Seanad Éireann - Volume 140 - 20 April, 1994
Broadcasting Control Committee: Motion.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I move:
That for the term of the present contract for televising of the proceedings of Seanad Éireann, Seanad Éireann resolves that the proceedings of Seanad Éireann be recorded on sound and televised in-House each day from the commencement to the adjournment of the proceedings and that—
(a) three Members of Seanad Éireann be appointed to the Broadcasting Control Committee established by Dáil Éireann on 8 July 1993;
(b) Seanad Éireann authorise, on payment of such fees as may be determined by the Broadcasting Control Committee from time to time, the broadcasting on sound and vision by national, local and foreign broadcasters of the proceedings of the Seanad subject to the following conditions:
(i) that recordings or extracts of the proceedings should not be used in programmes of light entertainment, political satire, party political broadcasts or in any form of advertising or publicity, other than in the form of news and current affairs programme trailers;
(ii) that broadcasters be permitted on request to carry live coverage of any item of business subject to the following provisos:
(I) that such item be broadcast in its entirety and not be interrupted by commentary, analysis or commercial breaks;
(II) that such item may not be rebroadcast in whole or in part  except as permitted in and subject to the terms of this Order;
(iii) that broadcasters ensure political balance in the material they use;
(iv) that the Rules of Coverage be determined by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges;
(c) that the necessary monitoring, administrative and financial arrangements for televising and for broadcasts, televised broadcasting and sound broadcasting be discharged by the Broadcasting Control Committee;
(d) that copyright of all audio and televised material be vested in the Cathaoirleach on behalf of Seanad Éireann;
(e) that the contractor establish and maintain an archive of proceedings in accordance with the Rules of Access laid down by the Broadcasting Control Committee.
I have pleasure in moving this motion and, in doing so, I express the consensus of the House that the operation of television coverage is working well. For some, the arrival of television cameras in this House was a painful transition to the technological age. However, the misgivings expressed at the time have largely evaporated in the light of experience. The presence of cameras are generally ignored by most Members making contributions and in the normal cut and thrust of debate. That is how it should be because we are about serious business in this House. It is not a television show as some Members of the House might interpret their activities. There are performers and posers in every profession and Members of this House have no monopoly in this regard. This opinion is not always shared by the public at large but it is an aspect of political life that comes with the territory.
As a member of the Broadcasting Control Committee, I participated in the committee's deliberations subsequent to the decision of the Oireachtas to introduce  television coverage of its proceedings. Concerns at that time have proven to be largely groundless. For example, the question of whether those with a natural aptitude for the camera would somehow dominate the proceedings of the House and diminish the contribution of those shrinking violets among us was raised on a number of occasions. I am sure all sides will agree that debates or the contributions of Members have not been in any way diminished as a result of the presence of television cameras.
The overriding concern of the committee and of the Members of both Houses at the time of the general debate on whether television cameras should be introduced centred on the maintenance of the dignity of the Houses. It was interesting that comment seemed to centre on whether in some way the dignity of the Houses of the Oireachtas would be eroded as a result of the physical introduction of television cameras. I am sure all sides will agree that experience has proved that this concern is without foundation. It is a tribute to the technical expertise that was available to the Broadcasting Control Committee that although there were some initial difficulties about the location of the cameras, these have been ironed out. Given that technology is moving so fast in this area, if the debate had taken place ten or 15 years ago, the technology at that time would definitely have intruded on the workings of the House.
I was one of those who believed that we did not go far enough. For example, in other parliaments and institutions, such as the European Parliament, although it is a much larger Chamber than either the Seanad or the Dáil, the use of cameras on the floor has proved to be of benefit in conveying the message of the activities of the Parliament to the public at large. This move was debated at the time and ruled out because it was felt that it would be an intrusion on the dignity of the House. In the light of experience I am not so sure whether that is necessarily true in relation to this  House, where we are confined in terms of space, but it might be of interest in regard to the Dáil. I raise this aspect of the technical side of television coverage of proceedings because the use of a floor camera was precluded. Due to the location of the overhead cameras, in some cases when a Member is making a contribution on his or her feet viewers see the top of the Member's head rather than his or her face. This does not benefit the contributions and may detract from the message the Member is attempting to convey within the House and to the wider television viewing public. This aspect of coverage might be re-examined in the light of experience.
