Dáil Éireann - Volume 6 - 14 February, 1924

DAIL IN COMMITTEE. - INTERIM REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON WIRELESS BROADCASTING.

PADRAIC O MAILLE: Cuirim os comhair na Dála: Go n-aontuionn an Dáil leis an tuarasghabháil interim on gCoiste Speisialta ar Fhoirleatha Nea-Shrangach.

Mar a miníodh cheana, do cuireadh adhbhair diospóireachta fé bhráid an Choiste nach raibh aon dhlú-bhaint aca le Foirleatha. B'é tuairim baill an Choiste go raibh sé de dhualgas ortha na rudaí seo do scrúdú, toisg go raibh baint ag duine de'n Chólucht Fhoirleatha leo.

I wish to submit this Interim Report from the Broadcasting Committee. As has been explained, outside matters were introduced that had no practical bearing on Broadcasting. The members of the Committee felt that it was their [1077] duty to examine into these matters, as they affected the character of one of the leading promoters of the Broadcasting Company.

We felt it was not within our duty to form or pass any judgment in reference to the accusations made against a Deputy of this Dáil. Some suggestions in the Press would lead one to believe that the Committee had something to keep from the public. There was nothing further in the minds of the members of the Committee than to hide anything that was of public interest, and I think, without going into the other matters, the best way to make the work of the Committee a success is to take away from it those outside matters and leave the Committee to continue the work for which it was formed. I beg to propose the adoption of this report, and I hope that the Committee will be allowed further time to go into the matter again and submit a final report.

Professor MAGENNIS: I beg to second the motion. The members of the Committee share the same desire as the Chairman of the Committee, that the Dáil would approve and adopt the Interim Report. It might be well for the sake of clearer thought, if I begin by saying that the description of elements in our Report, as extraneous matters, is not altogether accurate. Strictly speaking, we have investigated no extraneous matter. The terms of reference were that we were to consider the White Paper, and as the Report elaborately sets out, we consider that quite a large number of questions in detail were involved in the consideration of the White Paper. We have set out these questions in full, and have attempted to answer them, in so far as at the time of furnishing this Interim Report, we were able to do so satisfactorily. In the last discussion about the Figgis-Belton affair, there was a possible suggestion to the members of the Dáil that what was popularly called a red herring had been drawn across the trail of our inquiry. That is not so. A finding of the Report deals with a very important rejected policy on the part of the Postmaster-General. He, and the members of the Committee, are very, very desirous of providing a [1078] broadcasting station in Ireland, and when the Postmaster-General looked through what had been done in this regard in other countries, he found an excellent model in the British Broadcasting Co. Various negotiations were attempted between the Post Office Ministry, and firms in the Saorstát, and eventually the Postmaster-General had formed a model on the British Broadcasting Company, a composite Company to take over the work of broadcasting. Our Report is adverse to the formation of that Broadcasting Company, not merely on the ground that Mr. Belton figured so prominently in its formation and constitution. This is important to dwell upon. The real reason is because we considered that in the Broadcasting Co. in England, the constituent units are firms engaged in the manufacture and sale of electrical apparatus, and if the Broadcasting Company, set up in Ireland, is to claim to be after that model the constituent units should be firms of that sort. There was none of that type, and it appears that at the moment there is none, because of circumstances.

Our Committee came to the conclusion that in the absence of similar firms in Ireland to constitute a composite company, the concession should be made to what only appears to be a similar company. We had before us, as witnesses, various representatives of what are called in the White Paper, the five constituent units. The judgment at which we arrived, not without very considerable discussion and deliberation, was that we could not regard all of those five firms as eligible to form a composite company to receive the State concessions. Now, in the course of his evidence, the Postmaster-General laid great stress upon an aspect of Irish Broadcasting to which he, in response to a representation of a body of musicians, adverted, and upon which he dwelt at length in a letter published in the newspapers yesterday, and that is the advantage that would be provided for Irish cultural developments if there were an Irish Broadcasting Station at the service of cultural agencies which would provide lectures, concerts, music and the like to develop and cultivate an Irish taste in the matter [1079] of the arts as practised in Ireland. We share the same view. Our Committee agrees heartily with the Postmaster-General's aspirations in this regard. I think it was with reference to that that he claimed on the first occasion that this report came before the Dáil that we had confirmed his judgment. There are three things in which we confirm his judgment. One is that there ought to be an Irish Broadcasting Station, that Wireless Telephony should not be merely such for Irish listeners-in as would be provided by foreign stations, that there ought to be distinctly Irish stations; secondly, that it ought to be kept strictly under Irish national control; and thirdly, that the purposes to which that Irish station should be devoted, in addition to the strictly utilitarian purposes of giving meteorological information to farmers and fishermen, and reports about ruling prices to business men, that it should be utilisable for educative purposes of a higher type. These are very important elements of the White Paper upon which the Committee agree with the Postmaster-General and endorse his policy.

