Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
The amendment speaks for itself and I can understand what Senator Mullen is trying to achieve with it. While all of us have some doubts about prohibitions on Irish broadcasting in terms of competition with broadcasting from outside the country, which I understand, it does seem that these are likely to be trends that are going to take place throughout Europe. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to accepting this amendment from the point of view of the health of the nation.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan): While I am generally in agreement with the views expressed by the Senators who tabled these amendments, I believe many of the issues are already dealt with in the Bill. For example, in regard to amendment No. 1, section 42 requires that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing the standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters. In particular, section 42(2)(g) provides that advertising, teleshopping materials, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion employed in any broadcasting service, particularly in advertising and other activities which relate to matters likely to be of interest or indirect interest to children, protects the interests of children having particular regard to the general public health interests of those children.
Furthermore, section 42(4) allows a broadcasting code to be prepared by the authority prohibiting the advertising in a broadcasting service of a particular class of foods or beverages considered by it to be subject to public concern, in particular, in respect of those which contain fat, trans-fatty acids, salts or sugars. While I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator I believe the provisions proposed are already provided for and addressed in the Bill.
In regard to amendment No. 23, section 42 requires that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing the standards and practices in general to be observed by broadcasters and that such codes provide that matters involving taste and decency of programme material, in particular in respect to the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct, shall be presented by a broadcaster with due sensitivity to the feelings and convictions of the audience and with due regard to the impact such programming can have on children. Senators will be aware that these provisions mirror the provisions under which the BCI prepared the children’s advertising code and the BCI code of programme standards which specifically address the points made.
We have provided in section 42(9) for the continuation of these codes which can, of course, be updated, renewed and amended by the authority. I consider that these provisions encompass and in many ways go beyond what Senators are proposing. Accordingly, I consider the provisions outlined adequately address the concerns raised.
In regard to amendment No. 24, section 42 requires that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing the standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters in regard to children. These provisions mirror provisions under existing legislation.
On amendment No. 30, section 42 requires that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters. Section 42(2)(g) provides that advertising, teleshopping materials, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion employed in any broadcasting service, particularly in advertising or other such activities which relate to matters of interest to children, can be regulated. Again, I consider these provisions encompass and go beyond what the Senator is proposing. Accordingly, I consider the provisions outlined already address the concerns raised by the Senator.
On amendment No. 34, section 42 requires that the broadcasting authority of Ireland prepare codes governing standards and practices to be observed by broadcasters and Senators will be aware that these provisions mirror the provisions under which the BCI prepared its code of programme standards. I have provided in section 42(9) for the continuation of these codes.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I thank the Minister for his explanation. I agree with much of what he said. However, as amendments Nos. 1 and 30 are in Senator Mullen’s name and he may wish to speak on them on Report Stage I will not contest them.
Senator Ivor Callely: The Minister stated that provision is made in the Bill in respect of the matters raised in the amendments. He also stated that regulation to deal with these issues can be made. Am I correct that this is what the Minister is indicating?
Deputy Eamon Ryan: Such regulations already exist as administered by the broadcasting authority of Ireland, BCI and such codes have been developed, particularly in respect of children’s advertising codes.
The Bill allows for a continuation of that system. In this case, the broadcasting authority of Ireland would be responsible for the design, monitoring and implementation of such codes. We have strengthened the legislation in that we are allowing specifically in legislating for such codes that children’s advertising of food products which are high in salt, fat and sugar may be excluded. This is an attempt to give real legislative back-up to an authority looking to introduce such a scheme.
The codes are in place and provide wider cover for an authority seeking to maintain certain standards with regard to public decency and violence. A wider issue is raised with regard to how far we can go with such codes. I am open to different views on how we regulate advertising, especially advertising aimed at children. Certain individuals argue we should have a complete ban on advertising. Others argue that such a blanket ban would undermine the financing or commercial viability of good children’s programming or the ability of programme makers to broadcast good children’s programming. A balance is required. The argument is also made that proper and well-regulated advertising for products which do not damage the health of a child should be allowed.
In this Bill I want to strengthen the code so we can be sure we have effective control when it comes to advertising which we know has a real effect. We want to discourage the use of junk foods. I will leave it in the hands of the authority as to how the particular codes are developed. These provisions are included in the Bill.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 2 and 104 at this time. The text as published in the Bill is standard language. I am happy to review the text in consultation with the Parliamentary Counsel prior to Report Stage. I do not propose to accept amendment No. 3 as no such generic provision was included when drafting the Bill as it was intended to allow the requirements to go further in some instances than merely laying documents before the Oireachtas. In parts of the Bill positive resolutions are required to be passed by each House of the Oireachtas for certain actions to take effect, such as the removal of a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. With regard to amendment No. 4, section 4 is a standard provision which appears in most Acts and as such I cannot accept the amendment as proposed.
The Minister and Senators will recall that in my Second Stage speech I welcomed the fact that the Minister will give a critical role to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the appointment of the board of the broadcasting authority of Ireland. I do not propose to elaborate on this any further. This amendment asks that we take a bold step forward, however, and give it further expression and authority. I ask that the Oireachtas joint committee hold an oral hearing to be attended by all of the Minister’s nominees to the board at which they would be questioned on areas related to their competency for membership of the board. Whether they belonged to the specific sectors set out in the Bill would be established, as would whether they represent a union or another interest group. Their competency and knowledge in the broadcasting sphere also would be established.
The nominees would answer basic questions on the sector they represent, their competency in the broadcasting area and their suitability to be members of the authority. Qualifications or experience claimed in a given sphere, such as music or culture which are mentioned in the Bill, would be examined. It would not examine extraneous material such as private lives or matters outside the remit of the committee. It would establish suitability for membership of the broadcasting authority of Ireland.
This would further public confidence in the process of appointing public boards. I know the Minister is innovative and this is a great opportunity for him to go a stage further. I appeal to him to take this amendment on board. It would allay public cynicism and let us be frank about the great cynicism among the general mass of people about how we appoint people to State boards, the clandestine nature of the appointment process, the fact people may not necessarily be qualified for the board of which they are a member and the fact that subsequently they may not participate wholesomely in the board. Public cynicism must be allayed to improve confidence in our democratic system.
We need competence on the board given the serious nature of broadcasting which was discussed at great length on Second Stage and rightly so. We want the highest form of competence and calibre of commitment on the board which we want to reflect the sectors set out in the Bill. The board would be transparent and open and win public confidence in the system. It would be another advancement on appointing four people on the recommendation of the Oireachtas committee. It would set a wonderful precedent.
I am convinced about this and I would be prepared to accept amendments on Report Stage to ensure extraneous material would not be examined and people would not be subject to witch hunts or inquisitions of a tabloid journalism nature. However, in the interests of taxpayers who will fund the operation, the democratic system, this House and the Minister’s bona fides, which are unquestioned, nominees should be subject to proper questioning on their competence, the sector they represent and their commitment to the broadcasting process. Any reasonable candidate for membership of the board should stand up readily under that process.
I have no problem with the setting of parameters or guidelines to negotiate a methodology for it. I am well aware of the risks within and I would like them to be eliminated. However, I appeal to the Minister to go a step further. It would be a brave step for democracy and the broadcasting sphere and it would be appropriate to take it in the Seanad. The Minister should do this and I am prepared to have my amendment refined if that is necessary. If the Minister and his officials think it needs tweaking, I do not mind once they accept the principle and commence the process of an open inquiry into board appointments. This process should extend to all State boards. Would it not make for a wonderful new society and a confident people? Is it not time it happened to eradicate cynicism about such appointments, cronyism, jobbery and patronage of the wrong type? Patronage is all right when it is meritocratic and based on commitment to the nation and civic well-being. Patronage of a sinister type must be eliminated. I appeal to the Minister to accept this worthwhile amendment, which is meant in the best sense. He will be aware of how positive I was on Second Stage.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I very much recognise the bona fides and the motives behind the amendment and the Senator’s interest in the area. I am examining innovate new ways of appointing authorities and it is important to get the balance right between various considerations. It is appropriate for the Minister of the day to have an appointment facility to boards. He or she does not have to appoint the entire board but it is appropriate for him or her to have certain control, particularly over the appointment of the chairman and a number of others, because public policy is set by the elected Government and a Minister is given constitutional responsibility to determine and pursue such policy. It is, therefore, correct to marry that officeholder, elected under our constitutional arrangements, with any authorities set up. He or she should have the ability to outline policy in his or her Department and to extend that policy vision into relevant State authorities via those he or she appoints to their boards. It is correct for the Minister to have the ability to influence the direction of boards through public appointments.
However, where a new board is being appointed, as is the case under the legislation, it is possible and beneficial for the Minister to share that responsibility with a joint Oireachtas committee in a number of board appointments. That would widen the net the Minister casts to appoint people to boards and it would allow for a wider democratic discussion and engagement in that process. That is why the new provisions were developed. I have a fundamental concern with what I understand to be Fine Gael’s position on this matter. The party says joint Oireachtas committees should question, check or interview ministerial board appointees and that is the primary instinct of the party in how we evolve in this area. I prefer my approach in that the committees would have a proactive rather than a reactive role in this regard. No matter how much we might wish this should be done in an open, civil and proper manner, such an after the fact check on appointments could easily turn into a contentious system of interview and check that would discourage people from taking on a not well paid public service function. I fear the proposal set out in the amendment and more widely outside the Houses by Fine Gael would lead to people being discouraged from taking up appointments and that would not necessarily improve the process because it would have the potential of becoming a contentious checking process.
I much prefer my proposal because it would be much more proactive for joint Oireachtas committees to conduct such discussions and interviews at they see fit and to use them to propose names, which they could present to the Minister who, in turn, would present them to the Government for nomination. That will provide for an engaged public process and it will provide committees with great freedom in how they decide to go about their work and with a wide selection procedure. That is the right way to go rather than the alternative whereby nominations are brought to the committees for vetting, which would inevitably be more contentious and would lead to board selection that would not deliver as good candidates.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I have no difficulty accepting the Minister’s proposition that there must be significant ministerial control and input because that is a given. I also have no difficulty with the proposal that an Oireachtas committee should make four recommendations. My amendment does not preclude the Minister’s proposition and I propose that a public hearing should be added. The committee should make four recommendations but a public hearing should be held on them. That would improve the system as the proactive dimension cited by the Minister would be provided for. I do not accuse him or being disingenuous but my proposal for a public hearing on the appointments would not replace his proposition that four members be appointed on the recommendation of the committee. I support the proactive role but a hearing should be instituted. My proposal could be refined but it could be pioneering in regard to all State board appointments and it would make for great reform.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Amendment No. 6 refers to the limit of two consecutive terms for authority members. This is a blunt instrument in that it affects good members as well as poor members. If the Minister wishes to replace somebody, he or she can choose not to appoint him or her. I ask him to reconsider this provision. If terms limits apply, it is possible a large number of people could leave the board at the same time, which would potentially disrupt its operation.
Under amendment No. 7, we would like qualifications to be stated as opposed to just the terms. Amendment No. 8 provides for the publication of appointments in Iris Oifigiúil rather than having them laid only before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The purpose of amendment No. 10 is to delete the gag on the chief executive which would prevent him or her from commenting on Government policy while amendment No. 11 provides a mechanism for public information regarding interests and conflicts of interest on the part of members and staff of the authority.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: If I can return to the point made by Senator O’Reilly before going on to deal with the other amendments, the issue here is whether this process will improve the quality of members we get for our boards. In the absence of a real veto, which is not being proposed here, I fear that such a vetting process could be something that might only restrict good candidates from coming forward. It would not have the real power to check the appointment of a candidate. I do not see what added value it would bring to the process. In particular, if we have a more open and transparent process, which I believe we have here, some of the qualifications or the skills people have should be available for public view. In a sense, this provides a similar role to what is being proposed.
In respect of amendments Nos. 6 and 86, it is correct for us to put in place a two-term cap. It is interesting to note a discussion this morning on the US presidential elections and the US experience. Such caps have been a useful system for ensuring there is change, that one gets new blood and that there is a limit in terms of people’s involvement. In this case because it limits the appointment to five years each, it is appropriate to ensure that, in legislative terms, it is restricted to such a ten-year period. I do not accept amendments Nos. 6 or 86.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which were moved by Senators McCarthy, Alex White, Ryan, Hannigan and Kelly, deal with the issue of transparency in reporting on the appointment of board members. There is some merit in identifying the qualifications of board members in any statement laid before the House, as well as the term and remuneration. The Senators also proposed that such a statement be published in Iris Oifigiúil. While I cannot accept the amendments today, I will consider them further in advance of Report Stage in recognising that they may in a sense provide some of the objectives that we might have in a vetting process suggested by Senator O’Reilly.
Amendment No. 10 proposes to remove subsection 2 of section 19. This subsection restricts the CEO from discussing the merits of Government policy while attending the Committee of Public Accounts. I cannot accept this amendment. The restriction on comment on the merits of Government policy is standard in respect of the Committee of Public Accounts. The purpose of the Committee of Public Accounts is to focus on the reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General on their use of resources and expenditure generally and on financial matters and not on other issues. There is no such restriction proposed in legislation in respect of section 20, which deals with attendance or accountability to other Oireachtas committees.