I pity those who have difficulty with the upper regions of their anatomy. I will not go any further than that. I am sure Members get the message. I am not suggesting that make-up artists should be brought into the House to improve Member's images. If image is everything then perhaps there is a question to be addressed about the introduction of make-up artists into the House prior to contributions being made by the Members to whom I have referred in as oblique and diplomatic a way as I can.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: It was a bald statement of fact.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I bow to the Senator's greater wit in that area.
I wish to turn to a more serious matter, that is, the actual coverage of the proceedings of this House. At the time it was introduced, television coverage was rightly hailed as a great innovation. For the first time our electorate had the opportunity to view the proceedings of the House at first hand as distinct from only hearing them. As our television coverage came very soon after radio coverage, the changes in the last decade have been quite dramatic.
It is difficult now to imagine that less than a decade ago if one wanted to interpret the essence of what was being said as distinct from the statement of fact, one's only resource was the newspapers. Speeches did not always come across in  print in the manner in which they were put forward and the message was lost to some degree as a result. One has only to think, for example, of the passion that was brought to speeches by some of our parliamentary leaders prior to Independence. When one reads them now in the newspapers or in the Official Report, they somehow lack immediacy. We must be grateful that television is there as a record for future generations.
In discussing the coverage that emanates from this House I have to put on record, speaking as a Senator, that the coverage afforded to the activities of this House leaves a lot to be desired. The editorial decision is taken by RTE, who have the franchise to transmit the proceedings of this House to the Irish nation. They also have the right to sell the proceedings of the House to foreign news agencies. Ultimately, editorial control rests not within this House but with the television crew, particularly the editorial crew, assigned by RTE Radio and Television.
In commenting on this aspect of television coverage of the proceedings of the Oireachtas, I will confine my remarks to the Seanad, I compliment Barney Kavanagh, who represents RTE, and the back up team assigned to edit the proceedings of the House — not an easy thing to do — for their excellent work. Today there were several contributions, including that of the Minister, the Order of Business and there is more to come. It is extremely difficult to condense those contributions, package the entire programme and have it ready for transmission, on radio and television, for 10.40 p.m. on radio and a little later on television, and it requires a great deal of editorial expertise.
I criticise the decision taken long before television cameras came in here that the Seanad was to be an afterthought. If business of an extraordinary nature takes place in the Dáil, it takes precedence over any activities in this House, but on quiet days, on normal days when normal legislation passes through this House, I have found time and again on radio and television, remember what  listeners hear on radio is what is subsequently transmitted on television — I sometimes wonder why this is so, I presume it is a matter of resources convenience — two or three minutes at the end of the programme are devoted to Seanad business.
If there has been a row or an argument on the Order of Business, as there sometimes is, that will be the highlight of the Seanad proceedings as far as the Oireachtas package is concerned. All debate on subsequent legislation passing through this House, very serious and interesting debate, is then ignored.
I am not sure that in approaching the packaging of Oireachtas proceedings the editorial choice should be based on hard news which seems to be the case. We are not necessarily a current news programme where one makes editorial choices about priorities. Of course choices have to be made, but I am not so sure that that should be the only criteria. I question RTE's editorial policy in this regard, particularly where serious business of this House is relegated either to second place or to oblivion because of what is perceived to be a row, because of a populist view of the Seanad that there is nothing like a good row to get people's interest.
Finally, I seriously question the timing of the transmissions of “Today in the Dáil” and “Today in the Seanad”. This is a matter for the Whips to discuss with RTE. Time and again — and I am sure every Member of this House will testify to this — the reaction of the public to coverage of individual Members has been positive. The public has certainly noticed it. If one considers that in many cases, with the exception of radio which goes out from 10.40 p.m. to 11 o'clock, the television coverage tends to be post-mid-night with a repeat programme the following day, large of sections of the population are fast asleep when coverage is transmitted.
There is a need to discuss with RTE when coverage of the Oireachtas should be broadcast. There should be some improvement. The timing of coverage is traditionally late at night. “Today in the  Dáil” always went out late at night because the proceedings finished late. Now we are in the television age. Television is a very strong medium and we would be better served in this House if there was a more equitable sharing the schedule of the proceedings of this House. I am sure my colleagues wish to dwell on other aspects of this motion, but they were two aspects I wished to bring before the House. I am very happy to move this motion.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: It is interesting to note the way attitudes have changed in the Houses to the televising and broadcasting of the proceedings of the Oireachtas. The idea to televise the Dáil and Seanad was put forward by Deputy John Bruton; he pushed this idea for some time against an apathetic if not hostile Dáil. The reason for this apathy or hostility was that politicians, by their nature, tend to be suspicious of the media and most of us feel that it is difficult to get fair play from the media. When this proposal was first mooted there was the feeling that television, being such a powerful medium, could be used in a way that was unfair, that editing could distort what was happening or that a short film clip on television or what has now become known as a “sound bite” would not be able to capture the full essence of what goes on in the Houses.
