Breen lauds the contribution of Clare FM in giving local communities a voice and calls for continued support for Community Based projects at Eiri Cora Baiscinn and Jet FM in Shannon – Broadcasting Bill 2008

October 10th, 2008 - Pat Breen

 Deputy Pat Breen: Yes, it will be tomorrow and I will contribute on both days.    I welcome the Broadcasting Bill 2008.  Undoubtedly, while the media have transformed our lives, things have changed dramatically in that sector during the past 40 years.  I recently read an account of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963 highlighting what a major undertaking it was for RTE to broadcast the visit live.  In all, it broadcasted approximately 14 hours of live coverage of his visit, which constituted a major task for the station at the time.  Great technological advances in television broadcasting certainly have been made.  While President Kennedy’s visit took place a long time ago, all Members can recall the events of 11 September 2001 when people witnessed the second aeroplane crashing into the tower live on their television screens.  The dramatic changes in broadcasting during that period have been such that the attack was beamed into every home in the United States and Ireland. This legislation is long overdue and although it contains many good provisions that I welcome, some areas will require fine tuning. 

 

“Digital” is the new buzzword and Members have been informed that digital broadcasting will come into force in December 2012 when analogue transmissions will cease and the new era of digital broadcasting in the form of digital terrestrial television, DTT, will commence.  While the European Commission is anxious to push this date forward, that is unlikely at this stage. There is very little information on how the transfer will come about or its costs.  The Minister should comment on this issue in his response to Members at the conclusion of the Second Stage debate.  Consumers will be obliged to acquire a new set-top box to receive the channels and I wish to ascertain what it will cost.  While Members have been told that RTE will provide four free-to-air channels, I seek information on the cost involved, particularly on whether elderly people living in isolated rural areas will be obliged to pay a charge. 

 

Radio and television services constitute a lifeline for those living alone and for many, serve as the candle in the window.  Members must find out whether the service will continue to be free to air?  I refer to the example of television licences.  Everyone remembers when a television licence cost £5 per annum.  The annual cost subsequently increased to £50 and then to the present amount, which I understand to be €150.  Clearly, the licence fee has increased greatly as the years have passed.  Moreover, Sky Television which has been installed in many households in recent years costs a phenomenal amount.  Many householders who subscribe to the film and sports channels pay more than €100 per month to receive such broadcasts.

 

Do I have much more time before the debate must adjourn?

 

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am afraid not.

 

 

Deputy Pat Breen: I will continue tomorrow morning, as I have much more to say to the Minister of State, particularly in respect of local radio and other issues.

 

 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I look forward to it. 

 

 Deputy Seán Power: The Deputy should sleep on it.

 

Thursday, 9th October 2008.

 

Deputy Pat Breen: I ask the Ceann Comhairle to notify me after six minutes.

 

This morning I will talk about the contribution of local radio, particularly in my constituency of County Clare.  Clare FM has played a significant role in giving a local voice to communities, informing them about news and sports, and raising awareness of issues that affect all communities.  It also gives a voice to us as politicians.  Without independent radio it would be difficult for us to carry on with our work.  The approach of local radio, particularly our own local radio station, is to celebrate what is local, and that is important also.

 

Clare FM has won many awards, including, this year, a gold medal in the ongoing news story category from the New York Festivals Radio Broadcasting Awards.  It has also won several other awards for radio documentaries.  I commend it highly on its initiatives.  In this context, I welcome the acceptance in the Seanad of the Fine Gael amendment which provides that if a radio station applies to renew its licence and no other station applies for it, the station will receive a licence for seven years rather than five.  I hope the Government will follow through on that proposal, which has been accepted in the Seanad, and perhaps consider extending the period to ten years rather than the seven years proposed, particularly if a radio station is doing a good job locally.  I urge the Minister to consider this on Committee Stage.

