Thursday, 15 September 2022
Report of the Future of Media Commission: Statements
The Minister is very welcome. I want to relay apologies on behalf of Senator Cassells, who could not be here for unavoidable reasons. I am speaking on behalf of both of us.
We were disappointed that we did not have this report prior to our discussions on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. However, I thank the Minister and note the time she gave to our discussions on that legislation, which were substantial. I thank her for being here for all the discussions, which took 25 or 26 hours. I also thank the commission for all its work. The report is a substantial piece of work and runs to over 200 pages. You would not read it in one night by any means. It is substantial and comprehensive. I thank Professor MacCraith and all the members of the commission for the work they have done. They have made 50 recommendations, 49 of which have been accepted.
When I was media spokesperson for Fine Gael, my colleagues, Deputies Bruton and Cannon and Senator Buttimer, worked with me to make a submission to the commission. We met representatives from the industry, including local radio and newspapers in particular, at a regional and local level around the country in order to put forward their views for the report. This has been reflected in the recommendations that have been made. One of the main findings in the report is the commission's conclusion that:
Ireland’s media sector has an enduring value and importance to members of the public, to wider society and democracy. It rates comparatively well in terms of a number of respected international benchmarks, has delivered well on its public service aims and is broadly valued and trusted by the public.
That is a strong statement about our media. As I said at the committee meeting yesterday, a survey was done, which is reported on page 39, showing that over 70% of the public have high or very high trust in our television stations, local and regional radio stations and local and regional newspapers. This compares with an average of approximately 30% who have high or very trust in social media, where there is a significant amount of disinformation, as the Minister has noted.It is important that we strengthen and support the newspaper sector. There are a number of recommendations to fund and support the sector and, indeed, the introduction of a broader media fund and the expansion of the Sound and Vision scheme to include news and current affairs. I welcome the fact the Minister has initially had the roll-out of the local democracy scheme and the court reporting scheme to cover local authority meetings, court sittings and joint policing committee meetings ahead of the roll-out of the legislation. We also have significant proposals to support digital transformation and develop bursaries and internships in conjunction with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and the establishment of media hubs.
With regard to the Irish language, the Minister has fixed funding for more Irish language content and there is the appointment of an executive within the RTÉ board with responsibility for the Irish content. It is important that somebody is responsible within RTÉ to ensure we increase the level of content in the Irish language. I compliment TG4 for the work it has done in bringing the Irish language to every family home across the country.
With regard to sport, in which I have a keen interest myself, I am very favourable to the whole idea of promoting alternative sports on our media. The report in particular mentioned swimming, running and cycling. I believe that if we have more of that sport on our televisions, we will see more people out taking part in those sports, being more active and becoming healthier. It is a very positive proposal.
I await the report of the technical working group with regard to the reform of the television licence in November. All of these proposals are going to cost money so more money needs to be collected from the television licence to fund all of these extras that are being proposed by the commission. We put forward a proposal to take it out of Exchequer funding but I see why the Government has looked at this in the light that it has. It is important, whatever format is brought in, that there is at least a €60 million to €70 million increase to make the funding available to put into these alternative supports that are being put in place by the Government.
Earlier today, we met with NewsBrands Ireland and Local Ireland and the Minister is due to meet them next week. They painted a very stark picture of where the newspaper sector is at the moment with regard to costs. Being a small retailer myself, I can see the reduction in the purchasing of newspapers because people are looking at online content, so a lot of the advertising and income from sales has been affected. As I said, they painted very stark picture. I ask that the Minister would look strongly at supporting them with their asks in regard to 0% VAT. The cost to the Exchequer is in the region of €18.5 million but I think it is worth it. We need proper, correct and trusted information, not the disinformation which we have from some other sources. I would be very strong in asking for support on that.
With regard to a support that could be put in place - it was mentioned yesterday and I want to put it on the record today - a number of years ago, reports from the Houses of the Oireachtas were sent out to the regional newspapers and radio stations with regard to Members’ activities in their local area. That is something that could be done by the Oireachtas that would support those sectors.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I know she is very supportive of the sector. She works very hard in her Department and has got significant funding across the Department in recent years to support various sectors. I look forward to the proposals that may be coming in the budget to support this sector even further.