In respect of amendment No. 11, which seeks to ensure that any disclosures made by members of staff to the broadcasting authority of Ireland and statutory committees will be placed on a register which will then be made available to the public, sections 21 and 22 set out clear methods for dealing with situations where disclosures are made and where the authority can make certain decisions in respect of members and staff. In the case of staff and consultants, the legislation is clear that removal from office or termination of contract are possible solutions where requirements have not been complied with. I do not feel this section requires more strengthening and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 20, which was moved by Senator O’Reilly, proposes allowing the Minister, following consultation with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, to cap the levy imposed on broadcasters by the broadcasting authority of Ireland to meet its expenses. I understand the need for the levy to be justified and appropriate and the authority should not seek to obtain funds greater than it requires from a levy on broadcasters. The proposed legislation states clearly in subsection 5 of section 33 that the authority must either offset against the following year or refund any surplus in the levy. Subsection 7 requires that details of the levy order be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas where it may be annulled by resolution. In the case of regulators for most sectors where they are funded by a levy, it is not standard practice for the Minister to have powers to cap the levy. I believe the legislation places sufficient restrictions on the broadcasting authority of Ireland in this regard and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: In respect of the Minister’s point about my first amendment, it would not restrict good candidates from seeking positions on the board. If they are competent, know what they are about and have the right motives, they would not have a problem with a properly ordered process of public investigation. I do not accept the contention that it would deter good candidates.
It is correct for the Minister to challenge on the added value. The added value, again, would establish excellence in the personnel joining the board, maintain transparency and confidence in the whole process and the system and further break away from the traditional models of appointment. It has much to commend it, namely, a huge output with no disadvantage.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence and assistance in respect of amendment groupings. In respect of amendment No. 20 and the capping of the levy, we contend that there should be a reasonable level of expenditure. However, in the current economic climate, when we are asking many sectors and workers to exercise restraint, it would not be a bad thing for the House to establish in legislative terms the concept of restraint in expenditure by a State board.
I understand the controls in the legislation but what we are effectively saying here is that a reasonable cap be established on expenditure, taking cognisance of previous and likely expenditure and exercising leniency, reason and vision for pre-planning. We could have an excellent board today and next year. To take it to an extreme and ludicrous level, it should be enshrined in legislation that no board in the future could decide to build itself a Taj Mahal-like office block, that it needed to visit Bermuda a few times a year to analyse its role in broadcasting or any other such extravagant or outlandish thing. This is the purpose of the capping exercise.
I know the Minister accepts that the objective is not to muzzle the board or to restrict its remit. The objective is in no way to make it less effective in what it does or in its vision and planning. Of course, we need all that. We need an exciting, adventurous, ambitious and developing broadcasting sector. We must all be gung-ho about that, which is why we are all so committed to getting this legislation right. However, no board should be given an open chequebook. The need for reasonable expenditure should be inserted in legislation.
If we capped the levy, we would achieve another objective, namely, a high quality of programming. We are currently not punitive or prohibitive in respect of the amount of money we collect from the various broadcasters around the country. If they pay too much into an authority that spends ridiculous amounts foolishly, they could limit the amount they spend on programming, quality productions and planning for the future. That also must be a consideration. Capping would stop ludicrous expenditure and ultimately would be a safeguard for good programming. I commend the amendment to the Minister on that basis. We do not have a philosophical dispute here. This is an operational matter, to attain what is best and to achieve probity while not thwarting or muzzling creativity or success.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I hear what the Senator is saying and perhaps this is something we can come back to on Report Stage. The Senator suggests there should be a check in place, perhaps in the context of the Committee of Public Accounts or within the structures set out here, in terms of the Minister determining an annual cap. Either way, Senator O’Reilly argues that some sort of external check or reporting requirement is desirable so that any such concerns could be allayed.
By and large, these authorities are very responsible, particularly in areas like this, and are very conscious of public propriety as they deal in corporate governance regulations. My experience is that they are very proper in their dealings. However, I acknowledge what the Senator is saying and perhaps we can look at some sort of wording on Report Stage which would give comfort and assurance that there is an ability to justify or clarify a levy. I may return to the matter on Report Stage.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I genuinely and enthusiastically welcome the Minister’s reply in this instance. I am very happy about it. I feel very strongly that it is important that the Seanad has an input into the legislation, not just in verbiage but in terms of output. For that reason, I am delighted that the Minister has decided to make an adjustment on Report Stage to accommodate this ambition, which is a reasonable one and simply seeks that we have probity and are seen to have such. As the Minister has said, ultimately the board will not have a difficulty with that. In fact, it will give the board the space it needs. I welcome the Minister’s response and am happy to leave the amendment at that.
|Bradford, Paul.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Hanafin, John.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Leyden, Terry.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
Acting Chairman (Senator Maurice Cummins): Amendments Nos. 9, 12, 39 to 41, inclusive, 59 to 81, inclusive, 87 to 89, inclusive, 91 to 96, inclusive, 100, 107, 109 to 115, inclusive, and 129 to 136, inclusive, are related and cognate and will be discussed together.
Acting Chairman: Amendments Nos 13 to 16, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I move amendment No. 13:
These amendments propose to make the use of sign language and subtitles in programming a legal requirement. The objective is to ensure the full enjoyment of programmes by persons with hearing impairment. Sign language and subtitles should be designated in the Bill rather than just being implicit in it. We should be explicit as to the entitlements of hearing-impaired people. I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that subtitling, in so far as it exists on programmes such as the news and “Prime Time”, is neither accurate nor timely. There tends to be subtitling of a question asked by a reporter which appears when the question is being answered. Subtitling does not coincide with the speaker and this is a technical adjustment which should be made and which I presume would be achieved with the proper expenditure. It is very important that both this House and the other House should be unambiguous about their commitment to hearing-impaired people and to people who labour under any disability because, needless to say, none of us knows the day or the hour when that list will include ourselves.
This amendment would enhance the Bill because it would give a full legislative expression to the view that there should be subtitling and the use of sign language at all times to ensure hearing-impaired people get full enjoyment from programmes. It is an exciting amendment with great potential. It would be symbolic for the Government to accept the amendment. I appeal to the Minister to accept it on the level of symbolism and as a message to our hearing-impaired people. This in itself would not be enough to justify the amendment so I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment as a practical step to ensure the use of the most up-to-date subtitling and use of sign language for hearing-impaired people is legislatively enshrined. This may be properly more an issue for Second Stage but in presenting the amendment I ask the Minister, whom I acknowledge as proactive in all these areas, to examine urgently at the quality of subtitling as it exists. I propose this worthy amendment to enhance the legislation and I ask the Minister to accept it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Senator Paul Bradford: I second Senator O’Reilly’s amendment. I referred to this matter on Second Stage last week. In th past five or six years I have raised this matter of subtitling on a number of occasions in both Houses. From the point of view of those who suffer from impaired hearing, adequate subtitling of television programmes gives them an opportunity to follow programmes, to derive maximum enjoyment from television and to assist them in their knowledge of news and current affairs. I presume it is either a financial or technological issue or both but the current quality of subtitling of news, current affairs and live coverage of sporting events leaves much to be desired.
I reiterate what I said on Second Stage as a challenge to all of us. If a person with full hearing, which would be most Members, were to turn down the volume of the news, “Prime Time” or a sporting programme and attempt to follow the programme from the subtitling service, he or she would find it a very inadequate presentation. From the news perspective, the subtitles can be three, four or five seconds behind the story and it is often worse in a sporting programme. This is not a good enough service and neither is it fair to people who suffer from hearing problems. We must put maximum pressure on the broadcasters to improve the subtitling service significantly.
Many of those who are hearing impaired are elderly and most elderly people have a great interest in news and current affairs. I appreciate the live elements of the news may cause a difficulty for subtitling but some of the news programming is prerecorded and there should be no excuse for the absence of subtitling in those parts of the programmes.
There should be a clear signal of intent from the Oireachtas that we want significant improvement in the subtitling service. This amendment would be a clear statement that we are reaching out to all those who have hearing difficulties and require the sign language service. In this era of modern technology and communications and digital television by which we can see a spacecraft landing on Mars, it is not too much to expect that we would have a decent quality of subtitling. I commend RTE on its subtitling and I contrast its efforts with those of TV3 where, as far as I know, apart from some of the imported British programmes, the subtitling service is non-existent. This legislation provides an opportunity to lay down minimum standards for a high quality service from the broadcasters. I await the Minister’s positive response because the day will come for all of us in this House and for our friends and families when our hearing may not be 100% and when an adequate, proper, sufficient subtitling service will enhance quality of life and the enjoyment of television. Will the Minister accept this amendment because its provisions will be of long-term assistance to a great many people?
Deputy Eamon Ryan: Each of the amendments Nos. 13 to 16, inclusive, proposes a range of changes in the objectives as set out in section 25. This section, by its nature, is focused on high-level goals and objectives of the broadcasting authority of Ireland, BAI, and does not dwell on specifics. Amendments Nos. 13 to 16, inclusive, seek to add specific issues or actions related to the objectives as stated but these are already dealt with in other sections which deal with the BAI and its role.
The issue of sign language and subtitling referred to in amendment No. 13, is dealt with comprehensively in section 43 in the broadcasting rules where the BAI is given clear tasks in this regard. I will use this opportunity to refer to certain developments in this area because a certain progress has been made over the past three years following on the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland’s rules on levels and standards of promotions for the four terrestrial channels of RTE 1, RTE 2, TG4 and TV3. We do not have similar control over channels such as Setanta Sports because it is outside the jurisdiction of the BCI and, consequently and regrettably, it does not make subtitling available. For those channels which provide subtitling, there is a requirement for RTE 1 to move to a target of 100% subtitling over a ten-year period and for TV3 to reach a target of 60% in that ten-year period. The target for RTE means 100% subtitling within that 18-hour period rather than 24 hour-period and it is a similar period for TV3.
Further provisions already in place are that all television programmes funded by the Sound and Vision scheme are required to have subtitling available. The Bill also sets out in detailed provisions that the BAI, which will assume responsibility for the area, would have to review such access rules around subtitling and language every two years and include a progress report in its annual report. A key requirement is stitched in which includes improved service targets, especially for RTE and TV3. There is also a reporting mechanism in that two-year report. We can perhaps include in that report a review of subtitling quality where such concerns arise. It is not the case that we are inactive or lacking ambition in this area. I cannot accept the amendment because in this section we are dealing with much wider goals. Subsequent sections deal in more detail with issues such as sign language and subtitling.
Acting Chairman: I remind Senators that amendments Nos. 13 to 16, inclusive, are being discussed together.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: While I take the point that there are high-level goals, there is nothing wrong in giving specific, practical expression to them. It will enhance the legislation to do so. Later in the legislation, sign language is mentioned “without prejudice to the generality of the previous section”, which, in a sense, is a bit loose. It would enhance this section to include the proposed amendment No. 13, so I ask the Minister to accept it.
Amendment No. 14 seeks to establish a quota of mandatory programming in the Irish language. I accept that the legislation cites the promotion of the Irish language and its cultural significance as a high level goals, but I would like it to receive practical expression. On Second Stage, I recognised RTE’s extraordinary achievements in the promotion of the Irish language and Irish culture, as well as the success of TG4. While that is clearly on the record, the objective of this amendment is to establish a mandatory quota — a specific, stated level — of Irish language programming. That is an important issue to enshrine in legislation. While Senators may be sincere in their commitment to the Irish language as of today, we must protect the language for future generations. It is an important part of the heritage we pass on to our children and subsequent generations. Our language is very beautiful as well as being a vehicle for our history, culture and heritage. It is highly valued and deeply imbued in us. It would enhance the Bill to enshrine in it the concept of a mandatory quota for Irish language programming. In the same way as an earlier proposal of mine would send out an important signal to the disability sector, this amendment would send out a positive signal to those who love the language and promote it locally through conversation classes and other activities. It would be affirmative for them to note that the Oireachtas was making such legislative changes to endorse what they are doing.
As currently constituted, RTE should have no issue with such a step. RTE’s policy is pro-Irish language, culture and heritage, so the amendment poses no threat to that situation. All the amendment seeks is to enshrine in the Bill a requirement that that will continue to be the case. We should be specific about that. It is vital to maintain our commitment to promoting the propagation and use of the language in all our broadcast media. Is páirt d’oidhreacht na tíre é. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach dúinn go léir an teanga a labhairt. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé ráite sa Bhille go bhfuil sé tábhachtach. Ba cheart dúinn an athrú seo a dhéanamh chun a shoiléiriú do gach éinne go bhfuilimid lán-cinnte faoi tábhacht úsáid na teanga.
For that reason, I appeal to the Minister to establish a mandatory quota for Irish language programming. The mechanism for arriving at a mandatory quota can be discussed on Report Stage. I accept that there would have to be professional involvement in some of the issues involved, including the authority and the Minister. There must be a commitment to a mandatory quota, however, setting a level of Irish language programming below which we could not go.
We spoke recently about dumbing down in broadcasting, but let us ensure there will be no such dumbing down of our national language, culture or oidhreacht. For that reason, I appeal to the Minister to examine this matter. I will be guided by him and his officials if they reasonably state that alterations must be inserted on Report Stage, but I would like the principle to be accepted now. It will enhance the legislation as well as enhancing the country. We cannot slavishly sell ourselves out or dumb ourselves down. We should maintain what is good and hold what is central to our being and our essence as a people. Why not be assertive, especially in modern times, as well as being confident about what we are and the great heritage we have. Let us do so today.