There was a lot of suspicion — which we all felt in the early stages — about the possibility and presentation not being even handed. At this stage we all feel that what we say deserves greater coverage than what others say, but there is a feeling that RTE has behaved in an even handed way, and that the integrity of those who edit the pieces for presentation has been above reproach. There may be the occasional error of judgment or lapse in what might have been broadcast, but, by and large, the integrity and fairness of those involved are not in question.
Senator Mooney spoke at length about another aspect of televising the Houses — the fears that it might change the  essential nature of the Houses. It has not; the cameras are unobtrusive. We barely know they are there and they have not taken from the splendour of this Chamber. Members in the other House are not aware of the cameras either. In itself that has been a great technological feat. Once we get up to speak, most of us quickly become unaware of the presence of the cameras; it is almost as if they are not there. We do not see Members outside with compacts powdering their faces or any other part that is in need of the antiglisten protection. We do not see the play-acting which people thought television might induce; for example, people wanting to be suspended from the sittings of the House simply for the notoriety this would bring when shown on television.
Most people behave as they did before the arrival of television. If they were excessive on occasion before the arrival of television, they are still excessive; and if they were limelight hoggers before television arrived, it has not changed their behaviour. People adapted quickly to the presence of television and it is now so unobtrusive that most of us behave as if it was not there, which is a good thing. Women Senators have advantages over their male colleagues in that the degree of colour in their clothing and their generally more photogenic nature present them in a more attractive light on television.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: The ties have nearly caught us up.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: That is a fact of life and we all appreciate it. Perhaps we could wear more primary colours or wear clothes that would make us stand out under the cameras. My colleague, Senator Neville, occasionally sports a particularly colourful jacket which stands out on camera. The arrival of television here has not changed the style of the House, has not been intrusive and has not made people behave out of character as many thought it might.
Senator Mooney talked about the bad viewing times — late at night or the morning when people are busy — and I agree  with him. We should move toward a single channel to broadcast continuously the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is not a new idea. In 1946 or 1947 in a debate on the then Radio Éireann Estimate, the late James Dillon suggested that there should be a single radio channel which would broadcast all the proceedings of the Dáil during all its sitting hours.
This was seen as an extension of democracy and of the people's right of access to the Houses so that they could see what was being done in their name. Most people would not want to do that but, nonetheless, there is something for saying that, in so far as parliamentary proceedings can be carried in their entirety, at least the people would then be in a position to judge for themselves rather than have selective excerpts — done with the best editorial judgment in the world but they are still selective excerpts — from which to judge.
I should point out that in 1946 or 1947 when James Dillon made this suggestion, another fine Deputy of the time, the late Paddy Beegan of Fianna Fáil, said that this was arrant nonsense and that all most people wanted from the radio, apart from music and sport, was the price of the cattle in the Dublin cattle market on that day. They were two different views of communications.
With the increasing availability of television and radio channels we should move towards a situation where a viewer or listener at home can automatically tune in to what is happening in the Houses of Parliament. That is a logical extension of the access which television and radio provides in a democracy, where people can see, hear and judge for themselves what their representatives are doing in their name. In Canada, a vast country, the single television channel dedicated to the Federal House of Parliament has a surprisingly high viewership. There is often greater interest in what is happening in Parliament than we might expect.
We cannot automatically expect that people will take an interest in the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas  or that they should automatically be broadcast unless we, in turn, move part of the way toward meeting the needs of a television age. Nobody can argue that Parliament is a static institution. The nature of Parliament is such that it has been growing over the years; every decade has put its mark on the development of Parliament and added to the procedures or practices. Parliament should not be a static institution. We live in a television age where we have to compete for the people's attention. Of its nature, Parliament is institutionalised theatre — it is meant to be theatre — where people come together to discuss the important issues of the day and to contribute to the making of the laws which bind all the people.
Parliament has a product to sell — if I can put it in market terms — and we must ensure that what we are offering is of interest to a sufficient number of people. The Standing Orders of this House allow us great flexibility. There is nothing to stop us, for example, having the House give audience to Members of the European Parliament, so that there could be one or two sessions per month dedicated to European Affairs with MEPs present. That would give the people an opportunity to hear their MEPs say what they are doing and be questioned on it, and television is the ideal medium to carry this message which would be of interest to a great number of people.
