Friday, 29 June 1990
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Communications (Mr. Burke): In relation to the amendment before the House, last evening in regard to the establishment of a commission on broadcasting, I had made known my view that I am opposed to the establishment of such a commission and said I could not accept the amendment.
My reasons for not accepting this amendment were clearly outlined last evening in the course of my contributions. First, it was clear from the  position we inherited in 1987 that, if there had been an appropriate time to have a commission on broadcasting here, that was in the early stages of the eighties rather than having wasted those five years of Coalition Government from 1982 to 1987.
We heard at great length from Deputies Michael D. Higgins and Taylor in the course of the two day debate — I might say two days in which we succeeded in getting through two amendments — about the difficulties they had in trying to come to an agreement in relation to the introduction of a broadcasting Bill. We heard about the debate that took place in that regard when Deputy Jim Mitchell was Minister. Deputy Jim Mitchell stood in this House yesterday and admitted that his only decision was to take no decision and have no action. What did that mean? It meant that the law was being brought into disrepute with over 70 pirate radio stations in operation in the country. I am glad to note that Deputy Rabbitte has just come into the House because we are discussing a Workers' Party amendment and we are delighted to have him here while this amendment is being discussed——
Mr. Burke: ——which deals with the establishment of a commission on broadcasting which, unfortunately, would have been appropriate ten years ago but not now. Resulting from those wasted five years of Coalition Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party we inherited a position in 1987 in which there were in operation over 70 pirate radio stations, bringing the law into disrepute. When we assumed office we took immediate action in relation to the establishment of a legal framework for radio and television. We also took immediate action to have those pirate radio stations taken off the air.
Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan suggested yesterday that the pirates could have been taken off the air under the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act. Of course I  might say that, under the provisions of the 1926 Act, there was a £50 fine for taking pirates off the air which was utterly laughable and needed to be updated. It was with that revision in mind I introduced legislation to take the pirates off the air, imposing a fine of £20,000 or two years in jail on indictment. That constituted real action to put proper broadcasting procedures in place.
What successes have we had? Since the 1988 Bill was passed, in September of last year, the first of the independent stations came on air, after the establishment of the Independent Radio and Television Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Henchy, a Supreme Court Judge. Public inquiries were held in relation to those stations around the country as a result of which stations were allocated. They started coming on air last September, continuing throughout the spring so that we now have approximately 20 local stations. One might well ask what has been the success of that legislation. We heard great weeping to the effect that the legislation was not working, that there was no call for or interest in independent radio. Yesterday figures were produced by the survey undertaken by RTE, the Independent Radio and Television Commission and the advertising industry — I might add totally independent and undertaken over the months of April and May. What did the results of that survey show? Did they show a failure in relation to the independent radio sector? On the contrary, they demonstrated that on a daily basis over one million people listen to the independent sector of radio. Since some of them have not yet come on air it is astonishing that they have already achieved 40 per cent of the market for radio here.
If one examines this survey on a county by county basis one will discover even greater success. For example, in County Clare 63 per cent of all radio listeners tune in to their local station. If one takes Cork north, there 47 per cent of the listening public listen to independent radio. Yet those on the other side of the House — when they are here — talk  about the fact that independent radio has failed as though the monopoly position which had prevailed until we brought in the legal regime still obtained. It must be realised that even that monopoly had been broken because there was the illegal choice, the public indicating that they wanted to listen to the pirate stations. The same position obtains in Limerick where 31 per cent of listeners to radio tune in to the local station in their area. In Waterford 43 per cent of radio listeners daily tune in to their independent local station. That fully justifies the view of this Government that there was and is a crying need for choice, and plurality of choice, in relation to our airwaves. The same can be said about television to which I will come in a few moments. If one takes the County of Mayo, there one finds that 49 per cent, representing approximately 41,000 people, of radio listeners at any one time tune in to their local independent radio station. If one takes, for example, Roscommon, Longford and south Leitrim, there 42 per cent, representing about 31,000 people, were surveyed and shown to listen to their local independent radio station. I must emphasise that this was not a survey undertaken by the Government, by the Fianna Fáil Party, one carried out by the independent stations themselves or indeed by the Independent Radio and Television Commission. This was a survey undertaken by RTE, the Independent Radio and Television Commission and the advertising sector.
If one takes Donegal north — where there is now an independent station — there 59 per cent, representing 44,000 people, listen to their local independent station. By the way that is not to say that the position of RTE is being affected. RTE remain — and this Government have said so all along — the premier broadcaster in this country. That is only right and proper and nothing in this Bill will affect that in any way. Nonetheless, it clearly illustrates to those cynics who said there was no need for independent radio that the people have decided there is and have decided they want to listen to it.
 If one takes the Leinster area one finds that, in Carlow/Kildare south area, 42 per cent of those people listening to radio tune in to their local independent radio station. The same thing applies in the Louth/Meath north area — LM/FM — also heard in north County Dublin — 33 per cent, representing approximately 36,000 people, listen to their independent radio service. I believe that to be full justification of the need that existed and of our decision to go ahead with independent radio.
In County Kilkenny I had the pleasure of opening a station — as I had in the case of many others — where 37 per cent of the people listen to their local radio station; overall 43 per cent of the population of the Kilkenny area listen to independent radio of one kind or another; actually 52 per cent listen to some independent station in Kilkenny and 43 per cent of one local station or another, of whom 37 per cent listen to their own Kilkenny station. If I take County Wexford, there one finds that 47 per cent of the listening audience tune in to independent radio at any one time in the day. That again is a total vindication of the decision to establish these stations.
Now that they have been established it is vitally important that the choice that is there in the radio sector should also be given in the television sector. I totally deny the allegations coming from the far side of the House for hour upon hour of debate over the last number of days, running from 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, to 1 a.m. the following morning and starting again at 10.30 and going on until 9 o'clock yesterday evening, that in some way this legislation was merely directed at damaging RTE. This legislation will mean that RTE, supplying a service to the 3.5 million people of the country, will have approximately £100 million at their disposal to meet their broadcasting needs. That is the equivalent of what they had in 1988. Nobody could suggest that with the £100 million they had available in 1988 their standards have fallen. Nor do I recall mass unemployment in the station. Yet there are all sorts of dire  warnings that this legislation will decimate RTE as we know it. We had those same dire warnings in the past.
There seems to be an attitude that if we touch the monopoly of RTE they will not be able to handle the competition. We had the same thing before when cable television was being introduced in the seventies. Then it was suggested that if we had cable there would be competition for RTE from BBC and UTV, that if the people had a choice they would abandon RTE, RTE would collapse and there would be mass unemployment and standards would drop, etc. Such did not happen. On the contrary, RTE have thrived under competition and it has brought the best out of RTE. They were brought to new levels of excellence because of competition. Competition is good for society and for any service. So it was when I published the 1988 legislation establishing independent national radio and television. It was said that unless RTE were running the local radio service as well as the national one it would be the end of RTE and that life as we knew it would disappear. That is not what has happened. RTE have risen to meet the challenge. The people, as well as listening to RTE, have indicated that they want to listen to independent stations as well.
What will this legislation do? It will leave room for the development, expansion and the strengthening of the radio services. It will also leave room for the establishment of the independent television sector here. Why do we need independent television? It has been argued from an ideological point of view, from Labour and The Workers' Party, that all we need is RTE. I do not know from what point of view it has been argued by Fine Gael. If we do not have at least one more station with an Irish ethos, where are we going? The people have indicated that they want choice. Just as people in cable areas have choice so in rural areas the people want choice and that is why we are doing MMDS for them. Unless we establish a further Irish station, however, all the choice will be coming from abroad,  it will be coming in on satellite. Indeed, we already have it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We have heard a lot about Standing Orders today. The Minister is now replying to the debate on amendment No. 3. The Minister was here when I was endeavouring to advise Deputies that they should confine themselves to what is in the amendment and he will appreciate it if I interrupt him now to ask him to do the same. Perhaps he could deal with this amendment, then with the section, and proceed to all the other amendments and sections that are before the House for discussion today by 4 o'clock.
Mr. Burke: Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will, of course, remain within the order. I am merely taking the opportunity to outline why a commission is not what is required at this stage. What is required is that we should proceed in the orderly way that was laid out in the 1988 legislation. This legislation will give further room for the development of the choice which the Irish people have so clearly indicated they want. In the surveys that came out yesterday it was indicated that over one million a day listen to independent stations. I am rejecting this amendment because it would delay the provision of choice to the Irish people.
The intention here is to delete sections 2 and 3. I note that Labour and The Workers' Party have joined with me in this proposal which reflects some consensus even if our motivations differ. These sections, as will be recalled, propose to make a grant equivalent to a proportion of the licence fee available to the Independent Radio and Television Commission and also dealt with the disbursement  of that grant by the Independent Radio and Television Commission.
I have already outlined on Second Stage my reasons for departing from this approach. While I would contend that the argument for making such a grant available to the independent sector for the purpose of enabling that sector to fulfil the public service obligations we have imposed upon it is just as valid as doing likewise for RTE, I subsequently concluded that in the light of the public confusion created in relation to the proposal I would not pursue that proposal. I was equally persuaded by arguments relating to the possible impact that the proposal might have on the very independence of the services, the danger of ending up supporting inefficient operations, the general undesirability of opening up new areas of public funding and the examples such actions might have for other sectors of the economy.
As is known, I have opted instead to deal with the creation of a fair, competitive environment in broadcasting by addressing the distorting effects RTE's dual funding has on the advertising market and I will be happy to elaborate on that aspect when we come to the next series of amendments.
I was also in discussion with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in relation to this and other aspects of the Bill and I listened carefully to their objections to sections 2 and 3. It is in the light of that and all the other matters I have referred to that I recommend this amendment to the House.
Mr. Roche: In a very fine book on public administration and government written some 50 years back it was commented that if Government were deaf to the lobby then Government would become removed from the people and Government would become arrogant. Over the last two days wild, inaccurate, blatant and knowingly untruthful allegations regarding the flexibility or otherwise of the Minister were hurled around this Chamber. I am on the record as saying  that the concept of sharing the public licence fee with public service broadcasters, irrespective of their sector, is a policy that I am attracted to. However, the Minister has accepted — and I recognise his rationale in so doing — the views expressed about public disquiet on this issue. Initially, when I met RTE personnel I suggested to them that not only was their reaction over the top and hysterical but that in the long term it was not in their own interests to react so strongly against the concept of the public service licence fee being used with a degree of fair-handedness. I hope I will not be proved wrong when some of our local radio stations are looking for assistance. It would give me no great pleasure to say: “I told you so”. The Minister has behaved in a very mature way in withdrawing this provision. In spite of his personal feelings on the matter and the fact that the issue was well discussed in the appropriate way, due to the very strong public reaction, the Minister has quite rightly responded in such a way as to assuage the realistic fears that existed.
Obviously, I support the section. The sharing of the public service broadcasting licence fee is an integral and necessary part of the type of broadcasting spectrum the Minister wishes to create. I hope that in the fullness of time I am not proved right in the view I expressed here when this issue was discussed some weeks ago — that this is a necessary part of the support systems for local broadcasting, particularly for local community stations. I commend the Minister on his courage in withdrawing this provision. It takes a very strong person to come into the House, having listened to the public debate, and to say he accepts that the legislation should be changed. That is the spirit of democracy.
What we have seen here is not the spirit of democracy. What we have seen is the Opposition parties, led by their leaders, aping a member of the Westminster Parliament, Mr. Gerry Adams, with an abstentionist policy that I thought was long since dead in this country. What has happened here is unprecedented. I heard earlier this morning from a backbench  member of Fine Gael, a man of some honour, that there was rumour of a conspiracy between the Opposition parties that if they did not get their way they were going to walk out. I hoped this rumour was not correct but, as we have seen, it was. I am still new in the ways of this House. I believe there are some shreds of honour and integrity in all Members of the House and I hope that view will not be proved to be displaced.
