Seanad Éireann - Volume 126 - 12 July, 1990

Broadcasting Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

An Cathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister to the House.

Mrs. Hederman: On a point of order, may I ask the Minister if he can confirm at this stage that he will accept amendments, or can he deny that a decision has been taken?

An Cathaoirleach: That is not a point of order.

Mrs. Hederman: May we have that point clarified?

An Cathaoirleach: That is not a point of order and I am ruling the Senator out of order. I have called the Minister and I ask the Senator to respect his presence in the House and the House's desire to proceed with the business.

Mrs. Hederman: The Minister will not give us any undertaking beyond that? This was raised on the Order of Business.

An Cathaoirleach: It is not a point of order. I have made that point to the Senator, I am now calling the Minister to commence Second Stage.

[285] Minister for Communications (Mr. Burke): I am glad of the opportunity to move this Bill and to set out for this House the rationale behind our proposals and the end they are intended to achieve.

To set the scene I will dwell, very briefly, on the broadcasting environment we inherited on assuming office in 1987. The situation was chaotic, to say the least, with 60 to 70 pirate stations operating, flouting all legal regulatory and moral obligations. Unfettered by the ideological preoccupations of the previous Administration we immediately set out to put in place the regulatory framework to order a sector that was snowballing out of control, and to allow the Irish public to create its own multiplicity of choice in broadcasting which the “pirate” phenomenon demonstrated they so craved.

In formulating our policy in this area we were particularly mindful of the dissatisfaction with the monopolistic state run broadcasting services throughout Western Europe and very conscious of the fact that this was probably the last opportunity to influence, in a major way, the development of a strong and vibrant Irish broadcasting industry before the pace of development in international broadcasting completely overwhelmed us.

It is a central tenet of the Government and Fianna Fáil's broadcasting policy to provide an alternative to the State broadcasting monopoly particularly in the area of news and current affairs. We are in the era of transnational satellite broadcasting and we may not turn back the clock. Conscious of the need to balance to some extent the ever increasing plethora of external broadcast services it was imperative to provide the general public with alternative sources of Irish generated broadcast news and current affairs.

Other important facets of the Government broadcasting policy are: to ensure that Irish broadcasting becomes a growth industry in line with the growth of broadcasting seen in all other European countries; ensuring as far as possible that Irish broadcasting remains the mainstream [286] Irish viewers' and listeners' choice; bringing new investment and higher productivity into Irish broadcasting; creating new secure employment in the sector, and providing a seed bed for the growth of an independent audio-visual industrial business in the country. In these we are in line with the European trend and indeed in advance of many European countries.

The broadcasting structures created through the Radio and Television Act, 1988, were, therefore, a response to the domestic and international broadcasting environment. From this solid base future evolution will be easier and Irish broadcasting will be better able to keep abreast of the frantic pace of development in the sector.

The 1988 Radio and Television Act opened up the broadcasting sector to new entrants. The recent Joint National Listenership Research/Market Research Bureau of Ireland figures are ample evidence of the success the emerging radio stations have had in securing listenership. They indicate that on an average weekday over 1 million, or 40 per cent of all listeners are tuning in to one or more of their independent stations. The figures also show that seven of the local stations surveyed had higher audience figures than 2FM. Their success is all the more laudable when one considers that many of these stations have only been on the air a matter of months. They have captured the imagination of their respective listenership in a way in which even the most optimistic of independent radio proponents would not have dreamed possible. I congratulate them on the success their initiative and enterprise has gained for them.

Now that much has been done to open up the broadcasting sector it is imperative to establish a fair competitive environment in it. In essence this means that the factors which enable RTE to have an excessively dominant position in a competitive context must be addressed urgently.

A major element which creates a distortion in the market vis-a-vis competing services is RTE's dual funding. While the [287] primary purpose of RTE's State subvention is to enable it to meet certain public service obligations, the effect of the subvention goes beyond that role. It enables RTE to sell its advertising time at, in effect, “below cost” rates and thereby artificially dominate the market.

So the competing independent services, whose legal mandate in terms of public service obligations is the same as RTE's, lose on two scores. They do not have the benefit of licence fee income to help meet their public service obligations or to support and sustain the development of their services or to enable them provide a competitive range of programming. At the same time they must compete with the below cost selling of advertising time and the artificially dominant position thereby created by RTE in the advertising market. And it is not alone the independent broadcasting sector that is affected by this distorted competition; it impacts also on the print media.

I had a number of avenues open to me to deal with this distortion. Having put forward some proposals and duly gauged informed and reasoned reaction, I reverted to my original thinking to place some constraints on RTE's role in the advertising market. The means to this end are set out in section 3 of the Bill. In short they are: a statutory time limit on advertising on RTE's services of 7.5 per cent of total daily programme transmission time — as against its current limit of 10 per cent — and a maximum of five minutes of advertising in any one hour— as against the current maximum of seven minutes and 30 seconds, a limit on the revenue the Authority may derive annually from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts equal to the amount of the grant paid to it in respect of licence fees in the preceding financial year, that amount having been adjusted by the increase in the customer price index in that preceding year, as published by the Central Statistics Office; and in the period from commencement day until 31 December 1990 a ceiling equal to 120 per cent of [288] the sum that will be payable to RTE in respect of the grant equivalent to licence fees in that same period.

I expect that these measures will lead to the diversion of around £12 million in advertising revenue in current terms in a full year. It will be up to the different media to earn their share of this diverted revenue on the merit of their own worth and relative cost attractiveness.

Much has been made of the potential impact of this loss of revenue on the financial viability of RTE, its employment levels and programming standards. Basically, the proposals return RTE to their 1988 level of income. In that particular year RTE incurred considerable costs in relation to increased broadcasting hours; higher programming standards; staging the Eurovision Song Contest; extensive coverage of the European Championship in West Germany and extensive coverage of the Olympic Games in Seoul; and turned in a surplus of £5.3 million. In this context talk of doom and gloom for RTE is completely without foundation and does not do justice to the enterprising spirit of the Authority and its staff.

The new corporate environment this Bill creates at RTE will call for a whole new set of strategic goals as new areas of revenue generation are sought and RTE's position as our prime broadcaster consolidated. Much innovative and pioneering thinking will be called for and, as RTE has proved in the past, I have every confidence that the organisation and staff are equal to the challenge that lies ahead.

Section 4 of the Bill deals with codes of practice relating to advertising, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion. The code, when drawn up, will apply to all broadcasting services and the objective is to ensure fairness and uniformity of practice across the board. I expect that the code will draw, in part, on RTE's existing code of practice and will, for instance, where necessary, incorporate various international obligations such as those arising under the recently adopted EC Directive on Broadcasting Activities. The code will also deal [289] with the grey areas of prizes on programmes, cross service promotion, promotion of ancillary commercial activities, etc.

In section 5, I have introduced an additional safeguard to ensure that RTE maintains its 1989 level of independently produced broadcast material. While I remain firmly convinced that the measures set out in section 3 will not lead to the level of rationalization envisaged in some quarters, it is important that hasty decisions be avoided. Independently produced programmes and, in particular, independently home produced programmes have been an integral part of RTE popularity for many years and have contributed a great deal to increased audience numbers. In 1989 RTE paid £2.9 million to independent production houses and some 3 per cent of its output came from that sector. I now wish to assure the independent production sector that those levels will continue as far as practicable.

The EC directive on television broadcasting comes into force on 3 October 1991 and thereby assures the long-term commitment of broadcasters to generous levels of independently produced programming. This commitment will firmly underpin the independent sector in their core business and in time should provide the financial and experience resource to enable them to develop into a major domestic and export industry. Recent Irish screen successes, in particular the Oscar-winning “My Left Foot”, have shown that we have talented people who can take on the huge money-rich American studios and win. The solid foundation provided by this section and the EC directive can provide a springboard from which those heights may again be assailed.

Section 6 is a provision which enables the Independent Radio and Television Commission to enter into a contract with the TV 3 operator, additional to the primary contract, whereby that operator can supplement the cable and MMDS modes of transmission with a separate conventional UHF transmission system. This is a recognition that cable and MMDS, [290] being subscription services, will not be taken by every household in the country and this provision will ensure the availability of TV3 to those who may not want to avail of the multiplicity of services on cable or MMDS. It also ensures that TV3, when it comes on air, will be in a position to maximise its audience and potential without undue technological constraint. This, again, underlines the Government's commitment to fairness and equality of opportunity in this sector.

There have been some uninformed suggestions that the proposal to allow the third television channel to establish its own UHF transmission system rules out the possibility of establishing a Teilifís na Gaeltachta, should a decision to that effect be taken. This is quite incorrect. On the technical side, while UHF frequencies are in very limited supply, we have in fact retained sufficient of them to enable such a service to be established. Likewise, the proposed capping of RTE's advertising revenue has no bearing on the question of reaching a decision on the establishment of a Teilifís na Gaeltachta service.

For sometime now RTE have been pressing for authority to appoint their own auditors and section 7 gives them this freedom. RTE's accounts are audited at the moment by the Comptroller and Auditor General and through no fault of that office or RTE the Authority has come in for criticism in the past because of very late publication of their annual report and accounts. This freedom should alleviate that problem.

Section 18B of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 (as inserted by section 4 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976) defines the functions of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and sets out the various categories of complaints with which the commission may deal. Section 8, sets out an additional category of complaint relating to the assertion of inaccurate facts or information in a broadcast relating to a person such as to constitute an attack on the honour or reputation of that person. This provision is necessary to enable us to transparently comply with the “Right [291] of Reply” provisions of the EC Directive on Broadcasting Activities and also the Council of Europe's Convention on Transfrontier Television.

Sections 9 to 15 create a series of new offences and penalties relating to various acts associated with the unauthorised interception of cable services and MMDS services.

The level of unauthorised connections to cable systems in this country far outstrips that in any other country with cable. When MMDS comes fully onstream we expect that the problem will arise in that area also. I have listened carefully to the representations of the industry and am acutely aware of frustration of the long-suffering paying subscriber. In bringing forward this legislation I am happy that the problems will be appropriately addressed. This legislation will also ensure that the fledgling MMDS operation is not severely undermined by the operation of a “black economy” in pirate decoders. To act now will root out this scourge before it gets time to flourish.

The penalties we propose for the new offences are similar to those applying in respect of the illegal use of wireless telegraphy under the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988, that is a maximum fine of £1,000 and/or three months imprisonment on summary conviction and £20,000 and/or two years imprisonment on conviction on indictment. Provision is also made for forfeiture of any equipment used in connection with the offences in question. Apart from the criminal offences being introduced, the Bill also provides for recourse to the civil remedy process. Cable and MMDS operations may be more inclined to use this provision as it can be a much speedier process than that of taking criminal prosecutions.

We are in an era of rapid technological advances and section 16 is a recognition of this. The section enables the Minister by positive order to extend the provisions of sections 9 to 15 of the Bill to services transmitted by wireless telegraphy other than cable or MMDS. The most obvious [292] example here is a premium satellite television service such as a film channel which is sent out in encrypted form.

Sections 17 and 18 are essentially technical amendments to the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 and the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. Having gone to such a deal of trouble to modernise wireless telegraphy legislation it is essential that any ambiguities be ironed out.

Section 17 clarifies, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Minister's licensing powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 includes a power to limit the number of licences he may issue for the various classes of wireless telegraphy apparatus. Such a power is wholly consistent with attaining the most efficient management of frequency spectrum — the 1926 Act being the Act under which the vast majority of radio communication systems in this country are licensed.

Section 18 is basically a correction to the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988. Under that Act the various offences relating to illegal broadcasting can be prosecuted within two years of the offence being committed. However, in drafting we overlooked extending the same period for prosecutions to the basic offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 and this provision remedies that deficiency.

The repeals in section 19 are consequences of the provisions of this Bill.

Those are my proposals and I strongly commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Manning: I would like to welcome the Minister to the House and to assure him that I will not match his speed of delivery in what I have to say.

