Priority Questions. - EU Directives.

Thomas P. Broughan


55 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he intends to seek the amendment of EU broadcasting directives that have, to date, enabled BSkyB to escape regulation here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10961/03]

BSkyB is regulated in relation to broadcasting content under the TV without frontiers directive, which provides that broadcasters are subject to such regulation in one country only. As BSkyB's headquarters is in Britain, it is subject to content regulation in that state.

The new EU regulatory package on electronic communication networks, services and associated facilities must be transposed into national law by 25 July 2003. The regulation of content is specifically excluded from the scope of the directives implementing that regulatory package and thus the transposing regulations will not result in BSkyB, or other providers of television services, being subject to regulation on broadcasting content in this State. In the context of the transposition into Irish law of the European regulatory package, the extent to which the package applies to other aspects of the provision of television services in the State by satellite as well as other platforms arises. Such aspects include access to facilities, quality of service and consumer protection.

If it emerges that the new regulatory package does not allow for the regulation of those aspects of television service provision in Ireland, I will consider additional legislation to address those other aspects. This stance is in line with the policy direction I issued to the CCR earlier this year, instructing the Commission to provide consistency across platforms in terms of regulation. In this direction I mandated the CCR to: ensure that regulatory obligations imposed upon undertakings engaged in the provision of similar electronic communications services but using different technologies are consistent, taking into account any different conditions that may exist, including the existence of market power. In issuing this direction I have mandated the CCR to ensure that a level playing field exists across platforms and this includes satellite. My Department is currently in discussion with the CCR on this issue and where new legislation is required and is consistent with the EU framework it will be provided.

Throughout the term of his Administration, the Minister has spoken of his desire to bring Sky under regulation. It used to be said that the Minister's party feared "the belt of a crozier". Is it not the case now that it is extremely afraid of a scowl on the face of Rupert Murdoch? Why are we discussing the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) (Amendment) Bill this evening? Why was it left in limbo for two and a half years? There clearly was an agenda at work.

I note that yesterday, this organisation has taken over DIRECTV, the largest satellite provider in the US and it has FOXTEL in Australia and STAR TV in Asia. It is a huge global network. Does the Minister agree that it is extremely unfair on providers like Chorus and NTL and the telecoms companies that levies are placed on them but not on BSkyB? There is a levy of 0.2% to 3.5% on the turnover of cable and telecoms companies to help run ComReg, yet there is no levy on satellite operators, particularly this massive operator that has been filling our screens in recent weeks.

Five or six months ago, the Minister said he was considering the introduction of broadcasting spectrum fees and would not hesitate to apply them to BSkyB as well as all other operators. Why are we still waiting for this? Is the Minister afraid?

I wonder if the Deputy berating Sky will watch it tomorrow night to see his beloved soccer team play Arsenal. I have already said in response to previous parliamentary questions that there are five directives to be transposed into Irish law by 25 July 2003. Ireland is one of only a number of states that will transpose them on time. These will give the CCR greater additional powers in this area. It is wrong of the Deputy to suggest, and naïve of people to think, that this is purely an Irish problem. It is an EU-wide, if not world-wide problem. This is one of the reasons a review of the directive is taking place to establish what else can be done to ensure fairness of treatment. One of the net results of the transposition of the five directives will be the levelling of the pitch for other service providers. I accept that is a circumstance that exists and it is something in which we are endeavouring to at least assist other providers.

If I am lucky enough to be in the position when Ireland assumes the presidency of the EU, the broadcasting issue will be on my agenda and I hope to bring finality to the review of the television without frontiers directives.

There is no agenda such as that suggested by the Deputy. The fact that I have taken on Sky and the FAI defeats any argument that he may make that the Government, or I are afraid of a "belt of a crozier" from Rupert Murdoch or anyone else.

Does the Minister expect a legal challenge to the broadcasting amendment Bill that will be passed tonight?

There might be a challenge if I accepted some of the amendments the Deputy and his colleague are proposing. I will not give in to any of the amendments.

That is not a fair comment.

They are fair amendments. We will await the directives. As of now the Minister has no intention of regulating BSkyB in the State in relation to the cost of COMREG, spectrum fees or content. The Minister will recall that BCI made a presentation recently in relation to advertisements aimed at children which everyone in the House was anxious would proceed. In other words, the Minister is saying we have no control in that area.

I am not saying that. I am saying we cannot operate on an island as an island basis. This is an EU issue which will be dealt with at EU level and Ireland will be one of the countries leading the issue in order to provide some equity in the system. We will be a big player.