MIONTUAIRISC NA FIANAISE
(Minutes of Evidence)
Dé Máirt, 27 Eanáir, 1981
Tuesday, 27 January, 1981
SENATOR EOIN RYAN in the chair
RADIO TELEFÍS ÉIREANN
Mr. Bill Skinner,(Irish Actors’ Equity Group), Chairman; Mr. Hugh Heaney, (National Engineering and Electrical Trade Union), Vice Chairman; Mr. Fergal Costello, Secretary; Mr. Brendan Keenan (National Union of Journalists), Treasurer; Mr. Pat Keys and Mr. Michael McEvoy, (Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union); Mr. Pat Brady and Ms. Carmel Duignan (Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland); of the RTE Trade Union Group, called and examined.
397. Chairman.—We have had a submission and consequently this discussion is merely to give witnesses an opportunity to elaborate on some of the points made in the submission and to give an opportunity to members of the Joint Committee to ask some questions that might arise in the course of the discussion. For convenience the members of the Joint Committee will address questions to Mr. Skinner and he may feed them on to somebody else.
I would ask everybody to speak up because we have been having some trouble with the taping and it is essential that everybody should speak loud and clear.
Would Mr. Skinner or any of his colleagues like to make any opening statements?
Mr. Costello.—On behalf of the RTE Trade Union Group we thank the Committee for the opportunity to make an oral submission. There are two crucial points that we would like to highlight in our submission. First is the question of the general financial situation and indeed the system of financing RTE in the years ahead. Second is the question of the control of broadcasting and the form that broadcasting will take in the Republic in the years ahead. This has implications for the financial situation as well.
On the financial situation we feel that we are probably coming towards the end of an era which on the one hand was characterised by a general development of very rapid expansion in broadcasting and on the other hand quite a dramatic expansion in the level of television viewers and indeed, at a later stage, a major transfer over from black and white receivers to colour receivers. The net effect of all this was that apart from increases in the level of licence fees there was, during this period, and increasing income to RTE from the increasing number of people who acquired television sets and later changed over from black and white to colour. There was also, because of those increasing figures an increase in the amount of revenue from advertising. It seems to us we are probably drawing near to saturation point in that particular development. We believe that this has implications for the financing of broadcasting. That is the reason we suggest in our submission that there should be close scrutiny of the way broadcasting is financed. We feel, unless this is done, there will be serious implications in terms of jobs and the general development of broadcasting. We have tended in the last five years or so to bear the brunt of the periodic financial crises in RTE, the most extreme cases resulting in payment of national wage agreements or part of them being threatened or, at one point, deferred.
The second aspect is the question of the control of broadcasting. There has been a general policy in the State over the years, since the setting up of broadcasting, that it would be organised on a public service basis. The group of unions generally support this view and there is a very strong commitment among the staff in RTE to the concept of public service broadcasting. This was evident at the time of the debate on the second television channel and also with the likely development into the area of community and local broadcasting in radio.
It is our view that in order to meet the genuine demand for local radio the proposals outlined by the RTE Authority are those best suited to meet that particular demand in a way which will not discriminate between those who live in the urban built-up areas and those who live in areas less densely populated. We feel that a course, which might favour the allocation to private enterprise of some of the major population areas, such as Dublin and Cork, would not only have very serious implications, for RTE as a public service broadcasting company but also for people in the less commercially viable areas whose possibilities might be jeopardised. These are the main points we would like to make at this point.
398. Senator Cooney.—You mentioned on page 3 of your submission that the case for some equity financing should be considered. On the assumption that the equity would be put up by the Government would you see any great advantage of equity in the present structure?
Mr. Costello.—We have itemised a number of points which we feel are worthy of consideration and among them is the question of equity financing. We have not come down strongly in favour of any of them. There probably are some reservations among us about some aspects of equity financing. We would like to see RTE as a self-sufficient, viable organisation in its own right, able to hold its place within the normal sphere of commercial operations. We want, as far as possible, to remove the present element of uncertainty which makes our situation as trade unionists extremely difficult and obviously creates major problems in terms of planning within RTE.
399. Chairman.—Would anybody like to say anything about the collection of fees? There is a general feeling that the present system is not very efficient. Nobody is very clear what would be the best alternative.
Mr. Keenan.—If I could just take up the point mentioned by Senator Cooney — although we are not committed to any specific system of improving the financing, the main disadvantage of the present situation is that because RTE are entirely funded by loans they must make their repayments to the Government in good times and in bad times. That puts RTE at a disadvantage with a private enterprise which can make their repayments to their shareholders on the basis of how they are performing. We are looking for some kind of capital grant system whereby when provision is made for the future and for new developments we would make a particular return to the Exchequer in a particular year. It would depend on what was available in the current state of finance.
With regard to the collection of fees the real difficulty, as we say on page 2 of our submission, is that RTE, do not know under the present system what their revenue will actually be. The shortfall can be very large and very sudden. The system of collection must either be improved so that there is more certainty about what is being collected and the amount collected would be closer to what should be collected, which is the method we would all prefer. If that proves impossible we might have to consider allowing RTE a certain amount of financing and the collecting agency, whether it is P & T, RTE or somebody else, to be responsible for the shortfall. We cannot expect the workforce in RTE to take kindly to arguments that there are financial difficulties when £6 million of the money owed cannot be collected and we cannot tell within £1 million in any year how much will be collected.
400. Chairman.—Is it not fairly clear, within 100,000, how many sets there are in the country, what the fee is and what should be coming in? You have a pattern over the years of the percentage that is not being collected.
Mr. Keenan.—Yes. There is now approximately 20 per cent evasion, which is about double what it was five or six years ago. That is fairly bad. Our point is that the Department give an estimate of what they expect to collect in the current year but that can be out considerably. This year, they, first of all, declared a shortfall of £1 million on their estimate and later in the year, that was revised downwards to £500,000. They can in a good year collect £500,000 more than they expected to and in a bad year £500,000 less. That system is not conducive to rational or responsible financial planning by RTE who have no way of knowing what the ultimate figure will be. In terms of RTE’s operations, these are very large figures. The deficit for last year was £1 million, about the same as the originally estimated shortfall.
