RADIO TELEFÍS ÉIREANN
1. The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 provided the legislative framework within which broadcasting services in Ireland developed until 1960. These services were under the control of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.
2. The Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 established the Radio Éireann Authority. The Authority took over responsibility for the then existing radio services and assumed responsibility for establishing a television service. The television service was officially opened on 31 December, 1961.
3. The 1960 Act laid down that, in performing its functions, the Authority “shall bear constantly in mind the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture and shall endeavour to promote the attainment of those aims”. This general duty was broadened under the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976. It stated that in performing its functions “the Authority shall in its programming:
(a) be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community, be mindful of the need for understanding and peace within the whole island of Ireland, ensure that the programmes reflect the varied elements which make up the culture of the people of the whole island of Ireland, and have special regard for the elements which distinguish that culture and in particular for the Irish language,
(b) uphold the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, and
(c) have regard to the need for the formation of public awareness and understanding of the values and traditions of countries other than the State, including in particular those of such countries which are members of the European Economic Community.”
4. The corporate name of the Authority was changed to Radio Telefís Éireann under the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1966. RTE, as it is now known, is the national broadcasting organisation.
1.2 Statutory Position
5. The powers, functions and duties of RTE are laid down in the Broadcasting Authority Acts, 1960 to 1979. These Acts also govern the relationships between the Authority and the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (and the Government).
6. The Members and Chairman of the RTE Authority are appointed by the Government. The main functions of the RTE Authority are to establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service. In carrying out its functions the Authority “shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose”.1 At the same time, RTE is bound by certain statutory provisions, including certain guidelines in performing its functions. The statutory provisions and guidelines are discussed in Section 4 of this Report.
7. Since its founding statute, the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, RTE’s powers and duties have been modified by the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Acts of 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1979. It is also subject to some earlier legislation, for example, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 as amended.2
1.3 Ministerial Powers
8. The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has general responsibilities for RTE. The Minister’s functions stem from three sources. First, some functions stem from general provisions of the Broadcasting Authority Acts. Second, certain functions derive from the Minister’s accountability to the Dáil for grants to RTE which are included in the Estimates for Posts and Telegraphs. Finally, some functions reflect the Minister’s broad responsibilities for telecommunications and his particular responsibilities for wireless telegraphy.
9. The powers reserved to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (or to the Government) with regard to RTE are quite wide-ranging. The powers relate to three main areas: finance, appointments and broadcasting matters. The financial powers relate to the funding of RTE through the payment of licence fee receipts and the receipts in respect of cable television licence fees (less collection fees and other expenses); and the making of advances out of the Central Fund for capital purposes. The powers of appointment relate not only to the appointment of the RTE Authority and the approval of the appointment of the DirectorGeneral, but also to the appointment of advisory committees or advisers. As regards broadcasting matters, RTE operates broadcasting stations subject to the terms and conditions of licences issued by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. The Minister also approves of the total number of hours per year of broadcasting and the maximum periods for broadcasting advertisements. Moreover, the Minister is empowered to direct the RTE Authority to refrain from the broadcasting “of a particular matter or any matter of a particular class”.3 He is also empowered to direct RTE to allocate broadcasting time for any announcement by or on behalf of any Minister in connection with the functions of that Minister.
1.4 Broadcasting Developments Over The Past Decade
10. In 1971 the Broadcasting Review Committee was set up by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to review the progress of television and sound broadcasting services in the previous decade, with particular reference to the objectives prescribed in the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act. The Minister asked the Review Committee to make any recommendations considered appropriate in regard to the further development of the services.
11. The Broadcasting Review Committee published its report in 1974. The Review Committee noted in that report that “the policy for broadcasting in Ireland has not been declared by legislation” and it proposed a legislative declaration, as follows:
“1.The broadcasting system should be effectively owned and controlled by bodies to be set up under this statute with responsibility for safeguarding, enriching and strengthening the cultural, social and economic fabric of Ireland.
2.The system should provide a service that is essentially Irish in content and character.