Senator Paul Bradford: I will revert briefly to the Minister’s response to amendment No. 13 concerning subtitling. I take his remarks on board and I am encouraged by his indication of the additional quantity of programmes that will be made available under the subtitling service. As I did on Second Stage, I want to concentrate on the quality of much of that subtitling. Without labouring the point, I ask the Minister to try to follow either RTE’s “Six One News” or the “Nine O’Clock News” by way of subtitling alone. He certainly will not find the experience satisfactory. Sadly, tens of thousands of people throughout the country are experiencing that difficulty because of the inadequate quality of subtitling in live television broadcasts. I appreciate that some technological issues may have to be addressed and I am sure financial costs also are involved. We owe it to all those people whose hearing is less than it should be, however, to invest significantly in subtitling and to demand the highest possible standards. The Minister should ask the broadcasting authority to concentrate on the quality of subtitling as much as the quantity. While the quantity is sufficient, the quality is not as good as it should be.
I support what Senator O’Reilly said concerning his amendment aimed at establishing a quota for Irish language programming. I acknowledge that a sea-change was brought about as a result of the introduction of TG4. It is, if I recall correctly, approximately 15 years since the former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, ploughed a lone furrow for some time as he sought to impress on his Cabinet colleagues and the Oireachtas as a whole the need to provide funding to establish TG4. While his endeavours were viewed by many as aspirational and perhaps a little removed from reality, the station has proved a resounding success and long may that continue. Senator O’Reilly’s amendment is aspirational and would be useful in RTE and TV3. I ask the Minister to respond positively.
A major debate is under way on how best to maintain and develop the Irish language. For example, we have had political rows about our approach to teaching Irish at second level. The greater people’s exposure to Irish, the better it will be for our language, culture and heritage. The Minister will recall the continuity announcements one used to hear on RTE in advance of every programme. Introducing almost every second programme with a phrase or two of Irish may not have transformed the use of the language but it at least marked an effort to use Irish on television on an ongoing basis. This practice has since ceased.
Senator O’Reilly’s amendment is worthy of consideration as it would take a small step towards protecting and developing the language by making it a stronger feature of everyday culture. Those who may not have ever spoken a sentence in Irish would at least learn and use a word or two of the language. It will take a long time to change our culture to the extent that Irish is used frequently by the majority of citizens. The amendment would be a small and positive step in this direction and I hope the Minister will respond favourably.
While I appreciate the difficulty the Minister faces, we must use legislation to make statements and be aspirational. We have moved a long way from former President de Valera’s aspiration that Irish would again become the spoken language of the country. Politicians are not as demanding as they were 60 or 70 years ago. However, if we genuinely want to protect our language and culture, we should take this small positive step in the right direction.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: Having heard the Minister refer to high level objectives, I suspect I know what will be his response to amendment No. 15. Nevertheless, it would be wise and opportune to include a specific objective regarding children. For this reason, the amendment proposes to protect children from commercialisation in order that they are not otherwise exposed to broadcasting that could undermine their welfare. I ask the Minister to consider accepting the amendment.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liomsa tacaíocht a thabhairt do na leasuithe atá molta anseo, Uimh. 13, 14 agus 15. Ar an drochuair, níl an tAire ag glacadh le leasú Uimh. 13. Ba mhaith liom go háirithe labhairt faoi mholadh atá déanta ag an Seanadóir Ó Raghallaigh i leasú Uimh. 14 ar section 25. Sílim go bhfuil tábhacht faoi leith ag baint leis seo agus mar a dúradh roimhe anseo, caithfimid reachtaíocht a thabhairt isteach agus caithfimid quotas a leagan síos má tá muid le hathbheochan na Gaeilge a fheiceáil sa tír seo. Ní hamháin go gcaithfimid é a fhágáil suas ag an córas oideachas, ag polaitíocht nó ag na dreamanna nó na heagrais Gaeilge ach caithfidh sí bheith mar pháirt de gach aon ghné den saol agus tagann seirbhísí teilifíse agus raidió isteach go mór anseo.
Má fheictear ar an méid atá déanta ag na cláracha agus ag na stáisiúin sin, tá obair faoi leith déanta acu. Má fheicimid ar na cláracha atá déanta i nGaeilge, tá siad ar chomh chéim nó b’fhéidir níos airde ná cuid mhaith nó an cuid is mó de na cláracha atá i meán an Bhéarla. Cífimid “Ros na Rún”, “FFC” agus cláracha mar sin atá leanúint ní hamháin sa Ghaeltacht acu ach taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht. Rud a shílim fhéin atá fíor thábhachtach ná na cláracha i nGaeilge do pháistí.
Sílim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go leagtar síos spriocanna don méid cláracha Gaeilge go mba cheart a bheith craolta ag na stáisiúin seo. Molaim an Seanadóir Ó Raghallaigh as ucht na leasaithe seo a thabhairt isteach agus iarraim ar an Aire glacadh leo. Níltear á rá, dóigh amháin nó dóigh eile, gur cheart go mbeadh an quota 10%, 15% nó 20%. Sé an rud atáá rá ná go nglacfar leis an prionsabal gur cheart quota a bheith ann. Sílim má tá muid ag glacadh le quota gur cheart cineál minimum quota a ghlacadh agus go gcaithfidh sin a bheith ann ar a laghad.
Is ár gcuid cáineach atá ag cur na seirbhísí seo agus na cláracha seo ar fáil agus tá ceartanna ann faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla ag muintir na Gaeltachta agus muintir na Gaeilge. Is ceart go nathneodh na stáisiúin teilifíse agus raidió iad. Molaim an leasú dá réir.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: On amendment No. 13, to give some specific details on the realisation of targets, RTE’s subtitling coverage in 2007 was some 6,320 hours and it has given commitments, published in its statement of commitments for 2008, to increase this figure to 6,700 hours, subtitle coverage in all news, current affairs and main weather forecasts on RTE 1 and RTE 2, increase subtitling in children’s programming and ensure all GAA coverage is subtitled in 2008.
I noted the contributions of Senator Bradford and others. The key issue in subtitling is quality rather than quantity. Perhaps it will be possible to insert a clause in the provision requiring the broadcasting authority of Ireland to report on subtitling to have it assess the quality of subtitling as well as the number of hours of subtitled broadcasts. This may take into account Senator Bradford’s concerns regarding the current system.
The section clearly states that it is a broad goal of the BAI to “facilitate the development of Irish language programming and broadcasting services”. I am reluctant to accept amendments which would specify means, including mandatory quotas, by which one would achieve this objective. Other sections of the Bill expand on how the Department is progressing a number of practical measures aimed at achieving this goal. For example, the decision to increase TG4’s budget by 15% at a time of tight budgetary restrictions was an indication from the Government that we take seriously the development of Irish language programming.
I agree that Irish language programmes are often of an international standard. I attended the launch of the latest round of the Aifric series of programmes which was made with funding from the Sound and Vision scheme. This was superb programming which stood up to comparison with programmes in any other language, including English, French, German and Spanish.
The Bill will include provisions making available specific funding from the broadcasting fund to allow commercial community broadcasters to fund off-peak Irish language programming. This is an example of a practical step. The amendment, on the other hand, gives the authority a broad aspirational function. I am satisfied the current wording is appropriate and on that basis I cannot accept amendments Nos. 14 to 16, inclusive. One must bear in mind the statement in section 25 that the BAI shall endeavour to ensure “that the number and categories of broadcasting services made available in the State by virtue of this Act best serve the needs of the people of the island of Ireland, bearing in mind their languages and traditions and their religious, ethnic and cultural diversity”. Furthermore, section 25(2)(e) requires the BAI to facilitate the development of Irish language programming.
With regard to Deputy Hannigan’s point on the protection of children, the subject of amendment No. 15, section 42(2) and 42(4) require the BAI to develop codes that protect the physical, moral and mental development of children, which protect the general and health interests of children in the context of advertising and which allow for the prohibition of certain types of advertising aimed at children. There are provisions in this Bill for such measures and on that basis I am reluctant to accept amendments to this section.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Regarding the subtitling issue, is the Minister stating that he will include a provision on Report Stage whereby the authority must show achievement in subtitling and sign language on an annual basis?
Deputy Eamon Ryan: We will consider examining on Report Stage the provisions set out in the Bill to require the BAI to carry out a two-year review on delivery of subtitling standards and to ensure the factors in this include not only number of programming hours but also the quality of subtitling delivered. This will account for the concerns of Senator Bradford about quality as well as quantity.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I am prepared to accept that as incorporating the spirit of the amendment. I would have preferred to see the amendment included in the legislation but if we have a commitment that there will be a provision on Report Stage for monitoring quality and quantity, I am pleased to accept the response on that basis.
Regarding the response of the Minister to the amendment concerning the Irish language, ba mhaith liom mo buíochas a ghabháil dos na Seanadóirí Bradford agus Doherty ar son an tacaíocht a thug siad dom. Tá mé buíoch dóibh mar is rud tábhachtach é seo. I understand what the Minister is saying but I disagree that there is no necessity to include a legislative provision for this matter. It is important to do so but I am open to negotiation, debate and examining the level of quota on Report Stage. The principle is a good one and protects and polices the situation. Future generations, future broadcasting authorities and future Ministers may be prepared to accept a dumbing down — to use contemporary phraseology — of the Irish language and the element of that in programming. The current situation is healthy, with the excellence of TG4 and the programming in Irish on national broadcast media and many local media outlets, but the legislation should protect us into the future. I cannot accept the Minister’s response.
Regarding amendment No. 16 on religious programming, the principle is similar to the motion proposed regarding the Irish language. Whatever the hue, sect or denomination of religion, it is very important to the people. It is important day to day and as part of our heritage. It is part of our essence and being and we may be distracted from the fact that the great bulk of people in this country are practitioners of one religion or another. The bulk of people in the country are Christians, the larger number of which are Roman Catholics. There is great commitment to religious practice in this country and this is evident at the weekend and all the time. Religious practice, ritual and belief is central to our essence and I make no apology for stating that religion is important to me, my family and my friends. I would be the last to suggest that anyone is considering reducing the amount of religious programming or damaging it but the point is that we should enshrine in legislation a specific practical commitment.
I do not have the benefit of the eminent draftsmen who accompany the Minister and who have expertise in drafting legislation. We admire and value their expertise which the House needs. My phraseology refers to mandatory quotas but this could be tweaked. I have no difficulty if the draftsmen can put it in better language. We should accept the principle that our religious programming should continue, that there should be a quota of religious programming and that it should reflect people of all religious traditions and the value of religion to our people. It is an essential part of our existence.
Many of us decry the growth of secularism and an obsession with materialism that may have become pervasive in recent years. That courtship may be coming to an end, tragically, but that is a debate for another occasion. Creeping secularism may be linked to a reduction of focus in volunteerism and such values. We decry it because it exists up to a point but there is a mass of people who think otherwise and, in so far as that is becoming a phenomenon, it should be the last thing this House should endorse. This House has a responsibility, prerogative and function to do the reverse and to halt the tide of secularism and materialism. I ask the Minister to consider the quota system for religious programming to protect the quality of our broadcasting for future generations and for the sake of the rights of many people and the type of society that will evolve. These people tend to be a silent majority and do not speak out or appear on a vox populi. There are many people who are taxpayers, pensioners or other legitimate citizens who have contributed greatly to this country and who want religious programmes because it matters to them and they value it.
If we did not personally believe in the merit of religion, which is not a contention I would assert about anyone, we would still have a legislative responsibility in this area. It is of great importance and many people will be grateful if the Ministers does the big thing on this one. As he noticed when he helpfully suggested considering two amendments on Report Stage, I responded positively because we are here to get the legislation right. I will be equally accommodating if the Minister can suggest other ways of achieving this critical objective. If I could anticipate the Minister’s response, it might be that the aspiration exists and the objective and ambition is included in the legislation, but it should be expressed practically in the legislation. Many people may not like to say it but they believe it firmly. Someone must speak for them.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank Senator O’Reilly for and commend him on an excellent suite of amendments which I am pleased to support. As I said on Second Stage, when we talk about regulating the broadcasting sector and putting in place the necessary structures, we should give strong and intense regard to the common good. We should recognise that we are privileged to have broadcasting facilities which are capable of doing much good in the public interest but they are also capable of being exploited for poor purposes. An essential point is that broadcasting has great potential to build community. That is why I speak in support of the amendments.
It goes without saying the needs of people with disabilities should be to the fore and at the centre whenever we talk about the use of public resources and facilities, including broadcasting services. Everybody here will know people with a hearing impairment, for whom the provision of subtitles makes a huge difference and the absence of which causes huge frustration and them to wonder if anybody ever takes their views or needs into account. I am very happy to support the relevant amendment.
I refer to the question of mandatory Irish language programming. We have had huge successes in the story of broadcasting in the Irish language in recent years. TG4 should be commended for what it has achieved, not only for making programmes in the Irish language and adapting foreign programmes for transmission through Irish but also for getting the context right and adding other programming to the Irish broadcasting diet. “All-Ireland Gold”, on which classic GAA matches are shown, is hugely popular.
Senator Paul Bradford: The Senator can watch Galway win an all-Ireland title.
Senator Rónán Mullen: One can tape it because one does not get to see too many such occasions. One can at least watch the few successful ones again.