The only one real respect in which his policy is not adopted or approved is with regard to the formation of the company. You will see from the report that there are certain items which we reserve, inasmuch as we require to hear the evidence of experts. A point which was made between the Postmaster-General and certain members of the Committee was this: whether or not the Post Office should retain the ownership and the control or a section of the ownership and installation of a broadcasting station, or whether, as the White Paper seems to propose, that the setting-up and the expense entailed by the setting-up and the subsequent working and its expenditure should be handed over to a company. We have yet to determine that point. What we would ask is that the Dáil approve of the report so far as it goes. There is one other item on which there is an appearance of friction, and it is an appearance which the letter which those musicians published, and to which I have just now referred, would intensify. The Committee was of opinion that facilities for listening-in to what is [1080] already broadcasted from other stations should be at once provided to our Irish citizens under licence on payment of a fee as determined by the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General, it would seem, has grave fears that if the Irish public become accustomed to the enjoyment of programmes furnished from other sources that the demand for an Irish broadcasting station would be lessened and, in fact, that the public will forget that there is no such station, and that his hand in demanding the creation of it would be weakened. I would beg the Dáil to support the view which the members of the Committee of Inquiry put upon their own Report, that is to say upon the very first clause of it, that they recommend the setting up of an Irish broadcasting station, and that they believe it ought to be set up. We take Section 1 and Section 9 together. We do not recommend anything which would postpone, unnecessarily, even for an hour, or militate in any way against the setting up of an Irish station. We confidently believe that when the Irish public begin to appreciate from experience what broadcasting can afford them in the way of education and cultural entertainment, they will demand the provision of further pabulum of a distinctive Irish character, and, with belief in Irish artistic capacity, they will demand that foreign listeners-in will have an opportunity of being acquainted with the development in Ireland of the civilised arts as exhibited in the matter broadcasted. Therefore, we have great faith in the larger repercussion, as I may call it, of Irish broadcasting than the advocate of it, the Postmaster-General himself. I have much pleasure in seconding the proposition of the Chairman of the Committee, that the Dáil adopts and approves our Interim Report.

POSTMASTER-GENERAL: There are certain items in this Report which are quite acceptable to the Post Office viewpoint. One of them, that of the issue of licences, is, for instance, acceptable, for the reason that the situation had so developed that some such departure was essential, and also because of the fact that the Committee in its wise judgment recommended that in the [1081] interests of broadcasting control those steps should be taken. There is another recommendation which has all the appearance of reality, but at best it only conveys a pious expression of opinion, and this is, to my view, the kernel of the whole situation, that of the erection of a broadcasting station. Paragraph 8 demolishes the programme presented to this Dáil in the White Paper, but the Committee, while asking the Dáil to accept that demolition, has taken no steps whatever to ascertain whether a feasible substitute is possible. It is said, for instance, in paragraph 7, that the Committee is considering whether it would not be advisable to erect this broadcasting station by State funds, and to provide the cultural side of Irish life through some co-ordinating medium between the cultural people, and the State itself should be responsible for the running of the broadcasting station. It says that in providing that cultural programme not only would it be possible to do it for nothing, but that the State conceivably would make profit from the transaction. I wonder is the Committee serious in this matter. Has it considered whether such a thing as this is possible? Has it considered, before destroying a feasible proposal constructed over a period of six months, before destroying it in a period of six days, whether there is a practical alternative available? I would imagine the first duty of the Committee is to ascertain whether this alternative is at their disposal. I would imagine that before asking the Dáil to turn down the product of our extended labours, some feasible scheme for ensuring the provision of a broadcasting station for this country would have been presented. It is all very fine to say we believe the best thing is to put up a station at the expense of the State. Can this Committee guarantee to the Dáil that the State is prepared to expend its money in this venture? If it cannot guarantee that, why destroy the only material available? I see no reason whatever for the presentation of this Interim Report, or at least for its adoption here. There is nothing whatever to prevent the Committee from getting ahead with its further investigations and presenting an alternative for the one which they seek to remove [1082] without in any way binding the Dáil or the Committee to a refusal to sanction that which has been placed before them, and which, to my mind, is the only means through which a broadcasting station can be set up here. There is a lot of confusion in the public mind in this matter, and it would have simplified our position very much had the evidence been made public from the outset. For instance, people want to know is this a monopoly. I think the Committee will agree that it is the reverse of a monopoly, and that the one thing the Post Office aimed at from the outset was the avoidance of anything that would give the appearance of a monopoly.