3.This service should:
(i)be a balanced service of information, enlightenment and entertainment for people of different ages, interests and tastes covering the whole range of programming in fair proportion.
(ii)be in Irish and in English with appropriate provision for other languages,
(iii)actively contribute to the flow and exchange of information, entertainment and culture within Ireland, and between Ireland and other countries, especially her partners in the European Economic Community, and
(iv)provide for a continuing expression of Irish identity”.
12. The Broadcasting Review Committee concluded that broadcasting should continue to be a public service, but the public control functions should be separated from the operation of the broadcasting service. In this regard it proposed a Broadcasting Commission to review the activities of a Management Board, review programme structures and performance, deal with complaints, etc. and a Management Board—consisting of the Director-General and the senior executives in RTE—which would be responsible for the day-to-day management of the broadcasting service. The Committee concluded inter alia that the provision of a second television channel should have priority over a second radio channel. It also concluded that cable television should be statutorily regulated so that “no one operator will get a monopoly” and so that “RTE programmes will necessarily be carried”.
13. The RTE Authority had quite definite views on the report of the Broadcasting Review Committee. The Authority’s views, as set out in its Annual Report (1974), are as follows:
“… The Authority welcomed the recommendations that broadcasting should continue to be a public service; that licence fees should meet a higher proportion of RTE costs and a higher proportion of capital investment; that current and capital financing should be planned on a 3-year basis; and that the collection of licence fees should be undertaken by RTE. The recommendation for the establishment of a Broadcasting Commission did not commend itself to the Authority, which believes that the public interest requires a public trustee element in the body charged with administering the resources of broadcasting”.
In evidence to the Joint Committee, the Director-General claimed that the present structures in RTE work well and he “would not see a need for a [Broadcasting] Commission of the type suggested by the Broadcasting Review Committee”.4
14. While the 1976 Broadcasting Authority Act did not provide for a Broadcasting Commission (on the lines recommended by the Broadcasting Review Committee), it did provide for a Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC). The role of this Commission is considered in Section 4 of this Report.
1.5 Geographical Coverage
15. The main functions of RTE are to establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service. In a memorandum to the Joint Committee, RTE stated that its general aim is to achieve full coverage of the State for all its principal radio and television services.
16. At present there are three radio services available on a national basis—RTE Radio 1, RTE Radio 2 and Raidió na Gaeltachta. These services use four transmission networks to achieve maximum coverage. Because of limitations on spectrum space and the characteristics of radio waves, more than one network may be required for countrywide reception of any one service. In the field of television, RTE now provides two national television services—RTE 1 and RTE 2. These services use two transmission networks to achieve maximum coverage. However, RTE has pointed out to the Joint Committee that none of the radio or television services can achieve full coverage of the State and further broadcasting frequencies are needed to make this possible.
17. RTE claims, as far as radio services are concerned, that “to achieve full coverage of the State for the radio services, further MF [Medium Wave] and VHF [Very High] frequencies will be required”. RTE has applied to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs for agreement in principle to the third national VHF network so that each of the three radio services available on a national basis can have full stereo VHF back-up to their MF transmissions. A decision on this application has not been announced (see paragraph 103).
18. At present, the two television services—RTE 1 and RTE 2—cover most of the State. However, there are various pockets throughout the country which are not adequately covered. RTE pointed out that work is in progress to cater for such pockets and when this work will be completed coverage for the two television services should reach about 96 per cent of the population of the State. Moreover, RTE hopes that coverage within the State for both television services will reach 98 per cent within five years.
19. National broadcasting authorities limit their transmissions to neighbouring States as much as possible, but there is inevitably some “overspill” of services into other States. Because of the geography of Ireland, 45 per cent of the population of the Republic is able to receive “overspill” transmissions from BBC and ITV. RTE’s television services do not extend into Northern Ireland to the same extent. RTE in evidence stated that for “RTE 1, the overspill used to be about 14 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland”. 5 However, RTE has installed two additional transmitters in County Donegal and in North County Louth and they estimate that the impact of these transmitters will be to increase “overspill” to 20-25 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland. Including those with high-gain aerials, the potential coverage of Northern Ireland by RTE television services could be 30 to 40 per cent. It should be pointed out, however, that RTE derives no commercial benefit from this extended coverage. As decisions to extend mutual coverage would require agreement at Governmental level, 6 the Committee recommends that this matter should be considered by the Government.
