Broadcasting Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Earlier I adverted to the very complex nature of the debate on broadcasting and the rapidly transforming technologies that have been emerging in recent years which makes it all the more complex. Last week I had an opportunity as a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Science to visit the science museum in San José in the US. In the past 18 months an area on the Internet and emerging technologies was opened there and, as somebody who is not altogether at ease with some of the new technologies, I was quite amazed at how far we have come in such a short period. I was even more amazed at the age of some of the younger children who were there and who seemed totally at ease with the Internet and what appeared to be extremely complicated technologies.

Earlier I spoke about the innovative video programming and information services which are emerging and which will be fuelled in no small way by the convergence of personal computer and television technologies. It is difficult to know whether we can legislate in this regard. I sympathise with the Minister as there are times I wonder whether another era of technology will have passed us by the time this debate has concluded.

Undoubtedly, the arrival of digital television will bring enormous changes to television broadcasting, most of which will be clearly positive. Obviously there will be much improved sound and vision and the elimination of interference. However, there must also be dangers, and there is no point in us pretending that such dangers do not exist. Until now it has been possible to regulate the broadcaster quite rigidly to ensure certain standards are maintained. I suppose public opinion, in many ways, has had a part in establishing certain standards. However, I think this will no longer be the case. In the new era of broadcasting, regulation will be much more difficult. The new technologies, in particular those emerging on the Internet, will mean that it may not be possible for a single country to prevent undesirable content being viewed by the consumer. Again if one keeps a weather eye on actions which have been taken, even by countries where deregulation is the order of the day, such as the US and countries in mainland Europe, it will be found that communities are worried about the emergence of this phenomenon and the impossibility of regulation, particularly in regard the Internet. I am not in favour of censoring to any great extent, but this is something which will increasingly occupy our attention in time to come.

Another issue is that in broadcasting terms more often means less, something we have seen in the US and mainland Europe. Although consumers' choice in viewing will be increased enormously, the quality of the material available may not improve and there are real fears that the quality of programming will diminish in the new world of broadcasting. I have heard Deputy Michael Higgins speak on numerous occasions at the Joint Committee on Education and Science when it discussed digital broadcasting about the wholesale buy-up by Murdoch, Fox and others of virtually all that can be bought and the services being programmed into multichannels throughout the world. To say the least, some of the material concerned is not intellectually challenging. The Minister referred to the danger of the dumbing down of TV channels. To some extent we are already seeing a proliferation of TV stations appealing to the lowest common denominator. I worry that the standards of television production and programming might follow the trend which is all too obvious and prevalent throughout that sector.

Increased competition means that the free marketplace might not be able to serve public needs. One should tread cautiously in the area of deregulation and other areas of commercial life. In this context it is more important than ever that we maintain the high quality of our public broadcasting. The restatement of the role of public service broadcasting in section 24 is very much to be welcomed. RTE has delivered an excellent service to the State for many years. Indeed, I think it would be regarded as one of the best broadcasters of its type in the world. Perhaps we have often taken for granted the role it has played. We may worry or complain sometimes about the "in your face" approach of Charlie Bird or the slightly frivolous approach of Vincent Browne to issues we might regard as extremely serious, but there is no doubt about the quality of the work produced by RTE in current affairs, drama, comedy and new areas. I compliment RTE in particular on its regional broadcasting service. It is doing a tremendous job and has driven a great amount of change, from which the country has benefited. The competition provided by RTE for local radio stations and vice versa has been all to the good.

In years to come, RTE will face a more difficult marketplace with hugely increased competition for viewers. This potentially threatens its advertising revenue. However, the new technology also presents an opportunity for RTE, TG4 and TV3. In the digital age, Irish radio and television stations will be available worldwide and that should be seen as an opportunity, given the huge diaspora of Irish people. People in the US, Australia, Canada or closer to home in the UK, France and Germany claiming Irish heritage will surely be a receptive new market for our broadcasters.

It is now a daily occurrence to hear on the radio about somebody e-mailing Pat Kenny from Germany. When we were in America last week we were able to check The Irish Times website. I also visited Australia in August and met some Irish emigrants who were making use of the new technology to access the GAA scores. In one centre in Melbourne, the people were able to list almost every score in every match that had been played in Ireland the previous Sunday. RTE should see this as an opportunity to secure a broader market. From the advertisers' perspective, it offers the chance to promote products which have an affinity with Irish people wherever they may be through teleshopping and over the Internet. It is an opportunity for everybody. Our interest in broadcasting should have two general goals. First, we must ensure that broadcasting serves our society's educational, cultural and informational needs. Second, we must foster the commercial development of the industry in Ireland. The Bill creates a framework in which the Irish broadcasting and programme making industry can adapt and flourish in the new environment.

