be allowed to do so. There is too much censorship in this country. People cannot use the word "black" now because it is seen as a form of discrimination. If one categorises people who live in halting sites, one could end up in court. It is time people were allowed to say what they want and if others want to object, let them do so. That would be better than the one-sided argument we constantly hear on the airwaves. RTE has got away with that, but the Minister does not charge Fianna Fáil people an additional £10 for the licence fee. We have all to pay the same fees. People in Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin are not given a reduction. We should all have equal right of access to the national media and it is time the censorship came to an end.

When we get back into Government we will have to address the problem of censorship. Over the past number of years various leaders of Fine Gael were reluctant to deal with it in case it upset those in the media. I am not afraid of RTE or TnaG. I will say what I believe. For the past 20 years RTE has not allowed free speech, but it has allowed the voices of those in certain political parties to be heard. I will never forgive RTE for broadcasting the debate on the EU Commissioner three weeks before the election and repeating it a week before the by-election in case anybody missed it. Thankfully, the people were intelligent enough to vote for me.

I support the Bill brought forward by Deputy Kenny and his colleague. Our vision in 1988 was narrow and it is understandable that this type of legislation would have been passed. We have moved on since then and, while we cherish freedom of religious expression in our Constitution, people in the Church tended to keep to themselves. They have been responsible for the slow movement that has taken place in that regard. We have moved forward, however, because the clergy and the people can often be seen mingling at various functions. That did not happen ten years ago.

The decision handed down by the High Court judge shows how far removed the Judiciary is from reality. They have not moved forward with people in the Church. They should mingle with the people to understand the way they think. For that reason it is important we update this legislation which was brought about by a ban on The Irish Catholic. It is difficult to believe that has taken place. Neither I nor people of any denomination would object to that publication.

Local radio is playing an important part in the lives of people, particularly in the Border area I represent, where we must show tolerance in the expression of our faith. The advertising of Church functions should be allowed on local radio. From my reading of the current legislation, that type of advertising would be banned. That is wrong. We are not moving with the people. In the past I have told those in the Church they were removed from the people and that they were fortunate they did not have to be elected every five years. They got an answer from the people by the fall in the numbers attending their churches. For that reason the legislation was changed.

I agree with all the comments made by Deputy Ring. That is another aspect of censorship. One episode RTE will not re-run is the recent interview with Pádraig Flynn on the Late Late Show. We all make mistakes in life; some make bigger ones than others. Hopefully, we can all learn from them.

I support the amending legislation. I am disappointed my constituency colleague will not accede to minor legislation that would come into effect immediately . The Minister is denying The Irish Catholic an opportunity to publish these advertisements on a weekly basis throughout the summer. The periodicals market is dominated by Tony O'Reilly and the Irish Independent . Effectively, they have cornered the entire market. The Irish Catholic is an indepen dent paper. Is that the reason the Minister is waiting for the Broadcasting Bill to be published? We have been waiting on that Bill for the past two years. If there is another Hillsborough agreement next week there will be some other change to it. The Minister and the Minister of State know the number of questions asked of the Taoiseach during the Order of Business about delays in various legislation. A new agreement in Northern Ireland may impinge on broadcasting and will mean that the Minister's Bill will be put back even further. It is niggardly of the Minister not to accept this Bill in good faith. No one is losing as a result of this Bill.

One national periodical has been mentioned which does not make a profit and has a limited market. The religious content of my local radio station is provided by two volunteer priests, one of whom presents a good old time music programme. He has a positive effect and that is a public service. Are High Court judges in the Pale so unaware that rural Ireland is still interested in the Catholic Church and wants to buy this newspaper that they have effectively banned it?

I agree with Deputy Browne that the so-called learned judge's interpretation in this case is appalling. The Minister, the Minister of State and their two officials are opposing this Bill and waiting for the Broadcasting Bill. That is not worthy of the Minister.

It is not appropriate for the Deputy to mention officials.

It is not in order to do so.

What did I say? Did the Minister raise a point of order or did she pass an off-hand remark? What was the purpose of her intervention?

I have just taken the Chair. Officials should not be criticised in the House.

I know the officials and I am surprised that they support this line. There is nothing wrong with saying that.