We can also invite distinguished visitors who have an important message to convey and television is a medium which would be ideally suited to a greater use of this facility on which we have voted in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and which has been adopted by the House. We also have the facility to hold hearings on specific issues; this would provide ideal material for television.
We should take the view that television in the Houses of Parliament is there to be exploited not in a vulgar or personal sense, but to raise the prestige of the Houses of the Oireachtas and have them seen as a useful institution, rather than being passive in bringing in television and not reacting to it. We should not remain  static but should move on and try to anticipate the needs of television, not in a showy, flashy way, but in a way that is based on substantial work undertaken by us in the House.
Regarding the issue of information, paragraph (e) of the motion states:
that the contractor establish and maintain an archive of proceedings in accordance with the Rules of Access laid down by the Broadcasting Control Committee.
I am interested to ascertain what progress has been made towards the establishment of this archive because it is only when it is too late that we will realise how valuable an archive would have been. There has been much valuable material lost over the years and it would be a great shame if this aspect was not taken seriously. I hope the archive has been established.
I welcome this motion. The introduction of television to the Houses of the Oireachtas has been beneficial, but we should not be complacent. We must fight for greater coverage of this House on RTE as it is not covered sufficiently well. However, if we wish for more coverage, we have a duty to make our proceedings more substantial. There are many vacuous and boring days in this House for which, thankfully, there is no coverage, because if there were, people would wonder what we were at and would not be pleased with what they see.
It is for us to make our sittings more substantial and if we are more newsworthy, not in a spectacular, sensational sense, but in a genuine news sense, television and radio will follow.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: This motion is, in many ways, a continuation of the practice that exists in the House. Unlike the previous two speakers, I did not experience the introduction of cameras as I am only a recent Member and I did not have experience of the changes.
However, when I first attended the House, I was not aware for quite some time of the location of the cameras. This  indicates how unobtrusive they are and how little they affect Members' contributions. For most of the time most Members are not aware of the cameras. In addition, the cameras do not interfere with the architecture and the embellishments of this fine Chamber. That is as it should be; if there was any such interference we would all have objections.
The regulations are such that the presence of cameras do not detract or distract from the contributions made by Members. For example, if a Member interrupts a speaker, the camera does not focus on him or her so there is no encouragement by television coverage for Members to interrupt a speaker. In addition, political balance is required by the regulations and this is generally observed as all sides of the House are fairly treated.
Regarding other physical aspects, such as the portrayal of the tops of Members' heads, Senator Manning suggested that, in this respect, the female Members had an advantage over the male Members. However, the tie worn by Senator Quinn today outshines anything worn by any of the female Members. This indicates that the male Members can respond if they wish and there are many in the House who have been quite colourful from time to time. Perhaps this issue is a challenge rather than a disadvantage.
On the issue of the coverage of the House and the items covered, it is inevitable, given that coverage of political activity is about news, that the newsworthy items and the newsworthy things people say will be highlighted. However, I wish to plead for more coverage of the Committee Stage of Bills because that is the meat of the work in this House and in the Dáil, in that our primary function is to examine legislation and change it if necessary before passing it into law. The Committee Stage of a Bill is where this work is undertaken; it facilitates the introduction of amendments and the discussion of Bills section by section in detail.
Before I became a Member of the Oireachtas I was not aware, as a member  of the public, of the amount of detail discussed in both Houses of the Oireachtas. In view of this and in the interests of our primary role, which is the making of legislation, there should be more coverage of the Committee Stage of Bills, even if the Second Stage speeches are more newsworthy in that people will use the sound bite on such speeches.
There is a quid pro quo regarding coverage. The coverage is available and it is for us to be clear, precise and innovative in what we say. If our contributions are repetitive, turgid and uninteresting we do not deserve to be covered. It is, therefore, a challenge to us as public representatives to respond to the television age so that when we speak we have something definite and clear to say. It is good that this pressure should exist when we speak in the House.
Paragraph (b) (i) of the motion ensures that what is covered in the House is not used for purposes other than what is intended. It suggests that the coverage should not be used for: “...light entertainment, political satire, party political broadcasts...” and so on. This is as it should be.
Paragraph (b) (iv) states “that the Rules of Coverage be determined by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges;”. I understand this has been inserted because the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is, in effect, a Dáil committee with Members of the Seanad on it. This ensures the Seanad has the control it should have over what is broadcast from this House and that we are fully protected under the regulations.