With regard to educational broadcasting, I have always been of the view that RTE made a brave start in this area a number of years ago by establishing educational broadcasting through radio. It was tried on television but it proved extremely expensive and it was more or less dropped. There has been an improvement in the provision of direct programming to schools in recent years but much more can be done. One should also bear in mind the opportunities digitalization will offer. It might offer a school community a chance to set up its own broadcasting station. This can be seen in Ballyfermot senior college and in Coláiste Dhulaigh in Coolock, where much of the media training for the industry is provided.

When we talk about developing partnerships between schools and communities and between parents and teachers, broadcasting techology should be considered. It could be used to forge closer links between schools, parents and communities. The Government decision last year to invest significantly in information technology in our schools and colleges laid the foundation for working towards keeping us at the cutting edge of e-commerce and electronic information generally. The framework is created by this legislation and we should use it. The film industry, small as it might consider itself, is also given opportunities under the Bill.

Article 46.1.1 of the Constitution recognises the importance of organs of public opinion such as radio, press and cinema. For the past 40 years, television has been the most powerful organ of public opinion and it has rendered a great service. It has had an enormous impact on society. Who knows what role it will play in the new millen nium? Will a single television station have the same influence over society as RTE had? The viewing public might be split among a multitude of channels and television might be used in a different way. Already, as Deputy McGennis pointed out, children are as likely to play computer games and surf the Internet as watch conventional television programmes. The convergence of the different technologies, however, will blur the lines between these activities. The technology is fast moving and legislators will find it difficult to keep up with it. However, we must try to do so.

I have a particular interest in community broadcasting. At present, it is a fledgling part of the broadcasting sector but it is beginning to thrive, particularly community radio. I compliment the Independent Radio and Television Commission on its courageous decision to support small community broadcasters throughout the country. Those stations have given a voice to communities who would not have such access otherwise. They have also provided a focus for discussion and debate in communities and have often galvanised opinion on, for example, telephone masts, environmental matters, racism and women's and travellers' issues. Members have been lobbied by that sector about concerns regarding the definition of a community. I do not pretend to understand the ramifications but they suggest that a community broadcaster should be owned and controlled by the community it serves.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that she will put down an amendment to permit the provision of religious broadcasting. Members have been lobbied by interests in that area. I do not suggest that we should support overtly proselytizing stations but in a mature developed democracy we should not be afraid to allow religious broadcasting to thrive alongside other sectors of the broadcasting industry.

I sympathise with much of what the Minister said. I welcome, for example, the consensus on the principle of universality in access which led to the choice of DTT as a mechanism for introducing digital technology.

However, I wish the Minister had used her speech to outline the philosophical and practical background to the changes that are now taking place in broadcasting. Two-thirds of the speech tell us what is in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. That will undoubtedly be valuable but I would have preferred her to recommend that Members read the explanatory memorandum and to have used more of her time to outline her thinking on a number of important matters.

The changes taking place in broadcasting are deep and much misconstrued. The tendencies which I consider most important include, for example, convergence in technology which has already been discussed at length – it is the convergence of telephonic, televisual and personal computer technologies. Other tendencies, however, are dangerous to the public good both nationally and internationally. I am referring to the concentration of media ownership internationally. I recall introducing a Private Members' Bill on behalf of the Labour Party to deal with one aspect of this, cross-ownership of the media. The Minister gave an undertaking that the issues of monopoly, abuse of dominant position and cross – ownership would be dealt with in this fundamental legislation. That is my recollection from what was said in June 1998 when our Bill was voted down.

The Minister has not spoken about the consequences of the fragmentation of audiences. Fragmentation of audiences as public service broadcasting gives way to an entirely different form of broadcasting is viewed by the commercial sector as simple segmentation of market sectors, which may be added together. It has, however, other implications, if construed socially. It means the audience is losing that other aspect of universality, universality of coverage in terms of programming.