He said, in effect, there are no people engaged in the manufacture of wireless in this country and, seeing that we believe that a broadcasting station would not be a proper investment for State monies, it is our duty to see that anybody within the country, any citizen of the Free State, who is able and willing to participate in a Government concession of this sort, should be permitted to do so. We followed the direct line, that the one thing to be avoided in the erection of a broadcasting station here was that under no circumstances should we be open to the charge of creating a monopoly. Now, I venture to say, if the State refuses to speculate its moneys in this broadcasting project, that the Committee will again be thrown back on the necessity of following in our footsteps and inviting Irish citizens to come forward with their money to erect the station. I have a feeling, in this connection, that paragraph 8 implies a reflection on some of those citizens—citizens of very great repute, citizens who have contributed materially to the freedom which we enjoy here, citizens of the type of Mr. Dowdall, of Cork—that it implies in the mind of the public that men of his type are unsuited or unfitted or not entitled to participate in a Government concession. That may or may not be the intention of the Committee, but the paragraph is capable of that interpretation. What I suggest to this Committee is—and I do not see any objection to it—that there is no necessity whatever for the adoption of this Interim Report. There is no reason [1083] whatever why an Interim Report should be presented. The Committee was set up to consider the White Paper, to consider a proposal already made and, failing acceptance of that proposal, to put up something in its stead. That was their job. It has not been, in any way, altered by anything that happened in the interval.

There is just one point on which I would like to dwell, in connection with this whole matter. Anything in the nature of a Government concession is pretty sure to bring trouble. The same question has caused serious trouble in other countries. We do not stand alone in respect to it. People rush to the conclusion that a concession of this kind is something in the nature of the presentation of a gift on the part of the Government. As a matter of fact, in our own experience, we found it extremely difficult to get anybody to accept the gift. We found it necessary to advertise on four successive occasions, and beg of our countrymen to chance their money in what, I think, may be reasonably regarded as a risky speculation. But that is not a matter that concerns me, so much as the causes which, in my view, led to the original inquiry.

It will be remembered that the only questions raised on broadcasting in this House, prior to the issue of the White Paper, were raised by Deputies Figgis and McGarry. It will be also remembered that both Deputies were subsequently appointed to the Committee, and it will be further remembered that neither Deputy signed the Report. All these coincidences must have some meaning to the observer. If the evidence to which I referred on the previous motion were published before the Dáil was called upon to endorse this Interim Report, I venture to say that it would come to the conclusion that an extern company—a combine in a neighbouring country—is directly associated in an effort to prevent the control of broadcasting by the Irish people. It will be seen in that evidence that both the Deputies concerned—the Deputies to whom I have just referred —were in communication with the chairman of that combine. This is why [1084] I ask that the evidence be placed at the disposal of the Deputies of the Dáil before they are called upon to pass judgment on this Interim Report. It is common knowledge in local circles at the present time—I want the members of the Committee to take a special note of this—that the first move to prevent the adoption of the broadcasting scheme embodied in the White Paper, and the subsequent Press campaign, which, I venture to say, had some bearing on certain decisions, were both the work—the direct effect—of this foreign company.