I conclude by reiterating my support for the motion.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: In supporting the motion, it is important that we recognise the superb work undertaken by the broadcasting unit since broadcasting commenced in the House some years ago. I often listen to debates in the House and wonder at the skill of the editor who manages to make some sense, in a number of minutes late at night, of some of the debates which have taken place  during the day, because the reality is that they are often boring, Members are inclined to ramble on, and they are not newsworthy. We must examine this aspect of our activities.
Advancing into the television age does not merely mean introducing television cameras and technology. It also requires a change in our system of communicating which is not happening. Many people feel that the advent of television means simply the introduction of technology to broadcast the proceedings of this House to a wider audience. However, the reality of television is that the communication skills required are different to those applicable to speaking in this House. This has not been adequately addressed by us in terms of the way we conduct our business.
It is wrong if Members feel they do not have to compromise, change or adapt their speaking or communication styles to accommodate television. The introduction of a new facility requires flexibility from us. We have a duty, in attempting to communicate with a wider audience, to ensure that what we undertake in this House has, each day, an element of interest, topicality and relevance. There is no point in demanding coverage for something in which nobody is interested. The idea of pushing the work of the Oireachtas or of legislators or of public institutions down the throats of an unwilling public is not feasible. We must ensure that what we say is relevant at all time. This requires a balance.
As a legislator I consider the Third Stages of Bills to be the most important part of our work. It is difficult to present this Stage of a Bill to a wider audience. We must deal with this part of Bills in the way we have always done. In terms of ordering our business and our contributions we should try to achieve a balance between doing the boring trench work of legislation adequately and conveying the work of the House to a wider audience by ensuring that the business of the House each week contains elements of interest, topicality and relevance.
I disagree somewhat with the point made about the rules of coverage and the  fact that it cannot be used in certain ways, such as for political satire. We should take our job and the business of the House seriously but we should not take ourselves too seriously. If somebody wants to use the operation of the House for political satire, it might make us sit up and take notice. I have always had difficulty with this issue. I accept that the proceedings of the House should not be abused or used in advertising or party political broadcasts but protecting ourselves from political satire is no longer valid. The editor is not allowed to use reaction shots. I have noticed that a change has taken place recently, which has not been provided for in writing. It is good to see that there is a more flexible approach to the editing of debates which allows an element of reaction.
The rules which do not allow coverage of arguments, disruption and commotion in the House are unreal. This is not a Sunday school. There will be arguments here. People expect public representatives to have rows and differences of opinion. There is nothing wrong with this; it is healthy. If the editor and broadcasters were allowed to use disruptions and arguments, pressure would be put on us to ensure that what we say during those moments stands the test of televisual coverage. This would have an ameliorating rather than an adverse effect on the operation of the House. Far from bringing the House into disrepute, viewers would realise that it contains real people who have differences of opinion and arguments and lose the cool now and then.
The availability of extra broadcasting time, particularly on the new Teilifís na Gaeilge channel, would allow wider and more extensive coverage of Parliament. There should be chunks of broadcasting of Parliament at off peak hours so that people could see its operation over a few hours. This would convey our message in a positive way and better than the edited highlights late at night.
We should look clearly at aspects of the role of the House and our legislative functions, such as the modification,  initiation and review of legislation. This is within the ambit of the House. We rarely have the opportunity to consider groups of Bills with a view to having a discussion before legislation is consolidated. This is one of the functions of the House but one we rarely exercise.
In terms of the relevance and interest of the work of the House, foreign policy is an area which does not create conflict between Government and other Members. Tonight we are having a debate on East Timor. Over the years we have had debates on foreign policy issues. This shows a wider audience our concern for the wider world.
I welcome this motion. Although none of the Members appointed to the Broadcasting Control Committee comes from the Independent benches, we are happy that our interests have always been adequately represented. We have always taken the view that the Members representing the interests of the House on the committee also represent our interests and we feel free to raise with them any problems which may arise for us and which we wish to have raised at the committee. I wish them well in their work and ask them to adopt a looser interpretation of the rules than heretofore and to give more scope to the broadcasters and editors to use reaction shots and cover more of the operations of the House. I also ask the Members to put the case for longer coverage of the proceedings of the House.
Mr. McGowan Mr. McGowan
Mr. McGowan: I welcome and support the motion. My colleagues have commented on the advantages and disadvantages of the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House. I could have one of the handicaps but Members could have worse than mine, because mine does not impede my performance. The public are capable of assessment and I would never under-estimate those who view these broadcasts.
