I welcome this Bill and it is a courageous decision by the Minister to bring it before us. During the years 1983 to 1987 we stood by while the airwaves had no regulation whatsoever. There is no one so foolish as to believe that all legislation can be 100 per cent correct but two items of legislation introduced in 1988 are responsible for 16 radio stations being in operation today. The Minister said that at some stage every day, after only one year in operation, 40 per cent of the people of Ireland tune in to local radio. That is a commendable listenership percentage for the 1988 legislation when one takes into account that the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Wicklow and parts of Tipperary still do not have local radio——
Broadcasting Bill, 1990: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I must remind the Senator to stay with the amendment. We are not into a Second Stage debate.
I want to say——
I ruled on that point earlier today and I ask Senator Cassidy to stay with the amendment.
I bow to your guidance in relation to these matters and I always have respected it. Positive legislation has been brought before the Oireachtas by the Minister for Communications, Deputy Burke. I want to compliment him for his courage in bringing this legislation before us and for that reason we must give him credit where it is due.
Amendment No. 2 reads:
In page 4, line 8, to delete "1990" and substitute "1995".
It was conveyed to me, when we were debating this Bill in the other House, that the start date was a subject of difficulty for RTE because of possible contractual commitments entered into with advertisers and others relating to their autumn and winter programming schedules. I listened to the points made about the potential difficulties and, with that in mind, took on board those arguments and changed the proposal that the Bill would come into force on the day signed by the President to its coming into force on 1 October 1990. When this Bill was published its provisions would have meant, in this year, a change of approximately £5 million in revenue for RTE. As a result of the change I have effected they will now have a saving of approximately £2.2 million this year. That was a major step by the Government. I am not prepared to accept the "1995" date proposed by Senators on the far side of the House.
The point made by Senator Staunton that the Bill all hinged on the fact that TV3 was not yet in place just does not stand up. The fact of the matter is that we have alternative radio in place. The provisions of this Bill are geared not only at the electronic media but also the print media, the latter having been in place for many years. Therefore, I am not prepared to delay the implementation of the Bill until 1995.
I understand we are discussing amendments Nos. 2 and 11 together.
That is correct.
At the outset I should say that, from these benches, we did not hear the call naming Senator O'Toole. I appreciate what the Leas-Chathaoirleach said but, certainly, it was not heard.
Senator, we have dealt with that; the Senator must remain with the amendment before the House.
While being totally opposed to the Bill my party support this amendment because we believe it will ameliorate its worst effects. We do not see any great need for rushing its implementation. Certainly, RTE will have to adjust to the enormous cutback in their revenue envisaged under this provision. Therefore, it would be very reasonable for the Minister to postpone the implementation date to enable measures to be put in place and procedures initiated so that RTE are afforded an opportunity to adjust. The least we might expect from the Minister is he will provide an interim period to allow RTE adjust to the changes being proposed.
There is a connection also with amendment No. 11 in that we are requesting that the provisions of section 4 not come into effect until the Minister for Communications has issued a commencement order which shall be placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The second part of our amendment No. 11 reads:
(6) The provisions of this section will cease to have effect unless the Minister for Communications brings an order before both Houses of the Oireachtas for their renewal within twelve months from the date of issue of the Commencement Order.
We must remember that what the Minister is proposing is a new code of practice. In the other section he is proposing new capping arrangements in relation to advertising and, in this one, arrangements with regard to a code of practice. I should like to make the point that RTE's existing code is recognised internationally as a valuable one. In fact it is the basis on which the European Council are developing their uniform code of practice for the European scene. It is not a question of there being any fault in the existing code of practice. The Minister could allow circumstances develop until we receive uniform guidelines from the European Council. There is no reason to impose restrictions at present. Having received those uniform guidelines the Minister could consider issuing a commencement order to be placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
In section 3 the Minister is taking onto himself certain powers to further cap RTE's ability to earn advertising revenue in that he is further restricting their advertising time on air.
Section 4 (2) reads:
(2) A code under subsection (1) relating to the Authority may provide for the extent to which the Authority's promotion of its own commercial activities within its own broadcasting services is to be treated as advertising for the purposes of section 3...
