Dáil Éireann - Volume 399 - 30 May, 1990

Private Members' Business. - Review of Broadcasting: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Dáil Éireann, concerned at the failure of the Government's policy in several areas of broadcasting, calls on the Government to appoint, without delay, an Independent Review Body comprised of competent and representative personnel to report to the Oireachtas within six months on the future and quality of broadcasting including:

(1) The future funding of RTE and alternative national, local and community radio and television services and the effects on the print media.

(2) Questions of copyright, performing rights, consumer rights, balance, public order and public morality in an era of increased trans-national broadcasting and advertising.

(3) The likely impact of foreign based broadcasting and advertising (including direct and indirect satellite services) on the home market in terms of viability, quality and standards; and how to maintain and monitor quality and standards in this era.

(4) To report on current concerns relating to alternative national radio and TV, including Irish language services;

and to take all reasonable steps to maintain present services pending the report.

—(Deputy J. Mitchell)

Mr. McGinley: I wish to divide the remainder of my time with my colleague, Deputy Owen, and to give two minutes to Deputy Garland.

[900] An Ceann Comhairle: Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Mr. McGinley: RTE have on the whole served us well and lived up to their responsibilities as the national broadcasting service. Radio 1 has discharged its responsibility to public service broadcasting. It has covered every aspect of national life, minority interests, agriculture, fishing, folklore, the handicapped, islands, language and the Gaeltacht. It has served and attended every aspect of national life. It has an efficient network of correspondents in every part of the country. No area is too far to visit. They have never been too busy to send a crew to cover a local fleadh or festival and to report back on the national airwaves. This, of course, is no more and no less than one expects from a national broadcasting service funded by the licence contribution and advertising revenue.

RTE coverage of events in the Oireachtas has been the essence of impartiality. I have never heard any one complain about the coverage of debates in this House. They have always been impartial and objective in their reporting.

Since its establishment about 11 years ago FM2 has been highly successful in its own right. It has satisfied a demand, particularly among the young generation, for popular news, pop music and entertainment of that kind. It has also provided a 24-hour news service for the entire country. All surveys and scientific data available indicate its impressively huge listenership and popularity.

Both RTE radio stations complement each other and cater for the demands and tastes of our population. If one wanted to listen to a chat programme one listened to Radio 1, while if one wanted to listen to pop music one tuned in to FM2.

We also have Raidió na Gaeltachta under the auspices of RTE to cater for the needs of the Irish language, the people of the Gaeltacht and Irish speakers throughout the country. It is generally accepted [901] that it has done a very good job through the years.

In his Dáil contribution last night the Minister read the obituary of FM2. While we still await the final details of his plan, it is absolutely clear that FM2 is being sacrificed and killed off to make room for Century Radio. Century Radio was the Minister's own creation. There was no obvious demand for another national radio station, as we said at the time. Certainly there was a demand for local radio. Raidió na Gaeltachta is a perfect example of how popular and effective a local radio station can be. The Minister was not satisfied with merely establishing a network of local radio stations. He also wanted a new national radio service, so we had the creation of Century Radio.

Since its establishment Century Radio has gone from crisis to crisis. A campaign was mounted stating that the dice was loaded in favour of RTE, particularly FM2. The demand was to level the pitch. What the Minister announced last night is actually the killing off of FM2 as we know it to make room for Century. The allocation of £3 million to the independent Radio and Television Commission for disbursement in 1990 is questionable. To put it crudely, £3 million of taxpayers' money is being transferred to private enterprise. I wonder if this is legal and whether the unsuccessful bidders could have improved their original tenders for the franchise if they had known about this money. Is this a once-off payment or the thin end of the wedge? Can we expect an annual subvention?

The coup de grace is contained in part of the Minister's speech last night where he stated as follows:

The Government have, therefore, decided to ask the new RTE Authority, as a matter of priority, to develop plans for an alternative use of the 2FM network which will be more in keeping with the public service mandate of RTE.

The Minister elaborated by saying that [902] FM2 will have to concentrate on continental languages, rural and farming sectors, business and trade union affairs, social welfare and a range of special interests and specialist music. Radio 1 has been providing a service in these very areas for years. They have been providing programmes such as “Farming Journal”, “Parliamo Italiano”, regular French and German language programmes and a programme for emigrants.

I remember the Minister stating on a number of occasions that RTE broadcast too many chat programmes from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. FM2 provide the music and the two channels complement each other perfectly. I do not see any reason to kill off FM2 by providing more public service programmes which are already being provided on Radio 1 in order to facilitate Century. It is a crude exercise by the Minister to bury FM2 and to give RTE a bloody nose in the process.

There is another danger for RTE. Not only will they have to sacrifice £3 million in licence fee revenue but there will be a massive loss of advertising on FM2 if they have to transfer from popular music to the heavier type of programme. That point must also be considered. The Minister's announcement last night has made this a dark day for RTE.

We have not yet had a satisfactory answer as to what is envisaged for Teilifís na Gaeltachta. The demand was for an independent service located in the area servicing Irish speakers throughout the country. We envisaged the Irish service having an independent Irish channel of its own. I feel there is now competition between the third television channel and Teilifís na Gaeltachta for the remaining airways. It would be unacceptable to those of us in favour of an Irish language television service to have it slotted into Network 2. In my opinion and that of the Irish language organisations, such a solution would not make anybody happy. Those of us who want an Irish television station would not be happy because we would have to compete on the same channel with those who want to have English language programmes. Those who are already watching Network 2 would be [903] unhappy because they would regard Irish as taking away from their viewing time.

Clarification is urgently needed. The Minister's speech last night is also the obituary of an independent Irish television channel. I do not know what he has in mind but I implore him to look at it again. It is our first official language and should have a channel of its own. I implore the Minister to look at this issue again and to let us know his intentions as soon as possible.

Mrs. Owen: I should like to thank Deputy McGinley for sharing his time with me. I was not a Member of this House when the Minister introduced the 1987 Sound Broadcasting Bill on 8 December of that year but I have read through his Second Stage speech on that Bill. It struck me forcibly when reading that speech that at no stage during the debate did the Minister give an indication or warning that he would take the action he is now taking. I should like to refer to some very interesting sections of the Minister's speech. On the question of the pool of advertising revenues available to sustain the independent radio services the Minister stated, and I quote:

It is purely on these considerations therefore, combined with my conviction that radio services do not need a “Big Brother” type regulation...

We saw the “Big Brother” coming to the fore last night and over the past few weeks and he is well and truly with us now. The Minister continued:

It will be noted that subsection (5) provides that the services to be provided under this Act are additional to any sound broadcasting services provided by RTE. In this regard, any involvement by RTE in the provision of additional radio services...

Last night the Minister told us that he intends to curtail the services of RTE. Like others, I believe he has a warped sense of fair competition. The Minister said that he wants to level the playing field but in his lemming like chase to do so he has tilted the balance in the other [904] direction. It is quite clear that Radio 2FM took on the competition and improved the quality of their services and programmes. They went after listenership and have increased their advertising revenue considerably. In other words, RTE faced up to the competition from the independent radio stations. However, they are now being punished for doing that work. I do not believe the Minister is in any way levelling the playing pitch; he is actually tilting it in the other direction. In other words, Radio 2FM had to be nobbled if Century Radio were to get back a share of the market.