It is common talk here that this Company initiated the efforts to destroy this White Paper, to destroy the scheme brought forward by the Post Office, that they did it with the sole object of collaring and controlling wireless in Ireland in the future, that by their able tactics, within and without the Committee, they have been enabled to succeed far beyond their expectations, that they have now deprived this country of a Broadcasting Station, that they have thrown the country open to free exploitation in regard to the sale of sets, and that in short Ireland, for their purposes, is simply a continuation of an English Shire. They say further that once they brought broadcasting to its present stage, it is only a matter of time when they will be appealed to to take up the running to include Ireland in their field of exploit. That is actually the position. I believe myself that the Committee has the best intentions in the world, when it suggests that a broadcasting station should be set up here. I believe it really wishes that that should be done. It means well and hopes that it will be done. But hopes and good intentions are all very fine. I believe that before it destroys what is at its disposal, its hopes and intentions should be translated into something practical, and that before the Committee asks the Dáil to reject what, in my view, will prove eventually to be the only practicable solution of this matter, it should see to it that there is an alternative, work out the details of that alternative, and prove here conclusively that there is something to be put in its place. If you do not do that, [1085] you have no right to reject the only course which I personally can see open to the Committee, that of falling back again on private enterprise to produce a Broadcasting Station and control broadcasting here.

Already the position is very much queered. The fact of issuing licences— although I agreed to their issue, I did it without enthusiasm—to people who had walked on the law, to people who had imported sets, knowing their action was illegal, has queered the pitch of Government control of this very potent instrument in the future. I can conceive a situation in which the users of wireless will continue to defy the Postmaster-General's control in this matter, will not pay licence fees, will erect their miniature wireless stations as they please, and will bring the utmost chaos and confusion into the wireless world here, in the hope and belief that should the Postmaster-General be foolish enough to attempt again to bring them under control, another Press onslaught will save them. This is the predicament to which broadcasting has been brought. We have legalised law-breakers. We have deprived this country of a broadcasting station; we have turned it over to British music-hall dope and British propaganda, and no one of us, on the Committee or off the Committee, sees any way out of the dilemma. There is only one solid fact, and that is that the product of a Department's efforts, covering a whole six months, are roughly turned down.

Mr. JOHNSON: The Postmaster-General regrets the damage to his own wee ewe lamb, and he feels sore that the Committee should have destroyed his hopes, that the company which he worked so hard and ardently to bring into being has not received the recommendation of the Committee. Because of the loss of that particular creation of his own, he thinks that the whole prospect of Ireland's cultural development through broadcasting is lost. I am surprised that after a fortnight's contemplation he should be in the same mood. I could understand his feeling sore upon the first day, but I would have thought that a little reflection would [1086] have led him to a happier state of mind. When he urges that there was no occasion for an Interim Report, I would remind him and the Dáil that we were bound to produce a report, and unless he desired us to say ditto, without inquiry, to his own proposal, or to refrain from taking notice of the evidence which he himself placed before us, it was quite impossible to produce the report which he now thinks ought to be produced—simply an approval en bloc of the White Paper. The necessity for producing a report was imposed upon the Committee by the Dáil.

The Postmaster-General thinks the whole prospect and outlook of wireless broadcasting in this country is damaged almost irretrievably by the loss of this Irish Broadcasting Company. He desires to assure the Dáil that it is not a monopoly, and he thinks the Committee is unanimous with him in that protestation. It depends upon his definition of the term “monopoly.” I say distinctly it is a monopoly—it is a monopoly in the transmission of broadcasting and the control, subordinate only to the Postmaster-General—of trading in wireless apparatus. The monopoly may be extended to those who are in the trade and who get licences but even the Postmaster-General would not claim that the new adherents to the company, who might be allowed to come in under the terms of the White Paper, are going to have control of the business of that corporation.