In spite of all the protestations made by The Workers' Party about the licence fee and the interests of RTE, they are not even here to support their own amendment in this regard. I commend the Minister on having the flexibility and the courage to come in and change the law. It is a true mark of democracy that when you are beaten you accept it. If you believe in the principles you put forward, as the Opposition continuously tell us they so believe, you should accept the democratic principles. It is an absolute laugh that parties who continuously pillory us about Dáil reform should behave in the manner the parties opposite have behaved for the last two days. I commend the Minister and I support his amendment.
Mr. O'Dea: In respect of Deputy Roche's last point, I find it somewhat amusing that since this Bill was introduced we have been assailed by comments, criticisms, articles in newspapers and speeches inside and outside this House by members of the Opposition about the alleged destructive effects of the Minister's proposals, particularly on RTE. The Government allocated until 4 p.m. this evening to discuss this legislation; but the Opposition have refused to partake in the discussion and that demonstrates their lack of sincerity in this regard.
Under the original legislation as introduced by the Minister, three possible alternatives were proposed to enable the independent commercial sector to compete in a fair way with RTE. The first proposal was that there would be a direct cash transfer to help some of those ailing  stations, but that was derided by the Opposition. The second proposal was that part of the licence fee — the initial figure proposed was 20 per cent but that was open to discussion — a sum of £50 million should be transferred directly to the independent sector. That proposal was derided and we were accused of corruption, giving money to our friends and handing public money to wealthy businessmen. The final proposal, which we are discussing today, was to control the advertising market to ensure the independent stations are given a chance of getting a fair share of that market. If the Opposition do not want to participate in this debate we will show that we are mature enough and concerned enough about solving the problem of the pirates and the monopoly in broadcasting by coming in here and discussing the legislative proposals.
Deputy McCartan, who unfortunately is not here, put a number of questions to me last night. Lest it be said that I would ever fail, or be unable to respond to any question put to me by any Deputy in this House, particularly Deputy McCartan, I will deal briefly with some of the points he made. He asked if I have any figures to support my contention that unless this legislation is passed in the immediate future a large part of the independent sector would go under. Deputy McCartan knows as well as I do — maybe better than I do — the IRTC have published no income figures yet for the independent commercial sector. However, I would point out to Deputy McCartan that I am a partner in a firm of auditors whose clients include not one but two independent local radio stations, although not through any political connections. The up-to-date figures for both of those stations demonstrate that they have the capacity to survive. They are attracting sufficient revenue in the form of advertising and have generated sufficient audience figures. They will survive if they are given a fair chance.
I have been in touch with a number of other independent stations and the feedback is the same. This morning I was in contact with the Secretary of the IRTC  and he supported my view that the general position is good, with one or two notable exceptions. The figures produced yesterday, which were quoted at such length by Deputy McCartan last night, show that the audience for the independent sector is growing. Deputy McCartan sought to use these figures to prove another point, but to me it is proof that the Minister was correct in his prophecy that the independent sector could survive. It will survive if given a fair chance, and this legislation proposes to give them that chance. As I have said, if the Opposition do not want to debate this legislation, we on this side of the House are prepared to consider it in a mature fashion.
Deputy McCartan also referred to the question of a breathing space. He said a commission should be set up and the implementation of the legislation delayed in order to give RTE a breathing space to get used to the changes that would be introduced, to readjust themselves and to react to those changes.
Deputy McCartan seems to presuppose that whatever the commission recommends the Minister's proposals, as outlined before us today, will ultimately become a reality. If Deputy McCartan believes that — and his argument last night clearly indicates that he does — then why set up a commission? What will the commission consider if the Minister's proposals are to be implemented in any event? If the real purpose is to give RTE a breathing space would it not be better to put forward an amendment that the legislation not be implemented for six months, 12 months, 18 months, or whatever breathing space Deputy McCartan wanted?
The proposal to force a Minister, by legislation, to create a commission is an extraordinary one by any standards. Ministers here, in the United Kingdom and in other democracies set up commissions to solve particular problems or to consider a number of policy options in a certain area. It is an entirely novel proposal. I do not think there is any precedent that a Minister should be directed  by legislation to set up a commission and that he would be dictated to as to who should be appointed to that commission. One is driven inexorably to the conclusion that the reason for this debate is to delay the implementation of this legislation. The further motive on the part of the Opposition is that the delay is designed specifically to ensure that part of the independent commercial sector would go under. We would return to a quasi monopoly position in a year, two years, three years or four years time when the commission had reported, when their report had been considered, when the legislation had been prepared and brought before this House, passed, signed by the President and enacted. That is the reality of that recommendation.
I have sat here, both on Second Stage and on Committee Stage, as a person who is dealing with a number of independent local stations, dealing with real problems experienced by real people in this country. The shares of the local stations to which I am referring are not held by some of the big names which have been bandied around the House. The shares in those business stations are held by small business people. In one station a sum of £5,000 has been invested from one man's redundancy money. I am aware that the shareholder in question is very interested in broadcasting and he wants to be involved at local level. I suppose the thought crossed his mind also that he could earn some money from it. That is a thought that usually crosses people's mind when they are putting money into a project. I am sure it is one that occasionally crosses the mind of Deputy McCartan when he goes to the Four Courts. He would hardly seek to suggest in this House that he travels to and from the Law Courts for purely altruistic motives.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would like to remind Deputy O'Dea that that name does not appear in the section that is being withdrawn by the Minister. The amendment refers to the withdrawal of a section. Perhaps we would direct the attention of the Deputy to that. No Deputy should feel obliged to defend  himself to any great extent as to what may have been said and what may have been out of order at a given time. Deputy O'Dea to continue on the section.
Mr. O'Dea: In the Minister's proposal to withdraw the section he is removing one of the options he had initially to create fair competition between RTE and the independent sector. We are coming to the last option. It is essential that we get this legislation through very quickly because there are real people out there with real problems. The performance by the Opposition today in walking out of this House and the performance by the Opposition since the Committee Stage started demonstrates that they do not give a fig about the real people and the real problems which are being experienced and which the Minister is trying to solve.
Yesterday I listened to Deputy M. Higgins speak on Committee Stage of this Bill. He commenced by dealing with the problems of local radio, the independent radio sector in Ireland. He was speaking only a few minutes when he had crossed the water to England. Then I was called out of the House and when I returned he was in Central Europe and going at top speed. I was called out again and when I returned he was up in space and talking about satellites. That is a cynical, transparent approach to serious problems which the Minister is trying to deal with in a serious way.
We began with three options. I do not think the Minister intended to follow through with the three options or to solve the problem in three ways. We wanted to have an informed debate on the position to decide which option we would pursue. I will not comment on which option I would prefer, but suffice it to say that the Minister has taken advice, he has considered the matter in a mature manner, he has shown flexibility and we are now at the last option. Something must be done now.
Mr. M. Barrett: First of all, I welcome the opportunity to make a very brief contribution to this debate. I fully support  the Minister in bringing in this legislation. When the Minister met us he put all our minds at ease in regard to what the Bill was about. Unfortunately, people outside this House got a very bad slant on this Bill. Gay Byrne in his radio programme abused his position by putting this slant on the legislation, which was not the idea of the Bill at all.
There is a great need for a fair balance in broadcasting. Over the past 25 years one company, RTE, had a monopoly. It can be said that that monopoly has been abused and I refer in particular to Gay Byrne. The Bill before the House proposes to change that by granting licences to independent radio and television companies to operate in this country. Losses have been lamented in this House about RTE and how they have been unfairly treated. Only a few minutes ago the Minister in his contribution said they would receive £100 million. I do not see anything wrong with that. The legislation will improve broadcasting in this country and will provide better choice.
I hope the Minister will allow applications from more community stations as some of them have been very successful. You are aware, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that the Dublin North-West Community Radio Company in our own constituency have submitted an application to be decided on by the Minister and the commission. I hope the Minister will support that application. In a local area that would be advantageous. This application is being supported by most organisations and by most tenant associations, a number of whom have become directors of the company and are anxious that it should come on the air. The Minister has indicated that some of the television licence fund will be diverted to independent radio stations. I hope some part of that fund will be allocated to the community radio stations also.
There is no doubt that the behaviour of the Opposition today was nothing short of disgraceful and was only part of the delaying tactics they were trying to use. While I am on my feet I should say the manner in which the Chair has been abused here today has been disgraceful.  The dignity of the House has been reduced today. When I came here a few years ago there was great dignity in this House. Unfortunately, the Opposition use tactics which lower the dignity of this House. They did not want to abide by Standing Orders which the Ceann Comhairle outlined here today. There are a number of Deputies from the legal profession who are putting across legal points rather than abiding by Standing Orders. I hope we see an end to this practice and that the Taoiseach has a more orderly audience when he announces the Order of Business each morning. Very shortly the affairs of this House will be televised and it would be regrettable if this attitude were to come across the airwaves.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Before calling Deputy Kitt let me remind the House that the attitude of the Chair at all times is to adhere to Standing Orders and what is required. Committee Stage debate requires of us to proceed section by section and one would imagine that it demands a certain brevity. In so far as we have so many Deputies anxious to contribute I ask Deputies to respect absolutely the Standing Order governing Committee Stage debate and, second, to make their contributions as brief as possible so that other Deputies will have an opportunity of contributing.
Mr. T. Kitt: The past few days have been the saddest in the history of this House. It is a matter of deep regret that I have to speak to empty seats in the Chamber but having said that there is a duty on us to tease the legislation out. I am pleased to have this opportunity to do so. It is regrettable that the members of the Opposition did not take the opportunity to express their views in a reasonable manner. There are some very reasonable people on the other side of the House but, unfortunately, they have disgraced themselves. Indeed, Deputy Mitchell ran up and down the stairs like a yo-yo calling for quorums and interrupting what could have been a very healthy debate. They have also refused pairings and used every trick in the book  to disrupt the debate. It should also be borne in mind that they allowed the debate to collapse on Second Stage.
It is time we faced up to the fact that the Minister has introduced a Bill and we should finalise our proceedings. It became very clear yesterday during the course of the debate that Fine Gael have no policy. Indeed, I detected some new policies when their Leader, Deputy Dukes, raised some new issues. Quite frankly, I am confused, and amused, as to what exactly they have in mind in opposing the Bill. One of the issues that needs to be addressed in this debate is whether they have got an alternative. In the past they have said that they agree with independent broadcasting. They also agree with deregulation of the airwaves. The Minister is to be congratulated for doing this as there were constant complaints, particularly in the Dublin region, about the pirates whose operations were interfering with the ambulance and telephone services. It needs to be repeated that the Minister responded very speedily and addressed the issue. He has a reputation for getting things done and obviously that is what he is about at present.
We are taking another step in putting a framework in place which allows for independent broadcasting. Given that we are dealing with the national broadcasting service, this is a very sensitive issue. We could have had a very balanced debate on the issue if the Opposition had treated it accordingly. Unfortunately, they got involved in personalities and made personal attacks on the Minister. I ask them to bear in mind that he deregulated the airwaves with the result that stations such as 98FM, Capitol and Century Radio were set up. I cannot see any element of political patronage in this. There was a duty on the Minister to face up to the issue. He has done so and I believe they have tried to contort the debate and turn it into a political issue.
There are only two courses, that is, either a licence fee or advertising. The alternative regime must be financed from some source. The Minister obviously listened to the views of members of the  public and the trade unions and opted for the capping of advertising revenue. Concern has been expressed about independent film-makers who are at present in the process of putting projects together and about those who work in RTE — many of whom live in my constituency — and who have indicated that they are concerned about their jobs, but it should be made clear that they need have no fears about this Bill.