We object, as we have made very clear, to the taking of this Bill today. As a general principle, we would object to any Bill coming straight from the Dáil to the Seanad. This should happen only in the case of the most pressing urgency, as in the case of a social welfare Bill or a financial Bill, where there is a need for the legislation to be put into immediate effect or in the case of purely technical Bills.

[293] One of the main reasons, as virtually every Opposition speaker said on the Order of Business this morning, for a second House such as this is to allow time for reflection and reappraisal and no Bill has ever been more in need of reflection or reappraisal than this one. Instead of that, what we are getting is this Bill being steamrolled — I know the Leader of the House objected to that word but that is what is happening — through this House over a very short number of days. Clearly, the Minister is intent on getting it through. Clearly, as Senator Hederman said this morning, there is no intention of accepting any amendments on this Bill. Otherwise, why the rush, why the push to get it through so quickly? It is going to be the Bill, as we have it, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill. There is going to be no question of any amendments on it.

This rush is not dictated by a question of getting better broadcasting or of serving the common good. This is a question of ministerial pride. The Minister has taken a pasting over the past number of weeks. His image and prestige have been battered and he, of all people, wants to see this Bill through as quickly as possible so that he can set about rebuilding his own image. This time, because of ministerial necessity, the Progressive Democrats-Fianna Fáil juggernaut is going to steamroll the Bill through this House as it did through the other House. There is going to be no more “Mr. Nice Guy” on this Bill. The guillotine will fall and it will fall again and again until this Bill, as it is here today, is on the Statute Book. That is no way to do business. It is no way to do business on any legislation and, most emphatically, it is no way to do business on this legislation.

This is the worst piece of legislation to come before the Oireachtas in the past decade. It is being rushed through by the Minister as if he were afraid of being caught out, of his real intentions being rumbled before the legislation is put on the Statute Book. Anybody looking in at the events of the past few weeks will ask one simple, obvious question. Why the rush; what is the urgency; what is the [294] hurry? There is none whatsoever. Certainly, any sensible person looking at the shambles of what happened in the other House, at the unprecedented rancour which the Bill provoked in the other House, looking at the ill-will which it generated, the deterioration in personal relationships, the distrust which has surrounded this Bill from the start, again would say the only sensible thing to do is to postpone this Bill, to put it on ice even for a month. We are quite prepared to come back here in the beginning of September to examine this Bill in the atmosphere which we hope would then prevail.

We all want to let the dust settle, to restore some sense of calm, to allow for some reflection on the Bill. Should that happen, the Minister would have plenty of time to listen to the people he did not listen to over the past few weeks and to realise that this is an inherently bad Bill, bad in almost every single respect. It certainly would be in the interest of better legislation and in the interest of broadcasting generally were the Minister, I will not say back down, but simply to change course at this stage and accept that this is the way we should go. The Minister can still do that. He can complete Second Stage next week and then postpone the taking of the Committee Stage until September. We have made a formal request to that end but we have been turned down. The question arises: why the rush?

I have at this stage to protest that the Minister came in, rushed through his speech and is now leaving the House. This, again, is a very discourteous way to treat this House. In the past week Minister Reynolds came in, listened very carefully to the debate and treated the House and the legislation in the way in which they deserved to be treated. We had the Minister coming in and clearly showing his disdain for us so, for that reason, a Chathaoirligh, I think we need a quorum.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Mr. Manning: I regret doing that. This [295] is the first time I have had to call for a quorum in my time in the House but it was the only way in which I could protest against the behaviour of the Minister who came in, galloped through his speech, waited for three or four minutes thereafter and then left. This is not the way to treat the House. As I said, Minister Reynolds reacted in an extremely professional way last week. Minister Ahern spent nine hours here on the Industrial Relations Bill. Minister Brendan Daly did likewise. We have received courtesy from many Ministers. What we have got from this Minister is a total lack of courtesy and he is treating the House with contempt.

Why is this such a bad Bill? When we look at the birth of this Bill, we find it was born out of a long-festering anger and vindictiveness against RTE. The Minister let his own mask slip on the night of the last general election when he very clearly blamed RTE for making, in his words, the health cuts a major issue in the election campaign and he told people in RTE that night that RTE would be screwed. The Minister has never denied that. There are plenty of witnesses. That was the real attitude of the Minister on this Bill. So the birth of the Bill is out of vindictiveness. The timing of the birth was an opportunistic attempt to save Century Radio and to make sure that TV3 would have an easy entry. If the only way that this could be done was by trimming the wings of RTE, then so be it, this was the way it would be done. What a happy coincidence, if the saving of these companies could be brought about by teaching a bruising lesson to that public service institution which refuses and I hope will continue to refuse, to bow the knee to Fianna Fáil. It was as crude, as simple, as opportunistic and as gross as all that.

Worst of all, from the point of view of the Minister, it was a botched job. It was botched from start to finish and it is this same botch, this Bill as it comes in today, this patchwork quilt of changes, son of botch, which we are being asked to rush through here today.

Let us look at the progress of this Bill.

[296] I said it was borne out of vindictiveness, a long, festering vindictiveness. This Bill was not properly circulated to all members of the Cabinet. It was not actually discussed fully in Cabinet. That is admitted publicly by some of the Ministers who are on record as saying that they were not fully apprised of the details and the consequences of this Bill. So, we have, first of all, a major measure coming in; the Minister attempts to get it through Cabinet on the nod without full consideration. Whatever else was happening he seemed to have succeeded and the Bill is published.

What happens then? The Progressive Democrats, I am sorry to say, immediately run for cover. The Bill, we are told, is unacceptable, there is no way in which they could support it. So, we have hurried consultations between the Taoiseach and Minister O'Malley, the Taoiseach in a helicopter, Minister O'Malley in his Mercedes and the Minister is suspended somewhere in between. A few small changes are made out of this consultation. They are made against the wishes of Minister Burke and maybe the Minister was right, because they were merely cosmetic. Perhaps he was right to resist these changes but they were made and suddenly we have, from the Government in exile, the Chairman of the Progressive Democrats, going public, telling the nation that now this is a Progressive Democrats Bill. The Progressive Democrats he says have galloped to the rescue. Once again, Fianna Fáil have been told to behave themselves, they will not get away with this sort of thing; this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. So this new sanitised Bill, cleansed of Fianna Fáil imperfections, is the Progressive Democrat's blueprint for the future of Irish broadcasting. Some blueprint and some neck.

All the time this is happening, Fianna Fáil backbenchers in the Dáil were sounding off against the Progressive Democrats, saying it was not a Progressive Democrats Bill, the Progressive Democrats had too much influence and were angered most of all by the self-righteousness of the way they saw the Progressive [297] Democrats interfering with the Bill. All the while the Minister was forced to grin and take it all on the chin.

Side by side with all of this foreplay and footwork going on between the Coalition partners, we have the Minister's assault on 2FM. This was quite an extraordinary attempt by the Minister, this attempt to destory in one fell swoop one of the major success stories of Irish public service broadcasting. The question has to be asked whether the Minister thought he would get away with it. In some ways his attempt was so audacious that I think he did think he would get away with it. The thinking behind it, however, even if it was crude, was very perceptive. By killing off 2FM — and that clearly was the intention — and big moneys would be freed to flow to the independent stations. It was as simple as that. At one stroke, the brainchild of the Minister, owned for the most part by friends of the Minister, the ailing independents would be liberated.

Again, the Minister is nothing if not bold on this issue. Subtle he certainly is not because right in the middle of all of this he appeared as the celebrity spot to give the nation, or 10 per cent of it, experience of his taste in rock and roll, Buddy Holly and light and heavy music, on Century Radio, right in the middle of this controversy. It certainly did not show any subtlety but then the Minister has never been subtle in hiding his favouritism for that station.

That move failed. It failed because it was spiked on a tide of public opinion and public revulsion. The Minister, as has been his wont in this whole episode, was once again left floundering and backtracking and 2FM for the moment — and I say only for the moment — was saved from having to become a drudge and a drone station, which was what was intended, a station which could not attract advertising. I am not saying for one moment that there should not be the type of public service broadcasting provided which the Minister had earmarked for 2FM, but it never was or never should be the mission of 2FM to fill that role. So, the Minister was foiled in his attempt to destroy 2FM, to destroy [298] its revenue base and to siphon that money into the independent stations and TV3, who would be the main beneficiaries. It was another major about turn, loss of face for the Minister. It was a nice try, if you like, on the part of the Minister. It certainly did not deserve to work and it did not work.

Since then, we have had change after change in the Bill, all of them dictated by outside groups, all of them conceded with ill grace by the Minister and we end up today with the Bill before us which we got just before we came in here this morning, a Bill which is now a thing of shreds and patches but still sufficiently malevolent to cause lasting damage to Irish broadcasting for very many years to come. Most of all, we have a Bill which is totally unnecessary.

As I said at the outset, we have before us today this patchwork of U-turns, this assault on the public interest, this vindictive measure which is as good as being on the Statute Book. What we are going through in this House today is a total charade and a sham. The Bill, as we have it here, is the Bill which will become law in a few weeks' time. The Minister has the numbers, he is in a hurry, he has taken a pasting in the other House and outside it; he now feels he is as good as home and we are expected to play our part in that particular charade.

Why do I say the Minister has no intention of accepting any amendment from the Seanad? His own timetable makes that manifestly clear. This Bill is due to come into effect in October. The Dáil will rise tomorrow until mid-October. So, if the Minister were to accept amendments from this House, the Dáil would have to be recalled. We know, and everybody else knows, that the Minister has not the slightest intention of recalling the Dáil or letting that happen. So, the Bill, as it now stands, is the Act which will find its way onto the Statute Book. It is this Act, this charade, which will give this Minister a less than glorious and less than honoured place in Irish broadcasting history, not that that concerns the Minister overmuch.

Why is this such a bad Bill? The reasons [299] are clear and simple. Let us first look at the events which have brought us to where we are today. In 1987, this Minister brought a Bill to the Dáil in which he proposed that he, and he alone, would decide who the new broadcasters would be and that he would operate public control over them; there would be no independent radio commission. That was, and still is, the real intention of this Minister. We all remember he brought this proposal to the Dáil. Let us look at it again because it is worth reflecting on. He would decide who the new broadcasters would be, he would operate public control over them; there would be no independent radio commission. We all well remember the public reaction. The Progressive Democrats, then in opposition, said this would be Radio Fianna Fáil. Then Deputy O'Malley from Dublin West played a very honourable part in attacking this proposal, in helping the other Opposition parties to see what was involved and in helping to mount public opinion against that particular proposal. That proposal was, as it deserved to be, roundly defeated.

That crude attempt was successfully blocked because that Government were in a minority and had to respond to public opinion. But, that whole episode showed us the mask, the mask had slipped. The real intention behind Government broadcasting policy had been clearly revealed. Now, with the Progressive Democrats on board and with their support the Minister is on course once again. It has not been an easy ride, but so what? He is going to get there in the end, three years later, but at least he arrives at the destination.

How did this happen? How did this change come about within the Government parties? The lame explanation from the Progressive Democrats is that they took their eye off the ball, that, hey presto, corners were cut when they were not looking. Then we had the spectacle of Government backbenchers, breaking a long standing agreement and convention in the other House, being removed, to help collapse the debate. I can assure the other House that there will [300] be no collapsing of debate here. Then we had some of the same backbenchers popping up on “Morning Ireland” to tell the expectant nation of their reservations about the Bill. However, when it came to voting, these worries and reservations very quickly disappeared.