What the Minister was trying to get across in his Second Stage speech was that the introduction of competition would lift the level of broadcasting. That is what happened but instead of commending RTE for the improvements they made they are now being penalised. It seems the Minister is saying, “as long as Century Radio keep going I do not actually mind about the level and quality of their service”. I do not think that is the way forward. There is a need to ensure there is an alternative broadcasting station to RTE but not to the extent where the level and quality of the service drops and we have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The Minister had an opportunity in his Second Stage speech on the Sound Broadcasting Bill, 1987, to say if the 20 per cent of news time would be a problem for the new stations, whether he would consider looking at the spreading of fees, etc., but all he said was:

As I have already said I regard the requirement that 20 per cent of broadcasting be devoted to news and current affairs as a key element in the Bill.

The Minister did not set down any warning. He made it clear to anybody applying for a licence that 20 per cent of their transmission would have to be devoted to news and current affairs and they had to take this provision on board in the financing of their companies, which I believe many of them did. I was interested to hear the head of 98FM say this morning that he had not asked for [905] any money, did not know he was getting any money and was quite happy to continue to operate his station without any public money coming into their purse.

I do not know the reasons behind the Minister's actions but concern has been expressed that the giving out of the licences in the first place may not have been done in as apolitical a way as possible. In my constituency, which the Minister also represents, many of the people who were involved in pirate stations are now involved in the running of legitimate stations. It is interesting to note that the person who ran Sunshine Radio, probably the best pirate station which existed, could not convince the commission that he was suitable to run a station. There is a question mark hanging over why he was not considered suitable then and has still not been regarded as suitable to be involved in broadcasting.

I am glad the Minister has pulled back somewhat on his proposal to cap-off advertising. Advertising on radio is different from advertising in the newspapers and it is wrong for the Minister to say that if he caps advertising on RTE, suppliers will automatically look to the newspapers or somebody else; this advertising will probably go to UTV and SKY which are widely viewed in this country. I am pleased the Minister seems to have pulled back somewhat on this proposal but I ask him to look at it again.

Mr. Garland: The debate on tonight's motion has widened very considerably since yesterday and a completely new set of issues has been raised. The Minister is proposing to give a £3 million grant to commercial radio, the bulk of which in all probability will go to bail out Century Radio. That is the reality behind the smokescreen of making money available to the Independent Radio and Television Commission. This is a blatant manoeuvre to bail out a failed capitalist enterprise. Capitalism is all about the survival of the fittest and where the weakest go to the wall. In this instance, therefore, the weakest should go to the wall. Why [906] should the Irish taxpayer have to subsidise the likes of Jim Stafford, the Clare Street wrecker?

The Fine Gael motion put forward by Deputy Jim Mitchell proposes the provision of an interest free loan of £2.25 million to what he describes as “alternative radio”. We can manage very well without national commercial radio stations. The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, would like to see a national TV and radio service operated by RTE, both of which would be funded entirely by a licence fee, the same as the BBC. The probable collapse of Century Radio has probably diverted the attention of this House and in that respect I am quite happy to vote for the Fine Gael motion which proposes the setting up of an independent review body.

There is a number of matters such a review body would need to look at. First, they would need to look at whether our national broadcasting authority, namely RTE, should be allowed to advertise. I do not think they should be allowed to advertise and this would leave the field open for commercial or preferably community co-operative local radio which would be allowed to raise funds through advertising. Second, they would need to look at the provision of an independent Irish language TV service. This matter should be given more consideration than the ridiculous Údarás na Gaeltachta report which stated that the provision of such a service would require a capital cost of £5.2 million and annual running costs of £9.6 million for a service which would run for two hours per night. These figures are ridiculously high. I guess this proposal will languish in the cavernous pigeon hole which must by now contain many reports of a similar nature. If the Minister studied the TV service provided by the Faroe Islands he might learn something to his advantage.

There is considerable public disquiet about MMDS and whether it constitutes a danger to health. There are serious indications that it does and these should be thoroughly investigated prior to the use of this system in Ireland. Norway will [907] not allow the use of MMDS, probably for very good reasons.

Mr. Roche: Before I start, I will be sharing my time with Deputy John Dennehy, if that is agreeable.

Deputy Garland is quite correct when he suggests that the debate has widened somewhat since last night. I do not think I would agree with anything he said after that.

The motion has been swept aside by the somewhat hysterical reaction to the Minister's contribution in which he outlined all that has been achieved in the last three years. First he pointed out the deadlock and the disagreement that existed between Fine Gael and Labour that has been broken. We have now put on the Statute Book at long last legislation dealing with radio. The ridiculous situation of the law of the land being flouted by dozens of unlicensed operators has been ended. Legislative proposals for the licensing of an independent radio and television station have been enacted and the IRTC, the Independent Radio and Television Commission, has been set up. Multiple choice on the airwaves has been introduced through licensed and legitimate stations. Up to 600 people are now being employed in legally operating stations outside RTE, an additional television channel has been franchised and broadcasting is now a growth industry.

I do not repeat these points to be pedantic, but it is worth putting on record that since this Minister moved into Communications an extraordinary amount has been achieved. A revolution has been achieved in broadcasting in this nation. The extraordinary reaction to the statement here last night beggars the imagination. The recital of what has been achieved is, of course, based on logic and logic has very little to do with the hysteria that has been drummed up and that has swept through the debate, through this House and through the media, particularly the broadcast media and the State owned broadcast media since last night.

The reaction to the Minister's decision to allocate a proportion of the licence fee with a defined ceiling to the Independent [908] Radio and Television Commission has been, to say the least, extraordinary. The trend of the debate on this, in no small way, has been influenced by the extraordinarily distorted coverage of this proposal given by RTE itself. Talk about vested interest; I listened with incredulity this morning to one of the station's most popular programmes, when one of the station's deservedly most respected broadcasters permitted a most distorted view of the proposals that the Minister has outlined to be propagated. It is to his discredit that he did that.

It is worth while, therefore, to dwell on that aspect, and in particular to look at the very positive possibilities that funding the IRTC now opens. The proposal to allocate a proportion of the licence fee to the IRTC is logical and has a great deal to commend it. If anybody is seriously interested in logic they will reconsider some of the statements that have been made here. More important it is a proposal which has such potentially positive aspects that it should commend itself to anybody who is in the least interested in serious broadcasting and in the development of serious broadcasting. The licence fee is, in effect, a form of tax. It is a tax which is based on the ownership of a receiver, and that is its unique aspect.

The wise decision was taken a long time ago that the yield from the fee would be made available to RTE, to the State broadcaster at that time, to cover the obligations of being a public service broadcasting station. The licence revenue was to supplement income from commercial activities and from advertising. If Deputies who scurried to Dáil debates in the 24 hours since last night wish to go back and look at earlier debates on this issue they will see that that is the precise intention of the licensing fee. From the very foundation of broadcasting in this State the principle has been established of funding the public service broadcasting element of broadcasting from the licence fee while allowing commercial receipts and advertising revenue to cover other aspects of broadcasting.

Much of the more hysterical reaction [909] to the Minister's initiative would give the impression that it has been decided to give a handout of £3 million to Century Radio. That is a distortion and a mistruth and those, whether in RTE or this House, who propagate that know it is a distortion and a mistruth. This is to seriously misunderstand and misrepresent the Minister's proposals.