401. Chairman.—Your point is that it prevents planning. It prevents projection ahead of what RTE can afford to do?
402. Chairman.—Have you any views as to what would be a better alternative method?
Mr. Keenan.—You will see on page 3 a list of proposals. We were not in a position to say which one of these, or which combinations of them, or one we may not have thought of, would be the best system. As we say in the first paragraph, the case for changing the system has been made for more than ten years and is unanswerable. We hope that you will add your voice to the many voices raised over those ten years and that a study of changes in the system will be made. Clearly this will involve the Department of Finance, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, RTE and perhaps some independent element. We hope that changes of the kind we have suggested — and they are only suggestions — will be reviewed and some policy decided which will then be acted upon. A previous Government report also recommended changes but they were not implemented. That has tended to be the story. We are worried that, with 20 per cent evasion, ordinary law-abiding citizens who pay their licences may come to see the payment of licences as something that is not necessary because so many people do not pay, and get away with it. Quite apart from RTE’s financing, the system itself may well collapse unless there are rapid improvements. We do not see rapid improvements under the present system which is essentially ad hoc, and where the collecting body really has no responsibility in terms of what it collects or what it fails to collect. We would ask you to consider the case we made for changes and, if you agree with it, which we hope you will, perhaps you will support the idea of an urgent high level review of the system with, hopefully, a change of policy at the end.
403. Deputy Kenneally.—On average, are we above the TV licence evasion rate in other countries?
Mr. Keenan.—I am afraid we are. The evasion rate in the UK is 5 per cent. In some European countries like Norway it is as low as zero to 1 or 2 per cent. Essentially the UK has the same system as ours in that the Post Office collect the fees. I cannot say why the difference is there, but I suspect that their system of computerisation and cross-checking with dealers’ returns may be better. We were in a relatively reasonable position vis-à-vis the UK in 1975 when we had a figure of 10 per cent and theirs was 5 per cent or 6 per cent. Since then they have shown an improvement and we have got much worse. I am afraid that we are not only at the top of the league but we are a long way ahead of anybody else.
404. Deputy Kenneally.—Did the UK improve their system of collection?
Mr. Keenan.—I think they introduced more computerisation which enabled them to cross-check the returns from dealers who sell television sets as against the licences held. To do that is a very expensive business. As I said, we are not coming down completely in favour of any one system. It is possible that in Irish circumstances something different from the UK system is necessary, something perhaps tying it to the ESB collections, or stiffer penalties as we suggest. I gather there is some suggestion about easier methods of payment — quarterly or monthly payments. It is arguable that somebody should be responsible for the collection of licence fees on a full-time basis which the Department of Posts and Telegraphs really are not. The money they collect goes to somebody else and, human nature being what it is, when you are collecting somebody else’s money, possibly you are less diligent than you are when you are collecting your own.
405. Senator Cooney.—Let us assume for a moment that an efficient collection system can be evolved, that the expected revenue comes in, and RTE can budget realistically and implement their budget. It seems to me from what we heard earlier with regard to the capital requirements of RTE, and current costs, that there will always be pressure to increase the revenue and the main source of the increase will be the fee. Obviously the long-suffering public have to be considered before that comes. The only other place in which any financial lease can be got is internally. Do the group involve themselves in discussions with management on giving consideration to internal economies to try to assist the budgetary position internally, rather than seeking an increase in fees all the time to keep going?
Mr. Costello.—On the first part of the question, we envisage a situation where we are moving out of a period of expansion in the number of licence holders. This will create problems. We have encountered problems within the past five years, and even within the past number of months, because of critical financial situations, we have been invited to meet RTE management and hear the bad news from them about the kind of stringencies that are required in order to save money and offset a deficit which may be on the horizon. There are numerous instances of the staff within RTE being prepared to make sacrifices in situations like that. However, unless these are seen as short-term rather than chronic, it is unrealistic to expect RTE workers to accept a standard of living which would not be comparable with others doing similar jobs in outside industry. When short-term financial difficulties arise, it is possible — and the evidence is that staff have been willing — to make sacrifices mutually agreed with the management of RTE and to examine on-going practices in which improvements can be made. In the long term we would feel that, just as in most other areas of consumer activity, it is an accepted fact of life that the cost of things tend to o up with the general cost of living, we are coming to the time when unfortunately licence fees will fall into that category as well.
406. Senator Cooney.—I agree it would be unfair for individual members of the staff to be asked to take long-term cash cuts or cash disadvantages, but the biggest element in the RTE budget is the payroll. Are there any restrictive practices, or the like, which keep the numbers on the payroll higher than they need be, strictly speaking?
Mr. Costello.—If one is to make a comparison between the working practices that exist in RTE and other television stations and broadcasting stations — and the EBU have done quite an extensive survey on this — the evidence has shown that RTE compare very favourably. In general terms it is true to say that, while there has been an expansion in the numbers employed by RTE, over the past five to ten years when there was very rapid expansion both in the television and radio services, the level of output and programme hours per person has improved significantly. In part this has been due to technological change but even on that particular point it has been accepted that there is a general willingness to negotiate technological change in RTE as well as an acceptance that this is in the nature of broadcasting. Therefore, in short I would say that the answer is that there are no restrictive practices of any significance.
407. Senator Cooney.—On a point of personal curiosity, on Saturday last I noticed that the commentator on the England-Wales match was one of your staff, an excellent commentator, but I wondered whether it is station policy that a broadcaster from here would go abroad to broadcast a match when Ireland is not competing.
Mr. Skinner.—I would not call that a restrictive practice. It is programme policy that where possible sports commentators, even on matches taking place abroad are RTE commentators. There are very good reasons for this. The commentator so far as the Irish viewer is concerned has a particular relevance. The commentator knows his audience whereas if we used the foreign commentary as it came in, it would have no relevance whatever to the Irish viewer. An Irish commentator, for example, would be in a position to make a comparison between, say, an English player and an Irish player, something that an English commentator would not do.
408. Senator Cooney.—If this was not a question of programme policy, would there be any objection to it from a trade union point of view?
Mr. Costello.—I did not see the broadcast to which the Senator refers but I would make the point that it is quite common for such commentaries to be made off screen from a studio in Dublin in which case the cost would be nil.
