I was not questioning the reason the Minister was not here, I am glad he is back. Listening to the debate over the past few hours I am amazed at the element of shock, surprise and horror expressed by Fianna Fáil Senators and, in particular, a PD Senator and their wild accusations that this side of the House are being exceptionally confrontational, aggressive and out of order.
This is a very serious issue. I can honestly say that this side of the House are not just expressing our own fears and our views; we cannot be totally off-course when the country at large is crying out, not because of hype or because they are inflamed in some rather unconstitutional way but because they really are alarmed and shocked at this legislation. They are alarmed at the whole sad passage of the Bill through the Dáil and now that it has been presented to us here.
This Broadcasting Bill is a threat to democracy. Senators on the other side of the House will find my remarks difficult to accept. This controversy began when the Taoiseach, who was disappointed and bewildered at losing the election, blamed RTE. It is common knowledge, it is not something we are picking up from the street, we cannot all be wrong, there are investigative journalists, there is an organ of communication, people think, even though at times the Government would prefer that they did not. When the RTE programme "Morning Ireland" were looking at the health cuts apparently the Taoiseach was not happy at the presentation of his comments, when he said that he was not aware that the health cuts were so severe and were affecting the people. I am informed by an RTE employee — I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or to suggest that he was lying to me because I do not think he would have anything to gain from it — that a senior Government Minister stated — I will not use the exact quotation, I will substitute a word because decorum prevents me — that they would square RTE. At that time RTE were blamed by the Government for the drop in the opinion polls. I do not know why Senators on the other side seem to think this is something that has been fabricated the past few days. That is why I am so concerned.
There are Third World countries, perhaps not always Third World countries, socialist countries in the past with dictatorial regimes, where Presidents have sought to cut down organs of communication. I interpret this Broadcasting Bill in the first form as put before the Dáil as doing the same thing. Though some amendments have been made they have done little to improve what I consider a most insidious and invidious piece of legislation. It is interesting that, while various motions have been proposed in the Seanad and the Dáil, lauding and applauding the new wave of democracy from the frontiers of Russia right across Europe, we in Ireland seem to be going in the opposite direction. Generally we can be very casual and very blasé in relation to the rights and the freedoms we enjoy but the general public are aware of the insidious effect of interference with an organ of communication.
Television over the past few decades has done much to inform people that there is a world outside, that there is Europe, that there are global problems, that there are Third World problems, that at the end of the day we are no longer an island but are part of Europe. An example over the past few days has been the GATT talks; luckily some of our fears in that regard have subsided to a certain extent.
I regard the efforts by the Government in this Bill to control and to stifle legitimate criticism and objective reporting as most ominous. I said we are rather blasé as a nation about our rights and rather casual about our constitutional rights and our rights under the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. One of them, which is relevant to this debate, is freedom of expression. I intepret that as freedom of expression on the airwaves. The Bill, as presented originally to the Dáil, in relation to the make-up of the Independent Radio and Television Commission and the RTE Authority with Fianna Fáil majority representation, is a most important aspect, in relation to the question of political involvement in broadcasting. It is one of the areas that has not been discussed and debated because of the other aspects of the Bill which overshadow it.
The Irish people have seen through the arrogance of the Government and they have rallied spontaneously to the defence of our public broadcasting system. It has not just incensed the workers of RTE, it has incensed the country, every single interest group and it has even incensed the newspapers. Despite the fact that it is a fait accompli, that it will pass through the Seanad, I do not think this controversy will die during the summer months. Of course at that stage it will be too late; we will all live to rue the day. It may be many months, it may be even years before we will feel the full effects. It is a pity the Bill was not completely withdrawn; there is still time for the Minister to withdraw it.
I want to deal with the specifics, the commercial and financial implications of the Bill. There is the impact, first of all, on RTE of the reduced advertising time and the cap on revenue. The structure of the RTE advertisement sales allocation and placement of advertising is very complicated. I was not fully aware of the complexity. In one way the controversial nature of the Bill has caused people to become more aware of the structures within RTE, something we have taken for granted. The structures are obviously achieving maximum revenue when audience levels are high. It is commercial business. The present hourly authorised levels of advertising are six minutes, 10 per cent on average and the maximum level, seven minutes at 12.5 per cent. The proposals will reduce the overall level by 25 per cent and at peak viewing time by 33? per cent.