One request I would make is that the Minister phase in the new regime. There is a feeling abroad that in introducing legislation the position will change in one fell swoop and jobs will be lost in RTE. This view has been promoted by members of the Opposition and by broadcasters in RTE who irresponsibly used their monopoly to put across this viewpoint. There is no need to name the people concerned in RTE 1 and RTE 2, but I think they made a very grave error of judgment in deciding to use this very powerful weapon, the airwaves, to make personal attacks on the Minister. Indeed many people in RTE would now agree with me. Some of them are even saying it would be preferable to take a portion of the licence fee rather than cap advertising revenue. I am convinced that a very good framework will be put in place and I ask the Minister to phase in the new regime.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would have to insist as I have at all time insisted that we have a Committee Stage debate. The section which is being withdrawn refers to the making available of grants to the Independent Radio and Television Commission. However that section is being withdrawn and a new section will be inserted. The debate must centre on what is in the section. I will ask Deputy Kitt——
Mr. T. Kitt: The Minister is introducing legislation in response to a need. We are following the international trend in introducing regulations on broadcasting and in providing alternatives. The allegation that there has been political interference is a load of rubbish. It is a matter of regret that the Opposition have adopted a particular tactic but at the end of the day a new regime is going to be put in place. I ask the Minister to phase it in to ensure stability in the broadcasting sector.
Mr. O'Donoghue: This amendment goes to the root of the Bill in that it makes clear, if proof were needed, that there are only two alternatives, if one wants to bring about equity. The first alternative is to cap advertising revenue, and the second is to distribute the licence fee among the independent sector and RTE. One could argue in favour of either course. The first argument one could make is that a portion of the licence fee should not be given to the independent sector because in some way it is giving public moneys to private industry. The converse of that argument is that this has occurred in other areas of Irish economic life. Grants are given daily by the IDA to various industries. It is fair to say that many of these industries would never have been set up without public aid and could not survive without it.
The argument is made that capping advertising would in some way affect the competitiveness of the public broadcasting company, RTE, and curtail their effectiveness in the market place. The truth is that all monopolies are undesirable. They are singled out for special treatment under the Treaty of Rome. A State-backed monopoly or monolith in the market place is more undesirable than anything else because it means that the  State is shoring up a monopoly despite its policy that monopolies are undesirable.
The independent stations have a right to survive. There were only two alternatives, namely, to cap advertising or to take some of the licence fee and distribute it among the independent stations. It has not been said so far in the debate on this amendment that there is no reason why RTE should be in a privileged position vis-à-vis the independent sector. That point should be made. RTE's dual funding from the licence fee and advertising unquestionably places them in a position where no independent station could possibly hope to compete. That is not fair. All the arguments from the spoiled children who have gone home cannot undermine the argument that this position is unfair.
Neither the alternative provided by the amendment nor the original proposal affects in any way the independence of independent stations or RTE. At no stage should it ever be suggested that there was an attempt to control the airwaves. The independence of the station concerned and of RTE, which is a very fine station, remains. If fairness is to exist in the market place one of the two alternatives must be accepted. There is no point in moaning and groaning about the amendment and the original proposals. That merely exhibits that those who favour neither alternative support the idea of RTE having a monopoly, free from competition. That would appear to be the position of most Opposition Deputies. They do not want change, but change there must be. We are moving towards the 21st century and if Irish broadcasting has to be dragged howling into that century, so be it.
The proposal in the amendment to delete the distribution of the licence fee amongst independent stations is perhaps more acceptable to the public since arguments were made that public money should not be distributed to independent stations. I have outlined that this happens in other areas of the economy and I would be more persuaded by the argument that the distribution of the licence fee among independent stations might mean that  one would end up supporting inefficient operations. The capping of RTE's advertising unquestionably releases considerable funds into the market place and it is hoped that the independent stations will be able to grab this share of the market. This will depend on their efficiency, what they have to offer and how good they are. What is being achieved by the amendment is that everybody is being given a chance. This is desirable and needed. If we did not opt for either of the alternatives I have outlined we could not have an independent broadcasting sector. That position, to my knowledge, does not pertain in any democracy. No democracy should deny the right of the individual to compete in the market place on level terms.
In the final analysis this Bill should be judged on whether it suceeds in creating a position of fairness in the market place. That is all that is being attempted. It is the essence of the amendment and of the Bill. In future years the public will look back on this Bill and say that it created a climate of fairness in a level and evenhanded way. All the other arguments relating to motivation will be meaningless once the Bill achieves its objective of fairness in the market place.
There has been an attempt during the debate to distort the real situation, to suggest ulterior motives, to vilify individuals by innuendo and otherwise. When all that argument had gone, the Opposition, who never dealt with the real issue in the Bill, went out the door. It is ironic that we should finish this Stage of the Bill without an Opposition to debate the crucial element of fairness. This amendment provides for a fair, competitive atmosphere in the market place. The argument is unanswerable. The Opposition were faced with a choice of capping advertising or distributing some of the licence fee. They knew that failure to do one or the other would finish forever the possibility of independent broadcasting here. That would be a sad day for Irish democracy.
Mr. D. Ahern: For the second time during debate on this Bill we find ourselves speaking to vacant benches  opposite because of the negligence of the Opposition. The Second Stage debate collapsed because of the lack of Deputies on the far side. This is the case again today. These people profess to be very interested in broadcasting and had the opportunity to discuss it and again they decided to take the easy option. Before a vote was taken this morning there was a confab between the leaders of the two main Opposition parties, Labour and Fine Gael, at the back of the Chamber. In a way it is nice to see them friends together again; they were in coalition for five years. They decided on a modus operandi as to how to handle this debacle here today. The vote was put and, despite the fact that the vote was taken in a democratic way in this House, they decided to vacate the House irrespective of what vote took place and what was the result of the vote. I deplore that.
I would like to refer to the previous debate in relation to this Bill where a number of Deputies castigated both you, Sir, and the Ceann Comhairle with regard to Standing Orders, and they were here again today castigating the Ceann Comhairle in relation to Standing Orders. They were the very people who threw the rule book of this House out the window when they adopted the attitude, despite admonitions from the Chair, that they are going to use Committee Stage as a Second Stage debate. They said that publicly here and on the airwaves and outside this House. They have shown the Irish people, if the Irish people were listening, that they are not true democrats. It is reprehensible that they should have left the House in the way they did.
Mr. D. Ahern: In relation to this Bill, the Minister has tried to put a little competition into the airwaves. Initially the Minister made a suggestion about the licence fee. Some people may have found  fault with that. In view of the representations and the hype that was generated, particularly from within RTE in relation to the licence fee, the Minister has decided to take another option. There may be other options indeed that he could take, but unfortunately the people who say they are so interested in broadcasting in Ireland are not here to debate it. I and a number of other Deputies have made ourselves available to anyone who wants to talk to us in relation to this area, and again I say it is unfortunate that the Opposition are not here to debate properly what option would be the best in the circumstances.
The whole rationale behind this Bill is one of competition. Early on, Century Radio, one of the major independents, had great problems with transmission. I think it is generally accepted that much of that was to do with the non-co-operation of RTE. That is one aspect whereby the competition was brought into being, and I think the Minister is making a genuine effort through this Bill to help independent radio provide an alternative broadcasting medium for this nation.
I would like to make a number of parochial points about my own area. We in County Louth and particularly in the Dundalk area have been fighting for years for a radio and television studio in our town. Within a week of the legislation being passed bringing in independent local radio a couple of years ago, RTE decided in their wisdom to set up such a studio in the town of Dundalk. I think most people recognise that would not have occurred had there not been competition in the marketplace. They would not have come to the town of Dundalk with their station. Immediately the hype in relation to this Bill arose, some executives in RTE came forward and said they were going to withdraw that proposed studio in Dundalk. I abhor completely any scaremongering from them in relation to that. It is obvious from the amount of money available to RTE — the Minister said it is well over £100 million — that they are well capable of setting up such a studio in Dundalk.
Most Deputies in this House have had  problems with the way RTE have carried on down the years, some of them genuine, others perhaps not, but the other night when I was looking at the broadcasting of what was taking place in the various cities and towns of this country I noticed RTE had cameras in every major town except my own home town. The stations which had cameras in my home town were Ulster Television and BBC. RTE did not see fit to come up to the town, despite the fact that one of the players on the team playing that evening was from the town of Dundalk. I had to turn on foreign stations to see what exactly was taking place in my town. That is not right. I accept that they cannot be everywhere, but that was somewhere they should have been, particularly in the circumstances surrounding the football team.
The capping of advertising is probably the best way of bringing some rationality to the marketplace in relation to this. I had problems personally with the licence fee and I made them quite clear on the Private Members' motion. I had quite a number of representations from people about the licence fee, but at the end of the day I feel there should be competition in this area. I commend the Minister for bringing in legislation to allow for proper competition and, as he said himself, a level playing pitch. It is reprehensible that this area is not properly debated by the people on the far side and that they have chosen the easy option and have left the Chamber.
Mr. Burke: I welcome the contributions. Deputy Barrett spoke about support for community radio. That was a central feature of the 1988 legislation and I am glad to be able to tell him that the Independent Radio and Television Commission have by public advertisement requested indications of interest from community groups about establishing community radio, but I emphasise  to him also that the allocation of those licences is strictly a matter for the commission.
On Deputy O'Dea's point, the whole strengthening of the independent sector is central to this legislation while at the same time not damaging RTE. The Government are determined that RTE will remain the premier broadcasting organisation and to that end as a result of this legislation RTE will have available to them roughly £100 million for their needs in the future.
Deputy Kitt mentioned the role of the independent film sector resulting from this legislation. The amendment removes the distribution of part of the licence fee. In the next section we will discuss the capping of advertising. The film sector was given very special treatment in the 1988 legislation. It was written into that legislation that the independent production sector had to be supported by the new television company. That is also written into the EC Directive and the Council of Europe Convention in relation to the development of the film sector and the independent production sector. Therefore, rather than this legislation damaging the independent sector in any way, the moves in Europe and at home through our own legislation will ensure a very bright future for the independent sector. This is seen in the example of Channel 4 in the UK where through the facility of Channel 4 the independent sector has thrived. With the new television channel the independent sector here will, in my view, also thrive.
This goes hand in hand with the previous amendment. The reality is that it is consequential on the previous amendment. If we remove the section which deals with the decision to pay an amount from the licence fee to the independent radio and television sector, then section 3 which deals with how that money was to be disbursed by the independent radio and television sector is not necessary. Therefore this is consequential on the deletion of section 2. I commend this amendment to the House.
Mr. Roche: The Minister has said that there is not a great deal to be said on this amendment. When I rose earlier I was angry at the behaviour of the main Opposition parties and I referred to their abstentionist policy. I wish to make the point that I did not include Deputy Tom Foxe in those remarks and I commend Deputy Foxe as a true democrat. He was elected to represent the people of Roscommon and he does so very well. I do not know Deputy Foxe's views on the issues under discussion, but I will listen to them as always.
The amendment deletes section 3 which deals with the disbursement of payments by the Independent Radio and Television Commission. My personal view, I have said it before, is that at some stage in the future I would like to see the IRTC having funds to disburse. I think this would be entirely appropriate. I hope at some stage in the future, and perhaps in the not too distant future, there will be calls from the benches, which are now empty, Fine Gael, The Workers' Party and the Labour Party, for support for local community radio and local radio. I believe that at some stage the IRTC should have funds, but clearly the logic is that the section must be deleted now.
“4.—(1) The total daily times for broadcasting advertisements fixed by the Authority shall not exceed 7.5 per cent. of the total daily programme transmission time and the maximum period so fixed to be given to advertisements in any one hour shall not exceed four minutes and thirty seconds. In the case of the sound broadcasting service known as “Atlantic 252” operating on a longwave frequency and licensed under section 16 of the Principal Act the total daily time for broadcasting advertisements shall not exceed 20 per cent. of daily programme transmission time and the maximum period to be given to advertisements in any one hour shall be as determined by the Authority.
(2) In respect of each financial year beginning with the year commencing on the 1st day of January, 1991, it shall be the duty of the Authority to ensure that the total revenue derived by it from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts in any year does not exceed the amount paid to the Authority pursuant to section 8 of the Act of 1976 in the preceding financial year.
(3) In respect of the part of the year 1990 from the commencement of this Act until the 31st day of December, 1990, it shall be the duty of the Authority to ensure that the total revenue derived by it from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts does not exceed one hundred and twenty per cent. of the balance of the amount of £46.815 million remaining after deducting the amount paid to it pursuant to section 8 of the Act of 1976 in the part of that year preceding such commencement.
