Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Broadcasting (Funding) Bill 2003 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.


An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage. The Minister will make one contribution on the subject matter of the two related amendments.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. J. Browne): The Bill under discussion today was passed by Seanad Éireann on 13 November.

Dáil Éireann, in passing the Bill last week, included two amendments, a copy of which Senators should have before them. I proposed both amendments to take account of two particular issues that arose in discussions on the Bill.

The first amendment refers to access to programmes by those who are deaf or hard of hearing and introduces a new provision in this regard. The second refers to directions from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the commission to bring forward schemes and clarifies the intention of the original proposal.

There was considerable discussion in the Dáil on the issue of access. This is an important issue on broadcasting generally and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is currently engaged in a consultative process on the matter with a view to preparing general codes and rules for all broadcasters. The introduction of provisions on access per se is outside the scope of this particular Bill, but even if it were not, my view is that it would make more sense to await the outcome of the consultative process rather than anticipate it at this stage.

On programmes which might be funded under the broadcasting funding scheme, access is an issue that should be taken into account. Any prescriptive provisions should however be avoided as we do not know what form the broadcasting commission's code will ultimately take. In this context, the provision adopted by the Dáil is, in my view, a reasonable one. It requires the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, in preparing a scheme, to have regard to the understanding and enjoyment of television programmes under the scheme by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The amendment on directions by the Minister in section 2(6) was introduced to allay fears that the Minister could direct the commission to fund a particular programme. This was never the intention. It was included to enable the Minister to direct the commission to bring forward a scheme under any of the categories in section 2(1). A direction such as this is envisaged where the commission, for whatever reason, might not have brought a scheme forward. A scheme prepared by the commission, including one following such a direction, must be approved by the Minister and laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

As Senators will also be aware from earlier debates, section 5 also provides for regular review, at least every three years, on the operation, impact and effectiveness of schemes under the Bill. A copy of that report will also be laid before the Oireachtas.

Mr. Finucane: I welcome the amendments. My colleague, Deputy Coveney, has been engaged with this issue for quite some time. I compliment him for his work.

I thank the Minister of State for accepting the amendment. Anyone who watches programmes produced in foreign countries, such as Latvia, will know they are subtitled. I often watch an entire programme because it is subtitled, not because I cannot hear what is being said but because I do not know the language of the country. Subtitling is extremely important to the deaf and hard of hearing. In that context, it is desirable this amendment was made. I hope the BCI will bring forward concrete proposals in this regard. I am sure it will respond to the wishes expressed in both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Ms O'Meara: I echo Senator Finucane's sentiments in welcoming the amendments. This legislation was thoroughly discussed, particularly in regard to this issue. The Minister of State is flexible, listened to the views of Senators and responded to their concerns by including these important amendments. We know from experience it is important to clearly spell out our intentions in legislation, particularly when handing over functions to a body like the commission. I have no difficulties with the amendments. I commend the Minister of State and his officials for their work on this Bill.

Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the amendment but I wonder if, to give it some concrete form, it would be possible in this technological age to manufacture a device which, with the pressing of a button, provided one with English or Irish subtitles to programmes. I know not everybody would require subtitles at the bottom of their screen except, perhaps, when a person is speaking in a foreign language in the middle of a play. Such a device could be provided for those who need it such as the hard of hearing or the deaf. It ought to be possible to do something like this in this day and age.

Mr. J. Browne: I welcome the positive response from Senator Finucane and Senator O'Meara. As regards the comments of Senator Mansergh, I am sure that with modern technology, some positive movement in this area could take place, although as I am not entirely au fait with technology I am not sure what can happen in this area. However, I have noticed that Sky television provides digital technology where one can choose the camera from which to view a football match.

Mr. Ryan: Where is technology when one needs it?

Mr. J. Browne: As Senator Finucane said, Deputies from all sides of the House were positive about this Bill when it was debated in the Dáil. They were particularly positive when dealing with new programmes and how the deaf and hard of hearing can be included. I hope that when the BCI comes to look at the channels in the new year, it will make solid proposals that all programmes should be captioned. It is important that this happens.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. J. Browne): I thank Senators for their contributions today and in previous debates on the Bill in the House. I know Senators encouraged the Minister to accept amendments. I thank Senators for their courtesy and wish them a happy Christmas.

Mr. Finucane: This Bill was initiated in this House. As the Minister is aware, the House showed great interest in the Bill. Much of our attention focused on discussing the community aspect, particularly with regard to radio and television. While I accept that revenue for community broadcasters could not be ring fenced in the Bill, the Minister was sympathetic to the development of community radio and television throughout the State. I look forward to the BCI formulating, at an early stage, a scheme that will apply to this and that the wishes of most Members on community broadcasting are reflected.

Dr. Mansergh: Hear, hear.

Mr. Finucane: I welcome that most of the legislation from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is initiated in this House. I hope the level of debate in the House enhances the legislation. I wish the Minister and his officials a happy Christmas.

Ms O'Meara: I thank the Minister and his officials for their work on this Bill and look forward to seeing it in practice. I hope that it lives up to the expectations of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas and I urge the BCI to be creative in implementing the framework we have set out in this legislation.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: I compliment the Minister and the officials responsible for drafting this Bill. This is Solomon-type legislation that responds to the many requirements in broadcasting at local and national level. I am particularly pleased that it is focused on heritage and culture. I agree with the comments made by other Senators on the commission; it is important that it is aware of what is happening at local as well as national level. There is much money involved and it is important that the commission succeeds and responds to the real needs that exist.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 4.45 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.