1.6 Illegal Broadcasting
20. The spread of illegal broadcasting in recent years has raised the question as to whether RTE enjoys a legal monopoly of broadcasting. RTE has reacted to this by stating that the “so-called RTE monopoly [is] plain propaganda to persuade the Government to grant broadcasting franchises to commercial interests for private gain”. It supports this viewpoint by listing three key elements which in its view determine the level of RTE’s broadcasting activity and which are outside RTE’s control:
(i)Broadcasting frequencies are assigned to RTE by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs;
(ii)RTE’s earning capacity is determined at Ministerial or Governmental level, where capital programmes, licence fee levels and advertising rates are determined;
(iii)The maximum and minimum hours of broadcasting and the total amount and hourly incidence of advertising material broadcast must be approved by the Minister. In fact, RTE does not have a monopoly in the basic sense of freedom from competition. Foreign radio broadcasts are freely available throughout the country and television services from three British channels are available to almost half the population. In effect, RTE is in daily competition with radio and television services which are, arguably, the best in quality and certainly among the best-financed in the world.
21. In its principal memorandum to the Committee RTE pointed out that “the time is not far distant when the whole of Ireland will be blanketted by foreign broadcast material via satellite”. Accordingly, RTE considers that the national interests will be best protected by an integrated and effective national radio and television broadcasting service rather than the fragmentation which would arise if commercial broadcasting proceeds.
1.7 Public Service
22. In addition to its direct broadcasting responsibilities, RTE plays a wider role in the community. Important cultural events throughout the country depend for survival on RTE’s national symphony and concert orchestras, which are in practice national assets, as well as on the RTE Singers and the Academica String Quarter. RTE facilitates its musicians in participating in outside events. Moreover, RTE has played an important part in ensuring the survival of Ireland’s traditional music and song. This has been due to the work of dedicated broadcasters within RTE who for decades have been collecting, recording and preserving in archive-form the works of the best performers in the country because of their conviction that this form of traditional culture was neglected and needed to be nurtured. Developments in modern musical composition have also been encouraged, as well as drama and new patterns of entertainment.
23. RTE has made a contribution outside Ireland. RTE pointed out in its principal memorandum to the Committee that Ireland’s cultural reputation abroad is helped by RTE’s activities through the European Broadcasting Union and similar international exchanges and through the international sales of our television programmes. The foreign tours of RTE’s orchestras are a valuable contribution to the creation abroad of a favourable image of Ireland. In addition, RTE provides the equivalent of about 500 external jobs in the performing arts, in design and in other related fields and contributes to cultural and training schemes within the community. RTE also recognises its public service responsibilities outside the broadcasting area by participating in the management of the new concert hall in Dublin and by its maintenance of a sound and film library which, in fact, constitutes a national archive. The Committee acknowledges RTE’s contribution to the performing arts and places on record the country’s indebtedness to RTE, particularly in the field of music.
1.8 The Committee’s Report
24. This is the Committee’s eighteenth report and the first on RTE. The enquiry into RTE was commenced in November 1980 and completed in May 1981, and evidence was taken at six sessions. The Committee decided to restrict the scope of its report to a number of issues that appeared to be of major significance. The matters on which the Committee concentrated relate mainly to finance, programming and staffing. The report has been structured to highlight these issues.
2.1 Financial Background
25. RTE’s expenditure arises from the provision of two national television channels, two national radio channels, Raidió na Gaeltachta, some local radio programmes, Community Radio and some ancillary services. Its main sources of revenue are licence fee income and advertising income.