My colleague, Deputy O'Shea, referred to the 1980 statement by the BBC working group in which some principles of broadcasting were outlined. They included universality of availability; universality of appeal; provision for minorities; service to the public sphere – the nation speaking to itself; a commitment to the education of the public; that public broadcasting should be distanced from vested interests, a point to which I have referred; that public broadcasting should be so structured as to encourage competition in programming rather than competition for numbers in audience terms; and the rules of broadcasting should liberate rather than restrict the programme maker.

A fundamental point about the final principle in that list of principles is that the history of television in Ireland like the history of it in Britain and the history of it in most English speaking countries I have examined reveals one straightforward point – television as a power medium of communication is at its best when the programme makers are defining the situation, but at its worse when programme providers define the situation. This can be translated into something practical. At present, digital television has taken the route of providing an increased number of channels. In the Irish case, there will be six multiplexes with five channels each working out at 30 channels. This was not the only choice digital television could have taken. The tendencies in the technology were ones that could have improved the quality of the digital picture, but this was abandoned in favour of seizing the opportunity of having more channels. In every place it has been introduced it has created increased capacity in terms of broadcasting, but it has also thrown up an enormous deficiency and shortfall in programming provision.

I will refer to what is likely to happen in the future. According to a New Zealand survey conducted on air of 23 television systems, the figure 50 keeps cropping up. It costs roughly 50 times more to produce an hour of drama at home than it does to buy it at its cheapest price from any one of the international trash bins controlled by the likes of Rupert Murdoch. That is also the case in relation to an extended documentary or historically grounded current affairs programme or news. With a much greater space to fill and faced with the choice of having to pay 50 times more for a production to fill the slots or buying it much cheaper abroad, unless there is some form of indicative regulation, we will have a lowering of the quality of content. The second principle of universality of programming is very much under attack.

As a previous Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, many of us advanced defence of public service broadcasting or of ones we inherited that would not have been our choice but were good in their own way. They would adhere to what Raymond Williams referred to as the paternalistic authoritarianism of the Reith principles, which were that broadcasting should inform, educate and entertain. They were good principles that supplied a standard to which Irish broadcasting was able to relate, but that world is under severe attack.

The restriction on time forces me to come to the nub of the matter in a more crude way than I would have liked. In this legislation we must make a choice as to whether we will come down in favour of enhanced programme-making or whether we will facilitate programme provision. This arises in relation to the question of what is broadcasting and should one regard it as a commodity in the marketplace. The commodification of what happens in broadcasting is the other tendency that is included in the list of the ones that have not been dealt with. It is merely a piece of time to be sold?

The 1996 figure is interesting in relation to that. Of all the television commodities sold in the world, 75 per cent are sourced in the United States. That is not to say there are not good products in the United States, but why should 75 per cent come from one place that deregulated its television in 1934 and today produces the worse television in the world and having produced it dumps it around the world. For example, in the Czech Republic one can buy an old episode of "Dallas" for $350. Our choice is whether we perceive what is broadcast as a commodity in the marketplace to be ruled by competition norms only or whether we perceive it as an aspect of culture, which has a resonance into the life of the people in terms of their past, the way that they live now or in relation to their imagined future.

There is public resistance to the crude attempt of the marketplace to destroy the narratives that exist around the world. When all this froth is blown away from the digital revolution, there are only 25 million digital receivers in the world. About 8.5 per cent of the people in Europe have expressed an interest in it and more than two-thirds of the population of Britain have suggested they are not interested in it. A large confusing technical apparatus has arrived. I am not suggesting we ignore it, but it is being described in terms of its technical properties and the programming side of it is to some extent being neglected.

We have to deal with a number of issues that are important. I am disappointed the issue of cross-ownership has not been dealt with in the Bill as promised. I am also disappointed parity of representation is not being given, as proposed in my clear focus document under heads of legislation in regard to community interests. The absence of or the apparent disappearance of educational television from the ambitious diagram at the back of my document is also interesting. I consider these areas are very important.

On a more contentious matter, the role of the infrastructural manager or regulator and the broadcaster appears to be uncertain in the legislation. I was clear in my mind that the technology would always drive the capacity to broadcast faster than any new attempt to form a model of regulation in the new era. It is rather like people who suggested they were able to start a car and release the clutch, but were not quite sure how they should drive. That is precisely what is happening in relation to the hegemony being claimed by the infrastructural people in telecommunications in relation to broadcasting.

