A Government representative is brought onto a panel on either radio or television where all the other panel members hold opposite views. That situation is distorting the balance. It is time for us as a Parliament to ensure that whatever we do we fulfil the constitutional duty of equality, fairness and balance in the interests of our citizens. That is very important.
I remember going onto an RTE radio programme one morning with a celebrated broadcaster who was highly paid. He enunciated to the nation how the world should proceed as he saw it. He had 17 staff assisting him. The questions he asked on-air were automatically generated on a computer screen and he had only to read out the questions. That gave the impression to the world that he had researched all those questions himself and that he was a highly intelligent man. Perhaps he was a much more intelligent man than I. Members must be accountable for their staff and the amount of money that is spent, including Ministers. It is time we examined that situation.
I am aware of serious invasions of privacy when families in my constituency were bedevilled by trauma. In sad situations involving misadventure, houses were surrounded by the media. The State broadcaster sent couriers to push messages through letter-boxes stating that if a special interview was given by the family at an arranged location to it alone then all of the other media could be looked after, that one interview would solve the situation, and that the family should do that in its own interest. On the two occasions with which I am familiar the two families did not give interviews, they withstood the pressure, sustained themselves and stood together. One family was confined to its own house for a week.
Another woman was confined also in her home as a result of utterances in a debate in this House, which RTE covered in almost its entirety because it involved more drama than fact. That woman, whose house was surrounded by the media, died a few weeks later as a result of the pressures that were put on her following the unfortunate allegations made against her beloved son. In both cases there was no wrongdoing, there was just sadness and trauma in a family situation and they were exploited and exposed to unnecessary public mire.
I abhor radio programmes, be they in the independent radio system or on RTE, where people can telephone anonymously and make allegations and statements but nobody knows who they are. If a broadcaster licensed by Parliament and the State authorities broadcast such pronouncements the people who make them should be named on those programmes. If people are not prepared to put their names to the comments they should not be read out.
I abhor also another situation in which I feel RTE has failed the State. I worked for a period as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Our remit was to ensure the creation from foreign direct investment of as many jobs as possible and to assist IDA Ireland, which has done an outstanding job in attracting foreign direct investment in this country. On one occasion the senior Minister in my Department travelled to a provincial town to announce 400 jobs. RTE was there and showed the Minister at the opening but it did not cover his speech. It interviewed the president of the local chamber of commerce who complimented the Government and the IDA on the investment in the town but that interview was not shown. The RTE team drove 40 miles to another town and spoke to the president of the chamber of commerce of that town who made a negative comment about the 400 jobs that were awarded to the other town. The implication was that it was wrong to give the 400 jobs to the first town when they should have gone to the other town.
That was not balanced or fair. It was not an equitable coverage of a situation. The town that got the investment was fully entitled to it as the enterprise suited that location, yet the coverage of the massive investment by the State on behalf of taxpayers with the support of the IDA in partnership with a foreign company was distorted by RTE. What view would the company have taken when it played the clip back in its boardroom and saw the type of coverage the State broadcaster gave to its investment and commitment to our country? How could the board be satisfied it was getting proper, fair and equitable treatment? It is critical that we examine such situations carefully.
The State has supported RTE over the years and the public pays a hefty licence fee. It is time we revisited that situation. TG4, which is doing an outstanding job, should be an independent entity. It is time for one third of the licence fee to go to TG4, another third should remain with RTE and one third should go to TV3 and the independent radio sector. That would ensure there is an equitable playing field and that there is fairness across the board in all aspects of broadcasting.
Successive Governments have enacted legislation which has resulted in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, acting in conjunction with the broadcasting authority, issuing licences for local radio. This Bill should be amended to ensure that if the companies that are licensed are sold then a percentage of the profits made on the sale should accrue to the State.