409. Senator Cooney.—Apart from that point, what is your position in this regard?
Mr. Keenan.—It is true that part of the current cutbacks in RTE is in the area of travel. This applies across the board. Consequently events, whether of a current affairs nature, of sport, or anything else, which in other times would merit attention are turned down on financial grounds. This is accepted by the unions. They appreciate that if the money is not available, this must be the position. However, we are not entirely happy as to the reasons for the money not being available.
410. Senator Cooney.—But the point is that there is no trade union objection to the type of broadcast I have instanced being taken in externally?
Mr. Keenan.—No, provided good reasons are given, normally these reasons would be of a financial nature. Naturally, we would prefer to use our own station and our own people where this is possible.
411. Deputy Deasy.—Do you consider it necessary or justifiable to send a commentary team abroad to comment on an event such as ice-skating in Zagreb, a sport that we are not involved in?
Mr. Skinner.—This is a matter of programme policy. I do not know whether ice-skating is an activity in which the Irish public are interested but being aware of the pressures on the Sports department. I would say that there is some interest here in this sport; otherwise, it would not be covered.
412. Deputy Deasy.—But are you justified in sending a commentary team abroad when the commentary could be received in the English language through other sources?
Mr. Skinner.—As Mr. Costello has pointed out, very frequently a team do not actually go abroad. The commentary is often made from a small studio at Montrose.
413. Deputy Deasy.—I always understood that Brendan O’Reilly was actually abroad when commentating on those external events.
Mr. Skinner.—Not necessarily. However, there are certain advantages in having a man on the spot in that there is a lot of background information that he can pick up by being there, information that a commentator located in a studio in Montrose would not be in a position to get.
Ms. Duignan.—Usually a team consists merely of a commentator with sometimes an assistant. If we engaged the services of another agency, such as the BBC, we would be involving ourselves in quite a large fee. Therefore, very often the cost would be about equal in either case.
414. Deputy Deasy.—Could you not take a programme from, say, Eurovision?
Ms Duignan.—The only commentary then would be in French, German or another foreign language.
415. Deputy Kenneally.—Could you not have some reciprocal arrangements whereby, the BBC would come to Lansdowne, for instance, and use our facilities for the purpose of a commentary?
Ms. Duignan.—I think the BBC would be insistent on using their own commentary.
416. Deputy Deasy.—I could see a valid reason for sending a team abroad to commentate on an event in which we have a direct involvement but where this is not the case and is not likely to be the case, is it not difficult to justify the expense involved?
Mr. Brady.—In relation to the point about the commentator, the BBC, for example, use continuity announcers in each region even to introduce network programmes because it is considered as a matter of policy that the announcer should be regarded as being local to an area. A BBC Northern Ireland continuity announcer introduces programmes although the programme on either side of the one being announced is a network programme. It is considered desirable that the listening and viewing audience should be able to identify in some way with the presentation. That is a desirable objective. In relation to the question of ice-skating, this is an interesting example of the responsibility of a broadcasting station to cater for the needs of its audience even where the activity concerned may not be one of a majority interest. My own guess is that ice-skating would be viewed with great interest in Ireland. It is regarded as one of the fastest team sports in the world and as a most exciting game. The question must be one of providing a spread of interesting programmes to the viewer and not merely responding to those areas which are considered in advance to have a majority audience. The trade union group would have argued that there should be far greater response to minority interests in the State generally. That is the objective as opposed to catering merely for those interests which command large audiences. I consider it dangerous to argue that RTE’s broadcasting should relate only to such areas as current affairs, religious matters and agricultural questions or any other such area.
Deputy Deasy.—My point of view is that where there is a relevance, an actual involvement so far as Ireland is concerned, there is justification in sending a broadcasting team abroad but in other circumstances I do not think there would be any such justification.
417. Senator Cooney.—What is the attitude of the group to the introduction in the station of the new electronic gathering equipment?
Mr. Costello.—Generally, the attitude of people in the station to new developments in technology which allow us to provide a better service is one of welcome. Generally this is the attitude to lightweight electronic equipment, equipment which has exciting prospects for programme makers and for those who are to be involved in operating the equipment. Just to elaborate further on the specific question of the equipment involved, it is a difficult question in terms of union negotiations in that unlike a lot of the other technological developments that have taken place, this one cuts across what were the old and long established traditional work practices and not just that, but traditional skills of a very high order. It is a fascinating development in so far as it brings together a lot of the skills and qualities that at present are shared between those working in the film area and those working in the electronics area. Traditionally, not just in RTE but throughout the television world, these two facets of broadcasting have developed quite separately and almost without interchange. Film cameramen, for instance, have in general come through the film sphere of things with very little, if any, contact with the electronic side of the business. A similar pattern exists in respect of those involved in the processing of film, in editing film, film sound and in the various aspects of that operation. The same is true in respect of the electronic skills.
This new techology brings both together and from a trade union point of view it is crucial that we allay the fears of our members, particularly those in the film area who in some instances feel that there is a great threat to their job, their livelihood and the skill they have developed over the years. We do not think that this need necessarily be so but along with most other trade unions engaged in this field, we are anxious to ensure that the right kind of guarantees are secured and that we secure agreement on the kind of training and the kind of access to that training for the jobs that will be there. Generally, there is a very welcome attitude to the whole development which will give great opportunities in terms of regional broadcasting, giving greater access to the regions and so on.
418. Senator Cooney.—How near are we to seeing it being introduced?
Mr. Costello.—It is difficult to put an absolute time fix on it, but I would like to think that the negotiations on the technology would be completed by the time the linking system which will allow the utilisation of the benefits, is ready.
419. Deputy Deasy.—Is the witness saying that it cannot be used before the completion of the linking system?
Mr. Costello.—In order to derive the benefits that it has over film it is really necessary. to have the linking system there because there are a variety of ways of transmitting a television programme. One of them, used in the case of a film generally, is to physically transport the film from the place where it was shot to the base station where it is processed and edited. This could be done in the case of electronic tape but it would provide nothing extra over what we have with film. The real value in ENG/EFP is that one could hook into a regional input point and either go live on the air, or very quickly on the air, if it is an important news item or if it is comments from people somewhere other than in Grafton Street or somewhere in Dublin are required on something that is happening. The real value is in either getting the thing on the air live or very quickly by injecting at the point of shooting or very near to it into the overall network.