The DTT is not an interactive system. If the receiver is to interact, it requires the use of the telephonic. The claim that was always made for cable was that, as an alternative, it lent itself to interactivity, but it is extraordinary that the regulator, the ODTR in relation to telecommunications, has sought opinions on the circumstances in which television licences will be granted. I am willing to be contradicted by the Minister on this, but my understanding of the basic law is that this action is close to being ultra vires. Having regard to the manner in which licences were given to cable companies and others, they were not licensed as broadcasters – they were licensed to make a provision to carry. If it is decided to turn everyone into a broadcaster, it would open up the system. For example, it would be nonsense to regard talking to consumers before they buy a Teflon frying pan, as broadcasting. There is no real broadcasting anymore. I support the Minister in insisting that a broadcasting regulator who will be responsible to her Department will be established by legislation. The recent advertisement in the newspapers is an incredible intrusion into matters of broadcasting.

What may be considered legal and constitutional matters also arise. I am not an expert in international broadcasting but I suspect that frequencies allocated to Ireland in the old days of wireless telegraphy were allocated to a State with boundaries and although they were initially allocated for international convenience, on the basis of the law they were allocated to the people. For example, the State holds the public service broadcaster for the people and it and others are administrators of convenience in the space they have been allocated. It is extraordinary that a 40 and 60 per cent share in a transmission system is being discussed when it seems to be legally unstable to suggest a transmission system exists for sale, not to speak of how one puts a value on it. These are important questions but perhaps they can be easily dealt with. Perhaps I am wrong but I do not think I am, given the sources upon which I am relying.

I am doubtful about whether the transmission system is RTE's to sell – the Bill puts it cagily, "such as is its own and means..." which is rather like me selling someone part of a field just in case I own it. The thrust of the broadcasting debate has been its domination by those who are accountable to nobody. One of the great traditions of broadcasting regulation was that one had to announce the principles by which it was regulated. We accept that world is gone and boundaries are not the same. I expected the legislation would have provided a regime for the licensing of satellite broadcasting, which I would have welcomed. The section in the legislation dealing with electronic programme guides seems to be very short. I know that consideration has been given to this. The positioning of indigenous stations in the electronic programme guide and whether they are pre-programmed is important.

A number of issues arise infernally in this Bill. One would have to be very clever to deal with the issue of an absolute multiplication of product from different sources, but it could be done. This will have to be discussed on Committee Stage. Circumstances have changed since I was Minister when I spoke about the underside of globalisation, commodification and the homogenisation of product. For example, "Friends" is syndicated all over the world. During the lifetime of this legislation, another matter which will have to be considered is the abuse of the local by the global. Programmes will be purchased internationally, with a local link in. For example, a person from Cahirciveen will speak about how everyone there loves "Friends" and then someone in Sao Paulo will do the same and so forth. This will be classed as locally broadcast and will be used to attract local advertising. There are different versions of the local at the moment, the community, which is genuinely local, local commercial and now the globalised local. This will not only be used in the crude way I mentioned for introductions to pre-sold programmes but also in relation to different forms of dubbing and accenting which can now be done with technology.

That represents the destruction of television which brings me to the driving force of the Green Paper produced when I was in office, which I defend. It was very much modelled on the thinking of Raymond Williams's injunction "Be the arrow, not the target" and centred on the right to communicate, not only a personal right but a community one. It mentioned being able to include a tapestry of programmes from around the world which would be reflective, contentious, provocative and critical. Above all, they would be sourced in the experience of communities and citizens.

The Minister is putting down amendments on Committee Stage. Many amendments will have to be made to this Bill and we should not rush the debate on it. Deputy O'Shea suggested we reserve our position until we hear the Minister's reply to a number of questions. It is fundamental that we hear more about the proposals regarding the transmission system. How can we criticise Rupert Murdoch's disgraceful domination of the international media when he is the sole gatekeeper of the satellite system? Independent television did not queue to create an alternative satellite output. They eventually threw in the towel and lined up in Rupert's queue to use the satellite system. Therefore, are we doing the right thing in agreeing our transmission system is 60 per cent owned by people we do not know?

This raises a number of other issues. As a positive response to fragmentation, the alternative is to increase the value of community television. However, it not only needs to be recognised but regarded as an equal in relation to the commission. A development fund is also necessary to enable it to come on air. If £500,000 is being given to local radio, which is good, community television also needs to be funded and developed.