I compliment Deputies Kenny and Gay Mitchell on introducing legislation to amend the Radio and Television Act, 1988, to ensure that the legitimate advertisement of bona fide journals and newspapers is not prohibited by law. It is necessary that this happens urgently.

Subsection 1(3A)(a) stipulates that the journal or newspaper must be a bona fide publication. Subsection 1(3B)(b) states that the nature of the advertisement must be directed to the promotion of the journal or newspaper, and not sectarian or directed towards a political end.

The Independent Radio and Television Commission's decision to ban The Irish Catholic from advertising on local radio is astonishing. The ban has been imposed under section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act, 1988, which surprised me when it was introduced. That section states that “No advertisement shall be broadcast which is directed towards any religious or political end or which has any relation to an industrial dispute”.

It is incredible that a reputable newspaper seeking to increase its circulation should be prevented from doing so by the Independent Radio and Television Commission's wide interpretation of this section of the Act. Many secular publications have political views and agendas but are not prevented from advertising. The Irish Catholic treats important issues of morality and public concern in an intelligent, unsensational manner and provides a forum for a lively exchange of views. Its philosophy is ecumenical and unbiased. It is vital that this section of the Radio and Television Act is amended.

The Minister stated that it would be difficult to regulate religious advertising in the same way as advertisements for goods and service are regulated. How does one determine if an advertisement directed towards a religious end is truthful? This is an important point but surely the consumer is the best judge. I am not sure if this is a breach of EU trade directives. How truthful is the print media? The tabloid press often include stories which are sensationalist, untruthful and unjust. The editorial content of such newspapers is open to question.

A segment of the market is prevented from advertising. We operate a sponsored programme on local radio which is very effective. The ban also covers political parties and Members cannot advertise clinics on local radio. New regulations have been introduced regarding election expenditure. In the run up to the local elections, the local press will gain much revenue from all political parties. New regulations govern the election expenditure of Deputies and the declaration of expenses by councillors. People should be allowed to use whichever medium they wish – local radio or local press. Many people listen to local radio and do not buy the local press. It is unfair that radio stations are prevented from competing with the print media.

The legislation which prevents The Irish Catholic from advertising also prevents the advertising of fund-raising activities. Deputy Kenny correctly stated that fund-raising for charitable events is a bona fide business – there is nothing untruthful about it.

The 1988 Act needs to be examined. The Minister should accept this Bill. She has indicated that she will look at this issue in the forthcoming Broadcasting Bill. I was not aware that the prohibition on advertising existed. Several of the regulations governing local radio are discriminatory as against the print media.

I have listened with interest to the contributions in this debate. We all recognise that there are issues to be addressed. It is good that we have addressed these issues and the views expressed have been interesting. No one would see any harm in The Irish Catholic's advertisement. However, one has to look at this issue in a broader context. One cannot have selective bans – one has a ban or one does not. There is a ban on religious and political advertising and advertising referring to industrial disputes.

I am thankful there is a ban on political advertising as it is one less pressure on political representatives. We all hold clinics and constituents would demand that we advertised them on radio as well as in the papers. I pay enough in newspaper advertising without having to add local radio advertising to my bill. Newspaper advertising is probably one of the biggest expenditures I have in my constituency and I imagine the same applies to other TDs. We should not rush to judgment on that in our own interest and in the interest of fairness.

If we consider the context of the religious situation, we should pause for thought. The airwaves should certainly be made available for religious programmes and for political discussion and debate. However, the day we go the American route in regard to religious or political programming or advertising will be a sad one. I know that is not the Deputy's intention but like many things which start innocently, pressure could be exerted. Someone might break out of the fold and there would be no holding back. In trying to deal with what is a complex issue, we must ensure we do not make the end result worse than what prevails at present.

The Minister has undertaken to look at this issue in the context of the Broadcasting Bill. I do not blame the Opposition for wanting an instant solution tonight or thinking they have found one. The more one considers this issue, the more one must recognise the complex issues involved. We can assure the House that the broadcasting legislation is on the way very soon.

Tá sé ag teacht.