The direction of the corporation is to be retained, even under the White Paper proposals, in the hands of the five constituent firms. And that combination, the Irish Broadcasting Co., is to have the sole licence for conducting wireless in this country. If that is not a monopoly, then I misunderstand the use of the word. I am not finding fault with the monopoly. A monopoly, if well controlled and of good character, in such a case as this may be justified. But as the Postmaster-General challenges the wisdom of the Committee in its reflections upon his good sense, respecting the constituent firms of this Irish Broadcasting Company, it is necessary to defend the views of the Committee. Deputy Magennis has shown that it departs from the plan of [1087] the British Broadcasting Co., on which it is obviously designed. One has to bear in mind the conditions surrounding the formation of this Company and the very important fact, that must never be forgotten, that the proposal was to give a concession to that Company, which Company was to be the sole concessionaire for this service, it is immaterial whether it is a good speculation or not. The very fact that the Postmaster-General proposed that the State should give monopoly rights to a company, required him to make the closest inquiries as to the business, prestige, bona fides and general character of those firms. Now I subscribe to the Postmaster-General's praise as to the public spirit of many of the people who formed, or were intended to form, some of these companies. But we must bear in mind, as we are bound to do, that they were brought into existence almost, or shall I say forced into existence, cultivated into existence if you like, for the specific purpose in this form to make it appear that there were five firms, when there might be only two; the same people were associated with the two firms that eventually became five firms.

Major COOPER took the Chair at this stage.

Mr. JOHNSON: When the project was first mooted for this Company, and the names of the persons associated with the Irish Development, Ltd., were submitted, otherwise Andrew Belton, there were twelve to fifteen names of reputable people sent into the Postmaster-General as men who were prepared to enter into this business. Something happened which led to delay in the promotion of that company. But it reappeared a little later, and on its reappearance it was three companies. The same people were three companies, neither of them having had any connection whatever, as far as we know, with electrical work or broadcasting or anything appertaining to it in this country. The proposed chairman of the Company, the chairman of one of the constituent companies undoubtedly had had experience a good many years ago as an electrical engineer. But I submit [1088] that it was the duty of the Postmaster-General, before recommending that a concession should be given to a company of this kind, to have assured himself, especially when the evidence had been put into his hand, of the character of the chief promoter of the company. He should have hesitated, before offering a concession to such a company with such a spokesman. Four of the five firms had no great expectations, so it is alleged, of this being a profitable venture. One of them who, by the way, was pressed, and had to be pressed into the company, who had to be imposed upon the company, believes it would be a very good business speculation. Another is actually in the business, and quite naturally expects to receive profits out of his ordinary electrical business.

I say the Committee is well justified in urging the Dáil not to approve of that portion of the White Paper which suggests the handing over of this concession to an Irish Broadcasting Company whose constituent firms who will always be the directors and controllers, comprise the names in the White Paper.

It may be necessary, if the Postmaster-General will not recommend the obvious, to establish another private undertaking to set up a broadcasting station. But let it be openly a financial undertaking. Let it be clearly set up as a business concern, and let one company do it, however big that company may be, and not pretend that there are five separate constituent companies who may at some future time enter into the business of buying and selling wireless apparatus. The suggestion undoubtedly left from all the matter that came before the Committee is that some, at least, of these constituent firms, within a very short time after the company would be set up, would sell out, unload, after boosting the shares, and leave the Postmaster-General, or their successors, to do what they liked with the Company. It was not a legitimate company of the character that should receive a State concession from the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General has referred to a series of coincidences. I wish he had been a little more frank in [1089] the matter, and stated bluntly what had been in his mind. He spoke of tactics within and without the Company, presumably suggesting that members of the Company, or that the Company itself, was influenced in its judgement by the propaganda, which he alleges took place on behalf of the Marconi Company. He did not mention Marconi, but, no doubt, it is Marconi he referred to.

Mr. WALSH: I intended to.