(4) If in respect of any financial year or in respect of the period from the commencement of this Act until the 31st day of December, 1990, the statement to be provided to the Minister  under section 7 (2) shows that the actual receipts derived by the Authority from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts in that year or period exceeded the limit as calculated in accordance with subsection (2) or (3) of this section, as the case may be, the total receipts which may be derived from such sources in the subsequent financial year in accordance with the said subsection (2) shall be reduced by the amount of the excess.”
Amendment No. 4 has in actual fact, four parts and I will deal with them en bloc because they all have fundamentally the same objective which is to nullify the course of action on which we have embarked. In doing so, however, I must address my own amendment No. 4 which is the heart of my proposals for creating a fairer competitive broadcasting environment.
As I explained in the course of my Second Stage speech, it is the Government's policy to strengthen the totality of Irish broadcasting through the introduction of competition and choice. Through the 1988 Act we created the arrangements by which new entrants could enter the broadcasting domain. I stressed however that their right of entry is not just determined by market conditions because we, as legislators, imposed on them a series of “public service” obligations in terms of the range and quality of programmes we expected from them as well as in the sphere of news and current affairs.
A corollary to the process of opening up the broadcasting sector is that of ensuring that a fair competitive environment exists in it. This necessitates addressing the distorting factors which give RTE an unfair competitive advantage over the competing services.
The major element which creates a distortion in the broadcasting sector is RTE's dual funding. While the purpose of RTE's State subvention is to meet their public service obligations, the effect of that subvention goes further. It enables RTE to, in effect, sell their advertising time below the real cost that would be  warranted by the level of service they provide. The competing services do not have a similar subvention, notwithstanding the public service obligations imposed upon them, and at the same time must compete with the “below real cost” selling of advertising time.
I had essentially two options by which this imbalance could be addressed. I could go the road of supporting the independent sector with a subvention on the same principle that RTE are so supported. I have already outlined my reasons for not pursuing that line. I have opted instead to take the alternative approach of creating greater balance and fairness in the advertising domain.
Thus my amended section 4 proposes a statutory limit of 7.5 per cent of transmission time which RTE can devote to advertising. The rationale for this limit is that since RTE get about 50 per cent of their broadcasting income from the licence fee it is appropriate that their advertising time should be half that of the independent sector who have no such licence fee subvention.
By specifying the time limit in statute, I am taking control of this area out of the hands of the Authority as well as keeping it out of the Minister's hands and am placing it in the same position essentially as the independent sector whose advertising time limit is specified in the 1988 Act.
It will be noted that we are leaving the long wave Atlantic 252 service with their existing special arrangement of 20 per cent advertising time, firstly because that service is primarily directed at the external market and secondly I did not wish to interfere with any commercial arrangements entered into between RTE and their partner CLT in this venture. Mind you I have the distinct impression that it will be some time, if ever, before Atlantic 252 get anywhere near filling their 20 per cent advertising limit with advertisements.
Subsections (2) and (3) of this section deal with the financial cap we are placing on RTE's advertising etc., revenue. In a full financial year the cap will equal the amount paid to RTE in licence fees in  the preceding year. In the period from enactment of the legislation until 31 December this year it will be 120 per cent of the payments we will be making to RTE in respect of their grant equivalent to licence fees in the same period.
As I said in my Second Stage speech, we estimate that these measures will have the effect of diverting about £6 million advertising revenue from RTE this year if the Act is operative for six months or about £5.4 million if operative for five months and about £12 million in current terms in a full year.
While RTE will, of course, have to make some adjustments to deal with this new situation, I would stress that it is not as traumatic as some people have been suggesting. Basically it will return RTE to approximately their 1988 level of income and, of course, they will still have scope to grow as the level of licence fee evasion continues to decrease. In this context, therefore, talk of large-scale lay-offs can only be seen as scare tactics.
Subsection (4) is a compensating provision to deal with a situation where RTE might through accident or otherwise find that at the end of the year they have exceeded the cap. It provides that if the audited statement which the Authority will be required to submit in respect of revenues derived from advertising, sponsorship etc., shows that revenue exceeds the prevailing ceiling in a particular year, a compensating adjustment will have to be made in the following year.
Much of the argument that has been put forward against these proposals has focused on the danger of significant leakage of advertising revenues to external services. Let us focus a little more closely on these arguments, bearing in mind the imperative on advertisers who want to sell in the Irish market being able to address the maximum number of people in that market.
First of all none of it will go to the BBC  services because, of course, that service unlike RTE, does not carry advertising. I feel it necessary to make that rather obvious point because some of the speakers opposite did not seem to realise this if I am to judge by their contributions to the Second Stage speech.
Secondly Channel 4 and their brother service S4C which is the Welsh language service and is received in the southern part of the country instead of Channel 4 proper are minority viewing services. The satellite services — Sky, Super, Eurosport, MTV and the new BSB services — have still to make an impact in terms of viewership. This then leaves UTV, which tends to rank about third or fourth in viewership figures where it is receiveable. It must be remembered that UTV is available only to a little more than 50 per cent of households here and in the southern part of the country it tends to be HTV which is received. This limited reach, combined with the fact that advertisers would have to deal with two television organisations, diminishes the relative attractiveness of the ITV service as an alternative for getting at the Irish market.
While some may say that the spread of MMDS will expand the Irish audience for external services, that expansion will not happen overnight. My contention, therefore, is that the dangers of advertising revenue leaving the country in vast quantities are greatly exaggerated.
I want to stress that both I and the Government are committed to levelling the playing field, to use the hackneyed phrase, and are fully committed to the thrust of the proposals now before us. I have, however, always made it clear in any legislation I have brought before the House that I am amenable to constructive suggestions. The same applies in this instance. I am prepared to give reasonable consideration to amendments which might have the effect of fine-tuning these proposals but not to amendments which oppose their main thrust.
Since this legislation was published originally I have had the opportunity of meeting with officers of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I took that opportunity to listen to their points on the  proposals for revenue and the capping of advertising contained in the Bill. They made a very reasonable case in regard to the licence fee and the capping of advertising. In response to the representations made by them, members of my party and others, the Government decided, in an effort to provide a fair environment for broadcasting services and the print media, to limit their action in relation to advertising and not to proceed with the distribution of a portion of the licence fee to the independent radio and television sector. Since that discussion took place, the Congress of Trade Unions have written to me and have made known their views in relation to the amendments I have already made to the legislation and have suggested the possible fine-tuning amendments which could be brought forward.
It is my intention to bring forward on Report Stage some minor amendments to take account of some of the points made by the Congress of Trade Unions, for example, the linking of the capping to the rate of inflation, which seems to be a reasonable proposal, and increasing the limit on minutage from four and a half minutes to five minutes. I propose bringing in these amendments to meet the point put forward by the Congress of Trade Unions and the argument put forward here by some Members in relation to the position of charitable organisations. The argument in relation to the charitable organisations has been much distorted. Much has been said during the course of the debate about the implications of my proposals in regard to the reduced advertising rate currently available to recognised charities. It is necessary to put the facts in relation to this issue in context.
I want to make it clear that the reduced rate of advertising for charities is available only on radio, and not on television, all charities are required to pay the full rate if they wish to advertise on television and the RTE Authority limit the amount of such radio advertising to seven minutes per day. It is my intention to increase the proposed minutage in section 4 so that RTE can continue to cater for charities  advertising at the reduced rate. I propose to increase the minutage for charities advertising at the reduced rate. I propose to increase the minutage from four and a half minutes to five minutes and to link the capping of advertising revenue, and not the licence fee, to inflation. I believe that these two proposals, together with the other major changes made in the Bill in response to the request of the Congress of Trade Unions, will go a long way towards meeting the reasonable points made by members of my party, for example, the point made by Deputy Kitt in relation to phasing. These proposals will meet the reasonable points made by reasonable people as distinct from the sterile type debate we had before. If reasonable points are made I am prepared to listen to them. In response to the reasonable points made by the Congress of Trade Unions, members of my party and others whose judgment I respect, I intend to bring forward on Report Stage amendments which will protect the very limited concessions these charities get from RTE.
Mr. Flood: I compliment the Minister on putting down this amendment and for the excellence of thought which has gone into it. The inclusion of this new section 4 in the Bill will be very beneficial to the independent broadcasting sector, something I think all of us would wish. The question of the unlevel playing field has been gone into in detail in this debate from various angles. It is this unlevel playing field more than anything else which has inhibited the development of the independent broadcasting sector. Because RTE are financed from two sources, the licence fee and advertising revenue, they are able to call the shots in so far as advertising is concerned. These are the areas the Minister must deal with if he wants to enact legislation which will allow the independent broadcasting sector to be in the running, to develop and strengthen in the years ahead. The inclusion of this proposed new section will go a long way towards helping the independent broadcasting sector to do this.
 I do not think that once this legislation is enacted the Minister will leave it at that. The need for the supervision of broadcasting will unfold in the years ahead. Reference was made to the way the Minister dealt with the pirate stations in 1988. This is part of the unfolding of the controls necessary in this area and the initiatives which will have to be taken and implemented by the Government. The financing of the independent broadcasting sector will have to be part and parcel of any legislation which is brought forward.
The Minister has indicated that he is willing to consider any reasonable proposals put forward in the debate. He has also indicated that he is prepared to look at the effect of inflation on funding for RTE and that he is prepared to have another look at the time limit of four minutes and thirty seconds. He has given those commitments as a result of the debate in the House. That is all part and parcel of the cut and thrust of debate and informing us, those who work in RTE, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others of his intentions.
There is no doubt that the finances of RTE would be improved if we reduced licence fee evasion. We would all welcome that because we want people to pay their licence fees. I am pleased that there has been a reduction in the number of evaders and I hope the efforts to get people to pay their licence fees will continue. In that event, RTE will benefit. I do not accept the statement issued after the publication of the Bill, particularly from RTE, that there would be major job losses. Any organisation as big as RTE that, within one hour of an announcement by a Minister, can say that between 300 and 400 jobs would be lost could not have thought out a response to the Bill. There was a rushed response to it and it indicated a lack of thought of the provisions of the Bill. Had those who commented on the Bill on the airwaves taken time to consider the provisions more rationally they would not have made the statements they did. In that  event, all of us, including our absent friends, with the honourable exception of Deputy Foxe, would have had an opportunity to consider the issue in a calmer manner. Individuals in privileged positions rushed in with their statements instead of standing back for a time and giving careful thought to the provisions of the Bill.
The new section will have a major impact on independent broadcasters. It is the function of the Government, and the Minister, to ensure that independent broadcasters are supported. They cannot, after introducing legislation, wash their hands of it. They must see it through. They cannot, as Deputy Jim Mitchell is alleged to have done in the Coalition of 1982-87, decline to bring forward legislation because they do not wish to fall out with anybody. That is not the way to govern a country. I do not think the Minister for Communications would make such a statement. If he did, he would be running away from the responsibility conferred on him by the Taoiseach.
The effect of the section will be to level the playing pitch. It will allow the independent sector to grow and I have no doubt that in that development jobs will be created. The best help RTE could receive now would be healthy competition. Since 1987 we have seen several examples of the beneficial effects of competition in the marketplace. Competition is a great spur to organisations to get their house in order and ensure that they meet the needs of changing times. It encourages them to make use of the best available technology and employ the most skilful workers available. Any organisation that does that will expand. The section will strengthen independent broadcasting. The Minister's approach to that sector should ensure that it will go from strength to strength. If he considers it necessary to introduce changes in the next year or so, I am sure he will not shirk from his responsibility and see to it that they are put through the House. The Minister is anxious to ensure that the public and private broadcasting sectors should develop side by side. I would like  to see the independent sector, including independent film makers, fulfilling the home needs and expand into the export market.
