Tuesday, 20 February 1968
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Childers): I do not accept the implication that the independence of Radio Telefís Éireann is not adequately secured by existing legislation. The Broadcasting Authority Acts 1960 to 1966 contain the minimum of restrictions on the Authority and enable it to carry out effectively its function of establishing and maintaining a national television and sound broadcasting service. Accordingly, the question of introducing new legislation does not arise.
Mr. Cluskey: Would the Minister not consider there is considerable disquiet with regard to the operation of the 1960 Broadcasting Act? Would he not consider it would be in the public interest, in view of the very serious allegations made regarding Government interference with programmes, that a sworn public inquiry be held into the operation of the Act?
Mr. Corish: Would the Minister be able to inform us whether or not the Director General knew expenditure had been incurred in making a film in connection with an area known as Mountpleasant and an interview in regard to the Special Branch——
Mr. Mullen: Arising from the Minister's reply and having regard to the fact that he says he does not accept the implication of this question, surely he is concerned with the public disquiet that exists over this whole situation and surely the obvious solution is to have more understanding about it, a public inquiry being the obvious thing or else an opportunity to debate the matter in this House?
Mr. Childers: As the Deputy knows Radio Telefís Éireann is responsible to the Government who appoint the directors and money is voted by the Dáil. During the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs Deputies discuss the Report of Radio Telefís Éireann for the year and they can discuss it and have discussed it in the past.
Mr. Childers: This offers an opportunity to all Deputies to give their general consensus of opinion on the operation of Telefís Éireann. Does the Deputy want to stop that because according to the questions he suggests that RTE should be given more independence and if ever, in the opinion of the Members of the Dáil, RTE apparently was going in a direction they do not desire, the Government would be the first to be blamed? Therefore, I think it is advisable to continue the present situation in which there is an annual Estimate discussion, such as there was last year. I made a speech at the conclusion, none of which was contested or disagreed with by any Member of the House, and this is the best way whereby Deputies can give their consensus of opinion on RTE.
Mr. Corish: The Minister has said that this House provides the money for the operation of RTE. Has he inquired into the allegation that has been made about money being wasted in filming three programmes to which I have referred?
Mr. Childers: In case it might not arise on the next question, I want to say that the Board's decisions were made without any kind of outside interference, either by the Government or by any individual Minister.
Mr. Childers: The Board consists of persons of varying occupations and to suggest that any one of them would agree to a decision of the kind they made under duress is wholly irresponsible. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House——
Mr. Cluskey: and Mr. Mullen asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs whether any written directives have been given by him to Radio Telefís Éireann over the past 12 months; and, if so, the terms of the directives.
Mr. Cosgrave: asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs whether since 1st January 1967 he has directed the Broadcasting Authority to refrain from broadcasting any particular matter under the provisions of section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960; and, if so, if he will state the matter or matters.
Mr. MacEntee: I should like to ask the Minister if he is aware that following a recent convention of the Fine Gael Party to select a candidate for Clare, a former Chief Whip of that Party presented himself in Montrose, forced his way into the editor's office complaining that the news bulletin was not to their liking and asking for a bulletin to the Fine Gael specification?
Mr. Childers: There was no instruction of any sort given. All this has  arisen because the Deputies of the Labour Party have the foolish idea that the Irish people's sense of fair play is so poor that they would actually pay us to direct RTE to braodcast accounts of the PR debate in a manner which would show prejudice. They ought to have a better idea of the Irish people's sense of fair play. The House can be perfectly certain of this.
Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Could I put this to the Minister? Whatever about the question of the Board, I think, in fairness to the Head of News of RTE, it should be made quite clear that he is a journalist of the highest repute and a man of intergrity. I am sure the Minister will agree with me on that.
Mr. Childers: I am very glad the Deputy prompted me on that question because there was a scandalous suggestion in a periodical that the Chairman of the Board was in a conspiracy with the Head of News in order to bring about this position. That is a complete libel. I am very glad the Deputy mentioned it.
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