The position is that the moneys in question are to be paid to the IRTC who will be responsible for disbursing it in accordance with criteria which it will be required to draw up and publish. As was made clear by the Minister last night the basic philosophy behind this initiative is that we, as legislators, impose a series of public service obligations on the broadcasting services established under the 1988 Act. These obligations include the quota requirements relating to news and current affairs but they also embrace aspects relating to the range and quality of programmes to be provided on the services, including programmes in Irish and relating to Irish culture. Indeed, RTE have argued continuously over the years for increases in broadcasting licence revenue specifically because of the cost of meeting these very specific requirements. If we impose similar obligations on independent services then it is totally logical, bearing in mind that plurality of sources of news and information is a cornerstone of any broadcasting policy, that we should support materially the achievement of those objectives.

At the end of the day it will be the commission that will be responsible solely for the disbursement of the moneys made available to it and, as the Minister made clear last night, it will be totally autonomous and independent of the Government of the day in determining how it will distribute the funds in question. At the end of the day the commission will have to account fully for the disbursements in the annual reports and accounts which will be laid before this House and thus be debated by this House.

As regards the various radio stations [910] or, indeed, the proposed television service, each will have to make its own case for any grant and seek to qualify for its grant in accordance with the criteria to be established by the commission.

I find the expressions of so called shock and horror at the notion of subventing the independent services from licence fee money strange if not bemusing. First, there is nothing new in the notion of giving grants to areas of the private sector where this is deemed to be in the public interest or where it is desirable in order to achieve certain national policy objectives. Every day of the week the IDA give grants to the private sector to promote employment and development in the manufacturing and services sectors. Likewise grants are handed out by various other bodies, CTT, FÁS and Bord Fáilte. Nobody finds this principle strange and nobody throws their hands up in shock, or in horror and amazement to suggest that some new Rubicon has been crossed. Why then should there be such astonishment in this House at the idea that the independent broadcasting sector should have public moneys available to it? I suggest the answer is simple. It is a craven attempt to curry favour with a powerful broadcasting organisation.

Mrs. Owen: That is an extraordinary statement from a semi-State body chairman.

Mr. Roche: I listened to your rubbish without interruption, Deputy. They too are creating employment as the Minister pointed out last night. Since 1988 they have provided 600 jobs and they are providing an important service to the public, and the public attest to it every day when they in tune to the independent stations.

As to the fact that the source of the revenue is to be the radio and television licence, it is important to stress that RTE has no eternal or God given right to the totality of such revenue. Indeed, in the strict legal sense RTE is not in receipt of licence fees at all, nor has it any legal claim to them. The position is that under the Broadcasting Authorities Act, the [911] Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance may — and that is the word used in the Act — pay the authority out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas a grant equal to the proceeds of the licence fee. Licence fee revenue goes to the Exchequer like any other tax. In other words, it is a grant voted each year by this House when it adopts the Estimates of the Department of Communications, that is paid to RTE. Likewise, any such grant to be paid to the Independent Radio and Television Commission will come before this House and will be voted on by this House and will be subject to the democratic imperative.

I wish to deal now with some specific points regarding public sector broadcasting. It is important to place on the record the view that public sector broadcasting need not be confined solely to a State owned station. RTE does a very fine job and I will accept everything that has been said in that regard. It has done a very fine job in public sector broadcasting since its foundation, but it would be an absolute arrogance for RTE or its supporters to propagate the view that this is an area which is its sole prerogative. There are other forms of public service radio that clearly cannot be provided by RTE. Specifically, I have in mind the type of radio provided by a real community based radio station. Community stations can provide a fascinating range of programmes. They are part of an overall radio environment and they allow for a unique diversity of structure and of content.

In my own constituency Horizon 94.9FM are operating a real community owned service for Wicklow and south County Dublin. I do not pretend that it is unique; there are similar stations in operation. It reaches into the community in a way that RTE could never hope and, to their credit, do not seek to do. It is developing programmes that address a wide range of special and local interests. Horizon is one of the new independent local stations and, although it is funded through advertising, it is not run for commercial reasons. It is, therefore, quite a different type of radio station. [912] That is a model of radio that was not thought of or thought possible when Radio Éireann was first established. That model could not have been envisaged when the system of licensing was put in place. It is a model of broadcasting that exists now and it is one which could in the future be clearly considered for fund assistance by the IRTC when they are participating in licence fee revenue.

It is worth pointing out that my constituents who work for, listen to and support Horizon, and the constituents of other Deputies who support similar stations, pay their licence fee and have never suggested how that fee should be spent. Nobody has ever asked them what should be done with that revenue but clearly some have voted with their ears and their fingers when they decide to tune to local rather than national radio. If in the future the IRTC were to decide that the creativity of a local community station should be freed from commercial fetters, in the same way as RTE's creativity has been freed in the public sector broadcasting domain for many years by licence fees, what is wrong with that? Congratulations to the Minister on seeking that as a possible use for licence fees.

There is another possibility for a new and equally exciting breakthrough coming forward from the university sector. UCD, with Trinity College, Dublin City University, St. Patrick's College and a number of institutes and organisations, are discussing a proposal for a speech based radio station to provide programming opportunities for a wide range of divergent interests, ranging from those concerned with general access to information to potential educational programmes. The proposed station would also provide a wide range of alternative entertainment programmes aiming to reflect the rich cultural heritage and activities of the nation and its capital.

Deputy McGinley asked if those things were not being done by RTE. The simple answer is no, they are not because it would take such a massive additional amount of funding, staff and resources that it was impossible for a radio station [913] such as RTE, with all its talents, to achieve. The plan is to broadcast a wide range of special interests but it would go beyond entertainment. One aspect of the proposal is to provide continuing education in different professional spheres. This service, if it comes on stream, will have three distinct elements. It will have an educational element with programmes assisting distance education. It will have information programmes for undergraduate, post-graduate and those at pre-university level. It will have single and serialisation programmes contributing to personal development. It will have series designed to contribute to community development and an entertainment, arts and cultural service that will draw on all that is rich in the university sector and bring it beyond the hallowed walls of Trinity, UCD and the other institutions.

Proinsias De Rossa: The Minister claimed that there was too much talk on radio.

Mr. Roche: I note that the Deputy has returned from Brussels; he will get his chance.

Proinsias De Rossa: Did the Minister say that there was too much talk on radio?

Mr. Roche: The station I referred to will allow for a rich use of our cultural heritage. I realise that Deputy De Rossa has not been in the House for too long but he should permit me to make my point.

Proinsias De Rossa: I have been following the Deputy's manoeuvrings very well. The Deputy has always dropped in to defend a Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy in possession should be allowed to continue without interruption. I should like to point out to Deputy De Rossa that a rigid time limit applies to this debate. Interruptions are unwelcome and disorderly.

[914] Proinsias De Rossa: Deputy Roche should not respond.

Mr. Roche: I realise that Deputy De Rossa has to get his name occasionally on the record of the House. Another element of the proposed service would be an information service to provide background information and analysis to a wide range of current topics, issues and debates. The institutions involved in producing this truly exciting proposal, in particular the staff of UCD's audio visual centre, are to be complimented on this initiative. However, it is obvious that an invitation like this will never see the light of day unless there is some funding. Clearly, sponsorship is one element of funding. Public broadcasting in the United States derives a good deal of benefit from sponsorship but in Ireland sponsorship for this type of expansionary and visionary proposal would not go far enough. An IRTC with funds could become a real force in broadcasting.