As an example, on one of the major programmes with a very high TAM rating, the revenue derived from each "Late Late Show" will be reduced by £28,000 approximately. Obviously that will have an influence on the quality of the programme from now on. With the proposed time reductions and the reduction in the advertising per hour there is doubt whether RTE can reach the cap levels in the short term. If the linkage is to be maintained, obviously, it should relate to more flexible air time proposals.
What RTE, particularly, will be looking for over the next two years with regard to phasing would be that the impact of this Bill would be reviewed after two years.
The structure of RTE advertising is such that they do not force advertisers to buy advertising time. Advertising is carried on both radio and television because advertisers want to advertise their wares. Good programmes make for good audiences and good advertising. You can take that cycle whatever way you like. If you have good revenue that, obviously, gives you scope and potential for good programme making. If you have good programmes, you are obviously going to have good audiences. No matter what way you take that cycle it refers back to revenue.
I also wish to look at the video and film companies. They will be caught on two fronts. First, there will be the loss of advertisements being made for television, and, secondly, their product will not be bought by RTE due to lack of finance. Going back to the loss to advertising agencies, commission comes to £8 million, with £1 million to each of the three leading companies advertising with RTE, and pro rata to the other companies depending on the amount of advertising. We are really talking about quite sizeable amounts.
I was amazed at Senator Kiely's reference to the fact that £10 million to £12 million is just a drop in the ocean of the overall budget. I believe that £10 million to £12 million is a tremendous amount of money to RTE — or to any organisation — they have been scrimping and saving in local authorities. I am amazed that he trivialises £12 million as if it were just a drop in the ocean. I am sure if Kerry County Council had £12 million cut from their budget Senator Kiely would be in here screaming and looking to the Government to reinstate that £12 million as fast as possible. He must be a very wealthy man if he can speak so flippantly of £12 million and say it does not matter one way or another.
The advertisers themselves at the very least, would incur expense and inconvenience in finding other means of marketing their wares if they cannot advertise on RTE. At worst, they will find their product sales down and new product launches difficult because of less effective media presentation.
Another specific relates to sponsorship. It is interesting that the whole country lauded RTE for its excellent coverage of the World Cup. We could not but notice Bord Gáis advertising, day in day out. They paid £100,000 for that spot. It certainly was money well spent from their point of view. They took a chance. They could not know in advance that the World Cup was going to become such a singularly successful event for Ireland. We are talking about a State company which showed flair and innovation.
I want to refer to another sponsorship, that is the weather forecasts by Bord Telecom. They too showed initiative and made the weather forecasts far more attractive than they had been. They are far more relevant to the ordinary man and woman in the street. I am afraid, within the sponsorship area, that this sponsorship will get the hatchet. That income was very relevant and important to RTE. There was a double gain, both for the State companies and, obviously, for the audience.
I am surprised that much more has not been made of job losses. People seem to think — and the impression is given — that the idea of job losses is something that might happen and that it is just a case of crying wolf, we might as well cry "wolf" now because we are going to lose all of these jobs. During the week we saw the successful settlement of the Waterford Crystal dispute. It was interesting to note the similarity between RTE and Waterford Crystal in the sense that they have approximately the same number of employees; this puts it in the context of a business. They are employing over 2,000 people. The loss of the so-called trivial £12 million can only be accommodated by a reduction in the numbers of people employed.
I would again refer to Senator Kiely who said over and over again that he was worried about the loss of jobs for the county council workers in his beloved Kerry. He must have had some input into the fact that there may not have been county council jobs lost in Kerry, but county council workers certainly lost their jobs in Limerick. These jobs were essential. When we are talking about RTE we are talking about a reduction in the number of people employed. That is a fact. I am sure everybody will be monitoring the staff numbers between now and next year and over the next couple of years.
The normal commercial way of dealing with this type of loss would be to achieve two-thirds by cuts — £8 million in salaries and one-third, or £4 million, in general expenditure. I am not an accountant or an economist — but I believe that actually leads to the loss of 400 jobs. Even if half the jobs were saved, and if the saving was £6 million in general expenditure, that would still leave 300 jobs being lost. Unless RTE have plans for compulsory redundancy, accommodating the reduction of these numbers, I do not see how these jobs can be saved. To maintain the competitive thrust which has enabled RTE to improve programming, to cut costs and to clear all their debts, it is essential that there would be a review, after two years, of the whole commercial aspect.