We have seen such progress in regard to some of the films made here. People thought that we did not have the ability or the technical know how to make good films but they have proved successful and are in great demand abroad. The small independent film makers who are concerned about the Bill do not have anything to worry about. If they depend for their survival on the purchase by RTE of their material they are on shaky ground. If that outlet is closed off for any reason they will not be able to market their product at home. It would be wrong for any organisation to try to sustain their business on those grounds.
The section will enable independent broadcasters to get on to the level playing field and start playing. They cannot do that at present by virtue of the dominance of RTE. Those who support the criticism from RTE of the Bill would be doing that station, and its workers, a big favour if they said that a vibrant and independent broadcasting sector here will do those involved in broadcasting a lot of good.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I have speechless messages from Deputies Dempsey, Browne (Wexford), O'Dea and Dermot Ahern and I should like to ask them to be as brief and relevant as possible so that we can proceed to deal with the other sections. I should like to remind Deputies that we are on section 4 and the keys to the section are advertising, moneys deriving from advertising and changes in the original Bill.
Mr. Dempsey: I will be very relevant and the soul of brevity. I have expressed views on this section outside the House and within the confines of our parliamentary party. I am pleased to be able to exercise my democratic right to express those views in the Chamber. I seem to be alone in this when I look at the empty benches opposite. I cannot understand why, if people have reservations about the legislation or suggestions about  improving it they would walk out of the House instead of expressing their views to a Minister who has been fair in accepting amendments. This applied to other Bills, particularly the 1988 Act.
I have reservations about this section of the Bill and I am taking this opportunity to express them to the Minister. I know he will consider any reasonable points of view. If Opposition Members considered this legislation so important, they should have remained in the House to express their views. No doubt they will be issuing many statements of a party political nature attacking the Minister and the Government which will be just for show and nothing to do with improving this necessary legislation.
Earlier, Deputy O'Donoghue referred to the two options open to the Minister, one was a licence fee and the other was the capping of advertising fees. He felt that the capping of advertising fees was the best approach but I take the opposite view. It is a very blunt instrument because there is no guarantee that the money will go to the independent sector. At present the payment of licence fees can be controlled and I am afraid that the sudden drop in income to which the Minister referred could have serious effects on RTE, although not as serious as RTE fear. For that reason, I ask the Minister to consider phasing in the provisions of this section. The section as outlined gives him that power and it could take place over a period of one or two years while TV3 is being set up. This would give people in RTE an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments.
I also welcome the Minister's remarks in relation to advertising for charity and charitable organisations. RTE could increase their advertising in this area as there is scope for expansion. As one who expressed reservations, I ask the Minister to reconsider the limit of four and a half minutes on advertising and phasing in the provisions of this section over the next 18 months.
Mr. Browne: (Wexford): The Minister has been criticised over the past few weeks for taking action. During the time of the previous Government there was no action over five years in relation to  the whole areas of communications and broadcasting. It is better to be criticised for taking action than to be criticised for doing nothing, which, as Deputy Mitchell admitted yesterday, was the case when he was Minister.
I have a genuine interest in independent radio and I welcome the fact that, under the 1988 Act, the Minister set up a network of radio stations around the country. There may not be an immediate prospect of having TV3 but I hope it will come onstream in the near future. It was a natural progression for the Minister to introduce legislation which would — as he said himself — level the playing pitch because, over the last number of years, RTE had a monopoly on the licence fees and advertising. As was said earlier, the Minister had two options, one of which was the distribution of some of the television licence fee to help the independent stations. There was an outcry about this suggestion and, in fairness to the Minister, he was prepared to listen to the views of the public, RTE, Opposition Members and Members on this side of the House in this regard. Some Deputies — even on this side of the House — felt that the distribution of some of this licence fee might have been the best way to progress but the Minister had expert advice available to him and he decided to go down a different road.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has come up with an alternative in section 4 which will, when implemented, abolish RTE's monopoly. I may be in a minority but — while they provide a very good national service — they never seem to provide a service for County Wexford. It is a couple of years since the RTE outside broadcasting unit were in Wexford and they do not show any interest in the counties along the south-east coast, which I represent. This is a major annoyance. I welcome the fact that we now have our own radio station in the south-east which — according to the Minister's figures — has 40 per cent of the listeners. People in my area are very interested in the station but, naturally, they are also interested in RTE and in its continuation. However, they feel that there is a need for competition so that the independent stations — as well as the national ones — can survive.
We heard the views of the far side of the House and those of Gay Byrne, Pat Kenny and Gerry Ryan that RTE will go to the wall because they will lose £6 million. I do not believe that; it is scaremongering and hysterical tactics by them to maintain a monopoly. The new RTE Authority, despite the criticism from the far side of the House, will protect RTE. Mr. Sorohan has been a member of the RTE Authority for a number of years and he will not allow them to be dismantled. If I was the Minister I do not think I would appoint Gay Byrne to the Authority because he would be more than protective of RTE. I know he will ensure that RTE will not alone survive but will improve the quality of their broadcasting, and will probably be more viable in the future than they were in the past.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has listened to Members on this side of the House, to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, that he is prepared to introduce an inflation-linked capping, is prepared to look at charitable organisations and the need for those people to be afforded adequate time to have their programmes sponsored on the national airwaves. The Minister was correct in introducing this Bill, listening to people and their various views. He has said he is prepared to listen at all times to constructive amendments, but those emanating from the far side of the House were totally negative, proposing nothing constructive, rather advocating that the position that had obtained should remain with a monopoly for RTE, allowing local stations nationwide go to the wall. It must be remembered that there are very many people working in these stations around the country whose retention of jobs is crucial for the survival of their families.
I do not mind RTE ranting and raving. When any company or organisation are about to be squeezed it is only natural that they will squeal, rant and rave. I am confident that in a year's time RTE will survive and, what is more important, local stations, because of the levelling of the playing pitch and fairness being introduced in the advertising area, will  be able to survive and increase their listenership and job potential. This is a worthwhile section, one which will indeed help to level the playing pitch for the future.
Mr. Leonard: I think today has been the first occassion since I became a Member of this House that Opposition parties have walked out. It demonstrates a defeatist attitude, a complete sense of immaturity and was a childish act. The Government had no alternative but to introduce a guillotine motion this morning. Indeed, on account of the quorum bells ringing so frequently, we were held in the House more consistently than at any time over the last 18 years. I think it happened once or twice only before that Deputies had to be rostered to ensure that the bells were given a rest now and then. Anybody who observed the performance of the few Members opposite who contributed would realise that it amounted to a consistent blocking effort and that the Government had to introduce this guillotine motion to get legislation through.
I might congratulate the Minister on the work he has done since he assumed office. He outlined much of it earlier this morning, particularly the fact that, when this Government assumed office, there had been approximately 70 pirate radio stations in existence. From the time I left home rarely could one hear any news item because of interference on our airwaves right from Monaghan to Dublin on the part of those pirate stations. We must also congratulate the Minister on his stand with regard to independent community radio stations. He gave statistics this morning which had emerged from a recent survey undertaken. He did not read out any in respect of the Northern Sound in the Cavan-Monaghan area because those figures would not yet have reached him; that station was launched only about a fortnight ago. Nonetheless, within those two weeks, one will clearly have gleaned the impression that they will be very responsible and broadcast news very effectively throughout their local area. Independent radio has much to offer. I listened and contributed today to the Louth-Meath station, as did some  of my colleagues also, since that station covers a fair part of Monaghan also. With the establishment of the Northern Sound and LM/FM my constituency is assured of effective news broadcasts relating to the surrounding areas.
It is also my belief that such local radio stations would act as a counterbalance to news items on national radio. Deputy Browne said there had not been much recognition of the south eastern coast with regard to independent radio. I can assure him there was very much less recognition of the north eastern, Cavan-Monaghan area, which was practically ignored altogether. Nonetheless, when there was an outbreak of disease in poultry, despite the fact that on one occasion it amounted to a false alarm, doing irreparable damage to the poultry industry, warnings were issued. These local radio stations will be in a position to facilitate public representatives or others who may wish to give the factual position relating to any such outbreaks and so on. They can do much good within their areas.
I note that the Northern Sound's initial proposals were for a staff of 20. There is no doubt that initially they will be hamstrung for funding. Everybody is aware that advertising revenue is not paid in advance but rather months afterwards. Therefore they will feel the pinch initially, especially where some few pirate stations may remain. It might be worth investigating whether anything could be done at Departmental level to ensure they can build up their listenership, workforce and funding. Twenty additional jobs are a lot in a constituency like mine and there may well be an opportunity to increase that number.
I congratulate those people who had sufficient foresight to see the need for independent radio. The Minister is assured of our support in this regard. He is undertaking a task which needs courage and for many years needed to be tackled. It is ridiculous that Members of the Opposition parties who had not the courage themselves to do what is now being done, come into this House and be critical of the Minister's proposals. Yet, when the kitchen became too hot, they ran out for a dip or to cool themselves off in some  fashion. I wonder what will be their form when they return.
Mr. D. Ahern: A Cheann Comhairle, I might place on record, in relation to your involvement this morning, the fact that I abhor the innuendoes thrown around this Chamber in regard to your handling of the position, a very difficult one. I want also to place on record my thanks and congratulations to the Minister for having announced, in the course of his last submission, that he intends amending this section substantially. Despite critics of the Minister who contend that he is inflexible, that proves that he is anything but; rather that, given reasonable, cogent arguments on various points, he is prepared to take such points on board and amend the Bill accordingly. He has shown from day one that he is prepared to bring these points forward and to amend the legislation when pressure groups, and indeed some of our own people, had problems with it. That is the hallmark of a Minister doing his job correctly. The hype that was generated, particularly from within RTE about the licence fee, was unhelpful. The attitude of the people on the far side of the House from day one, and particularly today when we could have sat down on Committee Stage and teased out the problems, has not helped either. These things could have been properly addressed. I am glad to see the Minister has shown that he is prepared to make reasonable changes.
I would again compliment Congress for the way they have come forward. I feel they are slightly disingenuous, however, in saying that the Programme for National Recovery, phase 2 is in jeopardy because of this. I do not think they should come in here and say that every piece of legislation they do not like could put that in danger. They should sit down privately with whatever Minister or Government is involved and tease out their problems. What the Minister is proposing to do here will, I feel, go some way towards alleviating any doubts they might have in regard to this section. If the Minister brings forward these amendments on Report Stage the section will be a good  section and I do not think it closes the door on any further changes that might be made in the event of unforeseen circumstances where RTE might be having particular difficulty. As Deputy Flood said, the situation is unfolding all the time. The whole area of independent radio is a new concept where there will obviously be teething problems but it is an area where the Minister and future Ministers will be flexible.
Dr. Fitzpatrick: This Bill should be viewed as a blow against over rigid centralisation in this country. I am glad to see that a helping hand is being given to stations which are not part of what one would call the establishment to help them to get up and running.
In bringing in this Bill the Minister had three options. One was the capping of advertising which had the most appeal for the Minister. The second was the redistribution of the licence fee, and I feel this will have to be looked at as well. The one area that this Bill has not addressed, and there will probably have to be another Bill for this, is the setting up of a vibrant community broadcasting service. I am talking about transmission stations with a radius of two to five miles which is a step that has to come in Irish life.
In regard to separating the transmission function from the programming function in television and radio broadcasting I would like the Minister to comment when replying. One of the major costs in broadcasting is the putting in place of the transmitting equipment as opposed to the programming equipment. Would the Minister take a look, if not now, some time, at the possibility of setting up a State transmitting company not to originate the programmes but to supply the infrastructure that would be required for this so that time or space or transmission lines could be leased out to whatever programming company got a licence to transmit programmes?
Mr. O'Dea: I want to record my support for this section and for what my colleagues have said. I do not find it easy  to stand up here in the House and disagree with any colleague but I must profoundly disagree with what Deputy Dempsey said a few moments ago. There is an urgency now to have this legislation on the Statute Books before the Dáil goes into recess. We have had enough prevarication, ten years debate on the subject. I know first hand some of the problems that the independent sector is having in getting off the ground and there is an urgent need to legislate for the remedy now.