Since then the Bill has gone through the other House in as bizarre, grotesque and unorthodox a way as has ever happened in the history of these two Houses of Parliament. First of all, there was virtually no Second Stage. The sleight of hand which brought that about is well documented. Then we had a drastically truncated Committee Stage where the vast bulk of the amendments were guillotined through and those that were not went through with the absence of the entire Opposition parties. We had the walk-out of the entire Opposition at that stage. Then we had the surreal Report Stage of the past couple of days, which again equates to nothing which the Dáil had ever known before. Finally, last night there was a final major cock-up at the end of the Report and Final Stages which — and it is not for me to comment on the officers of the other House — according to the Leader of the Labour Party this morning on “Morning Ireland” has certainly dented the confidence of Opposition Members of the other House in the impartiality of the Chair there. That is a matter of public record. That gives some indication of the way in which that particular Bill went through the other House.

If anything should alert us to the need to stand back at this stage, it is the history of that past couple of weeks in the other House. How can the public have any confidence in legislation which went through in that particular way, in legislation which attracted so much ill-will, bad feeling, distrust, in legislation which most of the public believe was designed for one purpose only, that is, to screw RTE and to help Minister's friends? How can the public have any confidence after that particular set of procedures and foul-ups in the other House? It is the worst handled piece of legislation, I suspect, in the last 60 years in this House.

[301] It is very clear that the main target of this Bill is RTE. That has long been clear. This Minister may now regret his outburst after the last election when he made very clear his real feelings towards RTE and all that sail within it. It was an outburst which confirmed, if that was necessary, his long-standing and long-known antipathy to RTE. The new controls which the Minister is introducing for RTE are far worse than could have been anticipated by anybody in that station. They mean that RTE will not be able to get one ounce of benefit from their success in getting 100 per cent audience they will not get one penny more into their budget. So much for fair competition. The restrictions on the budget they will receive will put them in an impossible situation, worse than a return to the old Civil Service controls of Radio Éireann. Not alone now will they have to go to the Minister for an extra penny to spend on broadcasting and programmes but they will also be locked in to an earmarked tax, a user charge, not based on ability to pay. This new charge, and I am quite sure it is deliberate, is a recipe for the slow strangulation of RTE. They will be locked into a budget which will be cut by over £12 million next year and frozen thereafter. This will be the end of quality broadcasting.

On that point, it is interesting to judge the Minister on the basis of his own promises in the other House. He told the other House that he would give this country a broadcasting system which would have four main elements in it: it would meet public demand; it would be independent; it would have quality; and it would be diverse. These are the elements of the broadcasting programme policy promised by the Minister: it would meet public demand, be independent, have quality and be diverse.

Let us look at what he has produced. Regardless of public demand, he sought, first of all, to destroy 2FM and he still seeks to destroy 2FM. So much for public demand. As for independence, this legislation will bring RTE to heel by controlling its revenue or, rather, it will seek [302] to bring RTE to heel. I hope there is enough independence and integrity in that organisation to resist the attempts but the clear intent is to destroy the independence of RTE. As for quality, the Minister wants to destroy the revenue base of RTE from which they have made programmes of which the whole country could be proud. Again, it is very clear as to what is going to happen.

If RTE does not have a strong revenue base, the first things to suffer, apart from staff, any new staff and existing staff, will be quality programmes. Quality programmes take money. A national station like RTE must have the discretion and the resources to invest in quality programmes. If it comes to a choice between bread and butter and keeping the show on the road and quality programmes, clearly quality is going to be the big sufferer. As for diversity, the Minister has gone back on promises he made to develop community local broadcasting in tandem with commercial radio. We have not heard a word about that since he made the promise. The record of the Minister based on his own promises has to speak for itself.

What can be said about the Minister and Cablelink? That again is a sorry and scandalous story, a story of wrangles between Government Ministers, of one Minister contradicting another. The Minister seemingly had no idea of the proper framework for public policy in the way in which he decided to sell off Cablelink. He allowed RTE to hold a competition, but when the results of that competition were in and RTE selected someone they considered would be successful the Minister decided to change the ground rules once again, a further levelling of this now infamous playing pitch, a chopping down of the goalposts or a taking away of the nets or the referee's whistle, or whatever. Then the Minister used crude, political intervention to block RTE's decision and to insist that it would go to his selected candidate.

This arbitrary intervention of the Minister undermines confidence in the operation of a communication policy. That has been the hallmark of this Minister [303] right from the beginning. In the past this Minister made solemn declarations that he had no intention of diverting income from RTE. We all remember that when Deputy Jim Mitchell, the Fine Gael spokesperson on Communications, raised this question a few months back, when he said he had information that the Minister intended to divert funding from RTE, he was roundly contradicted by the Minister. He was accused of scare-mongering. He was told he was wrong and that the Minister had no such intentions. When he raised the matter in the Dáil he was ordered from the House because he was accused of accusing the Minister of not telling the full truth. The Minister said there would be no intention of diverting income from RTE.

These declarations have crumbled. The Minister brought in a Bill which would, in effect, take 25 per cent of its fee from RTE.

So much for the Minister's solemn declarations on this matter. What he is now giving to Irish broadcasting is the worst of all worlds in relation to broadcasting policy. The commercial station which went into all of this with its eyes open got, after great and strenuous efforts on its part and with certainly no opposition from the Government, a franchise which in the words of the Minister was a scarce natural resource. Now, because this has not worked out the way it might have, the Minister seeks to change the ground rules which he made with such fuss and fanfare just a short few years ago. What he is saying — and it is ironic in view of the Progressive Democrats' stated position on not helping lame ducks in the public sector — is that the inefficient in the private sector must be supported and the efficient in the public sector will be robbed to support them. Of all of the ironies of recent years, that surely must compete for a place among the top ten.

The Minister's policy, in addition, represents a landmark in the attitude towards State companies. Up to the early eighties it could be said with fairness that many of our State companies did not [304] perform. They were seen as being inefficient, complacent and lacking initiative. Under Minister Jim Mitchell during the 1980s a concerted and successful effort was made to revolutionise the basis of operation of our State companies. It always strikes me as odd that my party is often accused of being opposed to State companies when, in fact, it was the actions of Minister Jim Mitchell in the 1980s which made it possible for most of the State companies to survive, be viable and be strong.

Under Minister Mitchell the State companies were given very definite criteria for performance. Targets were set. Strong tough minded boards were put into place. Young energetic management was recruited. Inducements and sanctions were put in place to enable the public sector perform in a way which would justify its existence. Most of these companies have responded, and responded dramatically well. The ESB today is probably a model of its kind of any power utility in Europe. The ESB is now exporting its expertise right around the world. Aer Lingus responded positively. Aer Lingus went into profit and began a major programme of expansion to create hundreds of highly paid jobs as part of its response. The success story of Aer Rianta is well known to us.

Among all of these companies RTE's change, the metamorphosis of RTE, was one of the most dramatic. RTE turned around, improved quality, improved domestic output, extended a whole range of new services, met competition head on, brought in a range of new, hungry, enthusiastic people and RTE consistently began to show a profit. So what happens? Just as Aer Lingus had some of its profitable routes stripped from it to help the ailing Ryanair, so now RTE finds that its efforts are being rewarded by this savage assault on it from this Government. The rules are changed to suit the friends of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. RTE, which has improved its efficiency, made good profits, reacted so well to the challenge and to the competition, is to be penalised for its success. What this means is that almost certainly [305] RTE will be back in a loss making situation within a year or two. Then we will have the calls from the Progressive Democrats about the need not to cosset the State sector, about how the lazy State sector must be penalised and must learn to stand on its own two feet, as a result of a policy of which the Progressive Democrats are joint authors which has brought this about.

I am afraid I must now spend a moment or two looking at the role of the Progressive Democrats in this entire sorry debate. If the Progressive Democrats ever held the high moral ground in Irish politics — and I would seriously dispute that proposition — they have certainly forfeited it on this issue. The Progressive Democrats, on the evidence of this Bill, are back where they started, back as part of the great Fianna Fáil family. The Mercs and the perks are more important now to the Progressive Democrats than this issue. The need, above all, is not to rock the boat. We can make shaping noises on Articles 2 and 3 on divorce; but when it comes to a real issue, where real votes are involved, then there is silence.

We have already had the spectacle of the Chairman of the Progressive Democrats claiming credit for their Bill and claiming that the new sanitised Bill was a direct result of their intervention. It is important to say that this Bill is a joint Progressive Democrats-Fianna Fáil Bill, a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Bill. It is a Bill for which both parties must accept their full share of responsibility. The Progressive Democrats remind me at times of some Catholics at the end of the Second Vatican Council when there became known a group called the a la carte Catholics, people who would pick one doctrine to follow but not pick another and so make up a sort of melange of doctrines, as people would pick a meal a la carte in a restaurant. The Progressive Democrats will have to learn that they cannot be a la carte members of this Government, picking a tasty morsel here, rejecting the tough or unpalatable bit somewhere else, saying “We'll have the pate; we will not have rice”. They cannot [306] do that. This is a fixed menu Government. The Progressive Democrats must accept this or lose what little remains of their credibility.

That reality has taken some time to dawn on that party. I and, I am sure, many other Members of this House over the past weeks have had accounts of the approaches by people in RTE to members of the Progressive Democrats. The reaction in all cases is more or less the same. It goes something like “Yes, we do feel very uncomfortable about this legislation. Yes, indeed we share your reservations, we do not like it. You all know what Minister Ray Burke is like. He is difficult, he is not really one of ours. Yes, we did take our eye off the ball. All the pressures of Europe... only two Ministers in the Cabinet, they were away ... yes, if we had been there it might well have been different. We have tried to salvage the Bill. Yes, we will make a strong case in Government. You can depend on us, and we will come back to you.” That was roughly the scenario with person after person who approached members of the Progressive Democrats. And we get a deafening silence — the unreturned phone calls, the washing of hands. Indeed, there is so much washing of hands that one could welcome back Pontius Pilate here today. There is a party waiting for him. He would feel very much at home were he to come back here today.

There is one very serious aspect of this legislation in which the Government is showing real consistency and that is the impact of this legislation on jobs. Last month the unemployment figures in this country rose by 7,000. There was no explanation. The Government claim to be taken by surprise. It was the worst piece of news in the past number of years. There was no indication as to why it happened, but it was one of the most dangerous signals to go across the Government's bows for a very long time. This legislation will simply accelerate that tendency. The dole queues will grow longer and longer. Hundreds of people will lose their jobs in RTE. Young people, highly qualified graduates and school leavers who might [307] have been employed over the coming years, will now have to go elsewhere out of this country if they want to pursue a job in journalism and communications. That is the net effect of this legislation. Will these jobs be replaced in the private sector? There is no way in which that will happen. Most of the successful new stations are the ones which employ least people, the ones which follow the 98 FM formula. The ones which are least labour intensive are, on the basis of what has happened so far, the ones that are most likely to succeed. That lesson has not been lost on the other stations. It is not an accident or coincidence that the labour intensive Radio South is now dropping many of its chat and current affairs shows. It is redrawing its schedule and operations on the format of 98FM. That is the pattern. Very many bright young people, who would have fitted into the plans of RTE under RTEs present financial structure will now find that they will not be able to get rewarding, creative jobs in the Irish communications industry because of this legislation.

That is one of the real tragedies of this Bill. The jobs lost in RTE will not be replaced in the private sector. All of the evidence so far is that that is the pattern. Indeed, in the case of Century one of its problems stem from the fact that it tries to be a quality station. In terms of its news coverage it has consistently tried to maintain the right levels of staffing to ensure a fair and quality news service. But that costs money. That lesson will not be lost on the others who will revert to the successful formula of 98FM which is not labour intensive.

Central to all of this, of course, is the position of RTE. Like any——

Mr. McMahon: On a point of order, the Minister came to the House this morning and rushed through his script and left after seven minutes. He is now out of the House for 35 minutes. I have been patient because I thought he might have gone to attend to some urgent business. I think the House is due an explanation if we are not going to have the [308] attention of the Minister today. I wonder if I could ask the Minister of State, through you, Sir, if there is any explanation for the Minister's absence, or if he is likely to be in the Seanad today?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: In my opinion that is not a point of order.

Mr. McMahon: I think the Seanad is entitled to an explanation. He is treating this House with contempt. To rush in here and rush through his script on such a very important Bill——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It is not a point of order.