It is interesting — and extraordinary in a sense too — that RTE in making a profit have been penalised. I find this rather ironic. A new commandment introduced in the last few weeks seems to be: "do not make a profit at all costs, because profits mean trouble, particularly for State companies, and if you do we will cut you off next year". Where is the incentive to bother if you are to be penalised for being successful? Why not phase out the licence revenue altogether and tell RTE to operate as a commercial venture. It is interesting that they have a record of not owing one penny to the Exchequer. That is extraordinary and mindboggling.
I wish to turn now to regional coverage and to make a plea to the Minister, whatever happens in the future, that RTE in Limerick will not be adversely affected. Over the last 12 months this coverage has really improved enormously because of the personnel there. This improvement happily has been married with the boom in the city. There has been plenty of scope for coverage. Many people have suddenly found Limerick on the map. Once upon a time Limerick was the Confraternity city and there was all sorts of scare-mongering of Reds under the bed, there was no great effort to welcome foreigners, and all sorts of extraordinary biased and prejudiced comments in relation to Limerick.
I have to applaud RTE — and RTE Limerick in particular — for creating a far more positive picture for the city, and for the mid-west in particular. I applaud the efforts of regional coverage of RTE Limerick. Next Friday night RTE are launching their regional coverage. I would be very sad to think that they are launching something which might be closed shortly after it opens. I would hope that regional representation of coverage will not be hit by any cutbacks. I know how strongly Senator Honan feels about regional coverage. She would not like the mid-west to be left to flounder, as it has been doing in the past, through lack of RTE coverage. It is a service in an area where the private sector coverage survive, and do not want to be involved. I would liken it to Iarnród Éireann, or CIE, who have offered a service in the past to remote areas where commercial transport companies would not bother travelling to see that Mrs. So-and-so six or seven miles down a cul-de-sac would get to where she wants to go. There are still many isolated areas in Limerick, Clare and so on. Everybody likes to see his own "cabbage patch" covered by RTE. That coverage is very much appreciated by people living in remote areas. After all, they have President Gorbachev in their front parlours. They also have coverage of what is happening locally, which is far more relevant to their lives than many world events. That service is a vital organ of communication in these isolated communities.
I would again urge the Minister to take the concept of decentralisation to heart. Again, citing the Limerick area, I am alarmed that the Progressive Democrats Minister for Industry and Commerce seems to want to axe the whole concept of decentralisation in relation to his attitude to SFADCo. I am drawing the parallels because regionalisation does not seem to be important any more. At a time when Europe is telling us that we must have regionalisation, we seem to be going backwards. The regional aspects of RTE are going to cost money, although not a huge amount. I am afraid those regional areas will be vulnerable.
In the Limerick area, RTE provide employment for up to 12 people. If one multiplies that by the six other regions we are talking of about 70 jobs. Seventy people may not seem a huge number but they are extraordinarly important in their own areas. Those 70 people provide a service to the remote areas. They have their noses to the ground. They cover everything. They are not specialists in one specific area. They are covering everything within those regions. If the costs in six regions were to be multiplied by £150,000 — which apparently is the approximate cost for running a regional service — we are talking about approximately £1 million. That is a very important £1 million, or should be to Senator Kiely. Let us hope that the £12 million that he is so casual about will be left intact, and the £1 million will not be taken from it. If we are to think in terms of the Limerick region we are talking about the service there in 12 months carrying 300 news packages. The past 12 months has been exceptionally successful. I would plead with the Minister to decentralise the service. It seems that where there is competition, it is not accepted. I will go back again to the Progressive Democrats Minister for the area, who when there was competition between SFADCo and the IDA did not seem to like it. Now, where there is an element of competition within the Broadcasting Bill it seems to cause problems.
What other areas are going to be affected? Many speakers have referred to them. We have had proposals for an Irish language channel. Of course, Seanadóir Ó Foighil gave us much food for thought with his interesting contribution.
We are all now aware of the demise of the Irish language, and the efforts that he is making to revive it. We all applaud his efforts to keep the Irish language alive and well within Seanad Éireann. Many Senators across the House will make the effort too. The need for an Irish language channel is increasing, not just in the Gaeltacht areas but throughout the length and breadth of the country. We should make a concerted effort in this House and all 60 Senators should contribute at least 15 minutes in Irish, as was done during the debate on the establishment of Telefís na Gaeltachta. I am sure all Senators could make an effort to keep the Irish language alive. They should do so now by looking for an Irish language channel. The operating cost would be between £6 million and £8 million. That sum may be part of Senator Kiely's £12 million, which he so flippantly dismissed as being of no importance.