That provision could amount to a further lessening of RTE's ability to earn revenue.
The Minister taking onto himself those restrictive powers — which I believe to be part and parcel of the Bill's overall restrictive powers — will lead to a constitutional challenge against this Bill. The least we can expect from the Minister is that the relevant orders be placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas. We do not know what will be the precise encroachment on RTE's advertising time. I contend this section should not have been included in the Bill in the first place. Their advertising time reduced to five minutes hourly will be encroached on further by any promotion no matter how small or large in relation to their programmes. I contend it is normal for RTE to refer to programmes what will arise later which, in itself——
I must request the Senator to remain with the amendment before the House.
This is very pertinent to this amendment and, in fact, is its whole purpose.
We are asking the Minister to take on board this amendment which seeks to afford both Houses of the Oireachtas an opportunity to ascertain precisely the extra capping arrangement supposedly hidden in this code of practice. Indeed, I contend it is more than a code of practice; it is a code of practice plus restrictions.
First of all, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, I should like to welcome your two rulings. It is very important that you should act ultra vires because the more this Bill proceeds the less constitutional it appears. I have no doubt that President Hillery will refer it to the Supreme Court.
I must ask the Senator to remain with the amendments.
I may say I am supported in this view by at least one former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.
I should like to support the two amendments. I do not imagine that the Minister will accept them. It would be a wild flight of fantasy to anticipate the Minister — although I can see him nodding in his usual charming way — accepting these amendments because they would certainly frustrate his intention. I have to say that I believe his intention is vindictive. I do not want to be personal about this. If I may explain to the Minister why I am not being personal then I should say there is a mass of vindictiveness throughout Fianna Fáil to which I listened during the day with regard to RTE. I may say there is also some element of it on this side of the House as well. Senator Manning's amendment seeks to delete "1990" and substitute "1995" would obviously frustrate the intention of the Bill and that is why it has been placed there.
The same could not quite be said of amendment No. 11, also a very sensible one, but need not necessarily limit the Minister's actions. It only requires him to place an instrument before the House. I doubt if he will do it, because it would be an indication of a genuine commitment to democracy which in this instance, in this Bill, I think is absent from the Minister's intention.
Earlier in the day we were treated to some lectures from the Government side about the dangers of filibustering and we reminded the Government parties that this filibustering had been perfected by Charles Stewart Parnell. I would like to place on the record some well known words, from Charles Stewart Parnell: "No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation". RTE is a national institution and the Minister is constructing a very skilful attack upon RTE and attempting to restrict the march of a national institution.
I must insist that the Senator speaks to the amendment.
I am speaking to the amendment.
In my opinion you are straying fairly far from it. I would ask you to come back and speak to the amendment.
The Senator is meandering.
I am not meandering. I am pointing out——
Senator Norris, without interruption please.
I am pointing out that the intention of the first amendment is to frustrate the Bill because it attempts to spancel RTE, to spancel a national institution, and for those reasons——
Spancelling is always a very effective way of controlling——
Senator Norris without interruption, please.
I would like to place on the record my gratitude to Senator Lanigan, the disciple whom Jesus loved but apparently his father was not too keen, for making my point for me. This is an attempt to control the airwaves, and it is a very dangerous one because it does, as Senator Lanigan has so correctly said, attempt to restrict freedom of speech. For that reason certain sections of this Bill are clearly unconstitutional and this side of the House, uniting in opposition, will attempt to get President Hillery to refer it to the Supreme Court.
In relation to the points made by the Senator about the limit on advertising time, if this was the first time it was introduced there might be some basis for the argument he makes. There is, however already a limit and a cap on the advertising time available to RTE. That has always been the case; it is six minutes with flexibility up to seven and a half minutes at the moment. What is happening is that it is being altered on the basis of the underlying principle of this legislation and the 1988 legislation, a principle which I know the Senator holds dear to his heart, the principle of pluralism. What we want is pluralism of the airwaves. We want choice. We no longer want monopoly. We do not want what we had during Fine Gael's time, a choice of 70 illegal pirate stations. We want choice in the legal sense which was created as a result of the legislation I brought in 1987-88 with the first of those stations decided upon by the Independent. Radio and Television Commission coming on air in 1989. We want choice. We want pluralism, and that is what this legislation is about. I totally reject the accusation of vindictiveness in relation to RTE.