In relation to the proposal contained in the section it must be said that the Minister for Communications was not the first to suggest further capping of RTE's advertising revenue. They have been subjected to a rather vociferous and fairly aggressive campaign over a number of years now by an organisation representing the print media to do just that. In the light of that campaign — and I have been the recipient of several letters and personal representations in that regard — it surprises me a little that the print media are not proving themselves more supportive of the Government at this stage.
The argument used against this proposal by Deputies De Rossa and Mitchell and the Labour spokesman is that it would distort the market. As I understand it, the market is distorted already. As things stand there are legal limits on the amount of advertising per hour that RTE can engage in. That means the market is distorted. Of necessity it is distorted because if RTE could give as many minutes per hour to advertising as they wished there would be a totally impossible situation. The distortion that exists already under the law did not draw any criticism or comment from the Opposition. Consequently I have to conclude that the Opposition regard that level of distortion as a good thing. It would seem that Deputy De Rossa and others are arguing against more of what they concede to be a good thing. Is it their argument that a further capping of advertising revenue will distort the market too much? If so, why, and how? I would suggest to the Opposition when they come back into this House, and I hope they come back for the Report Stage  debate on this Bill, that they should get their thinking a little clearer on this. I was delighted that the Minister gave the lie to the accusation that his proposal would result in a substantial leakage of advertising revenue out of the country. As a matter of fact the opposite is probably the case. I have personal experience of at least one or two local stations and the evidence to date is that the activities of a successful, vibrant local station can actually increase the amount of revenue generated by advertising. That is the reality on the ground as we see it. If the independent sector is encouraged, if it is made vibrant and got properly off the ground, the pool of advertising revenue here would actually increase.
We are debating this legislation in a mature and responsible manner. To show that we are prepared to do this and that we want to ensure that it is the best possible legislation that could be passed by the House I want to put a question to the Minister in relation to what he said in introducing this section. Incidentally, I welcome his proposal to link advertising revenue to inflation because costs naturally will increase and if costs increase revenue, ipso facto, has to be allowed to increase. The Minister did say, however, that that proposal would have nothing to do with licence fees. It is my understanding that the amount of revenue that can be generated by RTE in any one year will be limited to the amount of the licence fee generated in the preceding financial year. Therefore, there is a link between advertising revenue and the licence fee. If inflation proofing or inflation indexation applies to one then, of necessity, it applies to the other. I would like the Minister to expand on that and clarify it when he is replying.
Mr. Roche: Like Deputy Ahern earlier, I would like to put on the record, Sir, my personal admiration for the great dignity with which you handled yourself this morning in the face of the most dishonourable and unmannerly behaviour, inter alia, of the leaders of the Opposition.
Mr. Roche: A few weeks ago RTE, wringing their hands in the air, suggested that if they had to share some of their copious revenue from licence fees, they would be absolutely devastated. Now RTE personnel are admitting privately, to me anyway, that perhaps they over-reacted in that regard. I suggest, respectfully, that they and those who listened to them have also over-reacted to the proposition regarding the capping of advertising. If 30 years ago the print media had abused their monopoly on public information in the way RTE personnel in recent times have abused their monopoly, there would never have been a radio or television station. If the print media of 70 years ago had abused their monopoly on dissemination of information, we would not have RTE at all. It is a spurious over-reaction on the part of RTE that has led to the misfocusing of much of the debate on this proposition.
There is nothing new about the concept of capping or limiting the amount of time available to advertising. Firstly, there is an actual limitation that is dictated by good programming. Quite clearly the people of Ireland would not be prepared to watch RTE if 15 or 20 minutes of every hour were given to advertising. Therefore, there is a logic to a limitation on advertising even on the basis of good programming. The idea of limitation in law is not new. The people who make the point about leakage should bear in mind the fact that there is also a capping on the period of time given to advertising on some of the other stations that are shown in this country. I have watched Network 2 on quite a number of occasions in recent times and occasionally there is an absence of advertising on that channel. It strikes me that they are not even using the full amount of time that is available at present. Clearly, there is vacant space which could be utilised.
As I said, there is nothing new in the concept of capping. I welcome particularly the Minister's contribution on this section. He made the point publicly, and  reiterated it here, that he will conscious particularly of the need for charity advertising, and I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that he has addressed the serious concern of members of congress regarding limiting the overall revenue take. I welcome too the Minister's contribution on the number of minutes devoted to advertising. If anything indicates the false behaviour of the Opposition it is the debate on this section, a section that should be debated at great length. Other Members should be here to give their views on this section, but they have scurried.
Finally, I would like to refer to the concept of leakage. RTE have continuously argued that leakage will occur and that Sky, BSB and the various ITN stations will take up the advertising that will be displaced. Firstly, as I have already pointed out, they do not always use their full advertising slots, and that falsifies that argument. Does any Deputy or anybody who seriously considers this issue believe that somebody who wants to advertise a service or an event in any part of Ireland is going to buy time on BSB, Sky or ITN? At present there is a leakage of certain corporate advertising to UTV, but UTV is not available throughout the country. There is a potential leakage to Sky, Eurosport, Lifestyle and so on, which are transmitted on the abysmal Cablelink, but that is not a serious possibility and everybody in RTE who has put forward this view knows that. It is a great pity that the people in RTE who have largely led this debate have sought to abuse their public information monopoly in this regard. Not only have they misled many of the people who loyally listen to them but also many Members of this House.
I am amazed that certain elements in the print media have pointed out the anomaly of RTE which has existed for years. They have pointed out with great logic and truth that RTE utilise the licensing fee to undercut advertising and thereby damage the print media, but yet on this issue they have been strangely mute, with one or two exceptions. In conclusion, I would again compliment the Minister on his willingness to be flexible and to accept well structured debate  and views which were put forward in the parliamentary party and privately by Members of the House, something of which he was accused throughout much of the arid debate over the last two days.
Mr. Burke: Any neutral observer of the debate in this House over the last three days would be struck by the fact that this is a constructive and wide-ranging debate and expresses all points of view, even though today they are unfortunately all from one side of the House. Today's Committee Stage debate has been far more constructive than the Second Stage type ramblings that went on for the previous two days when we got through only three amendments.
Deputy Flood referred to the central element of competition in the marketplace. The call for competition was led by the public when they continued to listen to the pirate stations. The transfer of listenership from the pirate to the legal stations that have been established is obvious from the results of the survey to which I referred earlier this morning, which show that over one million people per day in this country listen to the independent stations. The public, by their own choice, want competition.
Deputy Flood referred to the role of the independent production sector. I agree with him that the export potential of that sector has had some magnificent successes. The Noel Pearson-Jim Sheridan film, “My Left Foot” is a classic example. Through the operations of Channel 4 we saw what could be done with the UK independent production sector. I have no doubt that with a further TV channel here, with the EC Directive and the Council of Europe Convention which ensures that RTE will also have to support an independent production sector, there will be great opportunities in the independent production sector for export business. We are very fortunate that English is the main language used in the countries of export in the broadcasting area. I have no doubt there is a bright future ahead for our independent production sector.
Deputy Noel Dempsey expressed reservations, which he made known to me at party meetings. I have listened to him  put forward these reservations on the airwaves, and they are well known. He expressed the view that the Government should have stayed with the licence fee. There is a very strong argument for that and at various times during Committee Stage I responded to it. When we as the Oireachtas impose the criteria of 20 per cent news and current affairs to be met by the independent sector, there is a very strong case to be made that the independent sector should also receive part of the licence fee. That was one of the proposals in the original Bill. I amended it today by bringing forward an amendment to delete sections 2 and 3. I hope the Deputy will agree with me that it became impossible to proceed with the distribution of the licence fee because of public reaction to it. It was seen to be unacceptable for all the reasons which I outlined earlier.
So far as the four and a half minutes advertising per hour is concerned, I intend to introduce on Report Stage an amendment to increase that limit to five minutes to take account of a number of representations I have received, including one from Congress, and I intend to link it with inflation. That is a matter I will refer to later. The four and a half minutes per hour advertising time which will be increased to five minutes will be five minutes on RTE's stations: RTE 1, Network 2, 2FM, RTE Radio 1. That, together with their licence fee income, should meet some of the concerns of the advertising industry. That is not to say that the capping itself will be changed. Deputy Kitt suggested the phasing in of the proposed changes. Having created the environment for the independent radio sector and in response to representations from the National Newspapers of Ireland about the perceived dominant position of RTE, I cannot agree to the phasing in of the changes at this stage.
I do not think Deputy John Browne is in a minority when he says that the regions have not received the attention which they should have received from the national broadcasting station. Now that the independents are in operation there has been a move towards giving regional coverage. The success of the independent  sector in attracting local audience, as indicated in the joint survey, supports the view of Deputy Browne that there was a lack of coverage previously and the independents are now filling that vacuum.
In relation to the survival of RTE, I should say that some of the critics of this measure — and, indeed, the critics of the measure which was introduced in 1988 to allow for the establishment of local radio — predicted that was to be the end of the day for RTE but RTE will still have approximately £100 million of an income after this Bill is enacted to provide a service for 3.5 million people.
I welcome Deputy Leonard's reference to the pirate stations and the fact that they have been put off the air. I can assure him that the few remaining stations, including one in his own area, are receiving attention in my Department. I join with him in wishing Northern Sound well; it is the newest of the stations on the air. I have no doubt they will be as successful as the other stations. In relation to LMFM I agree with him that while they provide a service in the Monaghan area, they also provide a service in North County Dublin. I am well aware of the success of that station.
I thank Deputy Ahern for his comments in relation to my flexibility and my willingness to make changes to this or any other Bill. It is essential in a democracy that a Government listen and are flexible in relation to points of view put forward by the Opposition, by their own Members or by other concerned groups. Within reason I am prepared to agree with him.
Deputy Fitzpatrick made a very interesting proposal in relation to the division of transmission and programming. I have no doubt — I am not saying I will do it — that at some stage in the future when we have a full national independent television station, together with our own stations and all the independent stations throughout the country, that some Government will look at the proposal he has made. That is what happened with Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta. In previous times Aer Lingus not only operated the airline but Dublin Airport and the other  airports. Times changed and it was decided it would be divided: Aer Rianta to manage the airports and Aer Lingus to run the airline. I have no doubt that sometime in the future something similar will happen.
Deputy O'Dea disagreed with Deputy Dempsey's view in relation to the phasing in of the changes. I share his views on the need to have the legislation put into operation as soon as possible because of the needs of the independent sector and in view of the strong lobby which has been going on for a number of years from the National Newspapers of Ireland. They were concerned about the distortion of the marketplace as referred to by Deputy O'Dea. I should like to clarify the position for him. I will bring in an amendment on Report Stage to increase the time from four and a half to five minutes. As well as this, the inflation factor will be linked to the advertising cap and not to the licence fee. It will clearly spell out that linkage. I do not believe that the Irish public are prepared at this stage to pay an increase in the licence fee and I have no intention of proposing it.
Deputy Roche made the point — and it is the view of many people — that the proposal to divert some of the licence fee to the Independent Radio and Television Commission for disbursement to the independent sector should have been followed up. A very strong argument can be made in relation to that issue but it became obvious that it was unacceptable to the general public. A climate was created by particular forces and sectors within the State which made it impossible to continue with it. The Government and I bowed to the inevitability of it. I share his view that a very strong argument can be made for it in view of the fact that we have imposed public service obligations on the independent sector. Deputy Roche is right in saying that there is a natural limit to capping of advertising. There is already in place a six minute advertising cap in RTE which over the years has been increased to seven minutes. I can assure the Deputy that it is not unusual to state a limit; there is already a limit and we are merely altering that limit. I should also emphasise that  the limit is not being changed in relation to one of RTE's own companies — Atlantic 252 — which is being left at 20 per cent.
The question of the income and operations of RTE's commercial enterprise unit has been raised. RTE have an excellent commercial enterprise unit which I hope will continue to be run on a commercial basis. I would encourage RTE to develop that unit given that income earned by them will not be affected by the capping of advertising revenue. I see no reason that they should not thrive and I hope they will continue to increase RTE's total income.