I have met many people, particularly older people, although it is unfair to single out any one category, who find TG4 a very refreshing source of alternative programming. However, that in no way takes from the validity of what Senator O’Reilly has proposed, namely, the giving of a guarantee that there will be a minimum number of high quality programmes trí mheán na Gaeilge. Tá a fhios ag an saol gur theip ar an gcóras oideachais thar na blianta sa chaoi inar múineadh an Ghaeilge. Tá na mílte daoine sa tír a bhfuil gráin acu ar an Ghaeilge, faraoir. Má iarrtar orthu cén fáth nach maith leo an teanga, deir siad go raibh múinteoir uafásach acu. Muna raibh an múinteoir lochtach, chuir an chaoi inar múineadh an Ghaeilge i gcoinne na teanga iad. Is mór an trua é sin. Nuair a bhí mé ar scoil sna 1980í, ba léir an difríocht idir mhúineadh na Fraincise, nó múineadh teangacha eile na hEorpa, agus muineadh na Gaeilge. Bhí múinteoirí iontacha agam, ach bhí an curaclam Gaeilge uafásach. Bhí sé bunaithe ar an litríocht amháin. Ní raibh an litríocht sin dírithe ar ghnáth-taithí na mic léinn a bhí ar scoil ag an am. Tá an-dul chun cinn déanta ó shin, ní hamháin maidir leis an gcuraclam ach maidir leis na gaelscoileanna freisin.
Tá cursaí craolacháin rí-thábhachtach má táimid chun ár dteanga mionlach — an phríomh theanga oifigiúil — a chothú. Broadcasting services are a transmitter of culture and messages about many things. If we are serious about promoting the Irish language, the one area in which we should do so is in broadcasting because such services reach many people. Even where the school system might let them down, broadcasting services can set a standard. I am sure others have mentioned Des Bishop’s excellent intervention in the debate about the Irish language and the way it is taught and learned.
Amendments I have tabled express my serious concern about the commercial exploitation of children and people generally, particularly through unscrupulous advertising and, on occasion, certain programming. As has often been said, the test of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members — the elderly and children — how it protects children from commercial exploitation and ensure the messages they receive about themselves and each other are positive or oriented towards the dignity of the human person. I commend the Minister for expressing his concerns with regard to preventing inappropriate advertising of junk food products. I go further in one of my amendments in which I suggest there should be a watershed — 9 p.m. — before which the advertising of alcohol should not be permitted. That is also part of the protection of children from commercial exploitation and unscrupulous and damaging advertising.
I refer to religious programming. When I was in America a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how it had got the balance wrong in the way religion was talked about and interacted with public life. It is such a pity that is the case because the clear separation of church and state established by its founding fathers was not only about preventing the state from interfering in religious rights but also about protecting the rights of religious believers. If one looks at the current and previous election cycles, on the one side certain individuals advocate political values on the basis that God is supposedly on their side, while on the other, there is an unhealthy reaction when politicians who are unscrupulous about the moral and social values associated with religion nonetheless feel the need to promote their Christian credentials and distribute leaflets in which they describe themselves as Christian leaders and so on. That is not a healthy articulation of religious beliefs in the public square.
We have the opportunity to set a standard because the Constitution, although amended, has always got the balance right. The preamble to it acknowledges that for the majority, deeper religious values are significant in understanding the meaning of life and the direction a civilised society should take. However, at the same time, it creates space for individual conscience, particularly in the amendments adopted in the early 1970s which establish clearly that people are free to pursue their own personal search about the meaning and purpose of life. The Constitution still honours religion. It must do so because it is essential to the human experience to search for meaning. What the great religions of the world do is offer an explanation and an analysis of what life is all about. A few years ago I was struck by what the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a Jesuit, said when retiring. He said the big chasm in the world — as I am paraphrasing what he said in Italian, I hope Members will be tolerant — was not between those who did and did not believe but between those who were and were not thinking. That was a mouthful because he was emphasising the need for curiosity about life and its meaning.
It must be acknowledged that during the years church leaders in Ireland have perhaps been too successful as lobbyists. However, we have seen a backlash which has resulted in some in our society, including sometimes at a very high level of policy-making or opinion formation, being afraid to even engage in moral discourse. That is regrettable because in the Christian experience, in particular, there is huge respect not only for faith but also for reason; in other words, what authentic religion is doing and what should be facilitated by broadcasters is encouraging curiosity about how, in the words of the ancient Greeks, the good life is to be lived.
I freely acknowledge the faults, failings and scandals of the officer class and ordinary foot soldiers like myself of the great religions. What religion — properly understood and practised — does is that it seeks to bring out the best in people on the basis that there is a purpose to life. That is what all the great religions have in common. Therefore, we should not confine religion to the private square.
We should not allow ourselves to think there is no place for religious discourse in broadcasting. Religion and philosophy are the stuff of life. We need to ensure our broadcaster respects them. I do not think that is the case at the moment. If one compares the amount of time RTE devotes to arts programming to the amount of time it devotes to theological and philosophical inquiry, one will fairly conclude that there is a certain reluctance on the part of RTE to facilitate large-scale religious discourse. I listened to an excellent review of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” on an arts programme a few years ago. Although I studied that play in English and in French as an undergraduate, I am none the wiser.
Senator Paul Bradford: The Senator is still waiting.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Perhaps that reveals me to be something of a philistine. I would rather have eaten it than read it a third time.
Arts programming appeals to a small section of the community. It is right and proper that public service broadcasting should deal with the highbrow stuff. As I have said in another forum in respect of this Bill, it is great that we have Lyric FM, which caters for a relatively small number of people — myself included — with particular tastes. That is what public service broadcasting is all about. It must also facilitate the search for the meaning and purpose of life, however. That search, which is not just a matter for consideration by Catholics and other Christians, has to be honoured. That is why the Government is to be commended for its establishment of a structured dialogue between the great religious communities and other organisations, such as humanist groups, etc., which are also engaged in the search for meaning.
I am sure the Minister is as aware as I am of Viktor Frankl’s great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which the author, a Holocaust survivor, reflects on why some prisoners in concentration camps acted like barbarians and some guards in the camps had an admirable nobility of spirit. Mr. Frankl came to the conclusion that one’s behaviour in such circumstances depends on one’s sense of the meaning and purpose of life. While some people who find such meaning and purpose outside of religion and live wonderful, noble and wholesome lives, religion brings out the best in many people. Depending on the tradition one cares to discuss, one can refer to people like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.
I apologise for speaking for longer than I should have. I commend Senator O’Reilly for these amendments. I assure the Minister that they are worthy of favourable consideration.
Senator Paul Bradford: I thank the Minister for his earlier comments on some of the amendments before the House. I look forward to the further development of his thoughts on Report Stage. I agree with the remarks of Senators O’Reilly and Mullen on amendment No. 16. I agree that we need to use the national broadcast service — our television and radio channels — for the maximum good. Senator O’Reilly argued convincingly that religion is important for the vast majority of people in this country, contrary to the results of the glib surveys about religious practice and attendance we see from time to time. Religion plays a significant role in the lives of many people on a weekly basis, not just a few days per annum. It is not a question of responding to that market, or catering for it. We should try to ensure that our broadcasting service recognises that the majority of people in this country are interested in religious affairs and responds to their needs. I remember an RTE religious affairs series called “Outlook”, which was broadcast many years ago. Many fine religion-based programmes, such as “Would You Believe” have been made in recent times. They foster a broad interpretation of life. We should encourage the production and broadcast of such programmes.
We spoke earlier about the need for this Bill to provide for an Irish language subtitling service. Similarly, this legislation should make a statement about what is important and desirable in respect of religion. We should set out what we feel is good for the body politic and for the country as a whole. We should set aside space on our airwaves for a certain amount for religious broadcasting. That will be very helpful and positive in the long run. I accept that dedicated religious channels are available to many people, given that most households, in this era of Sky Television and digital broadcasting, have access to some type of multichannel television. It is important that we use this legislation, which pertains specifically to Ireland, to ensure that this country’s television services reflect the deep interest in religion of many Irish people.
In recent years, the only debate we have had about the link between religion and television or radio has related to the broadcasting of the Angelus. A minority of people have called for the broadcasting of the Angelus to be discontinued. I will not comment on the significance of the minority of people in question, other than to say that I disagree with their analysis. The broadcasting of the Angelus is not a sectarian statement — it is simply a call to reflection. That is positive. The main religious symbol that was associated with the RTE of long ago was St. Brigid’s cross. The cross was used as an emblem of the station when its television broadcasts started each morning or afternoon. I think the use of the cross has disappeared. We can live with that.
Senator O’Reilly has outlined a modest and realistic proposal, which is a closer reflection of the thoughts of many people in society than the presentations of some critics. While most people in this country would not describe themselves as particularly religious — they are not the best Christians or Catholics — they try to live positive lives and are happy to participate, to a greater or lesser degree, in religious practices. I would like that to be recognised in this legislation. We have an opportunity to do so. I ask the Minister to reflect on the comments of Senators O’Reilly and Mullen, who made the case for this proposal in a spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance more cogently and convincingly than I have. I ask the Minister to reflect on the purpose of this amendment.
Senator Jim Walsh: Aontaím le mórán den méid a bhí le rá ag na Seanadóirí ar an taobh eile den Teach. Tá dualgas orainn iarracht a dhéanamh an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Thaispeáin an Taoiseach an-ghrá don Ghaeilge le déanaí. Baineann sé usáid as an teanga gach uair a bhíonn sé ag caint go poiblí. Tá sé oiriúnach dúinn iarracht a dhéanamh cabhrú leis.
I support in large measure the comments of Opposition Senators about the promotion of the Irish language through our broadcasting services. TG4 has made a tremendous contribution in that regard. I am not as impressed by those who are flúirseach sa Ghaeilge as I am by those whose Irish is rusty but use the language anyway, perhaps in a bilingual context. I regretted the demise of Liam Ó Murchú’s “Trom agus Éadrom”, which did tremendously well. I wonder whether a programme of that nature could be broadcast on Friday evenings instead of “The Late Late Show”, which has probably overrun its time. It does not have the vibrancy it had in the past. It tends to get involved in controversial issues to keep its ratings up.
Broadcasting bilingual programme at peak viewing times would go an enormous way towards promoting the language. I am not sure I would necessarily support that this be mandatory. I believe we should be encouraging other television channels to produce bilingual programmes. Anything the Minister can do by way of incorporating this into the Bill would be good.
I concur also with Senator Mullen in respect of the religious content of programmes. We are a society afflicted with godlessness. Human beings are, in essence, spiritual beings seeking the meaning of life and so on. We hear much about the high rate of suicide in our society. There are, of course, a myriad of reasons for this, including understanding the meaning of life.
Our broadcast media in particular can be an important conduit in injecting a balance of views across society so that we are not constantly bombarded with materialism which is an essential part of broadcasting not alone in terms of advertising but in terms of lobbying. The Bill, which is good, provides us with opportunities to address issues that are essential to the well-being of society.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I thank Senators for their contributions and in particular Senator Mullen for his Italian and French translations. On his Italian comments which come I understand from Cardinal Martini, I too would like to see programming which encourages thinking, creativity, curiosity and wonder. However, I do not believe this is achieved by mandatory quotas. I disagree with the proposal in this regard as contained in amendment No. 16 and earlier amendments.
Section 114(3)(a) sets out that RTE must provide a comprehensive range of programmes in the Irish and English languages that reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island of Ireland and include programmes that entertain, inform and educate, provide coverage of sporting, religious and cultural activities and cater for the expectations of communities with special or minority interests and which in every case respect human dignity. I believe this provides direction for any programme maker that fulfils his or her criteria of supporting thinking programming.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I regret the Minister is unable to accept my amendments. While the Bill is aspirational, the inclusion of a mandatory quota would give practical expression to that aspiration. The vast majority of people, taxpayers and licence fee payers, want this. I believe that they have a right to want it. I challenge anybody to engage in market research that would establish the contrary. I know I am correct about this.
Acting Chairman (Senator Kieran Phelan): Is the amendment being pressed?
Senator Joe O’Reilly: In light of the Minister’s commitment to introduce a proposal on Report Stage in regard to the monitoring of quality and content of sign language, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. That is my understanding of the Minister’s proposition. It is reasonable to withdraw the amendment on that basis.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Acting Chairman: Is amendment No. 14 being pressed?
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Yes. I would like to deal separately with each of the amendments in my name.
I move amendment No. 14:
Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 15 not moved.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I move amendment No. 16:
The Committee divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 27.
|Bradford, Paul.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Feargal.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Daly, Mark.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Hanafin, John.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Norris, David.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Ross, Shane.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Joe O’Reilly; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 25 agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, 84 and 106 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I move amendment No. 17:
These amendments relate almost exclusively to my proposal that the Bill provide not only for RTE, TG4, a new Houses of the Oireachtas channel and an Irish film channel but also for a heritage channel. This is the effect of amendment No. 17. Many people are not served to the extent they might be by current broadcasting schedules. Lyric FM is a good example of a radio station that caters to the need of a particular segment of the market through high quality programming paid for by the taxpayer. The proposed Houses of the Oireachtas channel will, I hope, facilitate greater public awareness of the business of our national Parliament but it would be naive to suggest it will enjoy prime time ratings. It will attract the interest of people who follow more closely than others the business of politics on a day to day basis and it would also be good if, in addition to the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas and its committees, attention was paid to activities in county council chambers and so on. The Irish film channel proposed by the Government is welcome. Such a channel would fill a gap in the current schedule by bringing to public attention the achievements of Irish film makers and our great cultural heritage in this area.
However, all these channels will appeal to relatively small numbers of people. The heritage channel I propose will fill a gap in public service provision in television. I think, in particular but not exclusively, of older people. More than 25,000 people are in nursing homes. I stress I am only using one group as an example and I do not claim my proposal addresses the needs of all older persons. Television is an important daily companion to older people in nursing homes and elsewhere around the country and they spend a disproportionate time watching programmes. I have often had the experience of visiting nursing homes where people watch programmes they like but at 5 p.m. or 5.30 p.m. the channel is changed and they are subjected to “The Bill” or another programme with violent scenes, which are not appropriate to family friendly viewing. I do not say some people would not choose of their own accord to watch “The Bill” or “Judge Judy” and so on but many others watch television without necessarily choosing the channels they view. In addition, I refer to the Irish abroad and tourists in the context of my proposal.