RTE is, and always will be, the premier broadcasting agency and Authority in this country. It is the Authority which is owned by the taxpayers and it has served this country exceedingly well since its establishment in the twenties — and the television service since it came on air in the sixties. We are proud of what RTE do. I, as Minister for Communications, have extended their hours in my period as Minister, I have done everything that is humanly possible to extend their hours, I have extended their hours in Cork; I have extended their television broadcasting hours during the day for their news programmes, etc; and I have given sanction for the construction of long awaited and long delayed, but thankfully nearly completed, new studios and library to store their vast treasure trove of records. All of these things I have done because I respect and admire the work of RTE.
We cannot, however, close our eyes to what is happening around us in Europe. We cannot just build a wall and put a roof on it and say we are not going to have any stations coming from abroad, that we are going to close off the airwaves and leave it to a State monopoly. Right across Europe in the old days there were State monopolies which provided a limited service. That has broken down right across Europe because people want choice, and what we are doing is making sure they have that choice.
We brought in legislation to give people the choice of RTE or local radio. People are demanding choice in television also by subscribing to piped television, using illegal deflector systems and signing up for the MMDS system. As was mentioned by a Cork Senator earlier this morning, there are 15 or 16 channels available in the Cork region; only two of them from Ireland. All of these other influences are coming from abroad.
It is the Government's view that as well as the excellent programme provided by RTE 1 and Network 2 we should have a third choice from an Irish source, with an Irish ethos for the Irish people, so that they would have a choice between Irish television networks and foreign networks. That makes sense; it is logical. That is what we are trying to provide. This legislation is fundamental to the principle of plurality which I know Senator Norris treasures so much.
If I might just comment a little on that. I wonder if the Minister listens to or watches a great deal of television either on the continent of Europe or in the United States of America——
——because I have the opportunity frequently to visit Europe and America, and if the Minister is under any illusion that what one gets on the Continent or in America is choice, then I am afraid he is not living in the real world. What one gets is wall to wall video music. I wonder if that is the kind of European plurality that the Minister wants to inflict on this country.
That is silly. It is not true.
It is true.
Senator Norris, without interruption, and I would ask Senator Norris to stay with the amendments.
I am addressing my remarks to the Minister and if the Minister is straying outside the amendments I can hardly be held responsible for it.
I thought it was an interesting and well argued position that the Minister took, although I was not entirely convinced by it. I am interested that he thought so feelingly about plurality and the influence of continental Europe. I hope that when he wears his other hat he will one day get around to listening to the voice of European plurality as expressed by the European Court of Human Rights to which he is being signally deaf.
Pretty well everything the Minister said about choice is sensible. We are all for choice but the problem with what is proposed is that it will restrict choice. It will damage RTE and effectively take it out of the park. That is why we are concerned.
The maximum effect of this legislation, even from the point of view of those who would be most critical of it, would be to bring RTE back, in money terms, to the income they had in 1988. We are talking about an income of roughly £100 million for the State broadcasting company to provide a broadcasting service for a population of 3.5 million. Together with that, I am trying in every way possible to support them in the development of their commercial units.
This Bill extends the date from 1990 to 1995 and sets out the quality and content of the programming. I accept that Senator Norris has a strong view about whether we are talking about a choice of wall to wall music videos etc. I would remind him of the Radio and Television Act, 1988, and what section 18 (3) and (4), lays down for the independent broadcaster on the television side, the commission being the Independent Radio and Television Commission.
(3) The Commission shall ensure that the television programme service provided under the Act shall in its programming — (a) be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community, be mindful of the need for understanding and peace within the whole island of Ireland, ensure that the programmes reflect the varied elements which make up the culture of the people of the whole island of Ireland, and have special regard for the elements which distinguish that culture and in particular for the Irish language; (b) uphold the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution, especially those relating to the rightful liberty of expression; (c) have regard to the need for the formation of public awareness and understanding of the values and traditions of countries other than the State, including in particular those of such countries which are members of the European Community; and
(d) includes a reasonable proportion of news and current affairs programmes;
and the television programme service contractor shall comply with any requirements of the Commission in respect of such matters. Subsection (4) reads:
(4) For the purpose of ensuring compliance with subsection (3) the Commission shall ensure that a reasonable proportion of the programme service—
(a) is produced in the State or in another Member State of the European Community and
(b) is devoted to original programme material produced therein by persons other than the contractor, his subsidiary, his parent of existing broadcasting organisations.