Our National Symphony Orchestra, which costs £2 million, is something I would hate to see go, especially now that we have the National Concert Hall. It is extraordinary that there is still a tremendous lack of planning. We build our concert hall and we are delighted with it in our capital city, both from an aesthetic viewpoint in relation to the building itself and the aesthetics of music. I hope that our National Symphony Orchestra is not in jeopardy. We also have our national choral society. The members of the National Symphony Orchestra are not just there for love of music; it is their bread and butter. I am sure they are there primarily for love of music, but they have to live. I am sure they are shivering in fear and trepidation lest their future might be in jeopardy.
With reference to the RTE Players, they are bringing tremendous entertainment to people living alone and to people in hospital. Some patients tune into RTE Radio 1 and look forward to the tremendously high standard of drama that RTE produce. They produce Irish plays and not necessarily Chekov.
I hope that programmes like "Looking West" with Jim Fahy are not in jeopardy. Think of the audience he has, think of the culture that has been preserved in the more remote parts of our country, think of the taped conversations and recordings he has made of the most extraordinarily interesting people. That brings radio back to the individual. I hope that in a united Europe — politically, economically and otherwise — we will not lose sight of our Irishness and our values. To me they are encapsulated in many of the programmes that Senators today enumerated. We could think of Ciarán Mac Mathúna, a Limerick man who certainly does not think parochially. His programme on Sunday morning has done much for the cultural aspects of the country. I will refer to Senator Paschal Mooney, to whom I tune in very often. He has done a tremendous amount to link up with our emigrants, not in Britain alone, but throughout the world. He is compulsive listening for many of us. I even know when his programmes are on, tune in, and often comment on what I would like to hear. I hope I will be able to continue to listen to Senator Paschal Mooney's harmonious and eloquent tones. He is less confrontational when he is on the airwaves than in the House. He has a pleasant entertaining side which we see, too, in this House, but which we particularly hear on radio. I hope he will not be cut out as a result of the loss of £12 million that Senator Kiely dismissed so quickly a few moments ago.
We also have the Thomas Davis lectures. There is something for everybody on RTE Radio culturally, from an historical and archaeological viewpoint. There are the most extraordinary programmes. There are programmes relating to medical coverage and there are some excellent programmes on Sunday. We have a marvellous RTE, whether it is radio or television. People who come here on holidays find it extraordinary that such a small country, with a small population and on such a small budget, can entertain so widely and in such quality.
May I make a reference to costs? Millions and millions of pounds are spent by BBC on their news coverage. I have the costs and will refer to them again. Their "Newsnight" budget alone is greater than the full budget of RTE for news. I can tune into RTE news or BBC news, but I certainly opt for RTE. We do not fully appreciate what we have.
If you look through our specialist correspondents, the name on everybody's lips at the moment is Orla Guerin. She started off in the Limerick Post, the local paper in Limerick. It is a free newspaper and is put through all the letter boxes. Her reporting was excellent. We knew that she was not going to stay very long before she found her way to more important channels of communication. Now she is our Eastern European correspondent. She is excellent. I can see Orla Guerin coming back. I do not think she will have to come back to the Limerick Post, but I think she will be snapped up immediately by international media coverage, who will see her potential as a broadcaster and as an excellent correspondent.
I would also like to refer to a past student of mine, Ann Daly, whose rise to fame was associated very much with being in El Salvador at the time of the murder of Archbishop Romero. She is on RTE very regularly. She has given us enormous enjoyment, although I suppose I would not call it "enjoyment" in relation to her coverage of Third World countries. She gave us a most extraordinary appraisal last week of the disaster in Iran. Will these excellent communicators have to be sent on their way and snapped up by other stations maybe here, or ITV, or Welsh TV, the BBC or whatever? You are talking about European networks because these girls have foreign languages. That is why they are where they are. I worry about their future.
What about the specialist correspondents? Will we find that, for instance, in the mid-west the particular RTE employee there will have to be a jack-of-all-trades? Will he have to cover agricultural issues? Will he have to cover all the areas which have news coverage? Will the specialist correspondents have to go? The budget for news coverage for the BBC is £120 million. It covers salaries and production costs. The budget for RTE is £5 million. The budget for "Newsnight" on BBC is £6 million, for just one programme.