Mr. JOHNSON: I do not know what the tactics within the Company may have been. I do not know what the tactics without the Company may have been, except that they did what all kinds of Companies do, and what the chief spokesman of the pet Company of the Postmaster-General admitted in evidence he had done, that is, endeavoured to persuade all kinds of people to support their claims for a concession. When the Postmaster-General refers to people having interviews with the Chairman of the Marconi Company, I do not know whether he is referring to the evidence submitted by Mr. Belton of the fact that he had an interview with the Chairman of the Marconi Company in London. No, not by Mr. Belton himself, perhaps; I am not sure, but evidence was certainly submitted by a witness to the effect that Mr. Belton had accompanied the proposed Chairman of the Company in a mission to the Chairman of the Marconi Company in London. So Marconi is not out of it, even under the Postmaster-General's pet scheme. I think Deputy Hewat, if he were here, would say that the Government could even control Marconi if they established a station in Ireland, just as well, I am sure, as they could have controlled Andrew Belton, Esq. Then the Postmaster-General refers with sorrow to the recommendation that the existing holders of wireless apparatus should be licensed forthwith. I thought he would have acceded frankly to that recommendation; he now regrets it because, forsooth, it was legalising law-breakers.

I wonder did he ever hear of a man who had forgotten to take out his dog licence being granted a licence. And surely the harm is very much less to the State and to the good name of the [1090] Post Office, as well as of the holders of apparatus, that they should be licensed and recorded than that they should be conducting these operations furtively and in secret. I think the Postmaster-General is probably right in saying that it will not be possible henceforward to capture records of every wireless receiving set in the country. No change has taken place in that respect. If it will not be possible now, it never will be possible, and if what we read about men being able to carry receiving sets in their watch pockets, attach them to their umbrellas, and receive messages, is likely to be true, then the chances of licensing every set are very small indeed. I am not at all enamoured of the principle of licensing these sets. I am not sure whether it would not be safer and more sensible to make no restrictions upon the holders of wireless receiving sets. I expect that it will be found in future that no such registration will be possible, and that the whole principle of licensing sets of this kind will have to go by the board. But in view of the expert recommendations. I was quite prepared to subscribe my name to the suggestion that licences should be required. There are several positive proposals in the Report, one negative proposal of a very emphatic kind, and other questions which are held in abeyance. If the Dáil does not agree to the Report, then I think it is obvious that the Committee's usefulness is at an end. If the Postmaster-General desires to test the views of the Dáil on a specific paragraph of the Report he should move in that direction. He should move, for instance, for the deletion of paragraph 8, or any other paragraph of which he disapproves, but I can assure him that the Committee, so far, at any rate, as I can read its mind, is quite enthusiastic about the necessity for an Irish broadcasting station, and the members will individually do all they can to impress upon the Dáil the necessity for establishing such at the earliest possible date. Speaking for myself, I would say to the Postmaster-General that he should frame a proposal for the establishment of a broadcasting station immediately, spending £20,000, or thereabouts, in the operation, and doing it as Postmaster-General. Leave the question of the operation [1091] of that station to be decided at a later date, prior to the erection, and I, at any rate, would support him enthusiastically if he will set about the erection of this station as a Post Office operation.

I do not believe he would be thwarted by the Minister for Finance, and if he is he can come to the Dáil and ask for permission. I do not believe for a moment that the Minister for Finance will prevent it, and I ask him to pursue his enthusiasm for the establishment of an Irish station, to the point of doing it as a Post Office operation.

Mr. WALSH: I only wish to say I have no intention of moving to delete paragraph 8. I leave the responsibility for providing the alternative to the Committee with a light heart. It is their funeral and not mine.

ACTING CHAIRMAN: The Postmaster-General cannot speak again except on a point of explanation. Is this a point of explanation?

Mr. WALSH: You can call it that, and let me speak.

PADRAIC O MAILLE: On a point [1092] of order some decision must be taken before 8.30.

The PRESIDENT: We must understand whether or not the Report is to be accepted or rejected. If there is an objection to the Report, and a division is to be challenged, then I would move that we adjourn the debate until to-morrow at 12 o'clock. If it is going to be accepted there is no necessity for that, and an explanation by the Postmaster-General would, I suppose, be all right.

Mr. WALSH: I really believe we should give a little further time to the consideration of this matter, as very few people have had an opportunity of speaking on it.

Mr. JOHNSON: I support that view.

ACTING CHAIRMAN: Probably it would be more satisfactory for the particular purpose if the President moved the adjournment of the debate.

The PRESIDENT: I have no objection to that, but I hope it will not be anticipated that I have anything to say in the matter. I move the adjournment until 12 o'clock to-morrow.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m.