That is the mandate under which the independent television company will operate. It is the same mandate as RTE operate under at present except it goes further to include the fact that they must provide a reasonable proportion of their programme service from independent sources outside of their own organisations. To say that the services to be provided by the television company will in some way be a reduced service is misleading; they cannot do that by law. It is laid down in the Act passed by this House and by the Dáil. It is fundamental to us as a nation that we meet and have the opportunity to have at least one further source of entertainment, news, current affairs and the Irish ethos to bring us up to three stations to match the 15, 20 or 30 that will be beamed in within the next couple of years.
Is the amendment being withdrawn? There is a number of amendments to be discussed, and I am only trying to move things along.
I wish to raise two items; first, the Minister has not responded to amendment No. 11. I would like to hear what he has to say about that amendment. Listening to the Minister I sometimes think he is arguing from the point of view of this side of the House, and I am wondering if it is the same Minister who has this legislation here at all? None of us is against having three services. I have not heard a Senator speak against a third service.
We are all in favour of pluralism. We are all in favour of the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution. Those are precisely the things we are seeking to save by opposing this legislation. The independents are already in existence. There is competition. What the Minister is doing is not in the interest of competition but, as I see it, in the interest of unfair competition. We already have competition. What we have seen in the original proposals, is an attempt to nobble 2FM; the diversion of the licence fee and now the capping of advertising. That is not fair competition. These are specific proposals to get rid of fair competition. Let us not hear the Minister speak of pluralism and democratic values in relation to this legislation.
I would also ask the Minister to address some remarks to amendment No. 11.
While one agrees with the section the Minister read out from the 1988 Bill, it was very largely a pious aspiration. I do not think there is anything really strictly legally binding in it. It is subject to interpretation. For example, what is a reasonable proportion and has that been determined? I do not know, and the Minister does not know either, because he is having to consult. There are always these preambles. As working politicians we know that every piece of fraudulent legislation contains an element of whitewash.
The Minister referred most unwisely to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I hope they stick to their guns, and remain firm in their attitude which is opposition to this Bill. They have suggested that they will get out of the national agreement as a result of their hostility to this Bill which they plainly do not see in quite the same democratic terms as the Minister does.
I would like to make one final point. I welcome the fact that as usual the Minister gives very clear concrete examples of things. That is helpful in a debate like this. He mentioned a figure of £100 million but he placed this in the context of the comparability of RTE to some of the other incoming signals such as from the BBC. I may be incorrect but I believe that the current budget figures for BBC News is £175 million, so how can a station in Ireland with a total global budget of £100 million compete if it is being restricted to £100 million with a world service from the neighbouring island that has a budget for news alone of £175 million?
I suggest that the proof is the TAM ratings. RTE are competing with them and have been competing with them in 1985 and doing an excellent job. I see no reason that they cannot compete and continue to compete. The argument in relation to RTE versus BBC — I will not quibble with the Senator's figure — it is slightly less than £175 million, but my understanding is that the new service is over £100 million. We are dealing with vastly different populations. RTE have been doing an excellent job and will continue to do so.
The same arguments as I put up for the rejection of amendment No. 2 stand for amendment No. 11. Amendment No. 11 is merely another delaying tactic and the Government have decided that it is a matter where we are going to ensure that this legislation comes into place on 1 October.
I cannot accept that this amendment is another delaying tactic. There is a specific provision in amendment No. 11 that——
"The provisions of this section will cease to have effect unless the Minister for Communications brings an order before both Houses of the Oireachtas for their renewal within twelve months..."
We have the opportunity of seeing what is in the provisions. This section makes provision for the further capping of RTE's revenue from advertising, because the promotion of their own commercial activities is included. We would want to see the effect that will have. Will the limit of five minutes on advertising per hour take from RTE's scope to advertise themselves? It is not a delaying tactic. It is a specific reference to a new restriction on top of the existing capping restriction in section 3. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say it is a delaying tactic.
