Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (9, 25)

Richard Bruton


9. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he is in a position to finalise the membership of the Media Commission. [16500/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Kelly


25. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he is in a position to finalise the membership of the Media Commission. [26658/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 25 together.

In December 2019, the Government agreed the terms of reference for the commission on the future of Irish public service broadcasting, to be established by the Department of the Taoiseach. Professor Brian MacCraith, former president of Dublin City University, was appointed as chair of the commission. The programme for Government has expanded the remit of the commission on the future of Irish public service broadcasting to become the Future of Media Commission, which will consider the future of print, broadcast, and online media in a platform-agnostic fashion. The terms of reference have been amended in light of this expanded remit.

Today, the Government approved the terms of reference and membership of the Future of Media Commission. The commission is tasked with proposing how public service broadcasting aims should be delivered in Ireland over the next ten years, how this should contribute to supporting Ireland’s cultural and creative sectors, and how this work can be funded in a way that is sustainable, gives greater security of funding, ensures independent editorial oversight and delivers value for money to the public. The commission is also responsible for making recommendations on RTÉ’s role, financing and structure within this framework and how this is overseen and regulated while having regard to our European Union obligations, including the requirements of the revised audiovisual and media services directive.

The members of the Commission have been selected to capture a range of expertise in the various areas of public service communications and are as follows: chair of the commission, Professor Brian MacCraith, former president of Dublin City University; Sinead Burke, writer and academic active in social media and member of the Council of State; Alan Rusbridger, chair of the steering committee of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and former editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media; Lynette Fay, freelance broadcaster with an academic background in applied communications through Gaeilge; Nuala O’Connor, co-founder of South Wind Blows and writer and documentary film-maker in the areas of music and the arts; Gillian Doyle, professor of media economics at the University of Glasgow; Mark Little, CEO and co-founder of Kinzen and founder of Storyful, a social news agency; Stephen McNamara, director of communications at the Irish Rugby Football Union; and Dr. Finola Doyle-O’Neill, broadcast historian at University College Cork. Two further proposed members have agreed to serve on the commission, subject to approval by their employers. Their names will be announced once that approval is obtained.

It is expected that the commission will engage in wide-ranging consultation with all relevant stakeholders and sectors to ensure that all relevant perspectives are considered in its work. It is to report within nine months on the necessary measures that need to be taken to ensure there is a vibrant, independent and sustainable public service media for the next generation. I thank the eminent members of the commission for their commitment to chart the pathway for public service broadcasting and media, particularly Professor Brian MacCraith, who has been an innovator in education and is a pre-eminent intellectual in Irish public life. I look forward to receiving their recommendations in due course.

I thank the Taoiseach for providing a full answer on this timely question. This is a genuinely exciting opportunity to shape a new media environment rather than allowing our existing media to be hollowed out by some of the forces of change that are currently at work. Does the Taoiseach agree that Covid has underlined the importance of an independent media more vividly than ever before and that it has exposed the vulnerability of many of our media sources in a way that may not have been clear previously? Does he agree that some trends in this area cannot be reversed, such as the decline in the use by younger people of traditional media as well as the growth of global platforms offering a wide array of content? There is an opportunity here to signpost a new direction such that citizens are properly informed and we have proper audiences for our significant range of sport, culture and other activities.

I welcome the nine-month turnaround time for the report. Will regulatory issues come up for consideration? Will some of the issues around competitive platforms and the freedom they may have compared with traditional media be matters for consideration as well as the issue of the greater range of content, as outlined in the terms of reference?