26. Government policy, as expressed through the 1926 and 1960 Acts, has consistently been that broadcasting should be financially self-supporting. The 1960 Act and subsequent amendments have given RTE access to repayable Exchequer advances. At present, Exchequer advances are limited to a maximum of £25 million. In addition, further short- and long-term borrowing powers were granted. Particulars as to the extent to which RTE has exercised its borrowing powers in the last decade are set out in Appendix 2. Under section 24 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, RTE is required to secure that its revenue be “at least sufficient— (a) to meet all sums properly chargeable to current account, and (b) to make suitable provision with respect to capital expenditure”. In evidence, the Chairman of the Authority stated that “RTE, among all State companies, is alone because we do not have real control over revenue. The amount of the licence fee is fixed by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and the other portion of our income, advertising, we must work for by increased effort”. He went on to say “If the licence fee was sufficient to give a surplus to cover all capital expenditure, it would be better long-term than having to borrow at high interest rates”.7
27. Capital expenditure has been financed from a combination of repayable Exchequer advances, commercial borrowings, loans from the RTE Superannuation Fund and cash flow generated from trading operations. The net level of repayable Exchequer loans has increased from £3.6 million in 1976 to £18.3 million in 1980. The Minister for Finance has determined that repayment of the principal outstanding plus appropriate interest should be made in half-yearly instalments over a 30 year period. The first repayment was made on 1st July 1980.
28. RTE’s capital structure comprises mainly Exchequer advances and retained surpluses. There is no State equity8 invested in RTE, as can be seen from Appendix 3.
2.2 Significance of Statutory Responsibility
29. In its principal submission to the Committee, RTE stated:
“The statutory directive ‘to make suitable provision with respect to capital expenditure’ is taken to mean that funds generated from revenue, together with borrowings to be repaid from earnings, should be such as would enable the Authority to produce competitive programming … with minimal reliance on the Exchequer for capital funding”.
RTE also stated:
“RTE is endeavouring to provide for capital expenditure of the order of £6 million per annum [at 1980 prices] over the next five years and thereafter …”
30. The organisation’s own contribution to capital expenditure comprises the depreciation allowance9 and any surplus generated. RTE has only produced an average surplus of £0.5 million per annum over the past five years,10 so that as they put it themselves:—
“It is clear that this level of cash flow would not sustain a capital development programme of £6 million per annum and provide a surplus for working capital without significant Exchequer financing”.
31. Table 1 illustrates the implications for the funding of RTE’s forward plans. The Authority Chairman stated the problem forcefully in evidence when he told the Committee that “we believe we have great difficulty complying with that statutory obligation” i.e. section 24 of the 1960 Act. As a solution to this problem, RTE proposed that, among other approaches, income from licence fees could and should be increased; but that a barrier to this was the interpretation of section 24 taken by the Department. The Committee understood RTE’s argument to be that the Department would make no allowance for capital repayments when considering licence fee increases.
Radio Telefís Éireann
Anticipated Capital Expenditure and Exchequer Financing—1981/85*
Note: The foregoing takes full account of all Repayable Exchequer Advances drawn down since the establishment of the RTE Authority in 1960.
32. However, when this point was put to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, they stated that they are not aware that RTE were ever advised that provision for the repayment of Exchequer advances would be disallowed when applications for licence fee adjustments are under consideration and said that it would be a matter for the Government to decide whether any particular expenditure proposed by the RTE Authority should be provided for when an increase in licence fees is under consideration.
33. The Committee shares RTE’s concern over the scale of the financial problem. Much of the RTE argument has been aimed at devising means of increasing their income from licence fees (see Section 3.2 below). However, attention must be paid to the scale of the forward investment plan. While, obviously some improvements and renewals are necessary, we fear a tendency to try and match the resources of the giant UK networks whom RTE repeatedly referred to as their competition. Unless it is clear that the sources of funding are available, and the outlays on projects are really necessary, then RTE should not proceed with any ambitious capital programmes. We recommend that RTE take steps to clear up the misunderstanding with the Department on the question of the interpretation of section 24 by submitting to the Department a formal memorandum on the subject.
34. Finally, if RTE is to introduce the new standard on current cost accounting, Statement of Standard Accounting Practice No. 16 (SSAP 16), in common with other large organisations, this should further highlight their funding problem.