Mr. McMahon: Perhaps the Minister of State would let us know if we are going to have the attendance of the Minister.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. F. Fahey): All I can say is that the Minister is away on very urgent Government business at the moment.

Mr. McMahon: Is this not more urgent?

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Mr. Manning: I would like to turn to one of the central aspects of this legislation and that is the position of RTE. Like any big, old institution, RTE is around now for over 60 years, from the days of 2RN to Radio Éireann to Radio Telefís Éireann. It has had its good days and its bad days. Certainly, RTE is open to criticism on many fronts. It certainly has had its lazy, complacent years. It has had its bouts of self importance and arrogance and its self obsession. It has had to fight hard to shake off its Civil Service legacy; but, having said that, RTE is a quality organisation and it compares more than well with any radio-television service in the world.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

[309] Mr. Manning: Relative to the size of this country and the resources available, it is probably the best of its kind in the world. Its coverage of the recent World Cup events is only one immediate example of the flexibility of its response. It indicated quality, enthusiasm and expertise in great depth. Its election coverage over recent years has been of an extraordinarily high quality. Its ability to rise to the coverage of major national events, from the arrival of the Pope to the arrival of the soccer team two weeks ago, and its ability to include the entire nation as one family on occasions like that has to be one of the most extraordinary contributions of RTE to the development of Irish national life. More than any other organisation it has created a sense of a great national family. It has allowed us all to get to know each other. It has allowed the people to get to know the politicians and the public figures in a way that was never possible before in this country. Through much of its documentary, investigative programming — and even its discussions — it has allowed us as a people to get to know ourselves and our society better than we ever did in the past.

Some of the various television-radio series over the past number of years have been truly outstanding and have made a lasting impact and contribution to scholarship and entertainment and as to how we see ourselves as a people. It has had its defects, of course. I was very critical before Christmas of its coverage of Eastern European affairs. Not because of my criticims, but it certainly has responded very well to give full coverage of events in Eastern Europe. In the past some of its programming may have smacked of a certain elitism. There may have been infiltration by people who were politically motivated. RTE, within itself, has sufficient vigilance to ensure that a fair balance is kept. This is another point. RTE have annoyed every Government in recent years. Sometimes RTE were right; sometimes RTE were wrong. But that sort of tension is right and proper between Government and the media. There should not be, and there cannot [310] be, that sort of cosy relationship between RTE and the Government parties which the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fail seem to want so badly. When Government press secretaries phoned to complain about what was said on different programmes they should be listened to courteously, but no more than that. There should be no question of Governments being deferred to, kowtowed to or of RTE being intimidated by the press secretaries of any Government.

It is important that one net effect of this legislation is that members of RTE must not feel intimidated. It is quite clear that many of them do. They feel that this is the beginning of a sustained assault on the independence of RTE. They know that if the Government could have got away with more it would have got away with more. The Government has had to pull back, partly because of the trade unions and partly because of public opinion. The real face of the Government's intentions was announced by the Minister on the first day of the Fine Gael motion in the other House.

Politicians may well have legitimate grievances against RTE. There is a need for greater, speedier and more open accountability. Complaints made against specific programmes should be handled openly. They should be made openly and answered openly. At present many months may elapse before an unsatisfactory answer is given. RTE has stored up some trouble for itself on that particular front.

Like any other politician I feel there is something untoward about some of the over-mighty DJs who grace the airwaves in the morning. The frequent snide, facile, unfair observations from the morning pulpits can often cause great anger, not so much about what is said but because people feel — and it is important that we say this — they will not get a fair roll of the dice and that they will not get a chance to have their own point of view put properly from some of these overmighty practitioners on the morning programmes. This creates frustration among politicians. It creates a sense that fair play should apply both ways — there should [311] be fair play to politicians and public figures just as there should be fair play from this House to the media generally.

It is unfortunate that some of the people who are most prone to indulge in this sort of activity are themselves public figures who can be very touchy and tetchy should any public questions be asked about their own finances, their own views or their own affairs. RTE does need, not to censor but at least to be somewhat more sensitive on the question of fair play. There is nothing more frustrating than to have a general comment made from somebody who is in a position of great power knowing that there is no way in which that can be answered fairly and that the dice are in the hands of the person in question.

Professor Conroy: Hear, hear.

Mr. McGowan: Well said.

Mr. Manning: I would also blame RTE for its extraordinary poor public relations over the years. RTE has made very little attempt in a meaningful way to put its own case to politicians of all and any party over the past number of years. It has made no real attempt to listen to what public figures of all parties are saying about the role and the mission of RTE in Irish life. I am certain, had the proper sort of two-way communication been in place — the fault here is RTE's, first middle and last — that some of the misunderstandings which find their way into the present Bill probably would never have arisen. I hope that the appointment of a very distinguished person who formally worked in this House for one of the political parties will go some way towards rectifying the failure of RTE over the years to talk to and to listen to public representatives in a calm, reasoned way, out of the glare of publicity, so that at least people know what they are talking about.

Having said that, RTE is a station which is one of the great jewels in our national crown. Any attack on RTE is an attack on all of us. Let us look at the [312] impact of what is happening on RTE. If we go back to the Stokes, Kennedy, Crowley review of RTE, which was carried out in 1985 at a time of low levels of profitability in RTE, it is fair to say that the management and staff after that report accepted the need for change and have very considerably strengthened the organisation in the intervening years. RTE has become financially stable and has increased the amount of programming substantially in that period. Home produced television programming is now in excess of 2,500 hours per year, up over 50 per cent on the levels for 1985. All of this has been achieved without any increase in the licence fee. Employment in a wide variety of cultures and skills, both inside and outside the organisation, has been generated from this increased activity. It must be said that RTE responded positively to the challenge, a challenge set by the present Taoiseach at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in 1989. The Taoiseach, speaking of the State sector said, and I quote:

Their future depends entirely on their ability to perform efficiently and, where appropriate, profitably. The test for survival will be competent performance. For those who meet it, the future can be bright and rewarding.

Most fair people would feel that RTE have measured up well to this test and would feel fairly badly betrayed by the Bill.

RTE has been successful in the competitive marketplace, as evidenced by its high radio and television ratings. Is RTE now about to be penalised because it has successfully met the guidelines set by the Taoiseach? The proposed capping of RTE's commercial revenue robs RTE of its new marketing dynamic. It will weaken the organisation as a major provider of popular and cultural programming for the Irish nation. The estimated loss of advertising revenue of at least £12 million per annum will mean the shedding of up to 500 jobs in RTE. Such a revenue loss will also lead to a reduction in the quality and quantity of home produced programming, with a [313] lower quality of programming and a more fragmented audience. All the evidence suggests that broadcasters from outside the State will benefit. This is a serious issue for this country which has not been addressed by the Minister.

The cutback in RTE revenue could have a further negative effect on the independent audio visual sector, which has attracted increasing support from RTE in recent years. Both the Association of Advertisers in Ireland, the AAI and the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland, IAPI, have expressed extreme concern about the effects of the proposed legislation on job losses in the Irish advertising industry and the diversion of advertising resources to British based broadcasters.

All of these negative effects run directly counter to the Minister's broadcasting objectives as stated in the course of the Dáil debate on 7 June last. These were: to ensure that Irish broadcasting becomes a growth industry in line with the growth of broadcasting seen in all other European countries; to ensure that Irish broadcasting remains the mainstream Irish viewers' and listeners' choice; to create new, secure employment in the sector; to provide a seed bed for the growth of an independent audiovisual industrial business in the country. These were the objectives of the Minister. In almost every single one of them, what he is now proposing runs counter to what he there set out as an objective.

They are some of the effects on RTE. As I mentioned a moment ago, virtually all the major, independent bodies have had a great deal to say about the effects of the legislation generally. The Marketing Society of Ireland, in a memorandum submitted to all Members of this and the other House, has set out its objectives, which I will briefly run over:

The Marketing Society, which incorporates the former Market Research Society of Ireland, is recognised as the final authority on matters concerning marketing and market research in Ireland. The society devised the official guidelines for radio research and has [314] been called to arbitrate on many key marketing issues over the years. Because of its practical involvement in broadcasting and advertising research the society is well placed to evaluate the likely outcome of certain key elements in the proposed Broadcasting Bill.

While the Society agrees wholeheartedly with the objectives as stated in the Minister's speech in the Dáil on 7 June, some of the aims intended to serve these objectives seem, in our professional opinion, unlikely to achieve their intentions.

Firstly, the effectiveness of the Minister's intended orders, in particular, the “capping” of RTE advertising levels, may well lead to quite a different outcome than that intended by his objectives. It is important that the mechanics of marketing and advertising practice should be clearly understood before assessing its impact. It is quite a complex business but the essential facts would appear to be: (1) if the amount of advertising on RTE is limited, there are two immediate effects;

(a) the cost of advertising rises, as RTE must ensure that it sells all of its time to maximise its permitted revenue;

(b) advertisers who cannot obtain time on RTE will look to other relevant media instead.

(2) Any price rise will tend to squeeze the smaller advertiser out of the market in favour of the big budget international marketing company; this can have a detrimental effect on the growing sector of new, small Irish companies: this would appear to be contrary to the Minister's stated objectives.

(3) An advertiser who cannot obtain time on RTE but has the funds to advertise, is much more likely to seek an alternative broadcast medium. The largest share of this is for television and an advertiser who has a TV commercial available (often produced outside this country and therefore bearing no direct [315] cost to the Irish marketing company) will select the next best TV alternative.

The only serious alternative is UTV. Two out of three sets in the Republic can receive UTV programmes and this rises to 85 per cent in Dublin. The likely effect of “capping” therefore is to drive money out of the economy and into Northern Ireland. There is no guarantee that it will recirculate among the other Irish media.

(4) The availability of TV3 still appears to be at least a year away; after that TV3 will have to build a reputation for its programmes and prove that it has a large enough viewership to justify advertisers spending money with the station. This could take many years to develop, in the meantime UTV will have benefited from the “capping” and will fight hard to maintain the opportunity handed to it.

(5) The reduction in RTE earnings and the shift of advertising money from the State to Northern Ireland will have serious consequences for employment in RTE, marketing companies, market research organisations and advertising agencies. This would seem to be in direct contravention to the Minister's objectives.

The society would like to draw attention to the EC Directive on TV Advertising which recommends an average of nine minutes per hour for TV advertising, with a maximum of 12 minutes in any one hour. This is significantly higher than the limits the Minister seeks to impose.

Section 4 of the Bill does seem to present an open gate to a Minister to introduce orders limiting the freedom of broadcasters to operate. The Irish Law Times has already devoted its most recent editorial to outlining why it thinks this action may be unconstitutional.

That is the view of the independent society, a nominating body for the Industrial and Commercial Panel of this House. The members of the marketing society who are second to none in expertise and who come from all parties see [316] enormous dangers in this Bill which is being rushed through here today. They have put their views on paper to all Members of the House. The Minister has not even referred to any of these matters.

The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland, a non-political body, make their point about the consequences of this Bill. They say as did the Marketing Society, that jobs will be lost.

Job losses are the inevitable consequence of this legislation. RTE, film production companies making programme material or commercials, film facility and support service companies, scriptwriters, technicians, actors, musicians and other suppliers to the film, video and sound industry will all face job losses or reduced opportunities.

There is also a real prospect of job losses in other manufacturing or distribution firms, many of them Irish companies, whose marketing efforts will be hindered by not being able to afford, or to get, advertising time on RTE TV and Radio in the absence of an Irish based national TV or proven national radio alternative.

Nor is there any indication that the independent stations will be able to absorb many, or any, of the unemployed.

I make the point I made earlier this morning, that there is no evidence that the independent stations are interested in employing people. The ones which are most successful are those which are least labour intensive.

