15 August 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
John Brown's Speech at TV In Focus
05 Jun 2003 :
Speech for the Opening of Seminar – “Television in Focus” by the Minister of State John Brown
Wednesday, 28 May 2003

I would like to thank Enterprise Ireland along with IBEC’s Audio Visual Federation for their invitation to open today’s seminar.

The broadcasting sector has been subject to rapid change in the last decade. That change is continuing. As a consequence it is important that new developments are properly considered and reviewed.

There is a challenge for the industry and policy makers alike to keep up with and react to latest developments. Plans and strategies can very quickly be rendered out of date. The challenge for us all is to not to lose sight of what is important.

In recent years the debate on broadcasting in Europe has been dominated to a significant degree by issues related to digital television. It could be argued that the debate has been sidetracked at times by engineers and economists.

Often the debate has focussed on what technology will be most used or what business model is most likely to succeed. While these issues are of consequence it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that television is primarily about content.

What is important is what people actually have available to them on their screens. It matters little to the viewer whether television services are delivered from a satellite, over a wire or by terrestrial means. Viewers are interested in content. Today’s seminar will consider and discuss issues relating to the production and showcasing of content.

Digital television has opened up opportunities for the delivery of new services including non-broadcasting services. To date, however, the most fundamental feature of digital television has been the explosion in the number of channels on offer to the viewer.

The major increase that has occurred in the number of channels on offer has not resulted in an equivalent increase in the choice of programming available to the viewer. It is true that many new channels do provide more choice. There are specialised news, sports, history and music channels for example. These channels do meet a demand that exists for such specialised services.

It is also true that many of the extra channels just offer more of the same. There is a genuine concern that the digital era will result in fragmentation.

This could result in viewers being offered more channels while being offered less real choice. In that scenario society would be the loser.

The independent production sector has a critical role to play in the digital era. Ireland is a small country and we share a common language with a larger neighbour and with the USA, who is the largest producer of television content.

It is critical to our retaining our national identity that we continue to have a strong independent production sector. We must continue to create and maintain a critical mass of quality programming that is relevant to Irish audiences.

As more and more Irish people opt for digital television services we must ensure that quality programming that is of relevance to an Irish audience is amongst the choices available to them. This will be best achieved in an environment where broadcasters and independent producers work together.

The relationship between broadcasters and independent producers is complex and subject to change. I suspect that broadcasters and independent producers have differing views of each other and of their respective roles.

Independent producers do not exist simply to ensure that broadcasters can commission programmes at a good price. Equally broadcasters do not exist just to ensure that independent producers can showcase their work and earn a good living.

Too often a narrow view is taken of the others role. Intervention by the State is not directed at promoting one or other for their own benefit. Intervention by the State results from a recognition of the potential beneficial impact on society at large.

One of today’s themes is “TV Sector – Independent or Dependent”. In my view it is very important to the health of the sector that the “Independents” retain their independence. It is important to the people of Ireland that the programming offered to them by Irish broadcasters continues to reflect the originality, creativity and imagination that exists in Ireland. If independent producers become too “dependent” then we could lose this.

Before I am asked does this mean that a broadcaster cannot ever be prescriptive when commissioning programming I should say it does not. That would be overly simplistic. What it means is that in the relationship between independent producers and broadcasters, the value of the input of the independent producer should be properly recognised.

There are a number of initiatives at national and at European level that help support the development and maintenance of a strong independent production sector. The obligations on broadcasters under the Television Without Frontiers Directive is one example. RTÉ has additional obligations under national legislation that go beyond those imposed by the European Directive.

The new “Special Fund for Broadcasting” will also open up new opportunities. The Special Fund for Broadcasting was one of the most topical, and in my view innovative, measures agreed by Government last December. Through the fund up to 5% of the licence fee will be provided for a new programme fund.

This will mean that approximately €8 million will be available for new public service broadcasting programming in any one year.

The fund will be operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, when it is established. In the interim it is intended that the fund will be administered by the BCI.

The Minister intends to bring legislative proposals to Government shortly to give effect to the fund. The plan is to introduce a piece of legislation to bring the fund into being in advance of the larger piece of legislation that will be required to establish the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Broadly speaking, the fund will support new, additional, innovative programming for broadcast on free radio or television services. The focus of the scheme will be on providing high quality programmes on Irish culture, heritage and history, art, local history, folklore and the Irish language. In short, this fund provides an opportunity to expand the amount and quality of broadcast material available to Irish people about Irish people.

Programmes that support adult literacy will be eligible for funding as will the archiving of broadcast material.

There has been much interest in the concept of the fund since the Government decision last December. I want to again reiterate the principle underpinning the fund. The fund is primarily about additional high quality programming being offered to Irish audiences.

The fund is for audiences and not for broadcasters.

So what will the fund mean for the independent production sector? I expect that the fund will help to stimulate the independent sector. I expect that broadcasters will frequently work with independent producers when making applications to the fund. There are some real positive points for independent producers.

Firstly, the originality and creativity that the fund is seeking to encourage is already prevalent in the sector. Secondly, independent producers will have the option of bringing their ideas and proposals to more than one broadcaster. Broadcasters will have to recognise a good idea for what it is. They will also be faced with the reality that the originator of the idea can go elsewhere with it. This will add a new dynamic to the relationship between broadcasters and independent producers.

I am aware that one of the concerns of the independent production sector in Ireland is the question of fragmentation. If there are too few players then the sector would be in danger of becoming less competitive and losing creativity.

If there are too many players then the sector could become fragmented and ineffective. These concerns will have to be factored in when making decisions on the administration of the fund.

I note that today is the first of three seminars organised for this year. These seminars offer a welcome opportunity for a range of interests to address some of the important issues facing us. I welcome the fact that the seminars are to focus primarily on the product and not how the product is delivered.

People are often amazed by technology, but they are rarely moved by it.

I want to congratulate Enterprise Ireland and the Audio Visual Federation for organising today’s seminar. Looking at the list of speakers I have no doubt that the discussion will be varied and challenging. I wish you well with the seminar.

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