2.3 Effects of Inflation
35. RTE provided the Committee with a report, dated August 1980, from their management consultants. In that report, it was argued that the damaging effects of inflation were particularly acute in the case of an organisation using high technology equipment such as broadcasting. The consultants stated that RTE’s low equity base resulted in a debt/equity ratio which they calculated as 5.27 to 1 and that this: “would be considered excessive gearing for any commercial undertaking. This situation must ultimately limit the Authority’s capacity to borrow further funds from the banking system, unless its basis of capitalisation can be altered fundamentally, or its margins of profitability can be improved significantly”.
36. The consultants took the view that, at least for pricing purposes, provision should be made for depreciation of fixed assets, based on the replacement cost of assets rather than on the actual historic cost thereof.
37. The Committee wishes to express its general concern on the question of licence fee levels. A 1976 National Prices Commission Report indicated that Ireland had comparatively a very high level of licence fee in relation to the national product per head of population. Our calculations indicate that while the comparative position has improved somewhat since 1976, nevertheless the level of licence fee in relation to the national product per capita is still relatively high in Ireland. We consider that, before there can be any question of changing the basis of fee increases or of index-linking the fee, immediate attention should be paid to costs within the organisation and to loss of income due to fee evasion, matters which are dealt with in the next Section.
III INCOME AND EXPENDITURE
38. RTE has two major sources of income, viz. licence fee income and advertising income, which jointly account for approximately 90 per cent of its total receipts. The balance is found mainly from magazine sales, sales of programmes abroad, income from cable television companies, income from RTE Relays and concert income.
3.2 Licence Fee Income
39. In the early years of television service, growth in the number of licence holders gave a buoyant income. For the past few years, with set-holder numbers reaching saturation level, the emphasis has been on increasing licence fee cost (see Appendix 4). It is now becoming even more difficult to increase licence fee levels in “real” terms, i.e. discounting the effects of inflation.
40. In 1979/1980, RTE’s income from licence fees was £17.1 million, which accounted for approximately 41 per cent of total revenue. This income was gathered on the basis of a licence fee of £23 (mono), £38 (colour), obtaining up to December 1980. The total number of homes in the country having television sets was estimated at 785,000 by TAM.11 Of these, more than 50 per cent were colour sets. The present system for fixing and collecting licence fees is described in paragraphs 46 and 47. RTE in its submission and in oral evidence, maintains strongly that the existing situation in relation to licence fees is unsatisfactory, arguing that:
(i)The level of defaulters on payment of fees at 22 per cent is the highest in Europe. This represents a loss of income in the region of £4 million per annum, on the basis of the level of licence fees obtaining in the Autumn of 1980.
(ii)The cost of collection—8.6 per cent of licence fee income—is also the highest in Europe.
(iii)The Department’s method of collection is primarily based on manual recording systems. As a consequence, there is uncertainty in regard to licence income and major disappointments can occur as a result of late information on shortfalls in income. This situation arose in the Autumn of 1980, leading to cutbacks in RTE.
(iv)The licence fee rate should be regularly reviewed and adjusted annually on an agreed date.
(v)Licence fees should be index-linked to the Consumer Price Index or some appropriate pay index.
(vi)The proportion of licence fee increase required to finance specific development projects should be identified as a separate element in applications for fee adjustments.
41. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs says that increases in licence fees have been designed to enable grants up to the level which the Government considers appropriate to be paid to RTE and that any substantial improvement in the level of evasion would result in higher grants and should therefore postpone the date of the next increase or reduce its size. The Department points out that apart from inflation, the extension of broadcasting hours, colourisation and the introduction of expensive new services such as RTE 2 have also been major factors in influencing the frequency and size of the increases that have taken place since 1970. On the question of licence fee increases RTE could not expect, in times of economic stringency, to be treated more generously than the public sector in general. The Department says that the problem in regard to the Autumn of 1980 was due to (1) the difference between RTE’s financial year and the Exchequer’s financial year; (2) the need to make payments in RTE’s financial year equivalent to net receipts from licence fees; and (3) RTE’s wish to get uniform monthly payments although the bulk of licence receipts arise in the winter months. In the Exchequer’s financial year the full 1980 Estimate provision of £18 million was paid to RTE.