I spent a great deal of time dealing with section 31 of the previous broadcasting legislation. I am interested to know the current position on this. Why not accept the autonomy of the broadcaster and establish the distance between the State and the broadcaster? I also wish to raise a housekeeping matter. I went to Cabinet and sought and obtained Government approval for an increase in the licence fee, after a long time trying, so that public service broadcasting would thrive. In a memo, I asked the Government to clarify one matter so we would not fall into the same trap. The Government approved an increase in the licence fee plus indexation based on a formula agreed between the Minister's Department and the Department of Finance. That indexation has never been implemented. If that was implemented, even at the lowest calculation, it would be equivalent to the shortfall RTE now faces. It is extraordinary that the Cabinet decision was never rescinded, according to the record of the House. This raises the question why RTE has not looked for the money to which it is entitled. The Government said it is not going to do it because someone else put it through. I will return to this and other matters on Committee Stage.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important legislative initiative by the Minister. It provides a framework for the introduction of digital television services to as much of this country and its population as possible, which is imperative. We live in a changing world. It is no longer distant but accessible with the flick of a remote control. Many Members of the House will remember when they saw their first television programme on a small screen which was tucked away in a corner. The picture was liable to disappear if a lorry passed by. Those bygone days now seem quaint, but for those who witnessed them they were magical. We could see places we never dreamed of visiting ourselves. We were able to share with Neil Armstrong his "giant leap for mankind". Then the black and white images were transmitted in colour and our sense of wonder grew. Growing up in Ulster we were more accustomed to watching programmes with better quality reception from UTV or BBC Northern Ireland than we could receive from RTE. As someone who travels regularly throughout the nine counties of Ulster, I constantly hear complaints from people concerning poor reception of the RTE signal. I hope it will be possible in the short-term – and I do not see why it should not be – to improve RTE's reception in many counties north of the Border.

At the opening of Telefís Éireann back in 1961, President de Valera expressed the sentiments of the people when he said that television was a mixed blessing – capable of doing great good, but also much harm. On balance, though, the good far outweighs the negative aspects. Television may be viewed as lacking in substance, but it can change history. Those epic events in Eastern Europe, whose tenth anniversary is approaching, were brought to us by television. We were able to share the joys of those tearing down the Berlin Wall, one of the greatest symbols of repression ever constructed. The fact is, however, that the wall had been breached and weakened long before 1989 by television. People living in East Berlin had long been able to pick up West German television and taste the freedom it promised.

The world of television is changing beyond recognition. It is challenging political and geographical boundaries. We are entering a new, digital television age. In the 1960s we were happy with access to one channel. In the 1970s this grew to two or maybe three, depending on where one lived. In the 1980s we were faced with the prospect of a vast range of satellite television channels, but the latest developments promise a vast range of television programmes and channels.

There is also the possibility of using this new technology to provide a whole range of cultural and educational products, as well as access to the Internet at far greater speeds. This promises to transform our television from the box in the corner – a source of cheap entertainment with perhaps a bit of news and the odd weather forecast thrown in – into a valuable communications tool, promising not only one-way but two-way communication.

On the subject of weather forecasts, one of the best examples of radio broadcasting that I have heard for some time was RTE radio's "News At One" recently, when the eminent news presenter, Seán O'Rourke, questioned the director of news broadcasting diligently and thoroughly. The director admitted that, for once, it was not only politicians who could be accused of U-turns, but that RTE was also capable of making U-turns very quickly in response to public opinion.

There are still those who are opposed to the idea of digital television, but they are a bit like King Canute who sat on his throne on the beach and commanded the waves to turn back, in vain. We can be latter-day Canutes if we wait until we are drowned, not by the incoming tide but by the waves of progress. Alternatively, we have an opportunity to legislate, as the Minister and the Government are doing, thereby preparing the public and the country's broadcasting structure for this brave new world.

There are many challenges to be faced, but the legislation sets about dealing with them comprehensively. One of the most pressing challenges is to create structures for the introduction of digital television. How will it be delivered to those who want it, and by whom? The costs involved are quite high and, therefore, some form of joint venture between existing broadcasters and those with greater expertise and know-how in the world of digital television is essential. It is therefore envisaged that digital television in Ireland shall be operated by a company of which RTE, our public service broadcaster and our other broadcasters shall be minority shareholders. This is the best way to ensure that we will enjoy the best of both worlds; all the benefits of the new digital television age while, at the same time, being able to guarantee that digital television is motivated not solely by profit motives but also by the public interest which is something of equal, and probably more important, value to the Government and to our people. Deputy Michael D. Higgins has spoken eloquently about the dangers of one major international corporation having the major shareholding in world television channels.