A more serious aspect of the televising of the House is the number of empty seats. Not every subject is of interest to every Member in the House; this is also true of the other House but this is not  always clearly understood by the public. One is often asked why so few Members attend and why there is so little interest in certain debates. One has to explain that the matter being discussed at any time may be of interest to only a section of Members; other Members watch the proceedings on television monitors in their rooms. They are aware of the debate and come to contribute at suitable times. I share the concern which has been expressed by a number of speakers.
Debates are televised at the wrong time. This gives an indication of the importance attached to debates. I question those who decide the time of these programmes. The public are more interested than the programmers are aware.
Senator O'Toole said that the Independents are not represented on the committee. Independents get more than their fair share of coverage. Those who compile the programmes feel they are impartial if they concentrate on an Independent's contribution; Independents may have to be given a greater focus than party Members. The Independents do a great job. Some of them are professional in their presentations and know how to use the media.
People are interested in the proceedings of Parliament. I have watched parliamentary debates in Britain, and in the US one channel is allocated to the debate in the Houses of Congress. The Dáil, Seanad and local government are of tremendous interest because what Members do affects them. At the end of the day, the people on the ground, the taxpayers, are paying for the upkeep and maintenance of Parliament and of television.
It is a difficult job for the committee to persuade those who select the items for broadcast because it is hard to change a person's mind. The perception which a broadcaster has of those who watch the programme has to be guided by research. I wonder how much research, if any, has been done on how many people watch the televised Dáil and Seanad debates.
I strongly support the televising of this and the other House. It is right that the  public should be involved because if I come to the House to represent the people of Donegal it is right that my contribution is judged by those people to whom I must return. There is a link there and it is of paramount importance that the proceedings of the Seanad and Dáil are televised at a reasonable hour so that people do not have to stay up late at night to watch.
Those who edit the programme do an excellent and professional job. It is put together in a very presentable form. However, when proceedings are televised the first or second speaker might be shown. If Senator Manning makes a contribution from the other side of the House he will be covered and the second speaker might be covered. This is a mistake on the part of those who edit the programme. I am not condemning Senator Manning — he is an excellent Member of the House and it is right that he should get coverage — but there are other Members who feel they are entitled to fair and equal coverage. That is an aspect which should be looked at. All Members have equal rights and should get equal coverage.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: Like other speakers, I welcome this motion. However, in welcoming it I am not sure that I will be praising the people who currently edit the output from this and the other House on our main national channel. The biggest problem I see in this area is the derisory amount of time given to broadcasting both Houses——
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: Hear, hear.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: ——but in particular — and there is always a fear in this House that one will upset somebody in the media if one says what one truly feels — the derisory amount of time given to the coverage of Seanad Éireann. This is not a fault of the programme makers but of the authorities in RTE who allocate so little broadcasting time and resources to this area.
The decision to bring television cameras and radio into both Houses of the  Oireachtas was very welcome. It was an extension of democracy and an important decision in the life of the nation. It brought the people in every corner, nook and cranny of Ireland into both Houses. It was fulfilling our constitutional responsibility. It is not fulfilling the statutory responsibility given to a State agency when a number of seconds are allocated to coverage of one House of the Oireachtas. There are not many people here who would in truth disagree with me, at least not in private.
The major problem is that the amount of time given to both the Dáil and Seanad is so truncated that the best which can be got across is a caricature of what has happened. Moreover, the staff resources in RTE allocated to this area, and specifically to this House, are very small. The staff who cover the Houses do their best within the time available to them. The actual output, in terms of editing and continuity, is excellent, it is superb and nobody could fault it. The biggest problem is that it is too truncated.
The “Morning Ireland” programme on RTE Radio 1 is a particular case in point. I realise that the broadcasters and editors who put together that programme are operating under a particular constraint. They must pack a huge amount of output into a very short time. However, I suggest that we might contrast the way the Houses of the Oireachtas are treated on that programme with the way the Houses of Parliament are treated on BBC Radio 4. I do not think that any objective examination would suggest that the two coverages compare. Some fundamental rethinking needs to be done in RTE at very senior level as to how it handles the output from both Houses. That view is widely shared in both Houses and throughout politics in general.
I would also like the committee to ensure that the coverage of the House is truly balanced; I do not believe it is. I am not suggesting that it is unbalanced in a partisan, that is, party political way. However, taking up a few points which were made by other Members, it is clearly not balanced in the sense of being representative  of the output of all the Members of this House. I have no personal complaint as I am sure other speakers who have professional expertise do not. However, it is grossly unfair when Senators who have laboured long and hard to prepare contributions are edited out because luminaries have displaced them.