According to the Institute of Advertising Practitioners the intended diversion of advertising revenue is unlikely. I will not dwell on that point. They argue that costs will certainly rise as a result of all of this. These are serious concerns which come from the Association of Advertising Practitioners. There is also a submission from the Association of Advertisers in Ireland which I will not put on the record as all Members have received it but I will read the last sentence [317] in the letter we all received; “our association hopes that good sense will ultimately prevail on this issue.”

We saw this morning, and we have seen over the past few days, that there is no question of good sense prevailing. Judging by the timetable the Minister has set for this Bill and by the way he has brought it into the House today, clearly he is not listening to any of these outside groups who have a reasonable point of view to make, nor is he listening to what SIPTU is saying in all of this.

What is the motivation of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats? From all we have seen so far we must come to the conclusion, however much they have attempted to mask it that this is an attempt to protect powerful friends and to get at RTE. The issue addressed by this Bill is important but it is not urgent. The only urgency which attached to the initial attempts was the immediate difficulties of Century Radio. If it was considered that Century Radio should be helped and that some of the factors which attended its birth might have been addressed, there was a very simple way to do it. The Government should have brought in a rescue operation which would provide money, if that is what was intended, a short-term loan or whatever to rescue Century Radio — although I cannot see why a private sector organisation like that could not get whatever funding it needed from the private sector. However, if there was an imperative need to rescue Century Radio, it could have been done in a simple way and the Minister might very well have got plenty of support for that. That was not the case and now we are landed in this mess which has been going on now for the past number of weeks.

I have said all I need to say on this Bill. I have indicated why I think it is a bad Bill. The Minister was very foolish not to take on board the suggestion of my colleague in the other House, Deputy Jim Mitchell, that there was need for a commission which would sit for a short fixed time to look at some of the major questions raised on broadcasting policy [318] at present. This commission would have reported back and there might well have been a wider measure of agreement as to what needs to be done to chart the future of Irish broadcasting. Instead we got this patchwork Bill which was born out of vindictiveness towards RTE and which is an attack on the whole concept of a profitable public sector which is against the interests of sound broadcasting policy. It is a Bill which creates a web of suspicion about the motives of the Minister and the Government. Even if the Minister's motives were as pure as the driven snow, there are very few people outside who would believe that is the case in the context of the Bill.

It is the worst legislation which has come before either House in the last ten years. The fact that it is being rushed through by the Minister would seem to indicate very clearly that he wants to get it out of the way before any more awkward or embarrassing questions can be asked. Why is the Minister not listening to the legal doubts which have been expressed about the constitutionality of the Bill? Will we go through a process of the Bill being challenged in the Supreme Court and the Minister having to come back to both Houses with amending legislation because the Bill has been struck down as being unconstitutional? I do not know.

It is a sad day. The way this legislation was handled in the other House has brought that House of the Oireachtas into disrepute. The way the Government party are rushing it through this House, with no time for reflection, is bringing the Government party, not the House, into disrepute. It is undermining one of the main functions of this House. Clearly, the Minister has no intention of accepting any amendments. His own timetable makes that perfectly clear. He has no intention of accepting the offer we made which was to finish Second Stage now and come back in September to look at Committee Stage and see if it still is in the best interests of Irish broadcasting. Consequently, we have no option but to oppose the Bill in every way possible and to fight every last word and line of it to [319] ensure that when it goes on the Statute Book, it will do so only after the strongest of resistance has been shown to it.

Mr. Cassidy: After that very fine contribution by Senator Manning, I want to make a few points in relation to the Bill. It is only right that we should put on record that this Minister, in his term as Minister for Communications, has regularised the airwaves. Chaos had been allowed to reign through the early and mid-eighties in the broadcasting area with up to 70 unlicensed stations operating. The Coalition Government of 1982-87 were incapable of dealing with this issue. They could not get agreement. “Lack of political will,” would be the proper way to describe it. From that point of view, our Minister is to be congratulated.

The Minister brought in the Radio and Television Act, 1988 and the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 which restored order to the airwaves and created a framework for the development of independent broadcasting stations. At that time we all envisaged, and people close to the industry knew, that this was the start of legislation that would be coming before the Houses of the Oireachtas over the next number of years. I do not think this Bill is the last one we will see in relation to broadcasting. I expect we will have another Bill, or maybe two, within the next number of years in relation to a levelling of the playing field in the marketplace. That is what it is all about as far as I am concerned.

It is fair to say that it is welcome by the newspaper industry. The editorial in the Irish Independent this morning supports the Bill, the central thrust of which is the restriction of the level of advertising carried by RTE so as to provide the other sections of the broadcasting and print media in the private sector with a fair competitive position in the advertising market.

We all know that it is a small island market in relation to advertising. It is very restrictive and it is extremely vulnerable when we have so many sectors of [320] the communications world looking for a share of it. I said in my Second Stage speech in 1988 that there were many areas which needed to be looked at in relation to the viability of local radio. At that time, we knew everyone in the country was looking for a local radio station. The research that I carried out in Australia, America and the UK, showed that it would not be viable. We have seen the operation of local radio in most areas over the last 18 months. Unfortunately, Westmeath, the county I come from and in which I reside in still has not got its own local radio station. I look forward to it when it comes onstream with Laois and Offaly. Most parts of the country have that luxury at present and are enjoying that facility.

One million listeners at some stage every day tune in to local radio and that represents 40 per cent of the possible listening market. That is very encouraging. I am gladly surprised that percentage has been attained in such a short space of time. If we supply what the people want to listen to or want to view, the market will increase and, as a result, the market share of advertising will increase.

It must be said in all honesty that the Minister has brought a lot of order to the airwaves and for that alone he has to be commended. That cannot be said often enough because people in very privileged positions have used and abused their positions for various reasons. Senator Manning covered that very fairly indeed in his eloquent contribution.

Senator Manning made the point that the Minister went on Century Radio and presented his choice of music at a very sensitive time. Senator Manning should have gone on to say that his party leader also went on radio and gave his choice of music. That is just to set the record straight. I did not have the pleasure of listening to Senator Manning's leader on the air but I did have the pleasure of listening to the Minister's choice of music. I was glad to see that it had a 40 per cent Irish content. He supports the local Irish content from an Irish artiste's point of view. It is Irish artistes's point of [321] view that I watch and I have a special interest in protecting that industry. They can be tremendous ambassadors for Ireland and have proved to be. Over the last number of years, we have had tremendous successes.

2FM has been mentioned and it was suggested that the Bill was brought in especially to snooker 2FM. 2FM have had tremendous success. We are very proud of them and the great success they have had. Senator Manning mentioned the word entertainment once. At the end of the day it is the entertainment value that matters. No-one can tell any listener, or group of listeners, to listen to a particular station all day every day, every week of every year, because it is not the way it works. Good programming will survive and will be successful. If a station do not give the people what they want, at the end of the day they will not be successful. It is from that point of view that Century Radio have a major problem. The exeprtise is available in Century Radio. They are listening to too many yuppie market people in relation to what they should be supplying to the market. It is an excellent opportunity for alternative radio and I look forward to them changing their policy in relation to the market they are trying to supply, the one which has the biggest growth potential.

I must commend RTE for the unwritten rule they have of playing 25 per cent Irish music continually. Both Radio 1 and 2FM have continuously supported the music industry down the years. It may not be the sort of music that I like to hear but at least they are supporting an industry in which jobs are being created on a daily basis. From that point of view, 2FM have to be commended along with Radio 1. I cannot say the same for Century Radio and I displayed my displeasure to one of their directors. I look forward to the day that they too will carry their share of responsibility. They were given the jewel of the airwaves, the shop window where people can display their wares and, most important, they could create employment.

Local radio have a listenership of 40 per cent every day. That is a fantastic [322] achievement. No doubt this Bill will be regulated in some future legislation and amendments will be brought in to change the playing field. It must be said that not in their wildest dreams did anyone in 1988 think that in 1990 we would be talking about a 40 per cent listenership. It is a tremendous success especially when all counties have not been awarded the local radio franchise. We can look forward to the day in the not too distant future when 50 per cent of listeners will tune into local radio. It also shows that this is the type of programming the people in some areas like Mayo and Clare really want. While RTE have been a tremendous success story down the years, I do not think they even touched 70 per cent of the market.

I cited Mayo and Clare because those areas present the ideal format for rural listeners. I always had a gut feeling about what the people wanted from the experience I gained over the years, and I could not understand some of the programming which was beamed from RTE with less than 2 per cent listenership for evening audiences. If anyone was running a business or a sweet shop on the corner — to coin the phrase of a senior Minister — in that way they would not survive very long. If commercial radio has a 40 per cent and growing listenership, it shows the enormous market that is available but which has not been tapped by any of the three national radio stations.

As we all know, RTE supply 37 per cent home produced programmes; they do that because they are popular. The longest running programmes on television are home produced and the longest running radio programme is a home produced programme on local Irish music. I hope the independent film industry, which is just starting to mushroom, will be looked at over the next number of years. What the Australian film industry, particularly the television film industry, over the last number of years has done for Australia in terms of creating jobs and promoting tourism generally, has been unbelievable.

We buy 40 per cent of our shows from Australia, while as we all know, America [323] controls over 80 per cent of the film industry. From that point of view, I would be more than sympathetic to the section relating to the independent film industry. It is a tremendous area for job creation. RTE now give £3 million a year to independent film producers and companies for 3 per cent of their market. It is not a small amount, 3 per cent of 37 per cent of their broadcasting in relation to the home produced product. There is a tremendous opportunity for growth and job creation in this area but the greatest opportunity is for tourism.

The beauty of the scenery and the fantastic opportunities that exist here should be highlighted in home produced films and shows. This must be one of our priorities when we come to future planning for tourism. “Hawaii Five-O” was started purely to promote that part of the world. Within three years of the TV series “Dallas” being shown on television, tourism in Dallas doubled, and within the three year period of “Hawaii Five-O” being shown, tourism there increased eight-fold times.

The world of the film industry, which meets in Cannes and Los Angeles every year at different times, is a very small one. A couple of hundred people control what is shown on television. That is one area where so much growth can be generated that we will have to keep a constant eye on it.

A big problem for many new radio stations is the requirement to have a 20 per cent current affairs and news content. The length of time is not the problem. It is the enormous costs involved supplying news and current affairs programmes, and it is from that point of view that Century have a problem. In the long term, every other radio station will have a problem. At some time in the future, under the IRTC, we should look at the possibility of starting alternative news and current affairs medium which would be paid for by everyone who would be obliged to take it including RTE. The stations would pay their fair share based on the TAM ratings. The supply of an [324] alternative new system for news and current affairs will be a major problem.

We all know that alternatives are very healthy and from that point of view the suggestion might be considered at some future stage in future legislation. I have visited a fair number of the local radio stations around Ireland and they all have a very high standard. The buildings they are in are a credit to most of them. They regard it as a very serious business. Many of these people have expertise in the world of commerce and they are looking at it purely from a business point of view. If they have shortcomings it is that they lack expertise in the market they are supplying in relation to programming but that will work itself out over a number of months rather than of years.

I met many of the directors of these companies and told them that the road they were on would not be successful. Months later they said I was right and that they should have gone for the adult market. What is the point of supplying pop music to young people who are in school? It baffles me at times to see what these so called yuppies are doing. I cannot understand it. They will know it but they will have paid a high price by that time.

When you get a licence to start promoting it is very easy. It is something new, beautiful, something exciting is happening. But when something fails and one has to go out and re-market it, it requires three times the effort, it is three times more costly and it is a hell of a difficult job.

I listened to Senator Manning's tremendous contribution, but the one thing I do not agree with him on is the Government's record from 1987 in relation to jobs. It has to be commended in my book. We have had bad figures for the last month — he picked that out in isolation. There are more people employed now than in any time in the last ten years. That should be put on the record of the House. This Government have a tremendous record in relation to attempting to create jobs. In 1987 I asked the then Minister for Finance, Deputy [325] John Bruton, why was it that at that time Fine Gael and the Labour Party had a disastrous record in regard to the construction industry. The great efforts of the Fianna Fáil Party since they took over Government in 1987, and in coalition since 1989, and the commitment that is being made by them to job creation is tremendous. Most reasonable people acknowledge and respect that. That has been one of the strong planks of Fianna Fáil down through the years.