Many subsections of society could benefit from a heritage channel, which would take into account the needs of people across the generations. Its programming should always be suitable for people of all ages and it should celebrate the best of our culture, which would appeal to an older age group. The content should include traditional music, sport and programming currently provided by TG4. It should draw on RTE’s extensive archive of documentary and cultural programming while focusing on chat shows, light entertainment and reminiscence. Similar programming can be found on several channels currently but they only hit it in spots. What about people who watch television for a large portion of the day?
The heritage channel would bring out the best of our culture in terms of entertainment, music and chat shows. The popularity of the History Channel highlights the appetite for quality programming in this area. Many people would like to watch programmes stored in the RTE archive. I met a journalist yesterday who said he would watch a heritage channel. I said it might broadcast “All Creatures Great and Small” more often and he said, “Then I would definitely watch it”. We can take on a trendy mentality and found a channel for Irish film, which is wonderful, but we should think about the needs of a wider section of our community, which is less vocal. I include older people in general and persons in nursing homes.
I have tabled other amendments that propose a minimum level of content aimed at the interests and tastes of person aged over 65. However, the heritage channel should be friendly to viewers of different ages and take into account traditional music and culture while drawing on RTE’s extensive archive and making programmes oriented towards people of limited mobility. The channel should be free of the exploitative advertising that sometimes accompanies day time programme, which plays on people’s insecurities and appeals to their fears and so on. I hope my proposal commends itself to the Minister of the State. If we are to consider providing niche products such as the Houses of the Oireachtas channel and the Irish film channel, we should acknowledge the large number of people who are disproportionately high users of television and whose needs do not receive much attention. That is the thrust of my proposals. Older persons in nursing homes should not be stuck with “Judge Judy” or “The Bill”. A channel should be accessible at any time of the day that one would be happy to have one’s loved ones watching. It should provide television that educates, informs and entertains, as Lord Reith, found director general of the BBC, said.
I intend to table an amendment on Report Stage to address the need for a heritage radio channel because many elderly people also rely greatly on the radio. I have turned the radio on for a loved one when a nice programme was being broadcast but found myself wondering what the hell they would have to listen to two or three hours later and whether they would be able to switch the channel. It is almost glib to say that but it is the reality for many people. It is not where one would start when considering the provision of services for older persons. It must be recognised that many older people are active and they should be encouraged and supported but we have the opportunity to address the needs of a large section of the community in my proposal.
These amendments hinge on amendment No. 106, which provides that RTE shall establish the heritage channel whose principal purpose will be programming material relating to our heritage and culture. That will be a matter for programme makers but I hope it would not exclude programming targeted, for example, at older persons who might benefit from medical advice and various motivational activities. The amendment also provides that RTE may enter into contracts to establish and maintain the channel and it provides for the exclusion of advertisements and materials that would constitute a direct offer to the public. This is an opportunity for us to put a large number of people who are less vocal than other sections in society at the centre of our public broadcasting remit. Were this amendment accepted, the other four amendments would make the necessary changes to other sections to include the heritage channel.
Senator David Norris: I support this series of amendments in principle, as I would have supported the previous amendment about religious broadcasting, but I simply do not like mandatory quotas because they tend to get filled up with pap if one has a requirement for a particular percentage.
I am slightly surprised that the amendment survived because it seemed that if it were to work, as I hope it does, it might create a charge on the Exchequer. I know the Department of Finance is very finicky in managing to excise from the Seanad anything that might have the slightest appearance of causing a charge on the Exchequer.
It is a very good and well-conceived amendment. We are all aware of the number of bought-in programmes, especially from the US, which are televisual pap and fillers. It is not just RTE which does this. If one looks at the schedules of Channel 4, which was a very advanced station in its day, one sees all these competitions, game shows and programmes about moving house and buying places in the sun. They are not of any great content and I am amazed they get viewers but, clearly, they must.
We have some very good stations, one of the best of which is TG4, which is a descendant of the station created by Deputy Michael D. Higgins when he was Minister in a move similar to that suggested by Senator Mullen. The latter is correct not to limit it just to the examples he gave. There certainly are large numbers of elderly people, including people in nursing homes, a fair proportion of whom do not seem to notice very much of what is on, although there will be some who do. It is mind-numbing if they are forced to watch these bought-in game shows all the time.
Many others would welcome a civilised heritage channel. During the vote, I asked Senator Mullen what this kind of heritage channel might be. I have criticised American programmes but the US has some very good public broadcasting channels, for example, the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, and Home Box Office, HBO. They show classics of both British, American and perhaps even Irish drama. They show Jane Austen and things like “Moby Dick”. That would be very welcome.
We need to make it quite clear that if this does get off the ground, as I hope it may, it will not just be so-called “diddley-aye” music and that we will not define Irish culture in these narrow terms. I am sometimes quite shocked at the way in which Irish culture is defined. A friend of mine from abroad has repeatedly said to me, when I complain about drinking and vomiting on the streets, that it is part of our culture. It is not as far as I am concerned.
We have things of which we can be very proud, such as the films of George Morrison which rarely get an airing. We have some very capable and creative people. There are programmes on architectural heritage going back to the beehive oratories, ranging through the great monastic buildings and cathedrals and taking in remarkable Georgian architecture. For example, we only have to look at the ceiling of this Chamber which is a masterpiece of 18th century craftsmanship by the stuccodore, Michael Stapleton. Perhaps some programmes could be broadcast on that.
How will this station be financed? If this proposal goes ahead, we need to be clear about the way in which it will be financed and how it will get its budget. I am very pleased to support it. I am satisfied that the definition of culture that has been suggested in contributions in the debate is wider than what I, perhaps unfairly, dismissed as “diddley-aye” music because there is some such music which is very good. There is also some very good jazz music and some remarkable Irish jazz musicians. If the definition of culture is to be fairly broad, I am very pleased that we should have a heritage channel. If it is handled in the same way as TG4, it could be very much to the benefit of people and give enjoyment to a fairly wide range of people.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I am pleased to support the amendment in the name of Senator Mullen and on which I congratulate him. The detail of his proposition of the amendment was such that in the unlikely event that his political career were ever to fade, he would have a future in production and direction within one of the broadcasting organisations. He has the potential for another career. Indeed, Senator Norris is already a distinguished broadcaster whom I hear some Sunday mornings. Based on what we have heard, Senator Mullen also has that capacity.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): He is serving as an apprentice to Senator Norris.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: He could be and is getting a fine apprenticeship there.
Senator David Norris: I thank my colleagues for advertising Newstalk 106-108 FM and my show from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sundays.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I have given Senator Norris sufficient publicity for his programme.
Senator David Norris: My Sinn Féin colleagues tell me it is repeated in the evening.
Acting Chairman: Senator Norris is getting carried away.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I support Senator Mullen’s worthy amendment because the concept of a heritage channel is a good one. I said on Second Stage that I am a complete believer in and enthusiastic advocate for the film channel and the Oireachtas channel. The former has considerable potential. I will move an amendment about the financing of this to which we will come later. It has immense potential to uplift and improve all our lives. It will bring quality films. Many people have a specific niche interest in certain films which will be available on that channel. It is a wonderful and excellent development and I am all for it.
Similarly, I am all in favour of the Oireachtas channel. We have worked very hard today on this broadcasting legislation. We have heard many superb contributions and have had a very real engagement with it. This, along with Dáil proceedings, should be available for the electorate to see on an ongoing basis.
In welcoming the Minister of State to the House, I repeat what I said on Second Stage and to the Minister on Committee Stage. Over time and in a selective fashion, local authority proceedings should be broadcast on an ongoing basis on the Oireachtas channel in addition to the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas because wonderful front-line democratic work is done in our local authorities.
The concept of a heritage channel is a very good one. I accept the point, which was well made by Senator Norris, that we do not need to have a narrow interpretation of heritage. Peig Sayers and Gaelic stories are a significant part of our heritage, of which we are very proud. Similarly, we must have a more eclectic and global perspective on it. I have no difficulty accepting the qualification by Senator Norris that heritage is not for narrow definition. It is a wonderful opportunity to show archival material, programmes such as “Reeling In the Years”, excellent programmes from the past with which older people might identify and would like to see again, and re-runs of a range of current affairs programmes, especially “Prime Time Investigates”, at certain times to facilitate other audiences. There is a wide range of elements to our heritage, including jazz and the full range of music and cinema. Our people are more educated now and we have a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. That would all have to gain expression in a heritage channel. The cultures of immigrants are as worthy of expression as any others.
The concept is a good one and Senator Mullen is to be commended for proposing this initiative. Although I am not an expert, it occurs to me that this is something that could be run relatively cheaply in that a lot of material would be already available and the amount of new programming required need not be prohibitively large. I also see no reason advertising, with proper control in terms of amount and content, could not be a feature of such a channel to defray some of the costs. As proposed by Senator Mullen, the channel need not be prohibitively expensive and the potential for advertising should be considered.
Although I do not believe Senator Mullen is arguing to the contrary, a point arose at our group discussions on this amendment earlier today that is worth mentioning. We must ensure that this channel in no way suggests that we would not still need a good quantity of programming in mainstream media that is aimed at older people, reflecting their interests and ambitions. We would not like to syphon all such programming off to a separate station per se, and I hope Senator Mullen will accept that on the record, as some of my colleagues were concerned about that issue. We must ensure that quality broadcasting for older persons remains in the mainstream media but a heritage channel, as such, is an interesting and worthwhile objective. Such a channel need not necessarily be the preserve of older persons. While it may be of particular relevance to some of them, there is no reason it could not have a broad appeal. It could be of particular interest to those arriving here, whether on holidays or to live, enabling them to get a flavour of the country. Were I to go to live in another country tomorrow, such a channel would be of enormous help at the beginning. It would be of great benefit in terms of getting a sense of a place, its culture and its heritage.
In terms of cost, efficacy and the potential for development, the notion of a heritage channel is a good one which we should embrace, but its development must be somewhat incremental. The Minister may argue that there is an initial prohibition in terms of cost but that could be addressed with advertising. He should consider an incremental building up of the channel. We can negotiate those kinds of details but we should accept the principle. I commend Senator Mullen for the idea, which merits further discussion. I could say a lot more, but in deference to my colleagues, I will desist. The channel is worthy of support and is an exciting proposition. The Senator is to be warmly congratulated on it.
Senator Jim Walsh: Earlier today I was speaking to some of my colleagues who commented on the quality of the amendments to this Bill, particularly those tabled by Senator Mullen. There is a lot of common sense in his amendments.
Undoubtedly, television in particular — and radio to a lesser extent — is a very influential medium. It moulds, to a great degree, public opinion on a broad range of issues. Often it does so for the good, but sometimes the converse is true. There are many good programmes on television and TG4 in particular has been an excellent addition to the television landscape here. BBC 2 also broadcasts a lot of very good documentaries. However, one must say that many programmes on television are rubbish. Many are canned, made very cheaply and are promotional more than anything else.
We must safeguard balance in the media. It is somewhat like eating — one must have a balanced diet to be healthy. It is the same with what one consumes from the media. It is important, as Senators Norris and Mullen pointed out, that we try to maintain quality. If one examines what is broadcast, particularly in the off-peak hours, one can see a problem. I believe “Dr. Phil”, for example, is on RTE during the day, an American import. I pick that as one example, but there are many others. If one was a retired person looking for a bit of diversion during the day and one tuned into some of these programmes, it would not be long before one would go mad or wish that one was dead. Certainly one would not see great potential in one’s retirement. We need, as part of this Bill, to ensure that the diet that is available to people is of a higher quality than is currently the case.
In that regard, I very much welcome the Oireachtas channel and, in particular, I welcome the fact that it will include local authorities. That is a very significant development. Many Senators were long-serving members of local authorities. I remember a situation where a delegation from Newtownards, including members of the DUP and the UUP, addressed Wexford County Council on a range of issues. Wexford county councillors reciprocated with a visit to Newtownards. Similar events took place with other councils, including Belfast City Council. At that time, the cross-fertilisation of ideas and the understanding generated was fairly significant in the overall political context of the island. If such meetings had wider dissemination, their beneficial influence would have been multiplied. It is a pity we did not have more of that. I hope the Oireachtas channel will be given the necessary resources so that it is effective and is not just the broadcasting of council meetings or sittings of the Houses of the Oireachtas but also includes some follow-up connection with the politicians and public who are affected by decisions that are made.
Perhaps we should consider the option of developing regional television programmes. In fairness to RTE, it makes some efforts in this regard, but they are mostly token in nature. Local radio has the highest cumulative listenership in the country and produces a lot of very interesting programmes. While I know there would be a cost involved, I would like to see us embarking on such a venture. Perhaps the Oireachtas channel, with the issues that are thrown up, could be a conduit for addressing the deficit that exists at present in our broadcasting system.
The heritage channel is a good idea. I said on Second Stage that I see no reason we could not have a GAA channel, which could be part of a heritage channel, given that Gaelic games are very much part of what we are as a people. There is tremendous interest in our national games. A few nights ago I tuned into UTV and watched an early premiership game from last season. It was a game I had not seen and I enjoyed it. Celtic Football Club has a great archive of films going back to the 1960s and 1970s, the good years for the team. We have a great history of sport in this country and a tremendous interest in it. Whether it is exclusively a GAA channel or a broader sports channel, there is a great opportunity in this regard.