I do not want this to be interpreted as any smart alicky remark or anything else, but we argued that issue at great length with Senator O'Toole and another Senator when we were dealing with amendment No. 1 earlier. I do not want to be accused by the Chair of repetition at this stage.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 4, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
"3.—(1) The Minister shall appoint a review body to be known as the Broadcasting Policy Review Council (in this Act referred to as the ‘Broadcasting Council').
(2) The Broadcasting Council shall consist of representatives of the Authority, the Independent Radio and Television Commission, radio and television broadcasting contractors, advertisers, newspapers, faculties of communications in the institutes of higher learning, the trade unions, the Irish language and such other persons as the Minister thinks fit.
(3) There shall not be more than 18 members on the Broadcasting Council.
(4) The Broadcasting Council shall make an annual report to both Houses of the Oireachtas including its recommendations for changes in broadcasting policy.
(5) Its remit shall include consideration of all relevant questions affecting community, local, national and international broadcasting including funding, competition (internal and external), balance standards (including standards relating to good taste, violence, sex and language), public order, copyright, performing rights, home production (including independent home production), Irish language culture and news content.".
Táimid ag tógáil le chéile leasuithe uimhreacha a 3, 4, 14, 15 agus 24, de réir mar atá ordaithe anseo. Baineann siad seo uilig le Comhairle Athbhreithnithe Pholasaí Raidió, nó mar a thugtar air anseo, the Broadcasting Policy Review Council. Tá súil agam, mar sin, go bhfanfaidh mé ar an ábhar agus nach mbeidh mé ag imeacht uaidh. Tá sé ráite go han-soiléir céard atá i gceist sa leasú seo. In aon eagraíocht ar nós RTE, nó Raidió na Gaeltachta, bíonn comhairle ann. Teastaíonn comhairle le cúnamh, le treoir, le misneach a thabhairt, agus le hathruithe a mholadh ó am go chéile. Faoin mBille mar atá sé tá sé faoi smacht an iomarca ag an Aire.
Ba dheas agus ba mhaith an rud é go mbeadh comhairle le fáil ag an Aire ó bhliain go chéile. Sin atá molta sna leasuithe seo go léir, uimhreacha a 3, 4, 14, 15, 24 agus bainfidh cuid áirithe de na rudaí seo leis an gComhairle Athbhreithnithe Pholasaí Raidió seo. Anois, cé a bheadh ar an gcomhairle seo? Tá sé leagtha síos sna leasuithe 3, 4, 14, 15 seo. Níl a fhios ag Seanadóirí céard faoi a bhfuil mé ag caint agus beidh siad ag rá aon nóiméad anois go bhfuil mé as ord. Tá mé ag rá leo ná, an comhdhéanamh a bheidh sa chomhairle athbhreithnithe seo ná, daoine ó RTE, duine nó beirt ón IRTC, daoine atá ag plé le fógraíocht, fógraíocht raidió, nó fógraíocht teilifíse, na páipéir nuachta náisiúnta agus nuachtáin chúigí agus áitiúla.
Tá sé molta anseo go mbeidh 18 nduine ar an gcomhairle le comhairle a chur ar an Aire. Bheadh daoine ar an gcomhairle seo le cúnamh agus comhairle a thabhairt ó thaobh na Gaeilge de. Tá sé luaite ansin go speisialta, ag bun alt a dó sa líne deireanach. Cheapfadh an tAire daoine feiliúacha eile le dul ar an gcomhairle seo. Is rud inmholta é comhairle bheith ann le ceisteanna a chur. In amanna eascraíonn deacrachtaí agus ba dheas an rud dá mbeadh an grúpa daoine seo ag gníomhú, dála, abair, Raidió na Gaeltachta, a bhfuil comhairle ann ar a bhfuil 16 bhall. Tagann siadsan le chéile go rialta, ar a laghad ceithre huaire i rith na bliana, chun chuile shórt a bhaineann leis an raidió sin a phlé, agus cuireann siad a gcuid moltaí ar aghaidh chuig an Aire.