42. The Department further informs us that, although RTE has frequently advocated the handing over of the collecting function to itself, in the absence of detailed proposals from RTE on the matter, it is not possible to say if RTE could do the work more efficiently or whether they would be as successful as the Department in combating evasion.
43. Finally, the Department has indicated that arrangements are at an advanced stage for the introduction of computer working for TV licence work, that this should result in improved efficiency of collection and that RTE will automatically benefit from the expected reduction in collection costs in future years.
44. In the course of evidence, the Authority Chairman told the Committee that there would be industrial relations implications in regard to a hand-over of the collection function from the Department to RTE. He suggested:
“The immediate and short-term advantage might lie in not making very much change in the present arrangement other than that a special unit be set up which, with the aid of the best computer data recording, would bring about a big improvement. There might be also some form of joint management, which would include RTE, who are a very interested party”.12
45. We are struck by the force of this argument and commend it to the various parties as the basis for resolving the present situation. In this connection the Committee noted that the RTE Trade Union Group is to seek a meeting with Post Office Unions to discuss the system of collecting licence fees. It is of the utmost importance to RTE’s financial health that the fee collection process be operated in an optimal fashion. As will be seen from Appendix 7, the percentage of RTE’s income derived from licence fees has been decreasing over the last five years; yet most of their hopes for future financial security are based on this source.
Licence Fee Rates
46. Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926 a licence is required by anyone wishing to “keep or have in his possession apparatus for wireless telegraphy”. The definition of “wireless telegraphy” includes a television set. Television licence fees are prescribed in statutory regulations made by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, with the prior consent of the Minister for Finance. In practice the level of licence fees is determined by the Government. The Department of Posts and Telegraphs submits a memorandum to the Government setting out its views and those of other Government Departments concerned on proposals made by the Authority.
47. Licence fees are payable annually and are collected by the Department and paid into the Exchequer. Under section 8 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976 the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, may pay to the Authority out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas in respect of each financial year an amount equal to the total of the receipts in that year in respect of broadcasting licence fees less the Department’s expenses (i) on collection, (ii) on the control of interference and (iii) in connection with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. The Department’s annual Estimate includes a Grant-in-Aid for RTE representing the estimated net receipts from licence fees for that year. When the actual gross receipts and collection expenses are ascertained any overpayment or underpayment to RTE is adjusted in the grant for a later year.
48. Costs of collecting television licence fees arise under various sub-heads of the Department’s Vote and on charges for postage on reminders, etc. These costs, in the main, comprise staffing costs on issuing and recording licences, issuing reminders, travelling expenses, etc., involved in house-to-house inspection work (particularly during anti-piracy campaigns), and prosecution expenses. The Department’s costs in connection with the prevention of interference and in connection with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission have been negligible. The statutory responsibility for the investigation and detection of interference with wireless telegraphy reception apparatus was, in fact, delegated to RTE under the Broadcasting Authority (Control of Interference) Order, 1960.
49. The level of television licence piracy is a matter which is the subject of continuing attention by the Department and RTE, and apart from the normal process of record-keeping, issue of reminders and prosecution of defaulters, the periodic anti-piracy campaigns are the main means used to combat and reduce the level of piracy.
50. The Committee agree, as already stated, that the procedures governing licence fee revenues should be improved, where possible. However, the Committee cannot condone any suggestion of index-linking licence fees. In times of high inflation, RTE must intensify its efforts to contain costs in exactly the same way as all other organisations, both in the public and private sectors.
Licence Fee Evasion
51. We now turn to evasion of payments. Appendix 5, based on data supplied by RTE’s management consultants, leads to two disturbing conclusions:
(i)There has been a sharp increase in the level of evasion over the last three years;
(ii)Based on a shortfall of 153,000 licence fees in 1979/1980, and the then licence fee level of £23 (mono), £38 (colour), the cost to RTE in revenue terms was probably between £3½ million and £5½ million (RTE’s own estimate is £4 million).
