4 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Broadcast Bill Still On Hold
21 Oct 1999 :
Six months after the publication of the Broadcasting Bill, IFTN revisits its agenda as the amended bill waits to be brought before the Dail.

When Sile deValera published the Broadcasting Bill in May, it was clear that restructuring the future of broadcasting in Ireland was a key Government strategy. As a piece of legislation it is remarkable in that it is designed to capture the evolution of the broadcast medium, something which is changing so rapidly that most people simply cant keep up. From the introduction of digital television to multiple choice programming, Internet convergence to the rapid change of new broadcast technology, the ability of any legislation to account for future change is severely tested.

Since its introduction, the Bill has received a wide range of proposed amendments and it is currently waiting to come before the Dail with these, having been postponed there a number of times already. Most notable of these in terms of independent production was the work of Filmmakers Ireland (FMI) in proposing to the Minister that she reconsider her decision on setting a cap on the amount of money RTE spends on independent productions.

Initially set at 16 million, this cap was set to increase with inflation. Inflation is currently at 2% but, as FMI pointed out, programme costs are currently rising at 11% per annum. The end result would mean that independent producers would have received an annually decreasing share of RTEs budget. In light of this information the Minister agreed to change this provision and also address the issue of setting a cap on spending at all. It is hoped that the amendment will reflect the need to link increases in the size of the cap to the size of RTEs own internal budget.

This would be a significant achievement if reflected in the amendments, even though it is within an overall framework which is undesirable to the independent production community. No other EU member State has imposed such a cap on spending and Ireland will stand alone when this is implemented. The inclusion of any kind of a cap has been identified as a possible concession by the independent sector on the basis that the other amendments are included.

Although initially confident that their concerns would be reflected in the amendments FMI are becoming increasingly concerned. We are not confident at the moment. Until we see the amendment we cannot be. The delays could mean that the bill is simply not ready or it could mean that the amendments are not completed or are not going to suit what we have asked for, explained Tanya Banotti, Director, FMI.

The Bill also includes a broad definition of Public Service Broadcasting and a number of bodies and commentators have expressed concern as to this definition. Achieving clarity of definition is central if the Bill is to take the industry forward for the coming decades. RTE itself, as the public service broadcaster has called for an increase in the licence fee to match the requirement for increased home produced product. It is this additional source of funding which will ensure that RTE can provide an output in terms of content which is additional to that which the market alone can provide.

FMI, in tandem with other commentators believe that the RTE Authority should have an independent secretariat setup outside the station. At present the RTE authority is resourced entirely by RTE staff members and this is seen, by some, to be too closed a structure for the levels of transparency and non-rigidity needed. The Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC), a similar policy making body, apply this to their decision making structure. An independent secretariat resources the IRTC body but it operates outside their formal structure. A similar structural change between the RTE authority and its secretariat would be welcomed by the independent sector.

FMI have also suggested an interesting proposal, which could see RTE broadcasting, what would amount to, an annual statement of promises to viewers. This idea, already active in the BBC and known as the Royal Charter for the BBC, would require RTE to state at the beginning of each year its priorities, its projected spend on new production and its commitment to public service broadcasting. At the end of the year then an audit of this charter would be undertaken which would track how closely the station followed its own promises.

Originally due to be enacted by Christmas, the delays so far are making this look increasingly difficult. Until the amendments are published it is impossible to forecast the outcome. But, with the combined pressure of strategic documents such as the Think Tank Report, related copyright legislation and an increasingly active and vocal independent production sector, it is clear that the Broadcast Bill will dictate the framework of Irish production for many years. IFTN will follow this issue as it evolves and seek to address the impact it will bring.

GQ 21/10/99

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