420. Deputy Deasy.—I was under the impression that with this electronic news gathering one could send the picture back direct to Dublin from Cork, Limerick, Waterford or wherever. Is that correct?
Mr. Costello.—Not without the link-up.
421. Deputy Deasy.—It would not be correct to say that an industrial dispute prevented the use of this link-up?
Mr. Costello.—It would not.
422. Deputy Deasy.—It is in the process of being negotiated?
Mr. Costello.—It is.
423. Deputy Deasy.—Are those negotiations almost complete to the union’s satisfaction?
Mr. Costello.—A lot of the heart-searching and internal debating among those who are most fearful of the development has probably got to the stage where things will move fairly quickly.
424. Deputy Deasy.—Are the union happy with the rate at which the link-up is being completed?
Mr. Costello.—I am not the best person to answer that.
Mr. Keys.—It is not entirely a matter for RTE to determine the rate at which the link-up is finished. It is a matter between the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and RTE. It is a very wide question and RTE are not competent to give the full answer. We are not happy with the rate of progress because if our plans had been implemented it would have been ready in time for the second channel going on the air quite some time ago. That was the original plan. We are still waiting for it and it is proceeding.
425. Deputy Kenneally.—Do the union think that there is no problem linking power accessories here? Are the union satisfied that there are enough linking points within a reasonable radius of where the news item would come from?
Mr. Keys.—On looking at a map of Ireland it is clear that nowhere would be any more than 40 or 50 miles from a linking point. The plan was to ensure that there would be no more than an hour or two hours drive from a linking point.
426. Deputy Kenneally.—It would be quite adequate?
Mr. Keys.—It will be.
427. Senator Cooney.—Will there be a saying in manpower when this new system is in operation?
Mr. Costello.—It will largely depend on the type of operations being done. In certain instances there would be, but what it will probably mean is that programmes which might otherwise have been done in whole or in part in Dublin may be done elsewhere instead. To that extent it might be slightly more expensive but not prohibitively expensive, to do a particular operation.
428. Deputy Deasy.—From a trade union point of view, you would not be against that changeover to doing the programme outside of Dublin?
Mr. Costello.—No. From a trade union point of view it is exactly the opposite. For a number of reasons there is a great desire on the part of trade unions to see an increased number of programmes being done outside of Dublin.
429. Senator Cooney.—The submission makes the point that the coming into being of this grouping and its restructuring last year is something that has contributed, and will contribute, to a good industrial scene in RTE, that it constitutes a proper forum for communication back and forth. In that context, is it not a pity that one union is not represented in the group? I know that the union is not affiliated to Congress, but surely that is not a matter that should concern the internal relations in RTE? Would the group consider inviting that union to join or were they invited and did they refuse?
Mr. Costello.—From time to time they have not been, but at the moment the Seamen’s Union of Ireland, which is the one union not in the group, is affiliated to Congress, therefore there are no objections to their being in the group. The pattern within the group is that there has been quite an expansion in its membership even in the last year and a half and we would very much welcome the one remaining union into the group.
430. Deputy Deasy.—How many members do that union have in RTE and what functions do they perform?
Mr. Costello.—There are 17. Their function is that of transmission rigger. They take care of the rigging on the main mast and the transmitters around the country.
431. Chairman.—Would you like to elaborate on the advantage you would see for the union in having participation on the board? Would you evaluate the advantage of that compared with decision-making at lower levels? Is being involved in decision-making at a lower level more important?
Mr. Costello.—We see it as a dual development. We are doing all we can to have planned and careful development in a more participative form of decision-making at below board level. However, board representation is obviously outside our control as it is a matter for the Government to decide on extending the provisions of the Act. We have among our membership people at almost all levels in RTE. We are certainly involved at all levels in what is our primary occupation, programme-making. We feel in relation to the benefits it would bring to us and in relation to the benefits it would bring to the functioning of the organisation, that we would have a lot to offer at board level. We feel it would certainly strengthen the kind of developments we are embarking on at below board level.
432. Chairman.—One complements the other. They are both important?
433. Deputy Deasy.—What do you find are the main shortcomings in your industrial relations with RTE?
Mr. Costello.—The obvious one is that there does not seem to be a sufficient amount of money around to fulfil the aspirations of the people we represent. We feel, within the last two years, we have for the first time reached a situation where in certain areas there is some difficulty in recruiting qualified people because of a comparison between the rates in RTE and those outside. This results from the financial problems. On a more general level, we are reasonably happy with the way industrial relations are developing. We would like to see a more participative structure in which the unions have a greater involvement at decision-making level, a greater insight into the way the organisation functions and in determining its programme objectives and so forth.
434. Deputy Deasy.—Are you looking forward to the election of workers to the board of RTE? That would be an improvement.
Mr. Costello.—We are. We feel RTE are very suited for this arrangement. We feel it is about the right size, almost all the staff are concentrated within one complex. From the outset, there was a general desire, among those working in the organisation for representation at board level.
435. Deputy Deasy.—Why has there been such a delay? Some State-sponsored bodies have had worker participation for a number of years.
Mr. Costello.—It has been argued that the original seven designated companies were an experiment and that the Minister was waiting to see what the outcome of that was before extending it. We were disappointed we were not included in the first seven. Now that there has been an indication that it will be extended, and since we are the next largest on the list, we feel we might be included next time.
436. Chairman.—How do you evaluate the next largest? Is it in relation to the number of staff?
437. Chairman.—The group suggest that RTE’s general statement of personnel policy should include a clause designed to prevent discrimination of any kind on grounds of sex or marital status. Do the group believe there is such discrimination at the present time on those grounds?
Mr. Costello.—If we felt there was actual discrimination of a blatant kind we would have taken it up with RTE. Our concern is to eliminate any fear or suggestion that there is not absolute equality within RTE. We also recognise the fact that in a changing society and with changing attitudes, with the best will in the world the management of RTE can have within the organisation people whose attitudes on the question might be less enlightened than we would like them to be. We believe it would be helpful if it was clearly stated as company policy that the organisation did not discriminate in any way on grounds of sex or marital status. It would make it absolutely clear to everybody on every interview board and in every management and other position throughout the organisation what company policy was.