Among factors to which the high evasion level may be attributed are:
—deficiencies in the collection system,
—failure by some television dealers to fulfil their statutory obligation to return sales or lettings,
—the high level of licence fee, particularly in regard to colour sets,
—the reluctance of many owners of TV sets who rarely watch RTE to pay a licence fee to RTE.
The postal dispute in 1979 appears to have been a significant factor in the increase in evasion in that year.
52. The data in Appendix 6 illustrate the sharp increase in the number of households having colour TV (now accounting for approximately half of all TV homes) and the added problem that evasion among these households is particularly acute (157,000 homes having a colour set failed to purchase a colour licence in 1980). However, as the Assistant Director-General told us:
“… what is happening is that many people who have colour sets have only monochrome licences”.13
Also, in evidence, the Director-General gave us some international comparisons in respect of evasion:
“In Ireland the figure is 22 per cent and in Italy, which is the next highest, the figure is 12 per cent. In Austria, it is 7 per cent, while in the UK, it is 5 per cent; and 1 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, in Denmark and Switzerland. In Norway the evasion is virtually nil.”14
53. With regard to the 22 per cent evasion level quoted by RTE the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has informed the Committee that it believes that RTE calculated this figure by comparing the number of licences in force at the end of September 1979 with the estimate of the number of television households in the country according to TAM. At that time licence sales were still adversely affected by the effects of the prolonged Post Office strike from February to June 1979. Following campaigns in selected areas at the end of 1979 and two intensive nationwide campaigns during 1980, the number of licences current and due for renewal at the end of March, 1981, increased by over 12 per cent as compared with the position at the end of September, 1979, the percentage increase in the number of colour licences being 54 per cent. The Department understands that licence evasion in the UK is of the order of 5 per cent, though evasion in Northern Ireland is significantly higher. The Department is still not satisfied with the level of evasion in the Republic and will continue to do everything possible in co-operation with RTE to combat this problem while endeavouring to keep the costs of collection to a minimum. Reducing evasion has unfortunately the effect of increasing collection costs. The cost of a nationwide campaign is approximately £250,000. The Committee trusts that the action planned by the Department in co-operation with RTE will help to reduce significantly the level of evasion.
Licence Fee Collection Cost
54. In Table 2 (supplied by RTE’s management consultants) are shown the costs of collecting licence fees.
Licence Fee Collection Costs
55. In evidence, the Deputy Director-General told us:
“The cost of collection of licence fees in the past year  was £1.6 million. We calculate that to be the highest in Europe—8.6 per cent of income. It is almost £3 per licence”.15
The Chairman of the Authority gave us international comparisons:
“Collection costs for RTE amount to 8.6 per cent of total revenue; the UK and Denmark, 2 per cent; Austria, 4 per cent; Italy, 6.9 per cent; Sweden, 3 per cent; Finland, 3.7 per cent; France, 5.9 per cent. Italy is the second highest at 6.9 per cent”.16
56. The Department says that the figure of £1.6 million was the estimate of collection costs in 1980. The actual collection costs in 1980 are not likely to exceed £1.4 million representing 7 per cent of gross revenue from sales of television licences. The Department does not know what expenses are included in the percentages of collection costs in other countries quoted by RTE. However, the Department has established that the percentage of gross receipts in the United Kingdom that corresponds with the Department’s figure of 7 per cent is approximately 8 per cent.
57. The Department informed the Committee that approximately 50 per cent of licence holders renew their licences on receipt of the first reminder notice. A further 30 per cent renew on receipt of the second reminder. There is a hard core of approximately 10 per cent in respect of whom it is necessary to carry out a house inspection before a licence is renewed. In a number of these cases it would be necessary to institute legal proceedings following the inspection. The task of tracking down television sets that have never been licensed is even more difficult. The Department uses all information supplied to it by licensed cable television operators under the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy (Wired Broadcast Relay Licence) Regulations, 1974 and by television dealers under the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1972. However, the only way the Department could be satisfied that every television household is correctly licenced is by physical inspection of the premises. With the introduction of a colour licence the need for inspection has increased. Where previously it was only necessary to inspect households not recorded as having a television licence, it is now necessary to inspect all households not recorded as having a colour licence. Even though the cost of an intensive nationwide house-to-house campaign is approximately £250,000, it appears to the Committee that the carrying out of such a campaign would be justified if it is considered to be the only way of tackling the present unacceptable level of evasion.