I also suggest that in the editing of the coverage of this House, some effort must be made to measure how ministerial input is represented. For example, if the Seanad is allocated three or four minutes on “Oireachtas Report” and one and a half minutes are given to the Minister's contribution — which is understandable — the rest of the time will be taken up by the contributions of the spokespersons. Again, the problem is that there is not enough time. It would not be possible or right for the editor to edit out the Minister and it would be grossly wrong to edit out the main spokespersons of the Opposition parties. However, it is unjust and gives an unbalanced representation of the output of this House if some Members simply do not appear.
Having made those criticisms, I will make a suggestion which I made elsewhere. I notice that in parliamentary broadcasts in other countries there is a tradition that, in addition to featuring a clip from the Leader of the House or of the Opposition, for example, when the report is concluded reference is made to the other Members who also contributed. I ask the Members of the Broadcasting Control Committee to make this suggestion to RTE. It is important to record the fact that Members contributed to a debate. The fact that they contribute to a debate should be recorded. Film clips of contributions by Members from both sides of the House have often not been included due to the truncated nature of the coverage. It would be fair and a courtesy to both Houses if the names of other major contributors to the debates were mentioned.
We should also look at the constraints. I agree with Senator O'Toole that the reaction shots should be shown. It would also be no harm if the empty seats in the  Chamber could occasionally be shown. I would like to see reaction shots because sometimes during the cut and thrust of political debate the real essence of politics is conveyed.
Some years ago representatives of RTE appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies. The committee was informed that a running order of appearances is kept, although I am not sure if the order is based on Members or on party. That is probably carried out to fulfil RTE's statutory responsibility to be balanced. I have no complaint about balance. However, I have a problem about who appears and who never appears. It might be a good idea for the broadcasting committee to contact RTE and look at that matter.
It is an undeniable fact that there are star performers in both Houses. They receive disproportionate coverage because, perhaps, they have a colourful turn of phrase or they are not subject to the constraints on other Members or they are simply colourful people. An objective analysis of the output during the last two years could be undertaken to see how often high profile individuals feature in the coverage of debates. If a limited amount of time is available it must be decided whether to put out the meat or the side dressings.
The committee should look at the cable systems. At present we have plenty of spare time on cable and channels often only broadcast test cards. Live coverage should be broadcast at those times. Many of us believe that live coverage might be tedious. However, Irish people seem to be more political than any other nation. They certainly have more interest in politics than in some of the imported soaps which fill the space between ads, although I could be wrong in saying that. Some thought should be given to more extensive coverage when there is spare capacity on these channels.
It never ceases to amaze me how often people may mention that they have seen me or some other Member on “Oireachtas Report”. I do not know what the viewing figures are for that programme.  Although it is a short programme and is broadcast very late it generates huge reaction. I urge the people responsible for programme decisions in RTE to look at the amount of time they allocate to coverage of the Oireachtas. More coverage of both Houses would be a public service. Obviously, being a Member of the Seanad I have a vested interest in extending the amount of coverage of this Chamber and I make no apology for saying so. However, the current rather truncated programme does no justice to the capacity of our broadcasters or to the contributions in this House. We all wish that it was otherwise.
The programme content is excellent. It is superbly edited in particular with regard to continuity. However, we could do with more rather than less of it.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I welcome this motion and support the view that we should let the electorate see how we conduct our affairs in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Initially, as Senator Manning said, I had reservations about broadcasting the proceedings. I wondered if Members would alter their contributions and performance. Having become accustomed to the cameras and to the fair editing, I am satisfied with the standard of material being broadcast. As many Senators have said, broadcasting proceedings on radio and television has heightened public awareness of the hard work and dedication of the Members of the Oireachtas.
I specifically mention those two media because I welcome the time that has been allocated by local radio to such broadcasts. A Leas-Chathaoirligh, you and I are from the same constituency and we have one local radio station. We are aware that the work of Senators and members of local authorities is receiving much coverage on local radio and we are very grateful for that. I offer my appreciation to the managers of local radio stations such as Radio 3, Shannonside Radio, Northern Sound and LM/FM. They are courteous, co-operative and generous in facilitating our views on the improvement of facilities or  the allocation of money to our areas. Local radio offers an opportunity to give the good news about our locality.