I voted against amendment No. 16 out of party loyalty and because I was opposed to its mandatory nature but I did agree with the general sentiments of the amendment. Religion is a benefit to society and needs to be presented more. The former bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, established a Christian media trust for the broadcasting of religious programmes on South East Radio. All the Christian religions broadcast several programmes which often are peripheral to religion but related to society and are interesting. The national broadcaster should be obliged to provide a similar service. The Bill provides an opportunity to enhance our broadcasting system and provide a healthier and interesting broadcasting choice to the public.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I support Senator Mullen’s amendment, given his speech on the broad definition of culture. Considering the direction in which television is moving, now is the golden opportunity to reflect on the excellent programming of RTE. We have a rich and proud heritage of excellent programming. The old programmes of “Hall’s Pictorial Weekly”, “The Riordans” and “Glenroe” and the early Radio Éireann programmes on music have been locked away, never to be seen again. We should consider establishing a heritage channel, particularly with the success of UK TV Gold and TG4 with the all-Ireland championship gold series.
The channel could be used to rekindle the idea of what Ireland used to be like. We have lost the sense of what it means to be Irish in the direction taken by television. The proposed heritage channel, like TG4, would be of absolute importance in regaining that sense. Senator O’Reilly referred to “Reeling in the Years”. All who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s would like to reminisce on that era and see how we have changed.
We are a nation rich in culture, music, language and religion. I agree with Senator Mullen on some of the programmes we import from foreign television stations. If we had the choice, we would not watch them.
A heritage channel would also promote Ireland. Some of the best advertisements on television now are those promoting tourism in different regions. We should be parochial on this matter. I support the regionalisation of Irish television broadcasting to highlight what is happening in the regions. One of the biggest mistakes the Government made was the abolition of RTE Radio Cork in the late 1990s. It was a calamity for the city of Cork.
Lyric FM, Beat FM and Red FM have specific target audiences and have created niche markets which should be the same model for the proposed heritage channel.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I hope it is not sugar beet FM.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Sugar beet is gone. Advertising can be used to support the channel and the programming is already in place.
Deputy Seán Power: Senator Mullen is happy with the support he has received for this amendment. However, all good things must come to an end. He referred to how we tend to forget people in nursing homes. My one criticism is that those in nursing homes do not have enough stimulation and become bored which affects their health.
Senators referred to the various television and radio programmes they enjoy. The other day I heard a radio interview with Jimmy Magee shortly after he buried his son. For anyone coping with a serious illness or had just lost a loved one, the interview would have given them tremendous hope. I thank Rachel English and Jimmy Magee for that worthwhile and uplifting interview.
The amendment proposes the establishment of a heritage channel by RTE to be used solely for programming relating to Irish heritage and culture. Sections 114 and 118 set out the objectives of RTE and TG4, respectively, and requires them to provide for programming relating to Irish heritage and culture. They are required to be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community. The programmes must reflect the varied elements which make up the culture of the people of the whole island of Ireland, having special regard to the elements which distinguish that culture, and for the Irish language. They are required to provide a comprehensive range of programming in the Irish and English languages which reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island. They are to include programmes which entertain, inform and educate and provide coverage of sporting, religious and cultural activities, facilitate or assist contemporary cultural expression.
Section 114 provides that RTE shall establish and maintain orchestras, choirs and other cultural performing groups. RTE shall also establish and maintain archives and libraries. A broadcasting funding scheme is provided for in section 153 for the funding of programmes on Irish culture, heritage and history, folklore, the natural environment, folk, rural and the
vernacular heritage, the arts, the Irish language and the Irish experience abroad.
The Bill, as drafted, provides for the development of sufficient programming related to Irish heritage and culture. RTE is allowed to establish new channels, subject to ministerial approval and the availability of funding. The Bill provides for the establishment of an Irish film channel. It was proposed by the Irish Film Board which will have to provide its funding. No case has been made by a public body for a heritage channel.
It is anticipated the Houses of the Oireachtas channel will be allowed to show coverage of local authority meetings. The proceedings of meetings of a number of local authorities are already broadcast via their own websites. The Bill provides that meetings of local authorities may be included as part of the output of the Oireachtas channel and this would be welcomed by us all.
I note Senator Jim Walsh from Wexford referred to Wexford’s biggest win in Croke Park in a long time and he is in favour of a GAA channel. I suppose this is understandable and we will excuse him on this occasion. I cannot accept the amendments as tabled by Senator Mullen even though I have a lot of sympathy for the strong case made by the Senator.
I refer to Government amendment No. 18 which is a minor drafting amendment, necessary to improve the clarity of the text of the Bill.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I thank all the speakers for their support of my now, sadly, doomed proposed amendment. I am disappointed there are no words of comfort from the Minister of State. I had hoped that at the very least this matter would be considered and it is not too late for him to change his mind, in my view. The main argument put forward by the Minister of State was that since RTE had not proposed it, nor suggested it wanted it, the Government did not see fit to go ahead with it. This fails to take account of our duty as legislators, which is to legislate for the common good and in the public interest and having regard to the things we know are needed by our constituents and the public. That RTE has not yet come up with the bright idea of a heritage channel is not something we should celebrate nor does it justify inaction on our part. That this is an idea, the time for which has come, was highlighted in the comments of Senators O’Reilly, Norris, Walsh and Buttimer. I thank those Senators for supporting these amendments and particularly the amendment providing for the heritage channel. I thank them also for their very kind words.
Other amendments which I have tabled take account of the fact that more than 10% of the population, at least, is over 65 years of age. With due respect to the Minister of State, and I know he has a job to do, I did not hear anything to reassure me that more account will be taken of the needs of that section of our population than is the case at present. I stress that the idea of the heritage channel is not aimed just at those over 65. In that context, I welcome Senator O’Reilly’s contribution and reassure him that what I had in mind would not only provide for a heritage channel that would be of interest to the Irish abroad, to tourists and to older people whose current needs are not being met by what is on offer in public broadcasting — one would not wish to see a ghettoisation — but it would also mean greater recognition of the needs and tastes of older people in society in the content of the other channels, as their numbers demand no less.
I will press this amendment to a vote. I had hoped that at the very least the Government would give this further consideration and come back on Report Stage with a more definitive and hopefully more positive response. I thank my colleagues for their support. This issue will not go away. The idea was warmly received by interested parties. I hope the Government will see fit to bring forward an initiative in this area at some stage, and sooner rather than later.
Senator Jim Walsh: I thank the Minister of State for his comments about the Wexford football win. I am sure he meant that the victory of a football team which comes from a ten point deficit with 20 minutes to go deserves to be preserved for posterity. One way of doing this would be to establish either a sports or a heritage channel.
There is merit in what has been said although I understand the Minister of State’s point of view. In his Second Stage contribution, Senator Doherty made an interesting point about an educational channel. It would be a pity to limit the remit of public broadcasting. There is a difference between mandating that something be done and setting out an aspirational objective. I ask the Minister of State to consider this option between now and Report Stage. There is unanimity in thinking among Senators on this matter. I suggest that it be considered by the Minister of State and his officials in the meantime. A very compelling point was made. The percentage of the population over 65 is increasing and we should gear our policies, including those on broadcasting, to take account of the changing demographic situation.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I wish to add to what Senator Walsh has said. I listened carefully to the debate. I had to attend a committee meeting and was not present for all of the debate. Senator Mullen made a very strong case and the words of support from other Senators show the strength of that support. His amendment is worthy of consideration. Senator Mullen said he feels obliged to put this amendment to a vote if he does not get some words of comfort or support from the Minister of State. I urge the Minister of State to agree to consider the amendment. Various speakers made new and novel suggestions and they expressed inventive and innovative thoughts. The need for such a channel was not acknowledged until Senator Mullen put down this amendment. I urge the Minister of State to give it some consideration between now and Report Stage.
Deputy Seán Power: I thank the Senators for their contributions. I made the point that there is a lot of merit in what Senator Mullen proposes and I note the support he has received. I do not disagree entirely with the content of the argument.
We discussed this proposal in some detail previously and it was the general view that the Bill as drafted provided for the development of sufficient programming relating to Irish heritage without having to include in it a special channel dealing with Irish heritage. The second point is there is nothing to stop RTE from proposing a heritage channel. For the first time, this Bill allows for RTE to establish channels if it sees fit. The Bill gives certain powers to the joint Oireachtas committees and they will be in a much stronger position. I will reflect on what has been said but I will not give the Senator any promise that I will return on Report Stage with something different. I will discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ryan. I cannot give the Senator any guarantee that we will change anything but I see merit in the points he has made.
Acting Chairman (Senator Cecilia Keaveney): How stands the amendment No. 17?
Senator Rónán Mullen: Having heard the Minister of State, I would like to withdraw the amendment but this idea is worthy of consideration and deserves to be put to a vote of the House. I will press the amendment.
Senator Jim Walsh: Will the Senator press the amendment on Report Stage?
Senator Rónán Mullen: Yes, on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 18:
Amendment agreed to.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 19 not moved.
Sections 27 to 32, inclusive, agreed to.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I move amendment No. 20:
Acting Chairman: Where stands amendment No. 20?
Senator Joe O’Reilly: On the basis of the Minister’s commitment to introduce a proposal on Report Stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 33 agreed to.
Sections 34 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I move amendment No. 21:
I am suggesting that we add the words “not later than 30th April each year”. When I was first elected to the House some 15 years ago, I realised that many reports which had been audited and passed by various authorities were handed to the Minister of the day who sometimes sat on them. When I was chairman of An Post, I said we should set an example of promptness in order that semi-State bodies would have standards equal to the best standards in the private sector. We discovered that a number of Ministers did not use the necessary alacrity to reach that sort of level. In other words, on many occasions State-sponsored bodies might have accounts audited, finished, approved and passed on to the Minister who then sat on them. I am obviously not referring to the current Minister, but I am talking about future Ministers. Since it has become commonplace, I have tabled such amendments for practically every State body. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure there will be no delay in laying accounts before the Oireachtas and that the Department will not be allowed to sit on them. The provision is now standard in new legislation. In addition, it has been provided for in many Bills that have come though the House in the past ten years since I have sought this provision. I inserted the date of 30 April, but I am not insisting on that particular date. Where I have previously sought a provision for laying accounts or reports before the Oireachtas within three months, the Minister has usually accepted a delay within six months of the end of the year. On that basis therefore I am not tied to 30 April, but I believe the proposal is necessary. As regards current and future Ministers, it will ensure we have standards in State-sponsored bodies that are equal to if not better than those in the private sector. The amendment would ensure the Oireachtas could see the accounts concerned within a reasonable timeframe.
On one occasion in January about ten years ago, I sought the RTE accounts — not for the previous year, but for the one before that — which had not yet been published by the Minister. I have experienced such difficulties with Ministers of the day sometimes sitting on accounts and not passing them. I urge the Minister of State to give serious consideration to this matter. I would happily accept that if what I am trying to achieve is recognised and approved, the date of 30 April does not necessarily have to be adhered to. The board must hand over the accounts to the Minister by 30 March, which would give the Minister one month to approve them. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment.
Deputy Seán Power: While I fully appreciate the Senator’s concerns in respect of this amendment, I cannot guarantee with certainty when the Comptroller and Auditor General will complete his audit in any given year. As a consequence, no date is specified for submission of the accounts and the audit report before the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, section 37(5) specifies that the accounts and the report of the authority must be presented to the Minister as soon as practicable after the audit, at which point they will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. As such, I do not propose to accept this amendment. I have listened attentively to what Senator Quinn has said. I appreciate the businesslike approach he tries to bring to bear on proceedings in the House, but we have a handicap or hurdle that normal business does not encounter. In asking the Senator to take that on board, perhaps he will understand why I am not in a position to accept the proposed amendment.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I am disappointed to hear the Minister of State stating a definite “No”. Had he said that 30 April is too soon, but proposed another month to 31 May, I could understand it. Banks currently have the technology to publish their accounts within hours of the end of a financial year. It is not, therefore, impossible for companies and other organisations to publish their accounts in a timely manner. I know we must go through the Comptroller and Auditor General, which takes a longer, but the Bill provides that it must be done. “As soon as practicable” is a very vague term and I was trying to set a standard for State bodies that would be equal to, or even surpass, standards elsewhere. The date of 30 April is not fixed. Many Bills that came before the House in the past ten years stipulated a term of six months from the end of the financial year. The amendment does not seek to encourage the board itself to finalise its accounts, because that will be done; it is to ensure the Minister of the day does not sit on them after receiving them. I urge the Minister of State therefore to consider the matter seriously. An alternative wording may be possible and I hope he will consider that between now and Report Stage.
Senator Jim Walsh: I have a lot of sympathy with the point Senator Quinn has raised. I have seen local authority accounts covering two or three years being audited together, which is appalling for many reasons. I am sure the Minister of State is also aware of this. I have seen bad practices slip in whereby executives and councillors were unaware of accumulated losses because they were receiving historic information. No business can function on that basis today. Where we require the private sector to meet statutory deadlines, generally speaking, there is no compelling reason the State sector should not have the same discipline and be as efficient. We should seek to inject that practice into the public service system. In the absence of such practices, costs will not be properly controlled and the necessary information will not be available to run bodies in a businesslike way and to put in place remedies at the appropriate times. The date proposed by the Senator may well be too narrow, but deadlines should be set to which people must conform. If the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff are not in a position to meet such deadlines, there is no reason local authorities and other bodies cannot be audited by private sector auditors who have their own code of practice, disciplines and responsibilities. They subsequently may be in a position to report to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the latter’s office can refer to the issues involved. It is a matter for the Department of Finance, but it should be examined. With reduced income levels in the coming years, we will have to focus on cost overruns, efficiencies and effectiveness within the system. I make those points in support of the general principle put forward by Senator Quinn.