I have outlined two elements, community radio and the UCD initiative, but they are just two of the possibilities that could be opened up. I acknowledge that RTE have done a good job and produced programmes of a very high standard. I acknowledge that they operate in a market which is limited but, at the same time, I must state that there are others with a creative urge in radio and broadcasting. They should be freed from the shackles of pure and absolute commercialism. I am surprised that Deputies opposite regard the idea of commercialism as anathema. Should they not take the view that broadcasters, other than those who inhabit Montrose, should be allowed to freely express their views with support from the licence fee which now goes in its entirety to RTE? I am surprised and startled at that.

The Minister's proposals deserve support. They provide us with the opportunity to provide in a small nation a unique and vibrant broadcasting mix ranging from public sector broadcasting, owned by the public service, to community broadcasting, to privately-owned [915] pop stations. We should not shy away from that.

Mr. Dennehy: I should like to thank my colleague for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the debate. It had been my intention to deal with the motion but events have overtaken that. It is important that we should consider the position before the Minister took over responsibility for the Department of Communications. Deputy Jim Mitchell can be described as an expert on the period from 1982-1987. His junior Minister at the time was Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan, a good solid Cork Deputy who was most anxious to move against the pirates and legalise local stations. However, whether due to an ideological conflict or something else, no action was taken against the pirates for five years. At that time the law was broken daily and one of those opposing the change announced by the Minister last night worked under the flag of a pirate station. Now that such people are working for legitimate stations they are given an opportunity to voice their opinions on national radio.

I was surprised to hear Deputy Mitchell getting involved in this issue. The Minister told us of the changes that have taken place since he took office. The local stations are independent of the national network. Many people have referred to Century Radio as if that was the only station involved, but that is not the position. Radio South and County Sound are operating in Cork and Radio Cork will shortly be on the air as they are taking up the franchise which WKLR had previously.

This is about local community radio and assisting local effort. It is in total contrast to the previous system where people were unregistered and nobody knew how many people were working in a given area. We have now legalised these radio stations and it has emerged that there is a need for funding for these stations, not just for Century.

The Minister's proposal is to hand over £3 million to the national commission for distribution because they allot the franchises for the various areas and are [916] in charge of monitoring and conducting radio stations. They will be quite capable of handling the money and distributing it properly. It was most unfair of Deputy Garland and others to say that the money would be given to Century Radio because the Minister was quite specific in pointing out that it will go to the commission to ensure that these companies do not go to the wall.

Deputy Roche was right in saying that anybody going into the service industry will, rightly, get financial support. Up to now, not alone did we not give financial support to these groups, we imposed restrictions on them so that they could not run a viable operation. The restrictions on what they produced added to their costs. Public service obligations were very strict. There was a lot of discussion on them at the time but it was felt, in the interests of the public, that these obligations should be imposed and it has now emerged that many of the stations could be in difficulties if they do not get financial assistance. It is right that a portion of the money paid by the public through licence fees should be granted to everyone providing the service as there is an audience for all stations.

I am a strong supporter of RTE, it is a tremendous State body but I should not like to see them over-reacting. They have done an excellent job; 2FM were initially set up to compete with the pirate radio stations because the then Government failed to regularise the situation. The station have now done the job — if they took some of the pirates on board, so be it — but it is now time to review their progress. The Minister is asking the new RTE Authority to evaluate the situation to see if the station should be changing direction. Indeed, they probably will change direction as there is a need to do so.

Every country in Europe has private radio stations, which is good because there is need for competition. I am quite sure that they get a portion of the licence fees and this is right because they need encouragement. I would prefer to have them operating legitimately instead of the previous system. Many allegations [917] have been made, including one by the Leader of the Labour Party. However, they lack credibility because Deputy Spring said this morning that this legislation and ideas were plucked from the air and were unheard of up to last night. A list of pending legislation was circulated on 25 April which included this Bill. It proves that the Leader of the Labour Party was unable — or did not have time — to read this list or that he was ill-advised. At any rate, it discredits everything he said. The carry-on this morning was unfortunate but it is par for the course.

If the public wish to assess the various arguments they will have to look at the record from 1982-87 and compare it with what the Minister has done since. We have a very solid section of RTE in Cork and I appeal to all those employed — who are all competent and professional — not to over-react. There is an obvious role for them and there is also a need to provide the kind of service which the Minister mentioned last night. He referred to five or six areas which we all know are not adequately covered at present. They are weak areas and they need a firmer base and more time to develop. In this context the position of Radio 2 FM should be looked at again. I do not have a complaint about the amount of music they play but the overall position of the station needs to be evaluated. It was set up ten or 11 years ago, it has carried out the task for which it was set up and it is time for a review which can be carried out by the new Authority.

Deputy Garland and others made the crazy allegation that we would be putting £3 million into somebody's pocket. We have heard that kind of rubbish before in this House and it has invariably been proved wrong. The difficulty is that it will be reported in the media and the trouble is that when you throw enough mud some of it will stick. It is an attack on private enterprise which should not go unchallenged and it is the kind of allegation which damages the country.

I was a State employee for 25 years and I always supported the involvement [918] of the State in industry and commerce but we also need the private sector. I ask Deputy Garland to reconsider his allegation that named individuals will line their pockets. It is a logical approach to allocate a portion of this money right across the board.

Opposition Deputies have avoided mentioning the number of jobs which have been created since the Minister legitimised the area of broadcasting. There are 600 jobs in it at present and if any other sector was subjected to the vicious attack to which the area of broadcasting has been subjected the smaller parties particularly would be screaming for blood. They would say it was an attack on the working men and women. However, there is no merit in their attacks on the broadcasting system. By innuendo, every single person working or supporting local or national radio stations is at fault. It is pathetic and it should not have been said.

Local radio stations should be further strengthened because they have a vital role to play in the future. They will need financial encouragement in many areas but we should not all be locked into this argument because there is more to broadcasting than RTE, Century or anybody else. I should like to see a far greater emphasis on local radio, particularly in regard to financial support, because it has been successful. Many broadcasters in local stations are very familiar to those in their own area although in many cases people do not know if they broadcast nationally or locally; they just broadcast on the station to which they listen. We should encourage community effort instead of attacking it in this House. People should reconsider the wild allegations they made today and I hope that, when the temperature cools and the promised Bill is introduced in the next couple of weeks, there will be a more enlightened debate on the whole topic.

Mr. McCartan: I hope, to share some of my time with Deputies Sherlock and Michael D. Higgins.

[919] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McCartan: I move the following amendment:

To delete all words after “Irish language services” and to substitute the following;

“and, pending the report, to:

(a) protect the public service broadcasting role of RTE, by ensuring that there is no reduction in the revenue available to the station from either advertising or licence revenue, and

(b) take all reasonable steps to ensure the continued operation of the national and commercial radio stations which have been established since the enactment of the Radio and Television Act, 1988.”

I understand that this amendment standing in the names of members of my party, is acceptable to the Fine Gael Party. That being the case, while we will seek to press our amendment, I should say we will be supporting the substantive motion, as amended by us.

Having said that, The Workers' Party cannot help feeling that the proposal for the establishment of an independent review body — as advocated in the main motion — is five years too late. The die has been cast by the terms of the Radio and Television Act, 1988. We contend it would have been far better to have established a review body in advance of that legislation, something we suggested at that time.