The Bill also contains many other important features which may be overlooked. Not least of these is the establishment of TG4 on a statutory basis, which is a further indication of the Government's commitment to the Irish language and to the promotion and conservation of our heritage and culture. Hand in hand with concern for the global aspects of broadcasting, the Bill also contains a commitment to local matters. Community based television has long been overlooked but there is no reason, in the age of digital television, this should be the case. A fund to contribute towards the capital costs of community broadcasters is being set up. This is landmark legislation in the history of Irish broadcasting. It will provide the framework for the future planning of RTE's public service programming. We need to maximise employment in this sector by ensuring that Irish television output reflects our cultural identities and values.

At times, we in the western world may overlook the importance of having a free media. Yesterday the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs received a delegation from Algeria. In the delegation's written submission it outlined how some progress had been made in having a much freer print media in Algeria. When questioned about this, however, members of the delegation said in no uncertain terms that their broadcast media was entirely a weapon and tool of the Government in power and that, in effect, there is no free public broadcasting in Algeria.

Television has acted for the good in so many areas. The brutality of dictatorial regimes can be demonstrated very clearly to us on our television screens. We think of the horrors of war in Kosovo and East Timor. Such scenes broadcast nightly on our TV screens and throughout the world ensured that the European Union's member states and other Governments, such as that of the United States, had to act – although perhaps too slowly at times – to bring some of those atrocities to an end.

Television coverage also shows the outstanding work that is being carried out in the field of humanitarian aid, including development programmes in the poorest countries. We think of the importance of peace here at home. The troubles in the North, which have lasted almost 30 years, reflected badly on this country as crimes and other heinous deeds were shown on television channels throughout the world.

The Bill prepares us to participate even more in the information society and such participation, by as many people as possible, is important. I am glad the Minister has introduced this legislation. The Independent Radio and Television Commission that was established in 1988 has been very important in ensuring that local communities have their own voice. Local radio has been an important influence in shaping rural policies and will continue to be an important voice in rural development. Although all Members have genuine grounds on which to disagree with and complain about RTE, it is a good public service broadcaster. It has served the country well and has set good standards. It is important to protect the public broadcasting system and the Minister has provided the right balance in the Bill. The application of digital techniques is set to revolutionise broadcasting and prepare it for the new millennium.

Competition is necessary and good. Following the establishment of local radio, RTE has been more responsive to events in the regions. It has created more programmes with a regional content. However, people in the south of Ulster can legitimately complain that it has not received the attention it deserves from Montrose. I hope the Minister and her officials will convey this concern to the RTE authority and senior management. The areas south and immediately north of the Border need attention. Good work is being undertaken there and they should be given the coverage in terms of positive news they deserve.

The Minister and Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the possibility of bad programmes, the contents of which would not be worth broadcasting on any channel. The Minister said the balancing act for her in promoting the new legislation is to try to get the relationship between the social, cultural and democratic dimensions and the technological and economic dimensions right. I am glad the Minister emphasised her determination to ensure that the balance is correct. The Minister also said that in the first place we must ensure as far as possible that all have a guarantee of access to broadcasting services that have a distinctly Irish quality, that reflect Irish values and are relevant regardless of their economic circumstances. This is another important aspect, as other speakers said. It is important that the points outlined by the Minister are implemented and given effect quickly and diligently.

I referred earlier to the need to ensure that there is a public service broadcaster. In the main, Ireland has been well served by the public broadcasting medium. I am not gung-ho about privatisation. I am a strong supporter of the public sector and we can be proud of our public sector companies which worked in non-profitable areas when no private companies were willing to do so. At a time when, fortunately, the financial base of the country is much stronger than it was in the past, I would be reluctant to go down the road of further privatisation. The public sector and the system of control by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although not in a hands-on or day to day sense, works well. The public and private sector broadcasters can live side by side. The necessary competition is possible with the right balance and in previous legislation introduced by the Minister she ensured that the rights to the All-Ireland final and other major sporting events could not be bought by one multinational channel and made inaccessible.

Debate adjourned.