438. Chairman.—Can I gather from your statement that you do not believe it is a serious problem at the present time?
Mr. Costello.—We believe that a lot more could be done to improve opportunities for women within the station, who over the years, not just because of practices and attitudes within RTE but because of practices and attitudes in society generally, have not had the equality of opportunity we would like them to have and who, because of that, do not feel they have possibilities of moving into certain areas. We feel something could be done in the way of positive encouragement. We recognise that RTE are probably no worse than a lot of other organisations in this regard. However, we feel that, because RTE are very much in the public eye and because some of the jobs within the organisation are seen by the public to have a certain glamour or aura attached to them, improvements for women in RTE would have beneficial effects generally.
Mr. Duignan.—Undoubtedly there is discrimination against women in RTE. The very fact that the vast majority of the women working there are in the traditional grades for females and, therefore, lowly paid, indicates that there has been and there is continuing discrimination. There could be excuses for this but it is a fact. It is also true to say that in recent years RTE management have become more conscious of the fact that women have been discriminated against. For instance, until the early seventies there was a marriage bar. It was in all the other public companies as well, but that did not alter the fact that effectively women stopped working when they got married. They had to. RTE have made improvements along the line, but efforts will have to be made in a positive way to encourage women to put themselves forward for other jobs and to move out of the traditional areas into the operational areas. We want more training and a greater emphasis on training, not necessarily for women only but for men as well. This would assist women to move out from where they are at the moment. RTE management will have to take greater cognisance of the fact that many women working in RTE are married and have children.
439. Chairman.—The question is not so much whether a statistical situation exists in which there are fewer women than men and, by and large, women are paid less, but a distinction between a state which exists and positive discrimination. I am really asking whether you feel there is any positive discrimination by the Authority or by any of the senior people in RTE?
Ms. Duignan.—Possibly not in that sense, but there is discrimination in the sense that it is possible that women are not qualified for many of the more senior jobs which are advertised because of the nature of the work they have been doing and because of the fact that they have not had the opportunity to get experience in other areas. It is probably not positive, but it is there.
Mr. Brady.—The idea of there being a positive policy of discrimination by RTE is clearly not the case. I would certainly argue that there has been a failure to take obvious elementary steps to ensure — I am not now talking about positive discrimination in favour of women — that the system guaranteed that women were treated fairly. For example, RTE’s recruiting policy in the clerical area reflected the policy generally in the public sector in which you had a clerk grade which was traditionally a male recruitment grade and a secretarial grade which was traditionally a female recruitment grade. Whereas that is not the case any longer, the fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult, and has been extremely difficult, for female secretarial workers in RTE to rise through the clerical and administrative system, whereas men recruited to the clerk grade would not have experienced anything like that.
In the case of the FWUI which represents the clerical workers, we have sought an independent system of job evaluation in RTE to try to get over the traditional attitudes to women secretarial or clerical workers and the attitude to men which tends to see them as clerical administrative workers. That has been very definitely refused by RTE. In our view the only way you can get over notions of what is appropriate work for men and women is by having an independent assessment. I regard RTE’s refusal to agree to such an assessment as being responsible for perpetuating a system in which women tend to be at the bottom of the secretarial and clerical system. The other area in which RTE have refused to make any concessions has been in the area of trade union representation at interviews where we have had a succession of complaints. They happen to be mainly from women who, for a variety of reasons which it is not necessary to go into, feel that they have been more intimidated at interviews than men by irrelevant questions about their domestic situation, or various attitudes which have no bearing on the jobs.
There are two other areas. We have already talked about micro-electronics in relation to the technical area. The arrival of computerisation and word processors in the clerical office environment promises or threatens, however you like to see it, to have very far-reaching implications for the employment of women, the content of their jobs, the level at which they are to be paid, and so on. The level of consultation about things like this in RTE has been very poor. It was not until our own union raised the matter that we could find out exactly what was happening. To refer to the earlier point, where women have graduated from typewriters to more complex machines we had a lot of difficulty. I do not mean electronics machinery only but non-electronics machinery as well. There was a great barrier against raising the status of those jobs in line with what might be expected if the same jobs were performed by men. The arrival of micro-electronics in the office is likely to have quite significant implications for the content of women’s jobs in RTE. This is not totally grasped by RTE in relation to women or men.
Finally, on the question of training, may I make this comment? RTE are one of the few State-bodies in which it is possible to gain all the experience you need to do virtually every job within the station. There are very few organisations which you can go into at 17 years of age as an unskilled worker and have resources made available to you to allow you to do virtually any job. I should like to cite the example of AnCO. Although they are a training organisation and have a particular responsibility in this area, they have an inhouse training scheme whereby they select 15 lower paid workers, for the most part women, and second them into jobs within the organisation to ensure that they get training. Even though it would require additional cost and perhaps an expansion of the current training resources a similar system could and should be undertaken as well as a number of other contributions in the area of positive discrimination which happens to be primarily about women, although there are certain lower paid male workers with the same problem of mobility. Whereas RTE are not guilty of positive discrimination against women, there is certainly indifference in terms of there not being very positive attempts or policies to overcome some of the problems which exist at the moment. By reference to other organisations I would regard RTE as being somewhat defective in this area.
Chairman.—Any other questions? That is all. Thank you very much. We will bear your views in mind when we are drafting our report.
The witnesses withdrew.
Senator Gemma Hussey, Spokesperson and Mrs. Mavis Arnold, Member, of Women in Broadcasting Study Group, called and examined.
Senator Hussey.—By way of opening statement I have a submission from the group which I shall read to the Committee. First, though, I might say that I have here a videotape which formed part of the submission we made to the Chairman of the RTE Authority. The tape runs for about 16 minutes and I should be happy to leave it with the Committee so that, if they wish, they may arrange to see it some time.
We are very much aware that there are within RTE an internal working party who were set up by a former chairperson of the party, Mrs. Conroy, and dealing with internal RTE matters regarding women in the station. This group were established two years ago and I understand that they are to report shortly. The submission to which I have referred reads as follows:
(1)There is no debate about the special care needed in controlling the broadcasting media. This is because of “its intimate penetration of the home” (to quote RTE’s own handbook). Therefore, a broad range of rules is laid down to cover programme content and advertising.