On the Second Stage of the Sound Broadcasting Bill, 1987, our party leader, Deputy De Rossa, made the point that it was incumbent on us to establish a commission on broadcasting. I quote his remarks from column 1808, volume 377, of the Official Report of 10 February 1988:

What is needed and which should have preceded this Bill but which at the very least should be done in tandem with the Bill — I am talking specifically [920] about the Sound Broadcasting Bill rather than the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill — is a commission on broadcasting with specific terms of reference which would put broadcasting policy, issues of culture and public policy at the head of their list and questions of cables, frequencies and licences at the bottom of their list.

Such was the anxiety of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to open up what they perceived to be a lucrative, profit-making area to their supporters, the issue was never properly thought out. The process of the emasculation of RTE and the public broadcasting ethic — which began with the passage of the 1988 Act — has been brought much further by the Minister's sweeping decisions announced last evening.

The past 12 months have brought a cold dose of reality to the circumstances surrounding commercial broadcasting. As many people have discovered to their cost, it is not that easy to run a successful radio station at local or national level. We believe that the real demand among listeners was for local rather than commercial radio, as such. When the Radio and Television Bill came before the Dáil we urged that RTE should have been developed, with a network of local community stations established under their umbrella, to meet the demand for local radio and affording listeners a genuine choice.

However, neither Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael nor the Progressive Democrats were prepared to give RTE that chance. Rather they pushed through a Bill supposed to serve all purposes — to guarantee listening choice, provide generous profits for those involved, make no demands on the taxpayer. Of course it has not worked out like that at all and several stations now face real difficulties.

Although we advocated a different approach we take no pleasure in the difficulties now being faced by a number of these stations. It would be regrettable if any of these stations went to the wall when jobs would be lost and listening choice reduced. It would be particularly [921] sad if Century Radio were to close. While clearly they made many mistakes, and found to their cost that running a national radio station requires more skill, management and expertise than running a pop concert or managing a show band, unlike a number of local stations they at least made an effort to provide something other than non-stop pop and patter. They also made a real effort to provide a genuine news service. Their news service, in particular, is first-class, comparing well with RTE in this regard.

Having said that, I want to stress that we are totally and utterly opposed to the proposals announced last evening by the Minister to divert £3 million in licence revenue to the private stations, to cap RTE's advertising revenue and effectively end 2FM's role as a popular music station. These moves have nothing to do with providing a better broadcasting service to the listening public. Rather they are all about settling scores with RTE, providing public money to rescue a handful of mainly rich investors in private radio, many of whom have close political connections with Fianna Fáil judging by the results of their commercial misjudgment and mismanagement. This is not about levelling the playing pitch; these proposals are about levelling RTE.

I might quote the radio columnist of The Irish Times, Mr. Michael Cunningham, who wrote in yesterday's edition of that paper — as it turned out with great foresight since his comments preceded the Minister's announcement:

I'd love to meet the person who coined the term “uneven playing pitch” to describe the effects on the market of RTE's dual funding by licence fees and advertising revenue... This attempt to level the playing pitch is a polite euphemism for penalising RTE — the station has been too successful, according to those broadcasting landscape gardeners, who want to do some ruthless bulldozing and pruning.

There is no doubt that RTE are being [922] penalised, not only for being commercially successful but for being genuinely independent in their news and current affairs broadcasting and declining to act as a public relations agency for the Government. Fianna Fáil have never moved far from the attitude expressed by the late Seán Lemass in 1966 when he described RTE as “an instrument of public policy and, as such, responsible to the Government”. Ironically, the then Taoiseach was speaking in the Dáil about a complaint by the then Minister for Agriculture, none other than Deputy Charles Haughey, that RTE were not giving his statements more weight than those of the IFA.

Clearly the Taoiseach has a long memory and has been biding his time. He has promoted the ludicrous assertion, in Government and in Opposition, that The Workers' Party somehow had some sinister control or influence over RTE. Members of Fianna Fáil have been making it clear in private for a long time — nobody more so than the Minister for Communications — that they believed they were getting a hard time from RTE and were only awaiting the opportunity to get even. Clearly the crisis in Century Radio has afforded them that opportunity. That is no basis for any national broadcasting policy.

By diverting £3 million of public money to assist private-owned stations — established only for the purposes of making profits for their owners — the Minister for Communications has shown himself to be the ultimate radio pirate; henceforth he will be known to us all as buccaneer Burke. The Workers' Party have no wish to see any commercial radio station go off the air, but why should it be RTE and licence payers who must bail out failed business ventures? If unsuccessful stations need financial assistance for a limited period to get on their feet why should that not be done by imposing a levy on successful stations in the private area, some of whom are reported to be making substantial profits? Most of all, how does that square with those sentiments we hear from Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats about the free [923] market being allowed take its course? Surely propping up unsuccessful business ventures with public money interferes with this great free market? Is it not ironic, at a time when there is a Bill before the Dáil providing for the abolition of Fóir Teoranta — a body established to help rescue unsuccessful industrial concerns — the Minister should be promising new legislation to help rescue unsuccessful radio ventures? To all of those Deputies who suggest there are parallels for what is happening in this area in the private sector, with the IDA hand-out — I would say there is no other example of unsuccessful private enterprise being propped up by direct robbery of resources of a public sector body working in the same area. There is no comparison anywhere else in the industrial policy of this Government of taking the money out of the pocket of RTE and handing it over to the private sector when it will simply figure on the balance sheet of the private concern.

Of course, the channelling of £3 million in licence fees will not have been the first tranche of public money to have been diverted to the commercial radio sector. Last year the Minister intervened to compel RTE to reduce the fee they were to charge Century Radio for transmission facilities from approximately £1 million — which RTE said was the true cost — to approximately £400,000. In other words, Century Radio have already received a subsidy of approximately £600,000 from public funds.

The decision of the Minister to take powers to cap RTE's advertising revenue clearly will have major implications for programming and is bound to threaten jobs at the station. The outgoing Chairman of the RTE authority, Mr. Jim Culliton, stated clearly, following the recent publication of RTE's draft accounts, that any further cutback in income “could result in a very significant reduction in programming, quality and quantity. You cannot produce a consistently good programme schedule without sufficient cash”.

In taking this action the Government are responding to pressure not only from [924] commercial radio stations but also from newspapers, national and local. The assumption on the part of the newspapers seems to be that if RTE advertising, especially television advertising is curbed, those advertisers will have recourse to other outlets. In fact what is likely to happen is that advertisers will seek other television outlets, such as UTV, HTV and some of the satellite channels, which are now received over a wide area of this country. This will mean Irish money and jobs going out of the State. It may also mean that more advertising will go to the new independent channel, TV3 whenever it is set up and this, indeed, may be the long term strategy involved in the Minister's current moves. The fact is that curbing advertising on RTE will not deliver one more listener for the commercial radio stations, or one more reader for the newspapers. Indeed we have heard pleas for assistance from the newspapers before, particularly in the mid eighties, when they urged successive Governments to reduce the level of VAT on newspapers. The Government responded eventually, but what happened then? First, the papers did not reduce their prices by the full amount of the VAT reductions, and within a matter of months they were back up to their original price structures.

The most extraordinary part of the Minister's position is that relating to 2FM. It has been widely acknowledged that 2FM have been particularly successful in recent years — too successful it seems for the begrudgers in Fianna Fáil, and now the Minister seems determined to destroy them. This move is particularly ironic as it is not too long since we heard the very same Minister complaining there was too much talk on RTE. The transformation of 2FM into the sort of information channel envisaged by the Minister will be a double blow to RTE. First, a channel of this nature will be more expensive to operate and second, there will be a decline in advertising revenue.

