Thursday, 15 September 2022
Report of the Future of Media Commission: Statements
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim comhghairdeas léi as an obair dhian atá déanta aici ar an gcoimisiún seo. Well done to the Minister for fulfilling a programme for Government commitment to see this through with the completion of the report of the media commission. It is a very important document. Now more than ever, the way in which our media operate and how we support the are key, given the huge shift to everybody believing everything they read on Twitter and Facebook. Now more than ever, we need mainstream media like RTÉ and local media to be funded properly and recognised for how important they are. Coming from a rural constituency, I know Clare FM, which is an award-winning local radio station, The Clare Championand The Clare Echoare still valuable media outlets for people. Those people may be of a certain demographic but that demographic deserves to be able to access those media too. In Clare, we are very proud of our local media. It is good that the commission recognises the importance of that and the value people in Ireland attach to access to local media. I welcome that finding in the commission's report.
I have to support the Minister and the Government in their conclusion with regard to the TV licence. At first I thought it might be great if we were to abolish the TV licence. That was my knee-jerk reaction. I thought of it as another fee so let us cancel the fee. However, if we had no fees, we would have a 100% Government-dependent media outlet and national broadcaster. That would mean the Government could dictate what way the broadcaster could operate. Now I see I was wrong in thinking abolishing the TV licence would be a good idea because of what might happen if 100% of the funding came from the Government. We have seen politicians try to use that in the past. There have been cases in the past where politicians tried to interfere with RTÉ's independence and were rightly rebuffed. We often see good "Prime Time" debates and research and documentaries highlighting issues that we as a Government needed to be seen and shown. I learned myself how important that is. It is easy to say we should abolish fees and that the Government is trying to get more money off people. However, the fees reflect the people and the TV licence is a direct link between the people and RTÉ. If people do not want to pay the fees, then RTÉ needs to look at that and see what it needs to do to encourage people to value it enough. If it was completely reliant on Government funding, it would not have to care what people think. It would just be trying to keep the Government happy all the time, which we do not want because in a democracy we want clarity and open information from our media sources.
The new media fund is welcome but until it is fully established, we have to increase our support for TG4 and RTÉ. The support we have received to date for TG4 is great. The commission highlights the importance of the Irish language in mainstream media. We cannot expect TG4 to do all the work. Tá ár dteanga féin chomh tábhachtach. Má tá sí á húsáid ar RTÉ níos mó, beidh níos mó daoine ag éisteacht léi, á cloisteáil agus ag féachaint uirthi mar theanga bheo. Mura bhfeiceann daoine an Ghaeilge á húsáid go beomhar, ní bheidh meas acu ar an teanga. Tá sé riachtanach go bhfuil an coimisiún ag rá go bhfuil sé sin tábhachtach. The commission recommended that RTÉ give greater priority to the Irish language in its general programming and on all platforms. In other countries like the Netherlands, there are loads of programmes in other languages but they are subtitled in their own language. It would be great to see more Irish language programmes broadcast on RTÉ, as opposed to TG4 being left to do all the work for the Irish language. TG4 as a whole has been amazing in what it has done for the Irish language over the years. It has got better and better. The quality of the documentaries it produces is second to none. It is great that the commission recognises the importance of increased funding for TG4. We do not want Facebook and Twitter to be dictating what everybody believes and thinks. We have seen how populist and polarising those forms of media have become, which is why this commission is so important.
I have one last point to make, which I think is important. One of the recommendations of the commission was that the media in Ireland should adopt a more focused and ambitious approach to addressing environmental sustainability in its widest sense, including climate change and biodiversity. It is not about just airing the odd episode of "Eco Eye", which has actually lost funding recently. We have a climate and biodiversity crisis. That should be reflected in the media, and not just when COP26 is taking place. There was a whole week of programming around climate then, but just for that one week. There should be daily news reports about climate and biodiversity, because these are the facts we are living with. Farming is dictated by our weather patterns. It is all becoming increasingly erratic. We have to prioritise this because it is affecting everything. It is affecting our air quality, how we travel, our stress levels and our hope. There is a good, positive news story here, which is that even though we are in a crisis, we have all the solutions. They are there and we need to highlight them. RTÉ needs to realise how important it is for it not just to do some odd token thing when issues around climate and biodiversity become controversial. We need this to become a daily news story about the different situations we are facing, not just in far-off places, because we see the effects of climate change daily in Ireland.
I welcome the findings of this report on what is needed for local media. I look forward to these recommendations being implemented. Again, it is always good to be open to learning because I had initially thought the TV licence should be abolished. Then, when I thought about it properly and informed myself properly, I realised it would be bad to accept the recommendation that all funding should come from the Government as that would lead to a biased broadcasting service, which we do not want. We want RTÉ to become better and better at promoting what is important, whether biodiversity, climate action, our culture or our language. We want it to do this in an unbiased way where it does not have to try to keep the Government happy. I welcome that decision by the Government and I support the Minister’s recommendation on it.