There is one section of the Bill which disturbs me and I would like clarification on it. That is in relation to “promos” on RTE. Years ago one went to the cinemas and saw a trailer on the screen of what was coming next week. That was the big way to promote future attractions. I want it clarified that trailers, and the promotion of programmes, will not be regarded as advertising. If one cannot advertise what is coming up it is very unfair, because one must look at competitors. RTE's competitors are UTV. Two out of every three homes in Ireland now receive UTV. Therefore, they are our immediate competitors. Then we have BBC 1 and BBC 2. We have Sky and Super for people who are fortunate enough to get it. We must look at the opposition, because if the £12 million which we are told RTE will lose will benefit people outside the country then it is not going to be a success. So, we must be given an even opportunity. Everyone knows that current events and special programmes such as the World Cup team homecoming must be “promoted” a half on hour before the event. RTE were advising during every break that they were suspending programmes for the evening because of the great event. That is a reasonable request.

On the other hand, advertising the RTE Guide on television is an advertisement in my book. Advertising the RTE Guide, advertising concerts or advertising the sales of records or videos is legitimate advertising. “Promo” on television in relation to what is coming up and being run by RTE is definitely not advertising. I want that clarified, but it has not been clarified so far to my satisfaction.

[326] RTE have provided a great public broadcasting service over the last 64 years. We all can remember the advent of the first radio. I can remember our first radio in 1956. The first news on the morning we got the radio was of Ronnie Delaney winning a gold medal for Ireland. That was the first good news I heard coming over the airwaves in broadcasting. The Pope's visit was magnificently shown on our screens and it was acclaimed by stations all over the world. We had the World Cup and RTE were able to capture the imagination and relay it throughout Ireland practically unannounced, because it happended hourly and momentum increased hourly. Tremendous coverage is given by RTE to the Gaelic Athletic Association, and they must be complimented on that. They have increased the popularity of the game no end and they have brought it into homes every Sunday and Sunday night from every corner of the country.

It is fair to say that RTE have risen to the occasion, can rise to the occasion and are a terrific service in general. But monopolies of any kind are an unhealthy thing and should be dealt with by us in the Legislature. The politicians and the parliamentarians run this country; no one else runs this country. Every reasonable decent citizen of this island would agree that it is their democratic right to elect people like us to make decisions in their interest.

It is fair to say that a lot of opinions were foisted on people in the last two or three months when this legislation was being introduced. At the end of a very fair and good television show one evening, a very favourite broadcaster of mine came on the screen and said: “was that not a tremendous game, but remember it was public service broadcasting that brought it to you”. That was why he got the job in the first place — in order to be a good public service broadcaster. These unreasonable remarks are probably the cause of some of the frustration generated from time to time among us politicians in our views and attitudes to RTE.

There is no doubt that RTE have failed in public relations between both Houses [327] of the Oireachtas and their establishment. Last week we had a meeting with various trades unions in RTE. I must say that it was the first such meeting I have had in my eight years as a Member of this House. It was a refreshing experience, I hope we continue it on an ongoing basis and make a lot of progress. But, trying to generate heat and throwing in the old carrot that jobs must go first, and putting pressure on the politicians is a very unfair way of doing it and a very unhealthy way from their point of view. There is the old saying “There is never a wrong time to do the right thing”. I do not think any politician ever came into Leinster House in my time but was always trying to do the right thing for the people at the right time. I appeal to RTE, and to other broadcasting stations such as Century Radio and so on, to improve their PR with the Members of the Oireachtas, because legislation comes from here and nowhere else. They would need to bear that in mind in the future.

I wish to refer to the white elephant that exists in RTE at the moment called Atlantic 252. In the first place this idea sounded reasonable, but it has not been a success. It has been so badly received by the enormous market available, in the UK in particular, that I think they should have a look at the situation. From the point of view of supplying a market which is starved — in the UK, in particular — they could possibly have the biggest success of 1991 if they go about it in a way that market research has now shown is available. There is a massive market in the UK among the adult listening audience for music of all types. In England the authorities there have come to the conclusion that they are going to consider supplying this market. We could get in ahead of them. Since this channel goes over most of Europe, such a service would be a tremendous ambassador for the country as well as generating a lot of revenue for Atlantic 252. I would appeal to them to have another look at the situation, because I doubt if .25 per cent of listeners in Ireland are listening to it. That is how removed they are from the [328] possible listening public. That is an area where great progress can be made. It is also an area they can capture in advance of anyone else, because once a channel is established and people are happy with what they are hearing they will stick with it.

There are many more points I want to make which I hope to take up on Committee Stage, but I know there is a large number of speakers wishing to come in on the various Stages of the Bill.

I was glad to see that the Minister had increased from four and a half minutes to five minutes the advertising time on RTE. We all know the amount of advertising shown on other TV channels. There is nothing as frustrating or as annoying, just when you are coming to a highlight in a programme, than to have the ads come up once more. Too many ads can kill the popularity of a channel; not enough ads can leave a channel starved for funds. Five minutes is a reasonable amount of time. RTE would be happier with six minutes, and why not? But the one thing to bear in mind, that RTE and all other stations should bear in mind, is that legislation can be updated from time to time. I would like to think that, if this legislation is not successful, if there are parts of it that have to be amended, the Minister will be coming back after two years to amend the legislation in an effort to improve it and to create a fair distribution of the wealth within the advertising market.

The paper media are very happy that this legislation is going through. Naturally, the people who are being hit by it are not happy. If this £12 million is going out of the country, if UTV or Sky or Super start capturing a part of the market, I think that we as legislators have to come back in here and look at the situation again.

The market share should be kept in this country if at all possible. I know that the market share is going to grow and grow as these local radio stations settle down and that, if a station in a certain part of the country is not a financial proposition, it will join up with a sister station, as has happened already. That is going [329] to be the trend. Eventually, we will see possibly ten stations around the country along with two or three national channels.

However, it will come down to the programming. At the end of the day whoever has the programming will capture the listeners and whoever has not the programming will be doomed. That is a good and healthy thing because at the end of the day it is the people who will decide who will have the success and who will have the failures. I will contribute further on the Committee Stage, so I will conclude now.

Mr. B. Ryan: I was a bit amused by a couple of Senator Cassidy's comments. If the legislation is not successful——

Mr. Cassidy: Part of it, I said.

Mr. B. Ryan: In terms of what Fianna Fáil are trying to do, successful means closing down RTE. Presumably, if this does not succeed in closing down RTE, they will bring in legislation to do that next time.

Mr. Cassidy: That is not true, Senator.

Mr. B. Ryan: The only people in this country who do not believe that the objective of this legislation is to crucify RTE are those people in Fianna Fáil who have kept their eyes closed and their ears firmly shut. I am not aware of anybody in the country, with the exception of Independent Newspapers since they have a vested interest in trying to get involved in broadcasting themselves, who can be relied upon to say anything and have an ideological position on this as hardline as any members of the present Government. One has to assume that “successful” means taming RTE's news and current affairs so they do not keep telling us the truth about Fianna Fáil. That is the objective of this legislation.

There was an interesting, slightly Stalinist tone, to Senator Cassidy's suggestion that we should have an alternative centre of news and current affairs which everybody would have to cover. Pravda [330] and Tass are moving away from the idea of compulsory broadcasting of a compulsorily combined form of compulsory news. Senator Cassidy wants us, apparently, to have everybody, including RTE, broadcast something like that.

I suppose Senator Cassidy was being helpful because in his little and genuine attempt at being constructive, he suggested that RTE's PR was a little sloppy. It is one of the great faults of Fianna Fáil that they confuse PR with rational argument and have done so for many years. They believe that the image is the message and that, if it is packaged properly, dressed up properly and sent out properly, then you do not have to bother about the content. Their great problem is that they thought they had this Bill going through the Houses on the grounds that it was going to rescue independent broadcasting from this malevolent State enterprise.

Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning should admit this.

Mr. B. Ryan: I am not arguing with Senator Manning. Senator Manning did not introduce this legislation, he is not responsible for it and I share many of his views on it. It is as well, since nobody else has done it, to have a look at the Minister's speech because it contains such a succession of astonishingly barefaced distortions of the truth that they defy description. He starts off on the first page of his script — and indeed one has to read the script because he read it with such haste and pace and such obvious contempt for this House that one would have had to have it in front of one to be able to understand what he was saying — by saying that the previous Fianna Fáil Government “unfettered by the ideological preoccupations of the previous Administration”. Now I am no great admirer of the previous Administration — the Garret FitzGerald Coalition — but for this Government to give lectures about ideological fetters having ideologically introduced ideologically based broadcasting legislation based on the ideological assumption that RTE was not [331] meeting the needs of the market as ideologically defined by the ideologues who dictate Fianna Fáil's economic policy, is a bit cheap.

The legislation was supposed to be introduced because there were market needs that this monopolistic State enterprise, RTE, was unwilling or incapable of meeting. RTE has recognised, long before Fianna Fáil discovered local broadcasting, that there was a demand for local broadcasting. There was a suggestion that because it was a State organisation, there was some sort of ideological resistance to local broadcasting, which is what we all thought we were going to get with new broadcasting legislation. There was an interesting and proper discussion about how local broadcasting should be constructed, whether it should be independent of RTE or should be related to RTE, the degree of community control, the degree of involvement of commercial interest and so on. What we got instead was an ideologically based attempt to set up a national broadcasting station based on the ideological assumption that our friends could be relied upon. Anybody in the commercial sector could be relied upon not to be as harsh as RTE in matters of news and current affairs. All of this was based on the ideological assumption that RTE was inefficient, sloppy, wasteful and that a good, trusting, commerically oriented national radio station and a soon-to-be commercial, trusting, national television service, would show up RTE.

This was not based on a rational analysis. This was based on ideology, on the assumption that because it was State owned it was therefore inefficient, rigid, inflexible and unresponsive. What happened instead was that the competition flopped and flopped gloriously. It is only ideological blindness that recognises that the reason it flopped was because RTE did a helluva lot better job than Century Radio have been doing and because many local broadcasters underestimated the intelligence of their audiences and, therefore, did not get the audience.

It is no surprise that most of the local [332] radio stations that are doing very well are the ones that have not underestimated the intelligence of their audiences and deal with news, current affairs and other issues. They have not tried to reproduce United States wall-to-wall pop music, which is a worth-while niche for the broadcasting market; it is not the only or necessarily the most important or predominant niche in the broadcasting market. That is why it has been successful.

To do that one has to spend money, and many of the cheapskates that got into this business either underestimated or deliberately ignored the costs of producing the sort of programmes that people want. So we have ideology involved again, and it is brass neck of the Minister to suggest that ideology was other people's problems and that he was somehow above all this. Let me say that ideology is a lot better basis for decision-making than the malicious vindictiveness of the kind that has been shown towards RTE by the Government.

In the second page of his speech the Minister told us: it was imperative to provide the general public with alternative sources of Irish generated broadcast news and current affairs. “Alternative sources” is a great phrase; it sounds great — “independent”, “alternative”, “freedom”. They are all Margaret Thatcher words. They are great words altogether. They sound very positive and open. What he actually meant was somebody who could be relied upon not to be as harsh on Fianna Fáil as RTE have been. He made no secret about that. To anybody in this House who had a conversation with the present Minister over the past two years it was quite clear that he was intent on sorting out news and current affairs in RTE. He even told that to me — and I am hardly his closest confidant. If he told me, I can imagine what he said to some of the people over there about RTE.

The Minister went on then in his script to play around with statistics. He talked about the Joint National Listenership Research/Market Research Bureau of Ireland figures, which “indicate that on [333] an average week day over one million — or 40 per cent — of all listeners are tuning into one or more of their independent stations”. That is a lovely figure because it means that 40 per cent of the population at some stage or other during the week listen to an independent station. It does not suggest that 40 per cent of the national broadcasting audience is listening to those stations, because the truth is that 71 per cent of the population listen overwhelmingly to either RTE Radio 1 or 2FM.