Everyone knows that popular music stations attract the large numbers of [925] young people whose attention advertisers are trying to catch. It is the simplest and most successful formula on radio. That is why virtually all of the commercial stations concentrate to such a degree on popular music and why none is broadcasting the sort of cultural, educational and information programmes the Minister now envisages for 2FM. I am all in favour of RTE extending their broadcasting in these areas, but not at the expense of 2FM. Indeed the network on which such programmes could be developed is already there in the FM3 channel, which is very much under used at present. If the Minister was seriously interested in developing RTE's range of programmes then he should expand FM3, leave 2FM alone and use the revenue they earned from the popular format to pay for these education and information programmes.

It would, I think, be reasonable to expect 2FM to be subject to the same requirement as the commercial stations regarding a minimum amount of news and current affairs programmes. I understand that RTE have indicated that they would be quite willing to do this, but it must also be said that many of the commercial stations are not meeting the requirement in this regard.

What is happening is the effective privatisation of 2FM. Far from being offered a level playing pitch, RTE are being shown the red card and the most lucrative part of the pitch is being left for the exclusive use of the financial backers of Fianna Fáil. Those who came up with the notes to bankroll successful election campaigns for Fianna Fáil are now being rewarded with a bonanza payment to beat all bonanza payments.

RTE have done a good job in recent years. Despite reducing staff numbers they have continued to improve their services, especially in radio. When the decision came to award the contract for the televising of the Dáil, the same spite and pique was used to award it totally to a company who are unproven, who have no track record in this area at all. We saw a repeat of this spite and pique recently [926] when the decision was taken at the behest of Government to allow a private company to film the visit of Nelson Mandela to this House on 2 July 1990 to the exclusion of RTE who had made a special request to film the event. This was awarded despite the fact that Windmill Lane had asked for the three months of October, November and December 1990 to get into training to be ready for the 1991 budget day deadline. For some odd reason they have now been told that on 2 July they are welcome to come into this Chamber, to the exclusion of RTE, to film Mr. Nelson Mandela's arrival, even though it has not been settled that RTE will be in a position to rebroadcast that visit to the nation. A great opportunity may well be lost and it is simply another example of the spite and pique that exists in this Government towards the national broadcasting agency.

The campaign being waged by Fianna Fáil against RTE and brought to a culmination in the Minister's announcement last night, is unjustifiable in every respect. When the promised legislation is brought before the Dáil The Workers' Party will fight it section by section and line by line. I promise the Minister and the Government a long hot summer.

Mr. Sherlock: A debate on broadcasting policy at any time is to be welcomed but who would have anticipated — indeed there has been great shock — the Minister's decision on behalf of the Government to divert £3 million from the broadcasting licence fee to the independent media? The Minister has also indicated that he will be asking the RTE authority to consider an alternative use for 2FM to provide comprehensive public service programmes. I understand that consideration of a Government proposal to link 2FM and Century Radio has been shelved — perhaps this would have been the best way to deal with the matter — if they were to provide programmes in the area of education, the teaching of continental languages as well as cultural, trade union and farming activities.

I want to refer to two issues that particularly affect my own county: first the [927] refusal of the Minister to grant Cork local radio permission to extend their broadcasting hours at weekends, at the time when private groups were seeking licences and were granted franchises to broadcast. Cork local radio, as Deputy Dennehy has acknowledged is very professional. Indeed one has to agree that the standard of both national and local coverage on Cork local radio was exemplary. The level of support it enjoyed from Cork city and county has indicated that quite clearly. The decision last night is coming as a great shock to the people and it is tantamount to a vote of no confidence in Cork local radio — a station that could be said to be impartial and balanced in their reporting and in the presentation of their programmes — and a vote of no confidence in the second largest city in the State.

The radio station, County Sound 103, are situated outside my own back door. They first broadcast as a community radio station but within weeks of being granted a franchise they joined with a consortium and were granted a licence to broadcast in County Cork. Let me say that representatives of the Government party were brought on radio and in some instances they were given up to 15 minutes uninterrupted broadcasting time and this certainly in my view is in breach of section 9 of the Radio and Television Act, 1980 which outlines the broadcasting treatment of current affairs including matters which are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate. The Government representatives were brought on to debate subjects which are issues of current public debate and little time was allocated to the main Opposition party but as far as I can say there was no question of balanced or impartial reporting.

Mr. Burke: It seems the reverse of Morning Ireland.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Is that the DJ coming out?

Mr. Sherlock: I want to make that point very clearly so that it is on record.

[928] Mr. J. Mitchell: The Minister was asked to go on record in a debate with me on radio and television. He should not be complaining about a lack of balance.

Mr. Sherlock: I will conclude on that note. I understand that Deputy Michael D. Higgins will also share some of the time.

Mr. M. Higgins: I am deeply grateful to Deputy McCartan and The Workers' Party for sharing their time and allowing me time to make a few points. I wish to comment on the Labour Party's position on what has been taking place here this evening and last evening. Reference has been made to the position taken by Deputy O'Sullivan, by me and by others during the period 1982-87. In those years we defended public service broadcasting for some well known reasons that we outlined. We spoke about the tradition of broadcasting, and this evening I will just say a couple of things about that.

There is such a thing as the ethos of broadcasting and the ethos of making money. The people who had been part of the ethos of making money found that when they went into broadcasting they were not able to make money so easily. Having distilled everything we have heard this evening down to its elements, what is being said is that, having had a free run at independent broadcasting and having failed to capture a listening audience, the Minister has decided to give those stations part of the licence fee. Deputy Roche is not sure whether it is a licence fee or a tax. If it is a tax, why not abolish the licence fee? You cannot apply the same logic as Deputy Roche and then just walk away from it.

It is interesting that on 20 November 1987 the present Minister, Deputy Ray Burke, when speaking about broadcasting and the funding of the broadcasting regulatory authority, said: “It would be unacceptable to provide public moneys to finance a new broadcasting regulatory authority.” At that time the House was told that there would be a public service component, that there would be definite requirements in [929] relation to what the stations would be able to broadcast. Have people now suddenly discovered that the operation of these stations is more costly than they had thought or have their friends said: “We did not find it as easy as we thought”? The announcements that have been made are dishonest. This is not simply about deregulation; it is about attacking RTE. The attack on RTE, by taking part of the licence fee, goes much further. I challenge the Minister to say when in history a Minister for Communications has told a radio station what they could broadcast. For example, in the case of 2FM he decided that youth culture is a good area for the private sector and told them he was pushing them off the air in that area. That is what this debate is all about. It is not about the plurality of broadcasting or the other hocus-pocus nonsense that Deputy Roche and others were talking about.

RTE were told they were not doing enough to win advertising revenue but they then found out they could do so. Now this deregulating Minister, this private enterprise person of the free market, is telling 2FM that they are not free to get advertising but if they have any money to spare, there is a whole list of areas that are dear to good old Fianna Fáil's heart such as traditional music, foreign languages and, at the end of the list, Irish, which we believed in at one time.