Deputy Seán Power: I do not disagree with much of what the two Senators have said. It is important for us to approach any legislation in a businesslike manner. When we make demands of the private or public sectors, it is also important for us to set an example and to provide a lead. However, given the large number of accounts the Comptroller and Auditor General must audit each year, it cannot be said with any great certainty when a particular audit will be done.
I will discuss with the Minister the possibility of inserting a less specific provision than that proposed by Senator Quinn with a view to working towards a particular date.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I do not propose to press the amendment which I look forward to tabling again on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 37 agreed to.
Section 38 agreed to.
Acting Chairman: Amendments Nos. 22, 82 and 90 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I move amendment No. 22:
Amendments Nos. 22, 82 and 90 are related to the amendments we discussed in the context of establishing a heritage channel insofar as they concern the needs and interests of the section of the community the channel would seek to cater for, namely, older people. Elsewhere the Bill correctly emphasises the need to have regard to children and the nature and quantity of programming aimed at children. This is an important element of the legislation.
If the Bill is to satisfy the requirement of serving the public interest in a consistent manner, we must have regard to the fact that more than 10% of the population are older than 65 years. As Senator Jim Walsh noted, the number of older people is set to increase further. We correctly seek to ensure older people are not discriminated against in any way and encourage their greater participation in society. In the area of voting, older people set an example because they have a developed interest in political life and are civically aware, as reflected in the high proportion of their number who take part in elections and referendums.
In the context of a changing international economic environment and ongoing demographic change everyone is wondering what the future holds in terms of the age of retirement. Issues will arise regarding how best to recognise the significant contribution older people make to society. Will people be required to work until a later retirement age or will we take a civilised approach and allow people to retire at 65 years, while recognising that some people will want to continue an active working life beyond that age? Will we be able to facilitate such an approach and establish a structure which takes account of the different aspirations of older people?
As a reasonably discerning consumer of the media, I am reminded of a line from Yeats’s poem, Sailing to Byzantium,
I have a nasty feeling Senator Norris will correct me.
Senator David Norris: No, I have another quotation from a Yeats poem: “We who are old, old and gay,”.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I should have known there was no danger of me quoting from a poem without Senator Norris responding at will with another quotation.
As I indicated in our discussion on a heritage channel, I have a sense that in the area of broadcasting older people are taken for granted as civic minded participants in society and their specific needs are easily overlooked. Perhaps this is connected to the fact that age activism, which I support, is relatively new. It behoves us, as legislators, to consider whose interests we are trying to serve and whose needs we are trying to meet with this legislation.
For these reasons, I propose, in amendment No. 22, to insert after section 39(1)(c) the words: “in the case of sound broadcasting a minimum of not less than 10 per cent of the broadcasting time is devoted to the broadcasting of programmes at people over 65 years,”. In amendment No. 82 I propose to insert in section 66 a subsection to the effect that in “considering the suitability of any applicant for the award of a broadcasting contract to provide a broadcasting service in respect of an area in which more than 10 per cent of the population is over 65, the Contract Awards Committee shall have particular regard to the needs of this population in relation to programming content.” The same spirit inhabits both amendments.
Amendment No. 90 provides for the insertion in section 101 of words to the effect that the nature and number of hours of television programming aimed at people over 65 years should be specified. The point of these amendments is to increase programming content and encourage commercial channels to provide programming for the elderly in the same way as the Bill promotes Irish language and other programming. The amendments would also require the public service broadcasting charter to take account of the programming needs of older people, as it does in the case of the needs of children.
Section 39 deals with the duties of broadcasters, section 66 relates to the awarding of contracts and section 101 concerns the public service broadcasting charter. Taken together, the amendments would guarantee that a minimum level of broadcasting services aimed at people aged over 65 years would be provided and this would be facilitated accordingly in the management of commercial channels and charter.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Mullen. Molaim na leasuithe atá cláraithe aige. Tá sé ag iarraidh déanamh cinnte de go gcuirfí níos mó cláracha teilifíse agus raidió ar fáil don phobal níos sine. Más féidir linn reachtaíocht a thabhairt isteach ag rá go gcaithfidh 20% de chláracha déileáil le nuacht, srl., tig linn an rud céanna a dhéanamh ó thaobh daoine níos sine ná 65 bliana d’aois de.
The amendments have merit and a figure of 10% is a reasonable quota to lay down given that the proportion of the population aged over 65 years will increase due to demographic change. However, it may be difficult to determine which programmes are aimed at those aged over 65 years and those who are younger than that. I know many people aged over 65 years who enjoy watching “Big Brother”. While the programme is not my cup of tea, some of those in the over 65 age group have been drawn in by its addictive nature or whatever types of subliminal messages it sends out. In general, amendment No. 22 is worthy and merits support.
On section 39, I will propose a Report Stage amendment to insert a new subsection requiring all sports coverage to give priority to domestic sports. Regardless of what major domestic fixtures are taking place, whether championship football, League of Ireland soccer or domestic rugby, reports on English Premiership football games tend to be aired first on RTE sports bulletins. It is Chelsea this, Manchester United the rest, with no talk of Wexford or Donegal until later in the bulletin. We need to give priority to domestic sports. There is also great interest in what is happening internationally and news must be reported but tús áite or the top story in terms of reporting sport should be whatever domestic sport is the issue of the day. This may be GAA, soccer, rugby or field sports. I will table an amendment to section 39 on Report Stage.
I support amendment No. 90 to section 101 which deals with the amount of children’s programming. Senator Mullen’s amendment applies to a number of hours for programmes targeted at the over 65s. I will propose an amendment to section 101 on Report Stage which will call for the insertion of a new section on the nature and number of hours devoted to Irish culture, including sport. There will be a further section on the nature and number of hours devoted to the Irish language. If we can specify the number of hours of children’s programmes, I do not see why we cannot do it in respect of the Irish language. The Minister would not accept an earlier amendment dealing with a quota. Quotas can be troublesome and fix matters rigidly. If we can do it for a number of other areas we can do so in respect of the amendment that I will table on Report Stage. I ask the Minister of State to take it into consideration.
I support the three amendments a bhí curtha síos ag an Seanadóir Mullen.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I add my words of congratulations to Senator Mullen on coming up with this positive proposal. We often examine, tinker and make minor adjustments to legislation but Senator Mullen has identified a real need. I say this with the knowledge that I am getting on in years and that I will challenge the future republican candidate in the US for age. I gather he is in his 70s. A number of steps must be taken, of which this is one example.
When I was elected to the House in 1993, one of the first amendments I tabled was to the Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Act. The legislation had been circulated to all interested parties, including the trade unions. My amendment included discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable for dismissal. The Minister at the time accepted it because the age of a person is easily identifiable. The trade unions wrote to me later expressing amazement that they had not identified this as something that was required. They were surprised that an employer rather than a trade unionist had identified it.
There are a number of other areas that discriminate on the grounds of age. I was unaware that one could not be called for jury service after the age of 70. I gather that will be changed to allow the option. Tourists who visit Ireland and want to rent a car have great difficulty if they are over 70.
The former US ambassador to Norway, Mr. Bob Stuart, visited me today. I have known him for years and he is in Ireland because a relative is graduating. He and his wife had lunch with me and he told me he is 92 years of age. He was interested in everything that was happening in Ireland as well as keeping me up to date on matters in the US. We should not lose the talents of such people. Senator Mullen has suggested positively discriminating — if that is the term — in favour of those who would have been seen as citizens who had served their purpose and no longer had a contribution to make to society. This is a good way to ensure they do, that they are kept on board and kept interested. I urge the Minister of State to give serious consideration to these three amendments which attempt to identify the needs, requirements and benefits that may accrue to people who may not have been regarded as full members of society because they were regarded as past it. There is great talent and we should use it.
Senator David Norris: I agree with the sentiment of this amendment but I am not sure I can agree with the sentiment as framed. Senator Mullen may be satisfied if the Minister of State agrees to look at this area and give a response to show that this sector of the population is catered for.
If we are going to boast about age, I am required to tell the House that I shall be 64 in a few weeks.
Deputy Seán Power: Are we sitting that day?
Senator David Norris: No, and Deputy Power is not invited to the party either, which will be in Cyprus. I do not know that I have changed all that much over the years although people might like to think that I ought to have.
Senator Jim Walsh: Senator Norris has mellowed.
Senator David Norris: I do not think I have mellowed at all. I wonder about categorising and sectioning people into age groups. I understand what Senators Mullen and Quinn are addressing, that there is material unsuitable to most people over 65. Heavy metal is an example and I have never liked it. Certain things happen as one gets older, the hearing range changes and one can get sound distortion which affects one’s pleasure in music. Certain kinds of music can be distinctly unpleasant for a significant proportion of people in the higher age groups. I worry about dividing society into different groups without thinking about it carefully.
Perhaps Senator Mullen can tell us if any market research has been done on the programmes this group would like. Knowing him as a thorough person, he may well have undertaken this research or he may not have had the resources to do so. Perhaps this is something one of our academic institutions, the ESRI or a group that functions for the elderly might examine. We might be quite surprised at the content of such programmes as suggested by the elderly.
As, I hope, Senator Quinn and I demonstrate, elderly people are not all grim people who want devotional services that prepare them for the grave or programmes that tell them how to rinse their false teeth before they go to bed. That is what Yeats was getting at and I cannot resist the opportunity to quote from another Yeats poem: “We who are old, old and gay”. This has always made me laugh, particularly as it now clearly refers to me as well. That was not the sense in which the former Senator and Nobel prize winner, W.B. Yeats, intended it but it is one of the reasons that makes me glad we have successfully politically colonised that innocuous and irritating little word. It now means something more sensible than it did when it referred to goblins tripping down the mountainside.
Senator Doherty echoed a feeling of mine when he referred to understanding the Minister’s previous difficulties about quotas. If that is true, it is also true of percentages, which may be arbitrary. If there is a resistance to quotas, logically the same resistance exists for a specific percentage. I am not against the principle but I wonder what will happen if we say we must have 10% for Irish culture, 10% for the elderly and 10% for something else. What we need, which is in some respect what Senator Mullen has sensitively proposed, is that the broadcasting authorities should be aware of, and sensitive to, the requirements of different sections of their audience. I applaud the Senator for raising this. As Senator Quinn said, it is a very positive way to look at it. We are not howling about discrimination but are saying let us do something positive. If it is to be 10%, at what time would it be? Would it all be in one slot at 10 p.m. or would it be at 6 a.m.? Many practical issues need to be teased out.
There is a strong case to be made for being age sensitive. For example, some programmes deal with the disabled, although I am not sure if it is politically correct to say “disabled” because the language keeps changing. Old fogies like me used to refer to the “disabled” which was a big improvement on what we called them before. However, programmes such as “Outside the Box” with Olan McGowan are wonderful and can attract a general audience. A good programme, which could be elder-proofed to ensure it is not grossly obnoxious to older people, might attain a much wider audience than we imagine. I am strongly in favour of the amendment.
We should also have some older broadcasters. I remember with great pleasure listening to Val Joyce on the radio. One of the lovely things about him was that one knew he was as old as a bush, and he said it himself. He fiddled around with the CDs, which used to get lost, and he used to make mildly irritated noises at the machine. It was all part of the entertainment. If we sanitise broadcasting to keep this kind of thing out, we do a terrible injustice to the whole spectrum of broadcasting.
I applaud Senator Mullen for tabling this amendment. I have some reservations about it as it stands, but I am fully in agreement with the principle of it.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I commend Senator Mullen on tabling this worthy amendment which merits serious consideration. I also take note of the observations and qualifications Senator Norris made in respect of it which also merit serious consideration in terms of how one might practically implement the spirit of the amendment.
The number of people aged over 65 years continues to rise. There is much use of the broadcasting media among that sector and, for obvious reasons, they use it disproportionately more in terms of time than other sectors of the population. For that reason, it is worth proposing that all broadcasting services are aware of the over 65 sector and of producing material relevant to, and likely to be enjoyed by it, bearing in mind what Senator Norris said about this being blurred. Some people of 20 years will enjoy programming for the over 65s and vice versa. It is not cut and dried but a reasonable assessment could be made.
If the Minister cannot accept the amendment, he should consider the spirit of it, what it seeks to achieve and amend the legislation to include the concept it contains. It is a worthy idea. It is arguable that all these things are implicit in the broad principles of the Bill but it is no harm making them more explicit and definite in order to preserve such a principle in situations which might not be as benign.
I hear from the older people I know — we are all moving quickly in that direction — that they very much enjoy radio, particularly Radio 1 and their local radio stations, and the content of radio programmes. If that is the case, we should consider making television more friendly to that sector. I have been told older people enjoy radio more but more research might be required.
The principle of the amendment is good and the Minister should seriously consider it. I have no difficulty supporting the amendment. Senator Norris made very reasonable points about its implementation, delineation, demarkation, etc., in terms of programme content, timing and so on. I do not propose to go over those issues because he went through them very adequately. Subject to consideration of Senator Norris’s points, we should support the amendment, the principle of which is good. I appeal to the Minister to give it serious thought.
Senator Paul Bradford: I support the amendment and concur with the previous speaker. I appreciate the practical difficulty of implementing what the amendment proposes. It is, however, a question of trying to be sensitive, of reaching out and of ensuring our broadcasting service is for the entire population and not only the under 30s, 40s or 50s.