This is the great monopoly that is not responding to popular needs. If RTE have to compete with a whole range of television channels then the facts are that in multi-channel land in Dublin they have consistently held close to 50 per cent of the audience at all times, and that percentage is increasing. In my misfortunate benighted city, which has the misfortune to have 26 television channels, the position is somewhat the same. About 50 per cent of the population watch RTE; the other 50 per cent are divided between about 45 per cent who watch the other four British-based top quality channels and the other 5 per cent watch Sky Movies, which they pay for; and the remaining perhaps 19 channels share the other 1 per cent. That is competition. There are 26 channels and RTE have faced that. To distort figures in the style that the Minister has done is to show the bankruptcy of his argument, that he is playing around with numbers to justify a philosophical policy position which is actually without a rational base.

The Minister told us: “Seven of the local stations surveyed had a higher audience figure than 2 FM”. Is that not great? A local radio station, which is trying to serve the whole spread of the population from children up to old people, gets a bigger share of the audience than a national radio station which is designed and specifically intended to cater for a particular sector of age groups. Are they not great? It is an achievement. I am very happy that there are local radio stations. In a few of them, like the radio station in Clare, there are people I knew very well from their work in RTE in Cork who [334] have had a hand in it; and it is to their credit that it has been successful. But let us not play with figures and distort figures. 2FM is a radio station nationally based to cater for a specific audience. It does that very well. It does it so well that the Minister wanted to close it down too, which apparently is the response of the present Minister to anything successful that RTE does — to try to stop it. It does it very well, not because of anything to do with subsidising advertising, but because it actually is good at doing that job — and I think Senator Cassidy might agree with that. The Minister should not play with figures, but then he has to because he has no arguments to sustain his position.

The Minister then went on to talk about RTE's licence fee, a “State subvention”. Is it not a State subvention; it is a licence fee which people pay. But, of course, it is a classic example of this Minister's determination to distort everything to sustain an unsustainable argument that he confuses a licence fee with a State grant. It is a licence fee that people pay. It is a good idea and it works very well. Many other countries do it too. He says that it enables it “to meet certain public service obligations”. This is one of the great words that is thrown around, “public service”. Vincent Browne, when he writes an editorial in The Sunday Tribune, defines “public service” as the orchestra, the Irish language, and a few more things, but the new thrusting, gloriously independent private entrepreneurs of private broadcasting have decided that news and current affairs are a public service.

Let me remind the House that in RTE news and current affairs are among the programmes that get the largest viewing and listening audiences. I do not understand how anybody can get away with suggesting that public service broadcasting of the kind which can command audiences of three-quarters of a million or a million, as they do in this country, is public service. The problem is that the great private entrepreneurs do not want that market. They would like to be left out of it completely. They would like to [335] hand it over to RTE. Their problem is that they pretended to be something that they did not want to be. The local stations accepted that news and current affairs were the things that people wanted to hear about locally on local news services, the same way as they buy local newspapers to read about local news. The same people like local news on local radio stations.

The national people, whether they be TV3 or Century Radio or some of the other whingers on the margins of local broadcasting, wanted to put up a cheapskate pop radio station ignoring three-quarters of the market. It is not the idea of a music service that I object to; it is the idea that people would be allowed to pick a particular segment of the market which happens to be the one which requires the least investment in labour and in staff and say “That is our radio service and that is all we are doing”. So they decided that they would call news and current affairs “public service”. News and current affairs are not public service. Newspapers are not public service news organisations; they are commercial bodies. It is possible, if one wants to and is prepared to, to run news and current affairs commercially. It is doubtful if it is possible to run them in a broadcasting system because of the capital investment involved, particularly if one has a whole lot of it spread around the country. There is a limit to the amount of news and current affairs that it is possible to viably run.

All of a sudden news and current affairs became a big millstone around the neck of these otherwise brave, thrusting and very courageous independent broadcasters. Nobody bothered to get an independent assessment of the degree to which the licence fee contributes to RTE's news and current affairs coverage or the degree to which advertising pays for it. They just decided that was the case because, to quote the Minister, “it suited their ideological position”.

It would have been very useful to find out the way RTE's costs are broken down. What does the licence pay for?

[336] What does advertising pay for? What programmes are subsidised? I suspect that some of the high quality, high capital intensive programmes, particularly drama and so on, consume a good part of the licence fee. We do not know. The one thing they decided in the independent sector, as they call themselves — although they will be increasingly the dependent sector with the hand out for any money the Government will give them, that they will take from RTE, which is an extraordinary position for the so called independent sector to be in — was that they wanted all this money and decided to call news and current affairs “public service”.

News and current affairs is what broadcasting should be about the same as entertainment and music. If you cannot do the job you should get out of the market and let somebody else who is prepared to do it, do it. Instead they whinge, look for money, look for subsidies and do all the things they accuse RTE of doing.

The Minister, having accepted this mysterious new definition of “public service”, spoke about RTE and the State subvention — this new phrase for the licence fee — which enables RTE to sell advertising time. He said:

It enables RTE to sell its advertising time at in effect “below cost” rates and thereby artificially dominate the market.

He does, at least, do us the honour of putting below cost in inverted commas which means that perhaps he does not even mean it himself. He puts in the phrase “thereby artificially dominate the market”, this is quite intriguing. If nobody is listening to your programmes it does not matter what price you charge for advertising, nobody will buy it. The Minister has created this logical non-sequitur where he is suggesting that because RTE are selling advertising cheap they are, therefore, dominating the market. The market for what?

Is he suggesting that 2FM which has a far bigger share of the audience than Century, are dominating the market because it is selling advertising cheap?

[337] First, nobody has ever proved this and second, RTE deny it. They insist that the costing of 2FM is based on proper accountancy measures, on a proper capital charge for the contribution 2FM makes to the total capital costs, the total running costs, etc, and it still makes a profit. 2FM and RTE keep saying that over and over again and the Minister stands up and says, no, it is not true, and we are all supposed to believe him. I do not believe it and I will not believe it until somebody does the rational, sensible thing and finds out the position. Nobody, has found out. Instead, we have this assault on RTE, because of an assumed position which nobody can prove.

If this was said by a backbench Member we would not mind but this is Government policy; this is the policy of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. It is based on non-sequiturs, it is based on assumptions, it based on statements that are meant to be facts but for which there is no independent evidence. It shows just how bankrupt the whole idea is.

There is so much more in the Minister's speech that could be looked at. I love the coy phrase “I expect that these measures” — this has to do with limiting RTE's advertising intake — “will lead to the diversion of around £12 million in advertising revenue”. He cannot even say where. This is the Minister who was able to tell us precisely how RTE were subsidising advertising without bothering to show how he could prove it. This is the Minister who knew what RTE were doing but he cannot even speculate about the diversion of £12 million. We know why, and he knows exactly where it is going. Most of it is going out of the country to UTV, HTV and, to a lesser extent, Channel 4. Talk about ideology when you are prepared to sacrifice the total broadcasting advertising revenue of a State organisation and send it out of the country so that you can bring the station to heel.

The Minister then goes on to produce his well known, classical, argument about what RTE did in 1988 and how they made a profit. He listed the considerable costs [338] incurred by RTE as increased broadcasting hours — does he think they should not have increased broadcasting hours? — higher programming standards — does he disapprove of that? — staging the Eurovision Song Contest, extensive coverage of the European Championships in West Germany and extensive coverage of the Olympic Games in Seoul. Has it escaped the Minister's notice that, when RTE stage events that are popular they sell more advertising? He said: “No matter how much extra you stage you cannot sell any more advertising”. Perhaps in 1988 — though he does not tell us — RTE generated a surplus because they staged programmes that drew audiences that generated extra advertising revenue. The Minister will not let that happen now. He said they had a surplus of £5.3 million in 1988 and that that proved his point. It proves precisely the opposite — that RTE can generate revenue by doing a good job and he will stop them. The bankruptcy of his argument is underlined.

I will come back later to what the Minister said about Teilifís na Gaeltachta because I am intrigued by what he said. In June 1989 the Taoiseach in an interview with Cathal Mac Coille on RTE — presumably RTE are being blamed for this now rather than the Taoiseach — announced that the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeltachta was now a top priority of the Government. Now the Minister says the decision still has to be taken. What do you do and how do you respond to a Government that talk like that about their broadcasting policy? You can only respond with a considerable degree of contempt for the abandonment of rational argument in the interests of doing a job on an organisation that Fianna Fáil have long wanted to do.

It is important to list RTE's achievements. In the areas of drama, music, current affairs, news and sport there have been extraordinary achievements in the face of considerable competition all through my adult life. I love this new Government version of the cordon sanitaire around Ireland where all the other television channels do not exist, all the [339] other radio stations do not exist and RTE have a monopoly. RTE had no guarantee in three-quarters of the country. They had to go out and win it.

When RTE were established, even in Dublin, they had to win their television viewing audience from the channels people had got accustomed to. All along the east coast, through the northern part of the midlands and the north-west there was an established television viewing audience before RTE were set up, and RTE had to win that audience. They did that. RTE's achievements have been considerable and in the process, they have managed to entertain us which, as Senator Cassidy pointed out, is an important function. Everything they do ought to be entertaining because it is possible to have serious discussions about serious issues in two ways — either they bore us or they are reasonably entertaining. There are two different ways of doing things. RTE have stimulated us, they have informed us on many issues, including Fianna Fáil, they have taught us to question what goes on in our society and they have educated us. They have done that with varying degrees of success, but they have done it. It is perfectly possible to list RTE's failings but I will not do so. The harm the Government are doing to RTE is so great that I will keep my criticism of RTE to myself.

It is worth while, in a serious discussion to wonder about why people are so insistent on getting this Bill through. It is manifestly unpopular, with the exception of the vested interest of the Tony O'Reilly newspapers, which have professed themselves to be in favour of it, but if you read all the things they are in favour of, I am not sure Fianna Fáil would be too enthusiastic about keeping that company on many issues. It is unpopular with the public; quite clearly, it is unpopular with the broadcasters; it is unpopular with the trade unions and may well yet scupper the Programme for National Recovery, which will be quite a considerable achievement by the Minister. It is unpopular with the people in the advertising profession and in the marketing [340] profession. Senator Manning read the reservations of those two bodies on to the record and it is unpopular for the simple fact that both of those bodies recognise the fact that most of the lost revenue will not stay in the State and it will be lost to those two professions. That, of course, does not matter. The objective of the Bill is not to divert money to other broadcasters, the objective of the Bill is to shaft RTE. Let that be made perfectly clear from the beginning.

In order to understand why the Government are prepared to risk their own popularity, prepared to risk the Programme for National Recovery, prepared to ignore the advice of many qualified professionals, it is necessary to look a little more closely at Fianna Fáil and, indeed, to look at the Progressive Democrats who, as far as their Dáil manifestation is concerned, are no more than a rump of Fianna Fáil, as is demonstrated in this Bill. In fact, they are at one with Fianna Fáil, and one of the long-standing objectives of Fianna Fáil, which is to sort out RTE.

In the words of Professor Joe Lee, in his history of Ireland this century, a lot of this has to do with being an exercise in begrudgery of success. You have to go back further and look at the history of Fianna Fáil both in their environmental and cultural vandalism over the past 60 years. Fianna Fáil took to themselves the Irish language and have succeeded in killing that because of the extraordinary way they have of doing things and their apparently profound inability to understand sensitive issues such as culture and deal with them properly. They presided over the destruction of Georgian Dublin while their friends and its buddies got rich, including perhaps some people close to this Government. They have watched their own newspaper, the Irish Press decline and fall because of their inability to respond to the changes in Irish society. They have managed to do all that. At the same time they have presided over environmental vandalism, as evidenced by the carry-on of their councillors in Dublin County Council, by the pollution [341] of large parts of our country by the planning blight that has destroyed much of our country. Fianna Fáil's capacity for vandalism knows no limits and it is in that context that a Bill like this has to be seen.