As Deputy McGinley and others have pointed out, the Minister hinted last night at the depth of the Taoiseach's commitment made during the election campaign to the people of the Gaeltacht that there would be a Teilifís na Gaeltacht. It is very clear now that the Irish language will be used again as a stick to beat Network 2, freeing up TV 3 for the commercial opportunities that are there. This is supposed to be healthy broadcasting and is supposed to be creating jobs and so on. With my limited experience of broadcasting, I was disgusted to hear Deputy Roche and others speak about broadcasting as an activity, as if it was the production of any other commodity. The companies are in trouble because they [930] did not understand or respect the nature of broadcasting.

There is only one other freedom that the Minister can interfere with. Maybe he will be able to force the people to listen to the radio stations he is recommending or to force them to view the television stations he wants them to view. That is the kind of hugger-mugger we have been listening to tonight and last night. I want to say on behalf of the Labour Party that when the Minister brings in the legislation we will be reading out his speeches to him and will be telling him that that shower over there who stand up and pay tributes to RTE and so on are a disgrace——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure that, on reflection and with your capacity for the language, you would select a better collective noun.

Mr. M. Higgins: Yes, indeed. I will conclude by saying that on every single issue of principle in broadcasting there is no freedom and, as somebody has said, no level playing field. This is a vicious, vindictive destruction of a service that is being built up for all the people of Ireland and we deplore it. We will oppose every line of the new legislation.

Mr. Dukes: I intend to share the remaining time with my colleague, Deputy Jim Mitchell.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Dukes: The Minister for Communications, on the basis of what he said last night, will be seeking what I can only call unprecedented controls over broadcasting in this country. I find something sinister about this. I find it all the more sinister when I remember that this Minister in 1988 wanted to keep wide powers in his own hands. Fortunately at the time Fianna Fáil were in a minority and we were able to prevent them doing that. There is an independent commission, although I have a feeling the Minister would like to clip even their wings. Now, [931] propped up by the Progressive Democrats, one time émigrés from the Fianna Fáil Party, the Minister is trying again to gain more control and we can only speculate on what the reasons for this are.

The issue before us this evening is a very straightforward one. We simply cannot allow a blundering Minister to do irreparable damage to our national broadcasting station. We have to stop him. I would say quite sincerely that Progressive Democrat Deputies who left Fianna Fáil because they had enough of stroke politics should think very long and hard on the consequences of what they do tonight before they vote for what can only be called the stroke of the century.

The Minister bungled the setting up of national independent radio. We remember the haste with which that legislation was brought forward. We remember the long arguments that took place before the Minister would agree to an independent commission of any kind. In view of that, Century Radio have a case for a once-off State injection to assist them with their present problems, if that can be done, but no more than that. I say that without the slightest hesitation because other companies in the past have received assistance from the State, even when there was not the slightest suggestion that the State was in any sense to blame or that legislation led people into error or induced people to make investments that were not entirely justified.

However, there is no case for the Minister to take a slice off the licence fee revenue for an indefinite period to prop up independent radio. I can inform the House — I think other Members will have also realised this during the course of the day — that some independent radio operators find the whole idea ludicrous. Even people who stand to benefit from this vague measure the Minister has put forward find the whole thing nonsensical in the context of independent radio. There cannot be a case for the Minister, who is after all supposed to be the people's guardian of RTE, to systematically damage that State enterprise. It is all the more tragic that the Minister [932] intends to do that when there is a State enterprise which, thanks to the enlightened policies of my colleague, Deputy Jim Mitchell, when in Government, has worked its way into a basically healthy and sound position. They did that in the face of determined opposition from Deputies now on those benches over there who thought at the time that the very idea of getting State enterprises to cover their costs was anathema. There is no case to injure or to damage an enterprise that has gone through all that and has produced a situation where it can live in a healthy and competitive environment. So far as I can remember, there is no example in the history of this State for a Minister to set out deliberately to undermine a State company. RTE belongs to the people of this country. It is ours, it has served us well and it deserves, at least, fairness from the Minister and from our Legislature.

The Minister, it seems, will be asking the Dáil and the Oireachtas to give him the power to curb RTE's advertising in terms of both price and time. That is utterly wrong. It will harm RTE, jobs will be lost, quality will suffer, it will produce no advantage for independent television or for independent radio or for the print media, but it will produce extra revenue for UTV. I bear UTV no ill will, but it is no part of our function in this House gratuitously to hand over to UTV advertising revenue that could be spent within this State. I am informed, the Minister refuses to see the people who represent the advertising industry who could tell him what happens in the real world and outside the Cabinet room or the council rooms of Fianna Fáil.

We will oppose that legislation when it is brought in here. We will oppose every single bit of it that will damage RTE, or that is so misguided as to make a present of advertising revenue to a television station outside our jurisdiction.

There is about this whole affair a smell of sharp practice and, indeed, corruption by the Minister. He has had the opportunity to clear that up and he has patently failed to do so. The Minister this afternoon compounded further the damage [933] in his announcement of the new RTE Authority. The new Authority is, to a very large extent, a Fianna Fáil solution to a Fianna Fáil problem.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. Dukes: For the most part that authority will be, and is clearly intended to be a compliant tool in the hands of a hostile Minister who has made no secret whatever of his determination to impose his diktats on RTE——

Mr. Leyden: The Deputy has a short memory.

Mr. Dukes: ——and all this from a man who is also the Minister for Justice. That smacks of South American dictatorship. We know for a fact, and we know from their own admissions, that the Minister for Communications is not the only member of this Cabinet who feels he would like to settle some imagined scores with RTE. The appointment of an authority that will be very largely a lap dog is no way to run a television station, no way to run a radio station and no way to fulfil the obligations that are laid on the Minister by legislation.

This House has no option, in view of all that is going on and in view of what we must infer of the Minister's motives, for the unwise — to say the least — lunatic course of action he intends to embark on but to oppose that. This House should make it clear that it intends to do so by supporting the motion we have before the House this evening.

Mr. J. Mitchell: I wish to thank all the Deputies who participated in this very interesting debate. I respect very much the views of other Deputies on this side of the House, even though their views differed sometimes from mine, as to the future of broadcasting. What is very clear is that Fianna Fáil are trying to corrupt and pervert broadcasting in Ireland.

The announcement yesterday by the Minister for Communications is one-sided and is party political in nature. [934] Today it is compounded by the appointment of a coalition authority packed largely by members of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The Government have reverted to the same low standards that marked the last Government of which the Taoiseach, the Minister for Communications, Deputy Burke, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, were members. The Progressive Democrats have rejoined Fianna Fáil in all their hookery and corruption.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): That is a fair comment, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. J. Mitchell: Speaking of hookery, it is worthwhile for this House to recall the recent history of this issue. On 12 February last in a speech in Cork I revealed that the Minister for Communications was seeking ways to divert money from RTE to independent radio. The Minister gave no television or radio interviews on that day, but a statement was issued from his Department and reported in all newspapers the following day. The Irish Independent on 13 February 1990 under the headline “Dept. denies plan was to aid Century with TV fee”. stated:

Communications Minister Ray Burke last night strongly denied Mr. Mitchell's claims, saying they were “without foundation ...”

On the same day — 13 February 1990 — The Irish Times under the headline “TD insists subsidy to Century sought” stated:

A spokesman for the Minister last night described Mr. Mitchell's statement as “without foundation and having no basis in fact”.

On the same day the Cork Examiner under the headline “Burke: no TV cash for Century” reported on the matter. The Irish Press on 13 February 1990 — truth [935] in the news, Fianna Fáil organ — also carried the story under the heading “Burke `leaning on RTE' to give Century licence aid”.