Amendment No. 4a not moved.
Section 4 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 4b, 5, 5a, 6 and 7 not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section deals with the codes of practice relating to advertising, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion. The code will apply to all broadcasting services. The objective is to ensure fairness and uniformity of practice across the board. The code will, I expect, draw on RTE's existing code of practice and will, for instance, where necessary, incorporate various international obligations such as those arising under the recently adopted EC Directive on broadcasting activities. It will also tighten up  practices relating to prizes on programmes which may take the form of commercial promotion.
Subsection (1) is the basic provision enabling the Minister to draw up and amend the relevant codes. Subsection (2) deals with the promotion by a broadcaster of his own commercial activities. It is not, of course, the intention to prohibit such advertising but it will mean that such promotion will count as advertising henceforth. Subsection (3) requires the Minister to consult with both the RTE Authority and the IRTC in preparing the codes of practice. This is simply a practical requirement because at the end of the day it will be these bodies who will have to implement and supervise compliance with the codes in question.
Subsection (4) provides that any existing codes in operation by RTE or the IRTC shall continue in force until the new code is drawn up while subsection (5) provides that the new code shall supersede existing codes referred to in existing broadcasting legislation. Subsection (6) is a consequential adjustment to various provisions in the Radio and Television Act, 1988, relating to codes of advertising practice where such reference shall be construed as including new codes.
I have been asked during the course of the debate over the past two days to indicate how much attention will be paid by me and my advisers to the views expressed by RTE and others on the codes of practice. The experts in this field are the IRTC and RTE and obviously I will be very much guided by their views. As I said, the code in the main will draw on RTE's existing code of practice. The Members of this House and those who work in RTE need have no concern about this matter. What is required is a practical code of practice which will have legislative effect in contrast with the present informal code of practice.
Mr. Flood: This is a very important section. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that it is his intention to deal with the code of practice relating to advertising and other promotions in a  practical way. Those of us with an interest in this legislation will welcome his commitment. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the nature of promotion, particularly on television, has changed during the past ten years. Very often the broadcasting authority have little or no control over what is advertised. I am speaking here about outdoor events broadcast on television. At these events we can come across some of the most extreme forms of advertising. As I understand it such advertising benefits the promoter of the event, and of course the advertiser, and not the broadcaster.
We need to examine this matter in the future as, strictly speaking, the permission of the broadcasting unit is not sought for such advertising. We need to be vigilant and adopt a practical approach. However broadcasters need have no fears about the insertion of this section. Indeed, the approach adopted by the Minister will be a help rather than a hindrance. As I said, the nature of promotion has changed dramatically and because of this we need to be conscious of the need to draw up a practical code of practice, so that everyone knows where they stand on this matter. I applaud the Minister for the approach he has adopted in this regard.
Mr. Nolan: I welcome the Minister's proposals. I am glad that the promotion of RTE productions is to be counted as advertising. I compliment the Minister for introducing the Bill, and fail to understand the hysterical outburst of some members of the Opposition. To say the least, it was nauseating to have to listen to some of their contributions during the last week. The spectacle came to a climax this morning when they redirected their attacks from the Government benches towards the Ceann Comhairle who deserves the support of every Member of this House for the manner in which he conducts the affairs of this House. It would do the members of the Opposition some good to listen to some of the positive contributions being made this afternoon. It is widely known that every  member of Fianna Fáil is happy with the contents of the Bill. Nevertheless we are prepared to sit down with the Minister to discuss the Bill this afternoon and to put our views on the record.
This morning the Minister was correct to highlight the success of the local radio stations. The recent survey on independent radio stations shows that most of the local radio stations are able to stand on their own and are in direct competition with 2FM. I note that in the Leinster area four stations have a listenership far in excess of that of 2FM. CKR, which I know probably better than anybody else, has a listenership which is over 30 per cent greater than that of 2FM.
Given a chance, the Minister's proposals will be of great benefit to RTE. A few years ago, we were told that air fares on the Dublin-London route could not be reduced due to labour costs, etc., yet, when competition arrived the fares tumbled and Aer Lingus have become a far more vibrant and healthy business. The net result of competition is that business becomes more efficient and provides a better service for the customer. The same will happen in regard to broadcasting.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair knows the Deputy will fly back to section 5.
Mr. Nolan: The Minister stated, during his meetings with the ICTU, that he was prepared to make concessions and to move in various areas on Report Stage. This is very positive. He was prepared to listen to the points made by the ICTU and the fact that he is prepared to make these changes says a lot for his integrity. Some people say he has not the finesse of some other members of the Cabinet but certainly he is effective. If the Opposition had adopted a different attitude, they would have been able to make a greater input.
Mr. Dempsey: I welcome this section and the fact that the Minister is providing a statutory basis for the code of practice on advertising. Section 4(2) provides that RTE or any other radio station who advertise their own commercial activities  will have that included within their advertising limits. This is welcome and achieves what the Minister set out to do by levelling the playing field. I also welcome the fact that the Minister will have consultations in regard to these codes of practice.
I wonder if he has any concerns that television stations may try to circumvent this section? For example, a cameraman covering an outdoor event might focus on a particular advertising hoarding for five or six seconds. Would that be seen as circumventing this section? A television company might also be paid quietly for using clearly identifiable products or labels in a programme such as “Glenroe”. Can action be taken to prevent this?
Mr. Burke: The Council of Europe are already taking action in relation to product placement in soap operas and other programmes. As far as the activities of a cameraman are concerned, we must be practical. There is no power that I could or would want to take to influence it. We have to rely on the honour and discretion of producers and cameramen. We do not try to legislate for things like that.
Regarding the points made by Deputy Nolan in relation to space being provided for the independent sector to operate, it may not have been done with the finesse the Deputy would like but I think it will be effective.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 7a not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This provision enables the IRTC to enter into a contract with the TV3 operator, additional to the primary contract, whereby the TV3 operator can supplement the cable and MMDS modes of transmission with a separate UHF transmission system. Basically TV3 wants to be a fully national service but it recognises that cable and MMDS, being  subscription services, will not be taken by every household in the country. Independent television would, therefore, wish to ensure that its service will be available independently to anyone who may not necessarily want the multiplicity of services available on cable and MMDS.
The effect of subsections (2) and (3) of this section will be to place the independent television contractor in exactly the same position vis-à-vis his transmission facilities as sound broadcasting contractors are with respect to their transmission facilities. Thus, it means, for example, that the independent television transmission facilities will be fully licensed for the purposes of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 7b and 7c not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section enables RTE to appoint their own auditors rather than being reliant as at present on the Comptroller and Auditor General. As such it places RTE in the same situation as, for example, An Post or Telecom Éireann. This is an arrangement which RTE have been seeking for some time and we are using the opportunity of this legislation to meet this request.
The basic general requirement on RTE to keep all proper and usual accounts is set out in section 25 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, while the requirement to have the accounts audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General is set out in section 1A and 1B of that same section, as inserted by section 6 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1966. This new section 7 will replace that insertion.
The accounts to be submitted to the Minister as provided for in subsection (2) of this section are of the standard variety provided for in respect of State-sponsored bodies generally with the exception of item (c). This is a specific requirement  to submit an audited statement of revenue derived from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion to enable a cross-check to be made on compliance with the advertising revenue limits proposed in the Bill.
Mr. Flood: I am very pleased the Minister has agreed to allow RTE to appoint their own auditors and take this matter out of the area of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I believe RTE have been seeking this for some time and it is an example of the Minister responding to a reasonable request from a major organisation to appoint their own auditors. That is a progressive decision by the Minister which I welcome. I am sure it will have beneficial effects for RTE and the Authority.
What powers will the Minister have with regard to the audited accounts presented to him by RTE if there is any qualification of the accounts in the auditor's report or any reservation on them? This would be important with regard to the income derived because it is part and parcel of this legislation. Therefore, how will the Minister deal with a set of accounts which may — I am not saying will — include a reservation clause with regard to certain aspects of the accounts or, indeed, certain aspects of the income?
Mr. Nolan: I welcome this section. Previous speakers have outlined that RTE have been looking for this concession for a number of years now and I am glad the provision has been inserted here. It will have a two-fold effect. The Committee of Public Accounts have for a number of years been outlining serious difficulties under which the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General have been working. Any move towards alleviating the stress and workload of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is to be welcomed. Will it be with the consent of the Minister that the auditors will be appointed or have the Authority in themselves the right to appoint their own auditors?
Mr. Browne: (Wexford): I compliment the Minister on making this move. For  many years RTE have been seeking to have their own auditor. I hope other Ministers will follow suit in other areas, particularly that of local government whose auditors can be six or seven years behind with up to date information.
RTE may not be too happy about this. They seem to be looking for it but now they are going to be asked to provide information on their operations individually they might not be so happy about having their own auditor as might be expected. When the auditor presents the accounts to the Minister will the Minister put them on public display? If he is not happy about some of the interpretations that the auditor, whoever he or she maybe, puts forward, what rights has he to ask for a review? Can he send the accounts back and say he is not happy with the overall report?
Mr. Leonard: I support this amendment. It is a progressive step to move from the Comptroller and Auditor General to an individual auditor. As the previous speaker said, it could be done to good effect in other Departments.
The Minister is provided with a set of accounts, but what power has he to seek additional information if he is not satisfied with the accounts? It is important that there be accountability at this level and accountability in regard to time. As the previous speaker has said, when the accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General's Office the information is stale by the time it is presented to the Minister three or four years later.
Mr. Burke: I thank the Deputies for their welcome for this initiative to allow RTE appoint their own auditors. I believe it is a forward approach. The same thing takes place in An Post and Bord Telecom Éireann and it is only right and proper, in view of the many complaints about delays in the audit of the semi-State sector's accounts. I assure Deputy Browne that, despite the fact that the accounts will be audited by RTE's own auditors, the requirement to lodge them in the House will still stand.
On Deputy Nolan's point, the RTE Authority will have total autonomy in the  selection of the auditors. It is not a matter for the Minister in any way.
I thank Deputy Leonard for his welcome of this initiative. In relation to Deputy Flood's point, if there is a reservation clause in a set of audited accounts the same treatment will be given to that as would be given to a reservation clause in any other set of accounts for any semi-State body, that is the Minister of the day would approach the board and management of the semi-State organisation for an explanation and clarification as to the background and the reason for the reservation clause being put in. The Deputy can be assured that the same would arise in relation to RTE, but I have never had any question as to the accuracy and reliability of the management procedures of RTE in relation to their accounts. They have been excellent.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.
Mr. Burke: I move amendment No. 10:
In page 7, subsection (1), to delete lines 10 to 13 and substitute the following:
“ `(g) a complaint by a person that on a specified occasion an assertion was made in a broadcast of inaccurate facts or information in relation to that person which constituted an attack on that person's dignity, honour or reputation.'.”.
This is a recasting of the provision to lend extra precision. It was noted that the provision as originally drafted would have enabled a person to lodge a complaint under the category in question relating to a third party even though that third party had no wish to have such a complaint lodged. The effect of my amendment will be to ensure that only an aggrieved person may lodge the complaint on his or her own behalf.
I will be looking also at this in relation to a further amendment on Report Stage in relation to the word “dignity”. The  word “dignity” appears in this on the basis that it was included in the explanatory memorandum attached to the Council of Europe Convention dealing with broadcasting. I have listened to the debate in the House. Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the fact that the use of the word “dignity” in this section could in some way prevent the broadcast of satirical programmes. Having been the subject of some satirical programmes I would not like to be seen to be censoring them in any way. I do not share the view that it would be a form of censorship. However, to put the matter beyond doubt, in response to Deputy Higgins's views in the debate here and views I have received from Government Deputies on this issue, I intend on Report Stage next week to introduce an amendment which will remove the word “dignity”. The section will then read “an attack on the honour or reputation of that individual”.