Tá sé agus tiocfaidh sé níos tapúla ná mar a cheap daoine. Beidh mise agus an tAire níos mó ná sásta go dtabharfar breithiúnas orainn nuair a bheidh an Bille á phlé. The Minister's undertaking to look at this issue is a reasonable manner in which to proceed. It recognises the validity of the motion and the issue and the importance of this discussion but it also gives time and space to obtain expert advice on the legal ramifications of any proposed changes.

As I understand it, the issue in this case was that a publication rather than a religious fact was being advertised and that comes under the terms of the ban.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): It has to do with interpretation.

Can one separate those issues in a non-discriminatory fashion?

The ASAI does that all the time.

Not for religious and political purposes.

If one separated the issues, would one merely shift the goalposts? The Minister has stated that she will consider all of the complexities involved in this issue.

There is much merit in old sayings. In the Gaeltacht, in particular, many older people make very valid points by way of old sayings we sometimes tend to ignore. "Marry in haste and repent at leisure" is one such saying. If we were to rush to judgment on this issue, it would be a classic case of marrying in haste without having teased out the various issues involved.

The debate has been a very useful and stimulating one. Contributions from all sides of the House were, for the most part, very positive. I congratulate the Opposition for bringing this issue to the floor of the House where matters of national importance should be discussed and where we, as legislators, should thrash them out. Too often, we do this on radio programmes and through other fora, everywhere except on the floor of this House.

Is dóigh liom gur díospóireacht mhaith a bhí againn anocht. Iarraim ar an bhFreasúra fanacht leis an mBille maidir le cúrsaí craolacháin agus deis a thabhairt don Aire machnamh ar an gceist seo ionas gur féidir léi teacht chun moladh foirfea air.

I wish to share time with Deputy Enda Kenny.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate Deputies Kenny and Mitchell for introducing this Bill. We have no role models in modern society. Our politicians and clergy have been disgraced and even members of the Judiciary have muddied the waters. People have nowhere to turn. While religion has gone out of fashion to a certain extent, many people are starting to reconsider its benefits. Religion encourages people to take time out from their busy lifestyles to think about their direction in life. This is a good thing, whether encouraged by religion or some other factor. It is crucially important that young people learn to do that in our fast moving society.

Many people do not even know their next door neighbours nowadays and do not even care who they are. We should not accept that and should seek to ensure that such a trend does not continue to develop. It was never part of our culture and should not form part of it in the future. The Irish Catholic has promoted this type of contem plation. That has been good for society, yet the magazine cannot be promoted on radio although we regularly hear promotions for Magill and The Phoenix which contain political information.

We are living in a pluralist society and should be looking to the future. Religion may have been threatening in the past because many people used it as a vehicle for the advancement of their own motives. Religion in itself was not bad but the manner in which it was used was. That is no reason for preventing the promotion of a publication such as The Irish Catholic.This Bill is a well thought out piece of legislation. It deals specifically with the issue we are debating and is not longwinded. I cannot understand why the Minister cannot accept it as the Independent Radio and Television Commission would still have the power to scrutinise any local or national radio advertising. We talk about censorship in regard to religious or political publications but we have never looked at censorship of the Internet. There are numerous questionable advertisements on both national and local radio and on television stations, yet little seems to be done about them. Deputies Hanafin and Barnes cited examples of some advertising which is derogatory to women. Such advertisements are also derogatory to men. They are using women to target a product at men, as though we are simpletons who will buy a car if we see a naked woman on television standing behind it. That is as degrading to men as it is to women. These are the issues we should examine in the context of censorship, the Independent Radio and Television Commission and advertising standards, instead of banning something like this publication which is good and should be encouraged. It is not promoting any particular point or religious denomination. It is a positive element in society and should be encouraged. The Minister should reconsider her decision and accept this legislation.

I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for attending the debate. I also thank the Deputies from various parties who made contributions on this short amending legislation.

I was more than surprised at the range of issues raised and comments made to me both inside and outside the Chamber on the Bill, some of which were very strongly expressed by Deputies on all sides. The value of this short Bill is that it is a catalyst for triggering a much broader and deeper discussion on the values of Irish society, the way in which public representatives on all sides view the country, the way people react to issues and events and the difference between religion and spirituality in the light of 25 years of change, turmoil and trauma.