Anois, ní chaithfidh an tAire glacadh le moltaí an chomhairle seo, mar ní rud bunreachtúil é. Ní bheadh sé ag feidhmiú faoin Acht. Ag deireadh na bliana chuirfí tuairisc le chéile ar imeachtaí na bliana. Is dócha, freisin, nuair a bheadh an tuairisc bhliantúil á déanamh go mbeadh athruithe le moladh, polasaithe nua le cur i gcrích tar éis athbhreithniú a dhéanamh. Ansin, i bhfo-alt (4) den leasú, tá sé ráite go speisialta go rachfaí i gcomhairle le lucht fógraíochta, na daoine a bhfuil baint acu le cúrsaí fógraíochta agus poiblíochta ar an raidió agus an teilifís, agus go mbeadh cruinniú acu siúd leis an gcomhairle sé mhí ar a laghad roimh dheireadh na bliana. Má bhíonn athruithe le déanamh agus moltaí faoi chaibidil bheadh siad le fáil ag an gcomhairle in am le hiad a chur chuig an Aire sa chaoi go bhféadfadh an tAire iad siúd a chur san áireamh dá mbeadh sé ag moladh athruithe ar bith i modhanna imeachta agus riaracháin raidió agus teilifíse.
Faoi láthair níl aon rud mar sin ann agus níl sé i gceist ag an Aire aon chomhairle mar sin a ghlacadh. Déarfaidh sé go bhfuil RTE ann. Ach, tá comhairle ag Raidió na Gaeltachta agus dá mbeadh an argóint ann nach gá seo a bheith ann, cén fáth, mar sin, go bhfuil a leithéid ag Raidió na Gaeltachta, agus go bhfuil fáilte roimh a leithéid, mar baineann siad uilig leis an rud céanna? Nuair a bheadh an t-athbhreithniú á dhéanamh ag an gcomhairle seo, chuirfí san áireamh chuile cheist a bhainfeadh le raidió nó teilifís. Bheadh siad ag caint ar aon athrú a thiocfadh ar phobal áitiúil, mar shampla, aon athrú go mba chóir nó inmholta a chur i bhfeidhm ar raidió nó theilifís áitiúil, nó ar raidió náisiúnta nó idirnáisiúnta. Bheadh siad in ann labhairt faoi chaighdeáin ó thaobh na cothromaíochta, na Gaeilge agus an chultúir de maidir le hathruithe atá beartaithe.
Sin iad na feidhmeanna a d'fheicfí dá gcuirfí ar bun an chomhairle athbhreithnithe seo atá molta. D'iarrfainn ar an Aire é sin a chur san áireamh agus gan dearmad a dhéanamh de leasú 24 go háirithe, atá anseo freisin. Tá teilifís na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta sonraithe ansin. Dúirt mé an oíche cheana gurbh é sin ceann de na bunlochtanna a bhí ar an mBille, maidir le hiarthar na hÉireann, lucht na Gaeilge agus muintir na Gaeltachta, nach raibh tada ráite ann faoi theilifís Ghaeilge a bheith bunaithe sa Ghaeltacht. Tá sé molta anseo, nuair a cheapfaí an chomhairle athbhreithnithe, go suífeadh siad síos leis an Aire mar chomhairleoirí agus go ndéanfadh siad machnamh an-ghéar agus an-láidir ar theilifís Ghaeilge nó theilifís Ghaeltachta, an costas a bheadh air, an bealach a bhféadfaí é a chur ar bun agus an t-am lena chur ar bun.
Ar ndóigh, mholfaí, agus bheinn ag súil le go mbeadh an chomhairle seo ag moladh don Aire, go gcuirfí ar bun teilifís Ghaeilge, Ghaeltachta, neamhspleách agus go bhféadfadh sin a bheith ann in áit RTE3, mar shampla, mar ní dóigh liomsa go n-éireoidh go deo le RTE3. Ach, mar sin, níl mise ag iarraidh comhairle a chur ar an gcomhairle, nach bhfuil bunaithe fós. Tá mé ag moladh, nuair a bheidh a leithéid sin ar bun, go dtabharfadh sé aird ar an gcomhairle seo agus go mbeadh sé i gceist go gcuirfeadh siad comhairle ar an Aire.