At their core, there is in Fianna Fáil a suspicion of things like imagination, creativity, accountability and, indeed, a considerably increasing contempt for the truth which they conceal by their obsession with secrecy, privacy and with all discussions about serious issues taking place within the party rooms rather than in public where the people can make their own assessment of them. It is manifest in this House on a frequent basis by the outbursts from the other side, in hostility to thought, hostility to intellectuals, in hostility to academics which can cause some of the Members over there to be far more eloquent than any other issue in this House, the profound hostility to what they call the intellectuals on the Independent benches.

One of the characteristics of Fianna Fáil over the past 20 years is that they have lost their way. They are in an extraordinary position where they are attached with increasing rhetorical flourishes to nationalism but are actually intellectually, morally and spiritually colonised. They are incapable of independent thought but get all their ideas from elsewhere and have lost all sense. The whole idea of a broadcasting service, which was a mixture of a licence fee and advertising, was an original idea but Fianna Fáil gave up original thinking about 25 years ago and now all they can do is copy other people. That is a definition of colonisation as well as I know it.

Mr. Cassidy: That is not true.

Mr. B. Ryan: The Minister has made no secret of his hostility to RTE. He even told me about it and I am not one of his closest confidants. The Bill, in the context of Fianna Fáil's hostility to RTE, is a classic example of Fianna Fáil market economics because Fianna Fáil market economics is simple. It says that market economics is good, when it is good for you, i.e. Fianna Fáil and good for your [342] buddies and, therefore, it is a very good idea. They have the same commitment to State enterprise, that it is a good idea when it is good for you and good for your buddies. The underlying ideological issue is that it does not really matter, if either of them penalise our buddies we deal with them. Therefore, when land speculation was making their buddies rich, they would not deal with it. They are still destroying large sections of our country with the irresponsible carry-on of their section 4 motions. They have nods and winks around Dublin County Council, again based on the fact that where market economics works to the advantage of their——

Professor Conroy: On a point of order, we should not have this constant denigration of the councillors. I am a member of Dublin County Council and the councillors there are a very good and decent body of men and women. To make one reference to them is bad enough but to be constantly denigrating them, when basically they have no opportunity to speak for themselves, is totally inappropriate.

Mr. B. Ryan: I will not be talking about Fianna Fáil county councillors again, I am finished that part of my speech anyway.

Mr. Cassidy: The Senator comes from a Fianna Fáil family.

Mr. B. Ryan: I am not sure whether the fact that Senator Cassidy says I come from a Fianna Fáil family is something I should apologise for or be proud of. Senator Cassidy's tone was ambiguous, to say the least.

Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce (Mr. Smith): He who humbles himself shall be exalted.

Mr. B. Ryan: I am trying to talk about the Fianna Fáil version of market economics, which means that when it makes your buddies rich, it is a good idea but if your buddies get caught, you bail them [343] out. That is really what it is about. If State enterprise is necessary to get started and if Fianna Fáil's buddies do well out of that, that is fine too. When their buddies actually discover they have no risks and there is a return guarantee, then they want to share the action so Fianna Fáil start talking about privatisation. They sell off not one of the State companies that are not working well but they sell the one insurance company that is remarkably profitable and then they try to crucify RTE so that their buddies can get rich somewhere else. It is the consistent philosophy all the time: “look after your buddies, your friends and your loyalties”.

Professor Conroy: It is the consistent rhetoric which does this country so much harm, these constant allusions and statements which have no basis in fact.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey): Senator Ryan, without interruption.

Mr. B. Ryan: Senator Ryan has observed Fianna Fáil for nine years here and is yet to be awakened out of his position by any sort of sensible or original thinking by Fianna Fáil. I sat here for five years and not a single Private Members' Bill was introduced in those five years by the then combined Opposition parties sitting in front of me. That is what I call the lack of original thinking. That is what is wrong with Fianna Fáil, their inability to think for themselves.

Mr. Cassidy: Their performance in Government does not relate to what the Senator is saying.

Mr. B. Ryan: The only way I know of analysing Government policy is on the basis of what Government say the policy is.


Mr. Cassidy: Bank interest charges.

Mr. B. Ryan: The Senator's buddies are happy. Interest rates are up and [344] inflation is down, which makes everybody with money very happy. The Senator is quite right, it leaves 250,000 people unemployed but they do not count. When the Government decided to deal with RTE, it was the culmination of a period of considerable difficulty for Fianna Fáil. I do not think you can separate the present decisions, the extraordinary railroading through of massively unpopular legislation, which cannot do the Government any good anywhere. It has to be seen in terms of what has happened to Fianna Fáil. The fact is that since 1973 there has been only one majority Fianna Fáil Government. By the time this Government leave office there will have been a 20-year period without one majority Fianna Fáil Government. In that period, RTE have had a period of considerable development and influence.

It is worth while examining the interrelationship between the development of RTE and the decline of Fianna Fáil because it has been one of Fianna Fáil's great complaints that RTE give them a hard time. They choose, therefore, to believe that that hard time they get from RTE is the cause of their decline whereas, in fact, the reason they get a hard time from RTE is because they are actually very bad and deserve it. They blame RTE but the reason for the decline is because they are increasingly irrelevant and increasingly out of touch with the way the country is developing. RTE reflect the mood of the country and, therefore, they are blamed. That is a classic example of shooting the messenger if one does not like the message.


Mr. Smith: I am reluctant to interfere but there was an accusation against the Minister for Communications about manipulation of statistics. In the context of the Senator's present argument, perhaps he might deal with the percentage of the poll in all of those times as distinct from decline.

Mr. B. Ryan: The Minister is one of [345] the more clever Ministers in the Government. The truth is that Fianna Fáil's percentage of the vote is stuck at 43 per cent and will not rise.


Mr. B. Ryan: Fianna Fáil have not had a majority Government since 1973.

Acting Chairman: Senator Ryan is inviting argument now. Will the Senator please confine himself to the debate.

Mr. B. Ryan: It was the Minister who interrupted me and he is not even the Minister responsible for the Bill. It is a commentary on the fact that there has to be another Minister here because the Minister who is responsible is not here and has spent most of the period of this debate out of the House.


Mr. B. Ryan: The problem for Fianna Fáil, of course, is that they no longer know where they are going and they are actually losing out on arguments about the future of this country. They are holding on to a vote which is demonstrably ageing as any analysis of election returns will show.


Mr. B. Ryan: It is an ageing vote. It is a vote which is increasingly separate from the rest of the country. One of the reasons they lose is because the rest of the country is so hostile to Fianna Fáil at this stage, because the rest of the country can see what a disaster of a party they have become.

The issue is that this difficulty for Fianna Fáil with their own rhetoric, lack of ideology, lack of a philosophy and the contradiction between the values, lifestyle and attitudes of their members and those which they claim to stand for, have been well exposed by the coincidental contemporaneous development of RTE. In that development they have — I want to repeat this once more — chosen to [346] shoot the messenger because they do not like the message. Being a party that used to have a considerable political subtleness — they are losing their touch on that issue and on others — they decided, of course, they would not attack RTE. They decided to introduce competition, a good thing, a very positive and healthy thing.

Competition is one of these fine things that is very good for certain enemies and very bad for certain friends which is why no Irish Government have ever bothered to make the Irish banks compete, because that is where their friends are. They can try to induce RTE into competition because they do not like them. We have the least competitive banking system in the country and we are trying to get the most competitive broadcasting system in the country. The priorities are confused and the values are confused. It has all got to do with ideology. Former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, in 1978 talked about competition. The Minister for Communications, who has earned the nickname “Rambo”, decided he would sort out RTE once and for all.

Acting Chairman: I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.

Mr. B. Ryan: I withdraw that remark. What do we get? We get the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 which, we were told, would give us wonderful choice, wonderful stimulation and many wonderful things. Most of what was supposed to happen fell flat on its face. Century Radio are on the point of collapse, and TV3, which was supposed to be on the air six months ago, have not materialised yet. What is going on? This country is, perhaps, too small to support this multiplicity of broadcasting. This country is too limited to support it. We have three million people. RTE have a licence fee revenue of crudely £50 million. We have a population of three million, which is where both revenue from advertising and licence fees will come. The United Kingdom have a population of about 60 million and, to put it crudely, the revenue of the BBC is about £1 billion. I assume the revenue of ITV is about [347] £1 billion. They can run four television channels on that revenue. We are proposing to run three on somewhere like £120 million.

It was a daft idea from the beginning to run a separate television service. It is still a daft idea. We will get out of this, because of the determination of the Government to bring RTE to heel, three bad television channels rather than two very good ones that we have at present. RTE will be hamstrung by a lack of revenue and the other channel will not be able to generate enough revenue to run a decent service. That is what will happen. That is done, not because the country is able to do so or because the country needs it, but because the Government wanted from the beginning to bring RTE to heel. They do not care what happens to the quality of broadcasting, they do not care what happens to a whole range of good quality programmes. As long as RTE's news and current affairs content can be reduced, diluted or made less significant, they will be quite happy because they are determined they will not ever be subject again, if they can avoid it, to the sort of scrutiny that cost them the last election.

I have heard members of Fianna Fáil blame RTE for telling the people about the health cutbacks, that the people had not any real concern about these things until RTE started talking about them. By God, they say, if that happened once, it will never happen again. The problem has been for the last two years that it did not work. Instead of losing to all these new competitors, RTE turned out to be successful. Aer Lingus had the same problem. Instead of losing to Ryanair who have been successful, they were shafted. RTE were supposed to lose too. They did not so the Government shafted RTE.

This will go on and on. Competition is great as long as one's side is winning. Once competition does not work one picks on the crowd one does not like and deal with them. In Aer Lingus' case it was ideology; in this case it goes even deeper than ideology.

[348] We are left with the ludicrous situation where, in order to fulfil a 20-year long ambition of sorting out RTE the Government, first of all, tried to use the argument of market competition and hoped that would achieve their objective of getting RTE to stop being fair about Fianna Fáil. When that failed, they decided they would have to do something else. One solution would, of course, have been to give some sort of underlying funding to help out the initial stages of the broadcasting system. Another would have been to look at RTE and insist that, in areas like 2FM, they should operate on a free standing basis. That is not unreasonable. Another solution would be to look at the relative contribution of licence fees to various areas of RTE's activity. They did not do any of that. They just picked a figure out of the air and decided they would take a quarter of RTE's licence fee revenue away from them, just like that. It was not for any reasons that anybody could gain, not because it was a good figure, not because there was any basis for it, it was just big enough to get away with it. They took the maximum figure they could extract out of RTE without too much of a howl. RTE howled but the Government are happy that nobody else will howl. I hope the trade unions prove them wrong. They did that, ostensibly, to rescue the private sector but, in fact, because this was the best opportunity they had in 20 years to deal with RTE.

This is where I come back to the lack of principles in Fianna Fáil today. They are prepared to do that even if the decision sends £12 to £15 million of television advertising revenue out of the State. It is the most extraordinary exercise in levelling a playing pitch that I have ever heard, that one would send half the players off to play on another pitch altogether and leave one's own team short of members, not to push the analogy too far.

Mr. Cassidy: Senior teams are made from good minor teams.

Mr. B. Ryan: I am not sure what the [349] connection between what I said and Senator Cassidy's interest in under age football is.

Mr. Cassidy: Minor teams can be local radio and senior teams can be national radio.

Acting Chairman: Senator Ryan, without interruption.

Professor Conroy: One does not need a great imagination to know that.

Mr. Cassidy: The Senator opposite thinks we have no imagination.

Mr. S. Haughey: And that they are very intellectual over there.

Mr. B. Ryan: Senator Haughey is off again.

Mr. Norris: The Senator has a degree from a very good university.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.