The Minister's speech was well written and raises four different issues. First she declared her opposition to the Bill on the basis of the High Court case and the appealed Supreme Court decisions. The Minister quoted extensively the views of both learned gentlemen though, as she points out, the provision in question is almost 40 years old, being contained in the original Act of 1960.

The Minister then referred to the possibility of introducing a selective ban to which the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, is opposed on the basis that there should either be a ban or not. The Minister dealt with whether the Independent Radio and Television Commission would be able to judge particular kinds of advertisements under a selective ban. Obviously, in the case of The Irish Catholic a value judgment had to be given on the kind of advertisement being promoted by the paper. In this context it would have been necessary to take into account the goals of the newspaper and, as a consequence, the goals and aims of the church.

The Minister then suggested that a wiser course might be to give the Independent Radio and Television Commission power to ban particular advertisements of religious material if it considered that an advertisement offended public order or morality rather than possibly discriminating between different publications.

The fourth element of the Minister's contribution was the possibility of removing the ban entirely. The Minister clarified this by saying she thought this might be the safest route to take.

The Minister and a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies referred to the forthcoming broadcasting Bill. This matter has been discussed for ten years and the Minister, Deputy de Valera, has had responsibility for the matter for almost two years. I fully understand the limitations on people in the draftsman's office and appreciate the difficulties the Good Friday Agreement caused in terms of taking the attention of those people away from a range of legislation and thereby moving back its publication. However, if the Minister is convinced that the removal of the prohibition is the way to proceed, there is no reason she cannot say that such provision is included in the Broadcasting Bill, rather than saying that she will seek to amend the Bill on Committee Stage following the careful thought and consideration referred to in her speech. The country is broadminded enough to be able to cater for all of these things.

Deputy Naughten referred to the Internet. It is now possible to use one's PC to tune into voice-overs on 10,000 religious stations and sites all over the world, many of which have very zany ideas. When the Broadcasting Bill is introduced some of what will be available as a result of the digital revolution and when there is vastly increased satellite coverage will be very inappropriate in current circumstances. However, this is what we will be faced with. What will be the position, for example, if a pirate radio station, of which there are currently approximately 50, decides to illegally take an advertisement for The Irish Catholic? Would the Department take action against such a radio station and close it down on the basis that running the advertisement contravened the provisions of the Act?

Last night I presented a number of other examples. Bishop Flynn and Bishop Finnegan in the dioceses of Achonry and Killala normally bring a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Next year, the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, they might decide to bring a particularly large pilgrimage and subsequently produce a special publication for the start of the new millennium on the pilgrimage and advertise it in The Irish Catholic. However, any advertisement on the local radio stations would be banned. What would be the position if the editor of The Western People, Terry Reilly, said it was including a 50 page spread on the millennium diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes as a special supplement in the paper? The local radio station could run an advertisement for the edition of The Western People which included the supplement. Another example might be if the Pope decided to come to Ireland at the beginning of the new millennium in respect of the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. The Sunday Independent might decide to carry a 25 page special supplement on the visit. The supplement could not be advertised on local radio but could be advertised in the context of the Sunday Independent. It is ironic that the Irish Press, for which the Minister's grandfather went to the United States to raise money, could be banned by the Independent Radio and Television Commission in terms of it being a political journal or having a political end.

The same could perhaps be said of other publications.

Indeed. When section 31 was invoked and Sinn Féin was banned from the airwaves there were quite a number of discussions on RTE radio on articles contained in An Phoblacht, a banned publication which carried the views of the republican IRA etc. In an indirect way this was a method of advertising a political journal which had a deeply divided end from many points of view.

Yesterday I pointed out that there is clearly a difference between religion and spirituality, something referred to by other Deputies, given the materialistic country in which we live. Many people have drifted from their narrow religious confines and are now looking for something different. It would be very appropriate if this legislation was accepted. The Minister could accept it in principle and say she will incorporate it following the period of discussion and thought and taking into account the constitutional issues referred to last night.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate. It provides a mechanism for a much deeper and broader discussion about the type of country we have and the type of people we are. The legislation should be accepted.

Question put.

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sheehan, Patrick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Yates, Ivan.


Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny. Brady, Martin.


Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Valera, Síle.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Callely.
Question declared lost.