I welcome the announcement that was made earlier today. I note the Taoiseach stated that two places on the commission are yet to be filled. My party and I hope that full-time journalists will be appointed to those positions. In concurring with the remarks of Deputy Bruton, I would note that journalism is in a very difficult position, not least in these Houses where it has never been more important to have good journalism. Anybody who is reading the book "Champagne Football" or listening to the online podcasts about George Gibney will know that we need journalism to hold people to account, to find truth and to keep the institutions of the State, and every other institution, honest. However, even in these Houses it can be seen that many former political commentators have drifted into becoming political advisers because there is a feeling that journalism is not a sustainable profession at this time. It does not pay well, the hours are unreasonable and there does not seem to be as much of a future in it as may previously have been the case. That said, a central tenet of any democracy is the ability of journalists to ask questions and find the truth. Does the Taoiseach share that nervousness about the state of journalism in Ireland and internationally? Does he hope the commission can speak to those issues and deal with them in a real way?

The commission is to consider the future of print, broadcast and online media in what is described as "a platform-agnostic fashion", which is an interesting turn of phrase. Consideration needs to be given to the differing regulatory frameworks governing online media and traditional media. I think all Members present agree on the absolute importance and urgency of the work of the commission. Quality public service journalism and broadcasting are essential. They are at the core of our entire democratic system.

I am conscious of the point raised by Deputy Ó Ríordáin regarding those in the profession of journalism. There is ample evidence that many able professionals move from their first calling into the political space. We need to ask why that is the case. We also need to look at the new media and how that stitches in to provide an information-rich and diverse environment. As Members are aware, that is not always the case and, as such, regulation and regulatory frameworks need to be examined.

I agree with much of what has been stated by the Deputies. I did not quite catch the final point made by Deputy Bruton. Is it the balance between traditional media and-----

Yes, the whole regulatory environment concerning who is a publisher and who is not and these sort of obligations.

When we say in "a platform-agnostic fashion", I think there is a view emerging that there has been a seismic change in terms of non-traditional media, such as those using online platforms. As Deputy Ó Ríordáin stated, that has impacted on the quality of life of journalists and the quality of the job itself. It is extraordinary that those currently working in journalism must marry so many different platforms and be on all of them almost simultaneously from morning to night. It is often the case that when one checks one's Twitter account one sees that a journalist is reporting breaking news. Journalists are competing to be the first to report breaking news in addition to having to write articles and columns and carry out analysis. It is an extremely demanding and challenging job.

The financial underpinning of all of this is a significant issue. Overall, we must accept that editorially independent journalism is essential to underpin our democracy in the modern era. It is vulnerable to attack from new platforms, as we know from the experiences in other jurisdictions. The Irish system is no less vulnerable to such attacks than the system in any other jurisdiction, whether at election time or any other time. That must be kept under review. Above all, journalism should be financially remunerative. Those working in the sector should be able to anticipate and aspire to a particular quality of life, but that is becoming more challenging and difficult.

Public service broadcasting is very important. I agree with Deputy Bruton's observation that Covid-19 has shown public service broadcasting at its best. It has also shown the extent of the vulnerability of various forms of media. Local media in particular came under significant threat because of the absolute collapse in advertising during the early phase of the pandemic. Such organisations are still under pressure as a result of that collapse. Advertising spend at a national level has been somewhat restored, which is helping broadcasting.

We must be clear about the importance of arts and culture in this area. The synergies between culture and creative media and broadcast must be explored.

In terms of the music, I favour the symphony orchestra being separated out but getting ring-fenced funding for the future - it is not quite under the remit of this - as per a previous decision. We need to clear the demarcation lines but also create synergies between broadcasting, media in general and the arts and culture. That is why they are all situated within one Department now, which is far better than was the case heretofore.

I believe we are at a crossroads. We must be prepared. In talking of the financing, I have been criticised for believing we should financially underpin our media and we should do it in a way that ring-fences its editorial independence, both in broadcasting and in print media.

I think we should financially underpin it through a universal approach. The licence fee, in itself, is not sufficient. The methodology of collecting it is not sufficient. Many people are paying it. Quite a number are not. That is not fair. It is also not at present in a position to underpin the quality, breadth and width of public service broadcasting that the State requires to underpin our democracy. Those are my general views on it.