Regulations were made regarding television coverage and editing standards. They have been adhered to professionally and coverage has been within the spirit of the regulations. A number of Senators have said that there should be looser editing to show reactions and general activity during debate. If that were permitted the type of broadcasting would be quite different. There are many current affairs programmes on television which afford the opportunity for such debate. However, the proceedings of the Oireachtas which are currently broadcast are more meaningful and to the point. On the other hand, if there were freer regulations, opportunists would take advantage. There would be many irrelevant remarks and interruptions which, like the banner headlines used by newspapers to catch the eye of the reader, do not reflect the true story. In that regard, Members should be cautious in expressing such views.
Senators have mentioned that the proceedings of the Houses are broadcast late in the evenings and in the mornings when most people are at work. That is a genuine grievance. Perhaps the times could be shared so that the full broadcast does not take place so late in the evening. Senator Roche expressed satisfaction with the coverage given to him. The coverage given to me has been more than fair with one exception. I have often found that either Adjournment matters or any issue debated after 6 o'clock does not get relayed. An earlier edited version could be transmitted while the later broadcast could include all of the Business of the Seanad up until 8.30 p.m. Members put in long hours in researching their contributions but they are not given the coverage they deserve unless they are spokespersons or Ministers. That is unfair and does not encourage Members to contribute past the second or third speakers of all parties. We are elected to represent all the people in our constituencies;  therefore, fairness must be the operative word.
The Broadcasting Committee have now heard the views of the various Members of this House. RTE has a worthy representative on that committee who will be reading these contributions and another look will be taken. I am a member of the Committee for Procedure and Privileges. Maybe the proceedings as they currently stand could be reviewed in the future. We could also see how we can help the Broadcasting Committee to make coverage of both Houses more attractive and interesting. The positive response gained from the broadcasting of the Houses of the Oireachtas both on television and radio — especially on television because advertisers say that it captures 70 per cent of the possible audience — has had a significant effect on the attitude of constituents in general.
I have often mentioned how unfair the newspaper media have been to Members of the Oireachtas. Their headlines often do not correspond with the facts; their aim is sensationalism. The broadcasting of both Houses on television and radio is a breath of fresh air. It lets the people know exactly what is happening. As one paper used to say, it gives the truth of the news. People see proceedings at first hand without an editor trying to turn the story around to their advantage.
I welcome this report and look forward to the working of this fine committee. It has made a great contribution in the past and will do so in the months and years ahead.
Mr. Belton Mr. Belton
Mr. Belton: I also welcome this proposal. Television the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas has added to the understanding and interest of the public in its proceedings and it is only proper that this opportunity should have be taken. Naturally, there are time restrictions on media coverage and this gives rise to questions as to fairness of coverage. Since politicians have to be reelected, they are always sensitive to the coverage they do or do not get.
Fairness of coverage is difficult to deal with. The Fine Gael Party has 16  Members in this House. If one tunes into “Oireachtas Report” any night, the chances are that only one contribution will be from a Fine Gael speaker, one from the nine Members of the Labour Party and one from the seven Independents. While this may be justified in the interests of political balance, it may not be fair to individual Members. This aspect will have to be re-examined and dealt with more fairly. Even a member of a political group with a considerable number of Members should not be debarred from coverage.
Senator Roche said that in a debate covered on “Oireachtas Report” for example, the broadcaster should also mention those who contributed as well as those who were featured on the programme. As Senator Manning pointed out, on-going coverage of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be available. While politicians can often get carried away in the heat of battle, such coverage could be useful in schools as a means of educating our young people as to the workings of both Houses and the democratic process. If one asked a random sample of young people about the workings of both Houses and related aspects, one might be surprised at the answers. While we are still a young democracy of approximately 70 years, we have a long way to go in selling and upholding democracy. Young people should be made to realise that democracy does not fall out of the sky; it has to be built up, respected, enlarged and portrayed as a system which is the fairest devised so far.
Unfortunately, satirical portrayals of the Houses seem to get more coverage. There is nothing wrong with that; one must always see the humorous side. However, the workings of both Houses and the electoral system does not seem to be held as being an important issue.
Members know how difficult it is for students to vote at election time. Third level students must travel 100 miles to vote because they are not registered to vote in the town where they are attending college. Improvements should be made in this area.
 Private Members' time and Adjournment debates are never shown on “Oireachtas Report”. However, this programme is a step in the right direction because it brings the proceedings of both Houses to those who are interested in the debates. It is interesting to note that people will say they saw a person on television, but they will never say they heard them on television. Television is a powerful medium, but people are more inclined to look than to listen. It is important for all Members to get coverage. The Members who will be appointed to the Broadcasting Control Committee will have our full support.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.5 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 140 Broadcasting Control Committee: Motion.