 

In recent years there has also been significant growth in the area of community broadcasting.  Again, I refer to my own constituency, in which two local radio stations are broadcasting to communities, including Radio Corca Baiscinn in Kilkee, which was set up in 1999 and is very successful.  It pays particular attention to equality issues and social exclusion.  I always make a point of visiting the community radio stations.  Another community radio station is the former Shannon Community Radio, now renamed Jet FM, which broadcasts on Saturdays, covering a wide variety of subjects.  Other community-based projects are in the pipeline.  We must continue to support these community radio stations.  They are important in terms of binding communities together and keeping them aware of what is happening locally.  Often radio is the candle in the window for these communities.

 

 Broadcasting is ever-evolving. 

 

The use of the Internet has also grown considerably in recent times.  The growth in popularity of social networking sites on the Internet is something we must consider seriously, particularly with regard to suicide among young people.  We need to develop Europe-wide media guidelines on the reporting of suicides.  A total of 5% of suicides are estimated to be copycat suicides and while some social networking sites provide valuable help to young people, there are blogs and chat rooms that promote and glamorise suicide.  I hope this matter will be considered in this Bill.

 

  I had the opportunity 12 months ago, as a member of the Council of Europe, to visit Rome in the course of preparing a report on the media monopoly in Italy.  As Deputies know, Mr. Berlusconi, the current Prime Minister, owns 65% of television stations in that country.  If we add State television, this means he controlled 90% of stations.  There would seem to be a conflict of interest there.  RAI and Mediaset are the two main television stations.  At the time we did our report Mr. Berlusconi had lost his position to Mr. Prodi, so we felt his control of the majority of television stations had not influenced the outcome of the election.  We do not have that problem in this country, thank God.

 

 I spoke last night about pay television channels and certain Irish sporting events which cannot be enjoyed on our national radio stations.  This occurred last year when the Heineken Cup took place in Cardiff.  Many people could not watch the match on their national stations but had to pay to watch it on a pay-per-view channel.  This prohibits many people from watching such sports, although Munster has done so well in rugby.  This is something we must consider.  While certain sporting events have been ring-fenced, we should not be moving towards the day when the All-Ireland hurling and football finals and other major events cannot be viewed by adoring fans in the counties involved without having to pay for the privilege.  We must legislate in this regard.  I urge the Minister to sit down with the various sporting organisations and agree on this matter with a view to extending the number of Irish sporting events that will remain free to air for the Irish public to enjoy.

 

  I am happy to see that two new television stations are proposed in the Bill, a film channel and the Oireachtas channel.  It would be very entertaining for most people to see what went on in the House this morning, with arguments over appointments to the PRTB and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government moving from one seat to the other.  That would be as good as any soap opera for most viewers.  I welcome the proposal for the Oireachtas channel.  It will be worthwhile in terms of increasing understanding.

 

In the context of the Lisbon treaty we should also consider broadcasting more of what happens in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.  We should let people know what happens in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 Part of the reason for the problems with the Lisbon treaty is that people do not know what happens in Europe.  We should consider broadcasting the work of our MEPs in the European Parliament and the procedures with regard to legislation and so on.  The same can be said for the Council of Europe, of which I am a member.  We are a long way from seeing county council meetings broadcast.

 

Some good work is being carried out in local authority chambers, which is covered by local radio.

 

  I am sure RTE is tired of getting complaints about “Oireachtas Report” coming on at 12.15 a.m.  Hopefully an Oireachtas channel will complement the work being done by Members in this House.  Very important legislation is discussed here and it is important that people are kept up to date with what is happening.  In the interim before the Oireachtas channel comes on air I hope RTE will consider broadcasting “Oireachtas Report” earlier in the evening so that people can familiarise themselves with what is happening in the Oireachtas and we are not just speaking to ourselves, but to the public.

 

 

I am delighted with the provision on junk food advertising in the legislation.  This ban is a small but important step in changing attitudes to food.  With the cap of 15% on advertising, perhaps the Minister would reconsider flexibility in terms of advertising on local radio.  He should consider extending that for two hours rather than the one-hour period at the moment where they must have ten minutes advertising in one hour.  Local radio stations carry some very interesting debates and constant advertising takes people away from the debate as other speakers have mentioned.  I welcome the legislation and I hope it will be passed as quickly as possible.