(2)Governments have acknowledged and deplored the effect of widespread discrimination on the development of Irish women into full partnership as citizens. Commissions, legislation and agencies have been set up to hasten the emergence of Irish women into full participation in the economic, political and social life of the country.
(3)It concerns the Women in Broadcasting group that RTE has apparently been unaware of the impact of radio and television on the development and progress of Irish women.
(4)Broadcasting, on both radio and television, holding as they do a very central position in the formation of social attitude, have a definite job to do in helping the progress of women.
(5)If women are portrayed in a number of very limited roles or are depicted as not having an important or valid set of perspectives on all aspects on the life of the country, this is bolstering up and sustaining the limited role of women which was a feature for so long.
(6)The women in broadcasting groups found, in their study of radio and television, undertaken at the invitation of the Chairman of the RTE Authority, that RTE have indeed limited women considerably. This may be voluntary or involuntary, but it applies to both programming and advertising. It also applies to the areas of employment within the station.
(7)The women in broadcasting group recommended a number of steps which they felt could be taken by RTE in order to combat sexism. The group feels that these steps, as well as improving the standard of broadcasting generally, would enable RTE to fulfill the responsibility to Society. The principal recommendations were:
(a)The introduction of a sexism clause into the advertising guidelines.
(b)An affirmative action scheme to encourage more women into decision-making areas.
(c)The appointment of a women’s Equality Officer to assist at all levels within the station.
(d)The establishment of an award scheme for programmes and advertisements which do most to help towards the promotion of equality and progress for women in Ireland.
All of those would be dependent on a top level policy of commitment and declaration that the station wished to combat sexism and to promote equality.
440. Deputy L. Lawlor.—On the last item in the submission, surely that is something that could be organised by way of sponsorship by some organisations who would be prepared to put up an award? It would not necessarily have to be RTE policy. I would not see it as a requirement of official RTE policy. I am sure that the Women’s Political Association could organise something on those lines.
Senator Hussey.—I take the point but for RTE to do what has been suggested in this regard would indicate a commitment on their part in this area. However, I would not have anything to say against an award being sponsored by some group or other.
441. Deputy L. Lawlor.—You mentioned the introduction of a sexism clause into the advertising guidelines. Are there specific examples of where you consider RTE to be showing advertisements that warrant that type of clause?
Senator Hussey.—If you refer to the section on advertising in our original submission, you will find that we have written a couple of pages on this subject. The problem is that women in advertising are constantly depicted in a limited number of roles. For example, one rarely sees a situation where there is role sharing in the home. Women are always shown serving, washing floors, exclaiming over washing powder, shopping and cooking. The trouble is that as well as always showing only women doing these things, they are also shown as being mentally defective while doing them. In order for the advertiser to get his message across, he shows a woman being obsessed with whether her little boy’s shirt is whiter than the one down the road and he considers that a valid way to advertise washing powder. If this is constantly punched home by advertising agents, it undoubtedly in the view of Women in Broadcasting group, gives a bad impression of the woman who is doing a job in the home as being rather mindless. There are several advertisements currently running. For example the one for a stock cube which starts off with the husband and family sitting round a table. The woman comes along, puts a dish down, the husband turns up his nose, she looks extremely glum and the children fall silent. Then she goes off and discovers a stock cube. The scene is set again. She comes in with the dish; everybody cheers, the husband gives her a big kiss and life is all rosy. That sort of thing being constantly punched home emphasises the woman’s role as the only person serving food and the fallacy that the approval of both her family and society will depend on her doing that properly. This is one example and there are many others. Perhaps Mrs. Arnold will have some suggestions.
Mrs. Arnold.—One is the woman who is so pleased with her pastry being light and she floats around the kitchen. In an evening’s viewing one would find many more examples. Women are always used in advertising soap powder, perfume, food and so on. She is always on the receiving end of these things. She is never the agent. This is not the image of women that RTE should consciously depict. They should make strenuous efforts to counteract this because that is not what life is like at the moment.
442. Deputy L. Lawlor.—The difficulty for RTE is that while they lay down guidelines for advertising the products that the housewife purchases for work in the home, it is really a practical example of the use of that product. One could write the criticisms into RTE’s charter. Have the witnesses had a response from the Advertising Association having taken these issues up with them and have they accepted any comments and put down guidelines?
Mrs. Arnold.—We did meet them and we will talk about that in a moment. The point we are trying to make is that RTE in their advertising are not reflecting society. Now, the whole emphasis is towards a dual sharing of domestic roles and in a way it would be more effective in selling a product if we sometimes saw the man cooking, cleaning, washing, scrubbing and caring for children. RTE are completely leaving out this element.
443. Deputy L. Lawlor.—They are promoting a cookery book at the moment with a man called Carrier. That is just an example of where the male is promoting that sort of thing. When one talks about self-raising flour and some of these products it would be a question of not allowing them to advertise if they did not show the kitchen scene and the housewife using that product. Is that not so?
Mrs. Arnold.—It does not always have to be the housewife. That is our point.
Senator Hussey—It is interesting to note that in Denmark the Government set up a commission to examine advertising as it affected all sections of society and their conclusion was that television advertising particularly depended on getting a message over very rapidly and that this per se led to a stereotyping of somebody. Everybody was stereotyped very quickly. They have made a recommendation to the Danish Government that a rule be made that people are not used in advertising, but that objects are used instead.
444. Deputy L. Lawlor—Has that come into being?
Senator Hussey—No. It is a recommendation from a commission set up by the Government. The Institute of Advertising Practitioners, following this submission wrote to us and asked us to meet them. We met them and they have asked us to prepare a specific submission on advertising which they will circulate to their members with a view to having a seminar about the subject. Obviously they do not want to offend people, otherwise they would not sell the goods.
445. Deputy L. Lawlor.—In many areas in relation to decision-making, while RTE could lay down guidelines, the only changes can come from the advertisers as such and the witnesses’ efforts should be directed at them if they feel that some of them are depicting an unacceptable image. One tends to find that men are used for advertisements for smoking or drinking. One could look for alternative examples, but surely one would not want to see women wearing construction hats working on a building site?
Senator Hussey.—Yes, I would.
446. Deputy L. Lawlor.—But they are not there, so why?
Senator Hussey.—They are beginning to be.
