Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Communications; Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there are effectively sex lines, that is 1500 numbers, being advertised on TV3 in the late evening time and, following the exposure of the trafficking of young women from Europe to Ireland for the sex trade and prostitution, if he will consider banning these phone lines and introducing legislation to govern standards in advertising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21795/12]
Responsibility for the regulation of premium rate telephone numbers and their advertising, including those referred to in the Deputy's question, is a matter for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The BAI and ComReg are independent statutory bodies and as such, I have no direct role in the matter.
The enactment of the Communications Regulation (Premium Rate Services and Electronic Communications Infrastructure) Act 2010 transferred responsibility for the regulation of premium rate services, PRS, in the State from the Regulator of Premium Rate Telecommunications Services Limited, RegTel, to ComReg. In relation to the regulation of premium rate services, ComReg, as the competent authority in this jurisdiction, has a code of practice in place. The code derives from the original RegTel code and has been operated by ComReg since July 2010, pending the further development of a code in this area. Service providers of premium rate telecommunications services are required to comply with the provisions of the code of practice. There are a number of specific provisions in the code which are pertinent to the advertisement of premium rate chat services. Chat line services of the type to which the Deputy refers are not defined as sexual entertainment services, but rather as virtual chat services. However, the code of practice addresses services of a sexual nature, in section 8.4. Consequently, it includes provisions governing the promotion of such services. It also stipulates, under section 5.2 and, in particular, section 5.2.3, that service providers must ensure services are not used in any way to promote or facilitate prostitution. Compliance with the code is a matter for ComReg. Having considered the Deputy's concerns, I will request that it inform him directly of any compliance measures it has taken to date under the code, both generally and specifically with regard to these advertisements.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The BAI has responsibility for certain types of advertising rules. Section 8(9) of its general commercial communications code, GCCC, makes general provisions for premium rate telecommunications services and requires that commercial communications for such services comply with Irish and European legislation and the rules, regulations and codes of practice issued from time to time. The GCCC also makes a more general provision in relation to matters of offence, harm and dignity. A range of rules under section 3.2 of the code deal with these issues. I note the strong concerns the Deputy has expressed on this matter which I will relay to the BAI and ComReg.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply which he did not get the chance to conclude. The inspiration behind the question is that often as I sit at home late at night awaiting what for me and many others is a very challenging political programme, I see young scantily dressed girls on TV3 encouraging and inviting people to participate with them by way of a call centre. I make no bones about it, given my information, that I believe this is a cover for prostitution. From the information available, prostitution is rife in the country and a service is readily available in every city, town and village. It is inextricably linked with sex trafficking, with which we have a serious problem. One can only imagine the horror in people's lives and those of their families for those embroiled in sex slavery and sex trafficking.
The matter cannot be discussed without considering the knock-on effects. The Garda in Clondalkin is seeking help following an attack on a young girl in my constituency. The Minister is well aware of the situation and I fully support him. I do not accept for one moment that what I see on TV3 every night is not a sexual entertainment service. I accept that ComReg is the relevant authority in the matter and that it is competent in achieving compliance with the legislation. However, we are the legislative authority and could perhaps be of assistance were we to empower ComReg by providing new or additional legislation that would be helpful in dealing with this serious matter, about which I feel most uncomfortable.
It has not yet been established that the BAI code is ineffective. The issue raised by the Deputy concerns whether so-called chat lines are, in fact, as he put it, a cover for prostitution. I find it difficult to think of anything positive that one could say about the advertisements in question. They are demeaning of women and, unfortunately, as the Deputy said, there is an issue affecting this as well as every other country of young women being trafficked. It was believed, even at the time the Bill on human trafficking was enacted, that it was an issue that affected other member states but not this country to the same extent. However, the evidence made available since suggests it is a matter of concern in this jurisdiction also. Now that the Deputy has raised the matter I will be pleased to draw the attention of ComReg to the issues he has raised. If it is his conviction - I will not press him on the source of his information - that the chat lines are a cover for prostitution, it would be appropriate to refer the advertisements to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.