Much lip-service is paid to senior citizens. However, there is a Minister of State with responsibility for older people. I hope that person would have a role in this type of legislation and would bring ideas to it which would advocate the type of amendment suggested by Senator Mullen.
Television and radio are designed to entertain and educate. That service is required by all sectors of the community and not only younger people. Senator Norris concluded by referring to Val Joyce and perhaps to the “Late Date” programme.
Senator David Norris: It was brilliant.
Senator Paul Bradford: I listened to it frequently as I traversed the country at all hours of the night and early morning. If he puts on his leisure hat, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, will recall Val Joyce’s “Airs and Races” programme on a Saturday evening. RTE made an error removing “Airs and Races” approximately 20 to 25 years ago which gave us all a little insight into the wonderful world of horse-racing. It also made an error removing the “Late Date” programme.
Senator David Norris: It is still there.
Senator Paul Bradford: Mr. Joyce has been removed from the show. His programme showed that radio broadcasting is not only about young, vibrant disc jockeys and that every sector has a role to play. Perhaps we are reminiscing a bit too much.
I am coming across as a fuddy-duddy but another programme which reaches out to the elderly is Donnacha O’Dulaing’s programme, “Fáilte Isteach” on Radio 1 on a Saturday night and to which emigrants listen. It relays little stories about the Irish community in Britain. It shows that true public service broadcasting must try to appeal to all sectors of the market and must have a variety of programming not all commercially successful or paying for themselves through advertising revenue, etc. It is all part of the jigsaw of the sort of broadcasting service we must offer the people.
The amendment makes a statement that the over 65s matter and that their concerns must be addressed. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, will be able to recognise that sort of thinking by agreeing to the amendment or giving us a guarantee that the thinking behind it will be part of the legislation. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State’s response. If we are to have an inclusive broadcasting service, we must recognise the needs of those over the age of 65. It may be politically incorrect to speak of sectors like “the over 65s” or “the over 50s”. We know the market we are speaking about. I refer to people who may be retired from work. Such senior citizens, who built this country, paid their taxes and made this country what it is, still have a major role to play. I ask the Minister of State to try to respond as favourably as he can. I look forward to his response.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I agree with the remarks of Senator Norris on this matter. When one talks about quotas and percentages in this context, one has to understand the subtleties involved if one is to understand what this is really about. We need to be sensitive to the differences among the people we are trying to cater for. The valid point has been made it is important to assess such people’s needs. If one asks older people what they want to watch, one might be surprised by the results one gets. When I sit down with people over the age of 65 in my house or in other houses, I find it incredible to observe that their tastes are not too different from my own. Some of the programmes they like to watch, such as “The Weakest Link”, are not shown on RTE. People of all ages watch “The Weakest Link” to try to answer the questions and see what Anne Robinson will say to the contestants.
Similarly, soap operas cross many divides. It is hard to define the age group at which any given soap is aimed. I ran into rocky territory when I spoke about “Fair City” when I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. Those involved in “Fair City” thought I was complaining about product placement. I had not noticed the picture that was in the newspapers. If I had, I would have complained about product placement. I was complaining about the fact that a young pop band that had been brought into the programme, to boost its ratings at that time, was shown to spend most of its time in a bar. I pointed out that there is more to life than standing in a bar with a glass in one’s hand. Given that soap operas are watched in houses throughout Ireland every day of the week, we should avail of their ability to transmit positive subliminal messages to young people.
I admire programmes such as “Nationwide” that focus on matters of local interest. Senator Bradford spoke about the importance of documentaries. We need to reflect on the roles of news and current affairs programmes, soap operas and quizzes. Senator Mullen suggested that RTE’s orchestras be used for classical “prom” concerts. We spoke earlier about whether heavy metal is appropriate for people over the age of 65. Other forms of music are insufficiently exploited. We are paying for the RTE symphony and concert orchestras, which are not given enough opportunities to display their wares as often as they could. If the approximately 100 members of the National Symphony Orchestra were to break into groups of three or four, they could give the benefit of their experience to at least 25 schools at a time. Television programmes like “Nationwide” could document such work. Grannies, parents and children would watch such programmes. It would be as valid as any other event.
We need to consider the scheduling of programmes aimed at people over the age of 65. While I think the programmes they require are being made, they are not always shown at appropriate times. A number of programmes of this nature are broadcast at the same time on Saturday evenings. Most people would like to enjoy programmes like “Casualty”, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and “Winning Streak”, but they are shown on three different stations at the same time. When one turns on one’s television at the same time on Sunday evening, one might find there is nothing on that interests one. We need to ensure that programmes are scheduled in a balanced manner. We should focus on variety, as much as possible. That is sometimes the biggest problem.
The fundamental thing I would say about the three amendments before the House is that they demonstrate the value of doing research. I suggest that much of our programming is good enough, but the best programmes sometimes collide. The manner in which programmes are scheduled is often as important as the programmes themselves.
Deputy Seán Power: I am not sure if Senators Mullen and Norris were differing in their interpretations of the work of William Butler Yeats. I had some difficulty in trying to interpret what Senators Norris and Quinn were saying. I am not sure whether they are thinking about heading for greener pastures in the near future. If they are thinking along those lines, I will tell them, as I told my colleague, Senator Walsh, earlier, about a gentleman who recently came to see me. He told me that he was interested in securing employment. He said he thought it would be a promotion for him. When I was taking down his details, I said, “Do you mind me asking you, John, what your date of birth is?”. He gave me a date in May 1922. Senators Quinn and Norris should reflect on that as they consider making an emergency exit from the House.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I do not think either of them are considering that,
Deputy Seán Power: Amendments Nos. 22, 82 and 90 seek to set out specific requirements for programming aimed at those over the age of 65. In particular, they will require broadcasters to ensure that a minimum of 10% of programming is devoted to people over that age. Under these amendments, the broadcasting authority of Ireland will have to consider the needs of over 65s when it is awarding contracts in areas in which 10% or more of the population is in that age bracket. When RTE is drafting its public service charter, these amendments will require it to provide commitments in relation to the nature and number of hours per year of television programming aimed at people over the age of 65. RTE is currently required to appeal to a wide audience. If it did not appeal to a wide audience, it would not survive. A great deal of criticism would be expressed in such circumstances. RTE is required to provide commitments in respect of the amount of children’s programming it makes each year. This ensures that adequate suitable programming of an educational and general entertainment nature is available to children in their formative years. Over the years, RTE has been careful to provide a wide variety of programming, including programmes relating to current affairs, sports, nostalgia, music and history, as well as chat shows, films, soap operas and speciality programmes, to suit people in all other specific age groups. This wide variety of programming offers all viewers a choice. Therefore, I am not convinced that additional commitments are necessary in respect of adults over the age of 65.
When commercial broadcast contacts are being awarded, there is merit in ensuring that applicant broadcasters will cater for the needs of all members of the community. I consider that there is sufficient scope in the current Bill to provide for this. Section 66(2) outlines the matters to be considered by the contract awards committee when awarding a contract. Section 66(2)(c) provides that the committee must consider “the quality, range and type of the programmes proposed to be provided by each applicant or, if there is only one applicant, by that applicant”. Section 66(2)(f) provides that the committee must consider “the desirability of having a diversity of services in the area specified in the notice catering for a wide range of tastes including those of minority interests”. I have no difficulty in accepting the spirit of these amendments. However, I am confident that these proposals are already catered for in the Bill. For that reason, I cannot accept the proposed amendments.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I thank my colleagues, Senators Doherty, Quinn, Norris, O’Reilly and Bradford, for their general support for this provision. The Minister of State said it is not needed as the issue is somehow addressed in the Bill. However, the question that must be answered is what harm would it do to include these subsections. They would at least have the effect of drawing to the notice of public service broadcasters, commercially-minded broadcasters, the need to have regard to the needs, interests and tastes of older members of our society. Even if this were purely aspirational or was capable of being achieved by the Bill as drafted, I do not understand the reason it cannot be included as a specific matter.
Section 101, which relates to the public services broadcasting charter, makes specific reference to another section of society, namely, children. It provides that the charter shall address the nature and number of hours of children’s television, in terms of the amount of science and technology programmes and so on. Related magazines and audio-CDS are covered by the charter. If the needs of children, in terms of science and technology programming and things as relatively unimportant as magazines and audio-CDS related to broadcasting services can be directly provided for and are to be given specific mention in the Bill, then why not require that a minimum percentage of our programming be directed towards the interests and tastes of persons over 65 years of age?
I wish to acknowledge a number of contributions in particular. Senator Keaveney rightly pointed out that we should not assume that older people have radically different tastes. The effects of the amendments tabled would be to require broadcasters to undertake the necessary market research to ensure the programming diet on offer takes sufficient account of the interests, needs and tastes of older people. Many people, as they get older, have more time and a greater need for television. It is for this reason I have selected this particular group as of interest. People’s lifestyles change as they get older. This requires us to ensure their interests and tastes are addressed.
I was interested also in Senator Norris’s contribution in regard to the need for market research. The Bill could require, perhaps by way of a different version of this amendment, that the broadcaster carry out the necessary market research to ensure that the programming on offer reflects the needs of older people. I was glad to hear Val Joyce being mentioned. It was widely stated when RTE made the changes in question, following which Val Joyce left the airwaves, that the commercial decision did not have regard to the needs of many listeners. It is wrong to give too many specific examples but this would suggest there is a possible ageism in our culture. There is a risk that those in charge of broadcasting might be overly focused on commercial concerns and might have less regard to the needs of a constituency that might not be the most lucrative in terms of audience but which nonetheless exists.
I am not forgetting that many older people are active and have tastes not discernibly different from other sectors of society. For example, I cannot telephone a particular uncle of mine at a certain time of the day because if there is a soap opera on I will be told in seconds to phone back later.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Imagine canvassing when it is on.
Senator Rónán Mullen: His son is a Fine Gael councillor. However, I think he likes to hear from me.
I observe with interest my parent’s programming tastes. The point is that research needs to be done. We owe it to older people not to make assumptions about what they like. We should require our broadcaster to do the necessary research to ensure they get what they like in terms of a programming diet. The merit of these amendments is that they understand that broadcasters are operating in a commercial environment and that there is, therefore, a great temptation to move away from public interest considerations towards purely commercial considerations. This is the basis for these amendments.
I note what Senator Norris eloquently said about former Senator William Butler Yeats. Yeats did not, based on some of his poetry, go gently into old age. I would like to think were he here he would see the point of these amendments. I remain hopeful that the Minister will introduce on Report Stage a provision that has regard to the needs, interests and tastes of older people.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is important the Bill provides for the broadcasting of meaningful current affairs programmes. In this regard I refer to Part 3, section 39. We need more satirical programmes. We appear to have lost our sense of fun and comedy in our presentation of politics. “Scrap Saturday” was a huge success on radio.
Senator Jim Walsh: “Halls Pictorial Weekly.”
Senator Jerry Buttimer: “Halls Pictorial Weekly” was used to malign a great man, Ritchie Ryan.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Hear, hear.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: We need to be able to poke a bit of fun at ourselves. Dermot Morgan was quite good at that.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: “Scrap Saturday” was much more superior.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Pat Shortt did a good job also. The characters in “Killinaskully” remind me of certain people. It was quite good last weekend. It is important we are committed to the issue of public service broadcasting in terms of news and current affairs. I am concerned at the lack of coverage of regional issues.
The national broadcaster sent an enormous amount of reporters to Washington for Super Tuesday, which in my opinion was crazy, yet, it is hard to get coverage of events in Cork, Wexford or Kildare.
Senator Jim Walsh: They have to spend the licence fee.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Buttimer without interruption, please.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It makes no sense that RTE was able to send so many people to Washington at great expense yet the Cork city marathon received minimal coverage on the 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock news. This was one of two major events in Ireland on bank holiday Monday.
I believe there is a reduction in terms of news coverage at the weekend. This is wrong. I welcome that 20% of broadcasting time must be devoted to the broadcast of news and current affairs. However, I believe we must take an in-depth look at how current affairs issues are covered. I welcome also the provision in regard to objectivity and fairness. I will not impugn anybody but some journalists take shortcuts in the presentation of news. I am happy they will now be required to be objective and impartial in this regard.
I am interested to hear the Minister of State’s views in regard to the provision of satirical programming in regard to the presentation of politics.
Senator Jim Walsh: I believe Senator Mullen has identified a lacuna in the Bill though the Minister of State may say otherwise. His idea in respect of independent market research could add immeasurably to the scheduling and selection of programmes. The Bill makes no provision in this regard. There is a mention of an audience council specifically with regard to children which may do so. It is discretionary and not mandatory. Will the Minister of State examine this? Scheduling and providing audiences with representative programmes should be based on a scientific survey of the audience and of the marketplace being served. In the absence of this, it is done on the subjective views of the administrators.
An Cathaoirleach: As it is now 5.30 p.m., I ask the Acting Leader to report progress and Committee Stage will resume after the conclusion of No. 7.
Senator Jim Walsh: The Minister of State is anxious to reply briefly to this. With the agreement of the House can we give him two minutes to do so?
An Cathaoirleach: We are breaking the Leader’s rules, but I will allow the Minister of State one minute.
Deputy Seán Power: I will be very brief. I take on board what the Senators stated. Section 96 of the Bill deals with the audience council and paragraph (12) states:
I will speak with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to see if we can include older people rather than 65 year olds and come back to Senator Mullen on Report Stage.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I thank the Minister of State.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
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