Mrs. Arnold.—There are bus conductresses, so they might as well wear a hat on a building site.
447. Chairman.—If the advertisements showed women in a whole lot of different roles then I take it there would be no objection to them also being shown cooking in the home?
Senator Hussey.—Absolutely not.
448. Chairman.—If they showed women for instance in an office or as an engineer behind a desk or that kind of thing they would not have to be entirely removed from the kitchen as that would be a distortion?
449. Deputy Kenneally.—Or treating the calves for hoose or something?
Mrs. Arnold.—Women are never depicted in agricultural advertisements.
450. Deputy L. Lawlor.—I would have thought it a compliment that the male does not want women doing that kind of work as it is difficult and it is out of doors.
Mrs. Arnold.—Women are working on farms doing just that but they are not shown in advertising doing it. The rural women play an enormous part in running the farms and it is not depicted.
Senator Hussey.—On RTE radio and television also there is a complete lack of women in the farming programmes. The women on the farms apparently do not exist.
450A. Senator Cooney.—It does not give a true reflection?
Senator Hussey.—If over the next few days the Senator watches Landmark and all the agricultural programmes on television and radio he will find that women do not exist on the farm as far as they are concerned.
451. Senator Cooney.—Has the Senator done a study of other television networks?
Senator Hussey.—No, except cursorily in the States. I know that in other countries there are a great many movements going ahead to tackle this problem.
452. Deputy Deasy.—What has been RTE’s response to your representations?
Senator Hussey.—On the day we made our submission it was an extremely friendly and favourable response. As I mentioned, RTE have a body working inside the station for two years on this question, perhaps more confined to the question of employment within the station but the Authority felt that they could not make public responses and actual decisions until they had the report of their internal working party. The Committee are aware that this report was made as a result of an invitation from the Chairman of the Authority to me to get a group of people together and report to him. The area we would be most worried about is the employment structures within RTE, which the trade union group mentioned earlier on.
453. Deputy Kenneally.—Are you suggesting that women should be selected for jobs even if men are better qualified?
Senator Hussey.—I am not suggesting that but the trade union group made the point that within RTE there is a range of activities for trained people in every aspect of the station. We are suggesting that we have arrived at a situation where women are almost totally absent from senior management positions in any big organisation. We suggest that there should be affirmative action, which I prefer to positive discrimination, programmes to encourage women to train themselves and apply for senior management posts so that they will be as qualified as men to do this. This is done in other countries, particularly America, where organisations not as large as RTE employ people inside the organisation, who work with the employees and train them to develop their confidence and career structures so that they will proceed up through the organisation.
454. Deputy Kenneally.—In your submission you have suggested a target of 50 per cent women newsreaders. Why is it only 40 per cent women presenters and reporters? Where do you take in the difference?
Senator Hussey.—The news readers are up front. The key person in a news programme is the news reader. We all believe there is quite a subliminal influence on young people, in particular, if the voice which reads the news is always a man’s voice. RTE have made some progress in this area and we now have three women news readers. They are still in a minority. We believe it is important to tackle that area quickly because they are the people up front in a news programme.
455. Deputy Kenneally.—You suggest 50 per cent news readers and 40 per cent reporters, etc.?
Senator Hussey.—Yes, because we reckon the newsreader is the key person in influencing the whole thing.
456. Deputy Deasy.—Does the imbalance which you complain of not basically start with the educational system, particularly the technical training of young people, which seems to be almost non-existent where females are concerned?
Mrs. Arnold.—Do you mean AnCO courses?
Mrs. Arnold.—I cannot speak for the internal workings of RTE. The impression has always been given that women are there but that they are not sufficiently well trained or qualified to accept promotion. This is the complaint of a lot of people. We are told they advertise those jobs and if women want them why do they not come forward? The reason is they have started much further back. This is the reason why we stress that there should be a will on the part of RTE to redress the balance. It is not a difficult thing to do so but there has to be a definite will. It is like the Government having the will to do it. You could spread the message right through the station and you could say that this is what is to happen and there would be much more equality. It is a kind of equality of opportunities.
457. Deputy Deasy.—Do you not feel you are putting the cart before the horse?
Mrs. Arnold.—Not at all, because you have to start somewhere. The women are there. It has been proved that when they are given opportunities they are very good. You could not possibly look down the list on page 13 and find it acceptable. There are no women in senior management and 31 men. It seems unacceptable.
458. Senator Cooney.—Does that not reflect society generally?
Senator Hussey.—It does. Our view in preparing a report specifically about RTE was that we see RTE with a very important and influential role. I would love to see more women at the top level of the ESB. I would love to see them at the top level everywhere. It is more serious, when one considers the very strong influence RTE have over the forming of social attitudes, that we have such a gross imbalance in RTE.
459. Senator Cooney.—I want to get back to what Deputy Deasy said, that there has to be a change of attitude, beginning with education. Do you not agree?
Senator Hussey.—We have all got a bit tired of saying it will all happen in due course. We feel it is time for some action to be taken to speed up that process.
Mrs. Arnold.—In the States they regard the situation as sufficiently serious to adopt a quota system in employment. If a job is offered it must first go to a black person and, secondly, to a woman. They have a positive action programme of encouragement. Women are not in a minority in America but they are in a minority in regard to employment opportunities. They have gone as far as insisting on a certain quota of minority groups being employed in any particular company. They put at the end of their writing paper that they are a member of the equal opportunities group. That is a very positive way to do it. You cannot say it is the fault of the educational system and then sit back. You have to start somewhere. The women are there. It is just that they need very positive encouragement and very positive training in order to qualify them for these top positions.
460. Deputy Deasy.—We have all grown up with the idea that women are not as able as men to do higher mathematics and technology. Do you contend that they are? Have you carried out any studies in that regard?
Senator Hussey.—No, I wish somebody would carry out some studies. I heard it announced with some glee recently that an American study had shown that women’s minds were not as suited to higher mathematics and technology as men’s. There is some very deepseated conditioning of women from the day they are born to opt out of these areas. This is reinforced by what they see on radio and television. There has, until recently, been very few opportunities for girls in schools to take higher mathematics or physics. There are still very few opportunities.