Mr. D. Ahern: I am glad the Minister is acceding to that request from a number of Deputies on this side of the House including, as he said, Deputy Higgins. A Programme like “Spitting Image” on Ulster Television, if shown here in the Republic, could cause difficulty under the paragraph as it is because it would be possible for anyone to claim that his or her dignity was offended. I feel it is justified and I compliment the Minister on withdrawing it from the Bill.
Mr. T. Kitt: I join in welcoming the Minister's liberal viewpoint in bringing this amendment to the House. At the end of the day we accept that we are in public life and that one has good days and bad days. I do not think the Minister ever intended to have repressive legislation and what he has done is another example of a point I made earlier — that we could tease out aspects of the legislation if we had had a more balanced debate.
Obviously there was a need for a Broadcasting Complaints Commission and it is in everybody's interest that we have such a commission. Every country has some mechanism that offers a form of redress. However, at the same time, nobody wants a repressive system which protects people in public life. When I  refer to people in public life that does not mean politicians only.
This is a very sensible approach and makes things more liberal, which is in everybody's interest. I thank the Minister for making this amendment.
Mr. Flood: I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would examine the use of the word “dignity”. I was glad he did not say he would delete it altogether, because we have to take account of certain public offices such as the position of Ceann Comhairle or President. We should respect the dignity of the office when broadcasting because these offices are above the normal cut and thrust of politics.
The Minister was very wise to say that he will look again at the word in all its meanings in so far as it might apply in the area of broadcasting. I do not think he will be able to remove it and leave things at that; and I do not think that is his intent. However, I welcome the fact that he has indicated that he will have another look at this word arising out of the debate.
This is an important Bill and we do not want to use it to stifle programmes. The Minister indicated that he was the subject of what could be classified as robust treatment but he has come through it very well indeed. I appreciate that the Minister will reconsider this word again and will not take the easy option of deleting it.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, not moved.
Amendments Nos. 13a and a13b not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 9 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section creates a series  of offences relating to the unauthorised interception of cable or MMDS services or in relation to any class of service to which the Minister, by positive order, extends the provisions of these sections of the Bill. I will confine my remarks for the moment to the cable and MMDS services as we will be coming to the section allowing an extension of these provisions to other service providers later.
As I explained in my Second Stage speech, we have a particular problem in this country — which is unparallelled in any other country with cable — of unauthorised connections to cable systems. We would anticipate the same arising on the MMDS side. Having listened to the representations of the industry in this matter and bearing in mind that it is the paying subscriber who ultimately suffers, whether through higher costs or degraded reception, I undertook to promote appropriate legislation to address the problem.
The section thus makes it an offence to intercept the service without the authority of the licensee; allow another to so intercept — for instance, a person allowing his neighbour to take an unauthorised feed from his connection point; possess, manufacture, assemble, import, etc., equipment which is designed or capable of being used to intercept the service — we particularly have in mind pirate decoders; publish information designed to assist such interception, for instance, how to break the code on an encryption system; install equipment for the purpose of unauthorised interception — this is particularly aimed at people who actually make a business of offering unauthorised connections; and damage a licensed system, for example, a cable system.
This will be particularly important for the subscriber to the cable system. If someone on his road or in his area makes an illegal connection they can damage the quality of the reception which the subscriber is entitled to, and it is appropriate that we take action to deal with this in this legislation.
I commend this section to the House.
Mr. Flood: By taking the opportunity to include this section, the Minister will  be doing a tremendous service to users particularly cable television subscribers. As public representatives we know that illegal use has caused a great deal of difficulty for people who subscribe to cable television and pay their fees on time and they are, therefore, entitled to obtain a service.
Frequently those who take a different attitude and do not pay their fees or intercept the service cause a tremendous amount of upset and annoyance to their neighbours. The fact that the Minister is taking an opportunity to deal with this issue is very welcome. It is another positive example of the beneficial effects of this legislation not only for the broadcaster but for the consumer, and we should not lose sight of this.
Perhaps the Minister would comment on the right of a cable television supplier providing a service to get over the difficulty where he is prevented from entering a premises in order to supply the service from one end of the street to another or from one block of houses to another. I am not sure if this is very clear and perhaps the Minister might address this issue in his summing up.
Mr. T. Kitt: This section points out the need to have the legislation in place as quickly as possible. I see a direct parallel in this situation with the manner in which the Minister addressed the question of pirate radio. At that time there was bedlam on the airwaves and the Minister quite rightly tackled the problem as quickly as possible and was very successful.
We are aware that technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and the legislation must be updated to keep up with the advances in technology. We have to deal with people intercepting the MMDS service and interfering with a cable television service. Because people invest in an illegal system the Minister quite rightly recognises the need to update the legislation in an area where technology is advancing very rapidly. He is addressing a situation which is very similar to what obtained at the time when we had pirate radio.
I warmly welcome this move.
Mr. Browne: (Wexford): I join with others in welcoming the fact that the Minister is bringing some semblance of sanity to this area. Unauthorised connectors or inceptors of cable television are causing grave problems and cause major breakdowns of the service; in fact, some areas experience complete blackouts. Some people pay for the service while others use unauthorised connections and do not pay. In some cases they provide a very shoddy service. Has the Minister considered introducing a regulation in relation to suppliers?
Mr. M. Barrett: Like other Deputies, I welcome the steps the Minister is taking in this area. Unauthorised connections have caused serious problems in urban areas, particularly in flat complexes. Householders who have had their service disconnected by the cable company because of the non-payment of rental can hire an illegal operator to reconnect it in a matter of hours. This causes great difficulties for the legal operators because the households they have disconnected are receiving a free service. Who will be prosecuted under the legislation — will it be the illegal operator or the householder who engaged him to reconnect the service? I am glad the Minister is taking steps to rectify the serious problems in this area. I have no doubt that the legislation will eliminate these illegal practices.
Mr. Burke: I thank the Deputies for the welcome they have given to this section which will tackle this obvious problem which, as Deputy Browne, said exists in rural areas as well as in urban areas. As Deputy Flood said, one person in a street or a block of flats who does not subscribe to the service can do endless damage to the enjoyment other people get from it.
With regard to the right of way, our Constitution correctly provides protection for the rights of private property. In cases where householders refuse to allow the cable to go through their property the cable operators have found a way around this problem by bringing the cable out on to the main road and back into  the street. They are able to get over this problem much easier nowadays.
I agree with Deputy Kitt that in view of the investment in this area it is important to tackle the problem of illegal connections. The State broadcasting organisation, RTE, have a 40 per cent shareholding and Telecom a 60 per cent shareholding in the largest cable company in the country. Indeed they are one of the largest cable companies in Europe and their position should be protected in view of the investment involved.
Deputy Browne referred to the control of prices and technical standards. I can assure the Deputy that cable or MMDS operators will have to secure ministerial permission before they are allowed to increase their prices to the consumer. In addition they will have to meet certain standards which are laid down. I admit that in the past some small operators were not able to provide the quality service to which consumers are entitled. An interesting development is taking place in the cable industry at present with the amalgamation of a number of the smaller companies into larger companies. This will lead to an improvement in technical standards in the future. I can assure the Deputy that the prices consumers are charged by these companies will be controlled by the Minister of the day.
With regard to the illegal operators, under this legislation either he or the householder who has been disconnected or both can be prosecuted under the law. The fine in such instances will be the same as those under the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988, which is approximately £1,000.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 10 and 11 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section will provide for the forfeiture of any equipment seized which has been used for the unauthorised interception of service, for example, pirate decoders. Any equipment forfeited by the courts shall be forfeited to the Minister who shall dispose of it as he sees fit. One would anticipate that any equipment so forfeited would more than likely be destroyed but in so far as anything valuable and saleable can be cannibalised, the proceeds will go to the Exchequer. It is vitally important that these pirate decoders are not allowed to develop now that we are moving towards the provision of a greater level of choice for consumers through cable systems, the MMDS system and the satellite stations. My French colleague had to take very strong action in relation to the protection of the French services and I am following his example.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 13 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section obviates the necessity of the prosecution having to prove that a defendant did not have an agreement with a licensee for the supply of service. It is essentially a technical provision which has parallels in the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 as well as the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section provides for the issue of search warrants and the seizing of equipment which is used in committing offences under the Act. It parallels a similar provision in the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988.
Question put and agreed to.
 SECTION 15.
Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section provides for civil remedies for cable and MMDS licensees whose interests are damaged or are about to be damaged through breaches of the prohibited actions under section 9. It will allow the operator to apply to the courts for injunctions restraining a person from the prohibited activities and to seek damages for losses incurred. This provision is mainly directed at people who make a business out of offering illegal connections to systems. The need for such a provision arises to enable a licensee to take quick action to prevent illegal connections or interception, bearing in mind that the process of taking criminal proceedings under the Act can be a long drawn-out affair. The various subsections deal with the mechanics of the civil process.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 16 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section enables the Minister by positive order to extend the provisions of sections 9 to 15 of the Bill to services transmitted by Wireless Telegraphy other than cable or MMDS. The most obvious example is a premium satellite television service such as a film channel which is sent out in encrypted form. As I mentioned in my Second Stage speech, there is an emerging concern at international level in relation to the unauthorised interception of such services and it is only a matter of time before some international legal instruments are developed to afford protection of these services.
As is clear from subsection (3) this protection can only be applied to encrypted services whose economic viability is dependent on the subscription principle.
Question put and agreed to.
 SECTION 17.
Amendment No. 13b not moved.
Question proposed: “That section 17 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: This section clarifies, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Minister's licensing powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 include a power to limit the number of licences he may issue for the various classes of wireless telegraphy apparatus. The Wireless Telegraphy Act is the basic statutory foundation for frequency spectrum management here and is also the vehicle through which, for example, the vast range of international obligations relating to the use of radio frequencies is controlled here. It is the Act under which the vast majority of radio communication systems in this country are licensed.
The Oireachtas even in 1926 would have been aware of the finite nature of the radio frequency spectrum. Accordingly, it would not have been consistent to give the Minister power to control wireless telegraphy apparatus without a power to limit licences. However, that power is not explicitly provided for in the 1926 Act and this provision is intended to avoid any doubt on the question. Subsection (2) of this section is a provision to enable the Minister to recognise licences for various types of radio systems issued in other countries and will enable persons visiting this country to use those systems without having to take out local licences here.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 18 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Burke: Section 18 is basically a correction to the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. Under that Act the various offences relating to illegal broadcasting can be prosecuted within two years of the offence being committed. However, we overlooked extending the same period for prosecutions to  the basic offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, and this provision remedies that deficiency.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 13c and 13d not moved.
Section 19 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 14 to 32, inclusive, not moved.
Amendment No. 32a not moved.
Section 20 agreed to.
Mr. Burke: I move amendment No. 33:
In page 11, in the third column, opposite the reference to the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976 (No. 37 of 1976), to delete “Section 8.”
This is a consequential amendment necessitated by the new provisions in this Bill. My amendment removes the reference to the repeal of section 8 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976. This is the section under which RTE receive their grant equivalent to licence fee revenue. The section can stand because I no longer am proposing to divert part of licence fee revenue to the independent sector.
As that is the last amendment I will be  moving I should like to take the opportunity of commenting on the quality of the debate we have had on Committee Stage today. I was glad to be able to facilitate my colleagues in regard to a number of their suggestions and I propose to introduce appropriate amendments on Report Stage. I will also be taking account of the views put forward by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, for example, in relation to minutage and I will be dealing with the observations and concerns of charities. I will be increasing the minutage on Report Stage from four-and-a-half to five minutes and I will be linking the capping on advertising not to the licence fee but to inflation. As a result of the concern of my colleagues I will be deleting the reference in the Bill to dignity.
I should like to congratulate my colleagues on the constructive debate we have had today. We have had a real Committee Stage debate dealing with the Bill section by section which, unfortunately, we did not have in the last two days.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Mr. Burke: In accordance with the order of the House, Report Stage has been ordered for Wednesday next.
Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 4 July 1990.
The Dáil adjourned at 4 p.m. until 12 noon on Monday, 2 July 1990.
|Last Updated: 23/05/2011 10:51:37||Page of 7|