More seriously, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I tabled questions to the Minister which were due for answer in this House on 27 February 1990, so did some other Deputies, who did not understand the nuances of the situation as well as I did. The Minister on that day — I refer to columns 544 to 546 of the Official Report — in reply to those questions said:

Neither I nor my Department have made any proposals, formal or informal, to RTE to divert income to any independent radio station.

On that day I had the temerity to say — in what I understand was parliamentary language — I had reason to believe the Minister was misleading this House.

Mr. McGinley: The Deputy was thrown out.

Mr. J. Mitchell: For that temerity and for that parliamentary charge I was asked to leave this House.

A Deputy: Come back, all is forgiven.

Mr. J. Mitchell: On that day I did not say that the Minister told lies, I did not say he was untruthful, I did not say he was dishonest, but I will leave it to the people of this country to judge today whether he is or not, and who was telling the truth in this House and in Cork.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Stay quiet now and listen to it.

Mr. J. Mitchell: As I said, I was asked to leave the House on that day. This raises very serious questions as to the fitness of the Minister for Communications to be a Minister of this State. In any other parliamentary democracy in Western Europe a Minister who deliberately misleads the House would be asked to resign.

[936] Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): He certainly would not be in Justice as well.

A Deputy: Look at your fine budget speech.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will not tolerate any opposition to or support for Deputy Mitchell.

Mr. J. Mitchell: The Minister and his party have earned the censure and anger of this House. Over the coming weeks and months he will pay for his contempt and for the corrupt perversion of RTE and for his attempts to influence the independent broadcasting sector. I know that some of what the Minister proposes has some allure for the print media because they do have their own difficulties. The capping of RTE advertising revenue— prospective capping sometime in the future — may benefit the print media and if it can be done that way and if it has that effect no one would be more happy than I because I understand and know the problems of the print media. When in Government we reduced VAT on advertising to 10 per cent, and perhaps it should be reduced further. Do not let that lure the print media into silence on this issue, because in any democracy the vitality and health of that democracy depends on a free and impartial media. Let it be clear and let it go out from this House tonight that there will be no cooperation of any sort in dealing with this legislation. It will be fought line by line on Second Stage, on Committee Stage and on Report Stage. We will table as many amendments as we see necessary to remove perversity and corruption from the proposed Bill. We will do everything in our power to put roadblocks in the way of the Minister's unethical bulldozers.

A Deputy: Who will telephone the Garda if they do?

Mr. J. Mitchell: Every Fine Gael Deputy will speak on the Second Stage of the promised Bill. We will delay it in every way we can. We will table every amendment we can and we will ensure [937] that this House and the country will understand the full implications of what the Minister is trying to do.

In conclusion, I appeal to the Members on this side of the House and the Members opposite to support the sensible [938] proposal that the future of broadcasting should not be decided by ministerial fiat or whim but only following the review of an independent body who have listened to the views of all interest groups and not just to some.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 70.

Allen, Bernard.

Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Bruton, Richard.

Byrne, Eric.

Carey, Donal.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael Joe.

Cotter, Bill.

Creed, Michael.

Crowley, Frank.

Currie, Austin.

D'Arcy, Michael.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

De Rossa, Proinsias.

Doyle, Joe.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Farrelly, John V.

Ferris, Michael.

Finucane, Michael.

Flanagan, Charles.

Foxe, Tom.

Garland, Roger.

Gilmore, Eamon.

Gregory, Tony.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Michael D.

Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kavanagh, Liam.

Kemmy, Jim.

Kenny, Enda.

Lee, Pat.

Lowry, Michael.

McCartan, Pat.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

Mac Giolla, Tomás.

McGrath, Paul.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.

Moynihan, Michael.

Nealon, Ted.

Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Shea, Brian.

O'Sullivan, Gerry.

O'Sullivan, Toddy.

Owen, Nora.

Pattison, Séamus.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Reynolds, Gerry.

Ryan, Seán.

Sheehan, Patrick J.

Sherlock, Joe.

Spring, Dick.

Stagg, Emmet.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine

Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Andrews, David.

Aylward, Liam.

Barrett, Michael.

Brady, Gerard.

Brady, Vincent.

Brennan, Mattie.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).

Burke, Raphael P.

Callely, Ivor.

Clohessy, Peadar.

[939]Gallagher, Pat the Cope.

Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.

Hillery, Brian.

Hilliard, Colm.

Hyland, Liam.

Jacob, Joe.

Kelly, Laurence.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Kitt, Tom.

Lawlor, Liam.

Lenihan, Brian.

Leonard, Jimmy.

Leyden, Terry.

Lyons, Denis.

Martin, Micheál.

McCreevy, Charlie.

McDaid, Jim.

McEllistrim, Tom.

Molloy, Robert.

Connolly, Ger.

Coughlan, Mary Theresa.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullimore, Séamus.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

de Valera, Síle.

Ellis, John.

Fahey, Jackie.

Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Flood, Chris.

[940]Nolan, M. J.

Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).

O'Connell, John.

O'Dea, Willie.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Leary, John.

O'Toole, Martin Joe.

Power, Seán.

Quill, Máirín.

Roche, Dick.

Stafford, John.

Treacy, Noel.

Tunney, Jim.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Wilson, John P.

Woods, Michael.

Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Byrne and McCartan; Níl, Deputies V, Brady and Clohessy.

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: “That the motion be agreed.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 45; Níl, 70.

Allen, Bernard.

Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Bruton, Richard.

Carey, Donal.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael Joe.

Cotter, Bill.

Creed, Michael.

Crowley, Frank.

Currie, Austin.

D'Arcy, Michael.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Doyle, Joe.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Farrelly, John V.

Finucane, Michael.

Flanagan, Charles.

Foxe, Tom.

Garland, Roger.

Higgins, Jim.

Hogan, Philip.

Kenny, Enda.

Lee, Pat.

Lowry, Michael.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

McGrath, Paul.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.

Nealon, Ted.

Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).

O'Brien, Fergus.

Owen, Nora.

Reynolds, Gerry.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine

Timmins, Godfrey.

Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Andrews, David.

Aylward, Liam.

Barrett, Michael.

[941]Callely, Ivor.

Clohessy, Peadar.

Connolly, Ger.

Coughlan, Mary Theresa.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullimore, Séamus.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

de Valera, Síle.

Ellis, John.

Fahey, Jackie.

Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Flood, Chris.

Gallagher, Pat the Cope.

Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.

Hillery, Brian.

Hilliard, Colm.

Hyland, Liam.

Jacob, Joe.

Kelly, Laurence.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Kitt, Tom.

Lawlor, Liam.

Lenihan, Brian.

Brady, Gerard.

Brady, Vincent.

Brennan, Mattie.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).

Burke, Raphael P.

[942]Leonard, Jimmy.

Leyden, Terry.

Lyons, Denis.

Martin, Micheál.

McCreevy, Charlie.

McDaid, Jim.

McEllistrim, Tom.

Molloy, Robert.

Nolan, M.J.

Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).

O'Connell, John.

O'Dea, Willie.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Leary, John.

O'Toole, Martin Joe.

Power, Seán.

Quill, Máirín.

Roche, Dick.

Stafford, John.

Treacy, Noel.

Tunney, Jim.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Wilson, John P.

Woods, Michael.

Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and Boylan; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Clohessy.

Question declared lost.