461. Deputy Deasy.—Is this not because of the lack of qualified teachers?
Senator Hussey.—Yes, and also because of lack of education. I should like to draw your attention to two very serious figures in that table on page 13. There are quite a number in RTE who decide what is news, what constitutes a news story and what will go out on the news. The 1979 year book is the most recent one available. In the news division, which involves people behind the news, people editing, and preparing the news, there were 24 men and no women, which creates a different slant on what is news. The second figure I should like to draw your attention to is that there were 70 production assistants who were women and 2 men. If you move up the ladder to producers, there were 66 men producers and 12 women. We also find that in 18 years up to that year only two women have moved from production assistant to producer. The producer of a programme is the major influence on it.
462. Chairman.—Even if there was a very positive approach, a determination to do something rather drastic about it, is it not bound to be rather slow? If we assume there are five rungs on the ladder and the fifth is the top. if there are no women on rung four it is not a practical proposition to have any in the top position.
Senator Hussey.—You are quite right. This problem is faced in other areas too. For example, in your profession, the Bar, there is no woman senior counsel since Miss Carroll was appointed a judge. This leads to a problem: where are the next women judges to come from? In RTE obviously you have the same problem. Many people would be satisfied if, at the very top level from the Authority down, they sat down and said: “Right. Here is a situation which must be changed, and we will change it.” They should listen to us and to other women’s organisations, to the groups in RTE, and to the trade union group who were here earlier on, and work out schemes for change. If this is slow at least we might feel that it is as fast as possible. At the moment, unfortunately, the impression is abroad that there is no commitment at the top level and that there is no readiness to admit that there is a serious problem.
463. Chairman.—Do you feel it might be just as bad in five years time?
Senator Hussey.—Unless something positive is done.
464. Chairman.—You had a discussion with RTE. When was that?
Senator Hussey.—On 10 November.
465. Chairman.—I take it they will be reporting back, or there will be some subsequent development?
Senator Hussey.—I hope so. They have had their own group working for two years and that seems to me to be a very long time. I do not know if the reason for the delay is a lack of commitment at the top. I do not know why it has taken two years. Mrs. Conroy received some of us two years ago and said she had a commitment. Following that original series of visits to Mrs. Conroy, one programme was started called Women Today which goes out every day at 2 o’clock. It has been a fantastic success in terms of listenership and response. That appears to be the only movement. We are waiting for more movement as a matter of urgency.
466. Deputy Herbert.—We all realise there is a great imbalance between males and females in specific areas. We all realise that females did not go into the field of applied sciences or maths. That picture is changing pretty rapidly. More and more females are going into the field of applied sciences. In the final analysis, surely it is the educational structures which must be changed? Parents have a big responsibility in this regard. Second level education in psychology was almost non-existent for females. We have career guidance officers who guide students in the various fields. Comparatively speaking, the situation is changing rapidly, but it will be a very long haul.
Senator Hussey.—I suppose it depends on what you are comparing it with. I agree with you that there have been changes.
467. Deputy Herbert.—By comparison with five years ago?
Senator Hussey.—I do not think there has been a dramatic change. If you look at the figures from the Department of Education, the number of girls taking traditional male subjects is creeping up very slowly, and the number of girls taking the leaving certificate in those subjects is a small fraction of the boys, despite the fact that across the board, girls come out with a higher set of points than boys. I agree that the basic problem lies in the educational field from the beginning. The broadcasting medium is a strong educator. In America it is established — and I do not think we are far behind it here — that watching television is children’s biggest activity after school and sleeping. It is an enormous educator. This is why we are so concerned about RTE’s impact on this development. It is not only schooling which educates children now.
Mrs. Arnold.—I cannot tell you the impact it has if you see a woman in an unfamiliar role on television. Many people commented to me when Geraldine Kennedy was brought onto Today Tonight to discuss some political development. I cannot remember what it was because I was not in the country at the time. Some people said to me: “Was it not wonderful to see a woman talking on television about politics? She was not talking about the Irish Housewives Association or something specifically relating to women. She was talking about politics which concerns us all”. It would be very effective if we had a woman economist discussing the budget tomorrow night. All of this is showing a sort of model which I certainly want for my daughter and my sons and I hope you would want for your children. RTE have done us a grave disservice in that women are always seen as doing slightly less well. They are not making decisions. They are not chairing programmes. Girls are sent out with microphones to record interviews. This is a very bad example to set. We cannot stop the clock and let it all happen. We have to make it happen. This is why we got involved in this in the first place. We want to create a climate of awareness and change within RTE, the most effective medium we have.
468. Chairman.—You mentioned an economist. I am sure it would be very useful to RTE to send them a list saying: “The next time you need an economist why not one of the following women? The next time you need some other expert the following are women.” Do you not think so?
Mrs. Arnold.—I take your point. Of course we have a talent bank of women in various areas. Their names are constantly submitted when appointments to State bodies come up.
Senator Hussey.—The person we mention, the women’s equality officer who would be employed inside the station——
Chairman.—I am sorry. I really meant that you wanted some one to go on and comment on the budget and so on.
Senator Hussey.—That person’s job would be to compile and find out and research where there are the kind of women who will be ready and available to come in and discuss that sort of subject. This person would have a wideranging job and that would be part of it.
Mrs. Arnold.—I remember listening to a discussion on Radio 1 a couple of months ago about the big supermarket chains destroying the small retailers. The panel was entirely male. To me this was absolutely unacceptable. Who are the chief consumers? They are women. I cannot believe there was not an articulate woman who could go on that programme and comment on the matter. But no, it was all male. RTE should actively seek out women in these areas.
Chairman.—That is a very good example.
Senator Hussey.—When the Irish Goods Council were promoting the “Buy Irish” Campaign on television they used three men: Vivian Murray, chairman of the Irish Goods Council, Liam Connellan, and a trade unionist, Michael Mullen I think. It would have been so natural, proper and obvious to a woman to have had, for example, the President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Camilla Hannon, an extremely articulate woman, on television saying to 29,000 members of the ICA: “You are the consumer. You go into the shops. It is your job to move money from imported goods to Irish goods.” This did not happen.
469. Deputy Kenneally.—I think the NBA have realised the importance of the female viewpoint because they are seeking the female slant in respect of house design?
Senator Hussey.—Yes. That is a positive development.
The witnesses withdrew.