58. There is a consensus that the present manually operated collection system is too labour-intensive and should be replaced by a computerised system. As was indicated in paragraph 43, the Department has informed the Committee that arrangements are at an advanced stage for the introduction of computer working for TV licence work.
59. The Committee is most sympathetic to the problems caused to RTE by the deficiencies in the existing fee collection system and has already commented favourably on a suggestion which would enable RTE to take a more effective role in relation to the collection of licence fees. 17 The Committee welcomes the fact that the Department’s arrangements for the introduction of computer working for TV licence collection are at an advanced stage. A fresh look should be taken at considerations such as the date on which licence fees fall due, dealer registration systems and penalties for licence fee evasion. We realise that the total rigour applied in some countries might not be appropriate to the Irish situation.18 However, it is obvious that a considerable tightening-up on collections is needed in Ireland.
60. Two major outcomes can emerge from increased efficiency of licence fee collection:
(i)reduced rate of increase of licence fee levels; and
(ii)reduced call for finance from the Exchequer.
61. The data in Appendix 7 illustrate the large-scale importance of advertising in the financing of RTE.
62. Published figures indicate that annual growth in income from advertising over the past five years has been at a rate of 26.8 per cent per annum, i.e. a figure considerably in excess of inflation. In 1980, income amounted to £19.7 million (47.4 per cent of total revenue), representing an increase of 28 per cent over 1979.
63. In 1980, television generated 72 per cent of RTE’s total advertising income, radio 26 per cent and publications 2 per cent. The performance in increasing radio advertising revenue by 44 per cent over 1979 was particularly impressive.
64. RTE is in competition with other media (most notably the Press, outdoor hoarding and other broadcasters) for advertising revenue. Central Statistics Office data for the years 1976, 1977 and 1978 indicate that radio and television jointly account for about 40 per cent of total advertising expenditure.
65. According to information supplied by RTE’s management consultants, in 1979 advertising space bought on RTE radio and television accounted for 42 per cent of total advertising space as opposed to 39.4 per cent in 1975. This increase is almost entirely due to the increase in television time.
66. The Committee is very concerned at the emerging threat to this source of income from external factors such as the spread of Cable TV and the development of satellite TV systems. Although impossible to quantify at this stage, we are by no means sanguine as to the future buoyancy of RTE’s advertising income. The Director-General, in evidence, agreed that there was not much room for any significant increase in the level of advertising.19
Time Available for Advertising and Price Increases
67. The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs has no statutory function in regard to radio or television advertising charges which are subject to the provisions of the Prices (Amendment) Act, 1972. RTE’s proposals for increases in advertising charges are examined by the National Prices Commission and, in accordance with administrative arrangements approved by the Government, the Department of Posts and Telegraphs submits the recommendations of the Commission in the matter to the Government for decision.
68. The level of advertising revenue depends on the amount of time made available for advertisements, the charge for them and the amounts of time sold at those rates of charge.
69. Under the Broadcasting Authority Acts, total daily times for broadcasting advertisements and the maximum periods to be given to advertisements in any hour have been fixed by the Authority with the approval of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs as follows:
70. In addition to these limitations, seasonal factors affect the revenue flow (most notably, the traditional reduction in advertising volume in January and August of each year).
71. In evidence, the Director-General told the Committee that the full permitted advertising time on RTE 1 was being sold. “On RTE 2 we are using about 65 per cent of the permitted time. On Radio 1, there is 100 per cent and about 80 per cent on Radio 2”. He also told the Committee, “I do not think we would want any additional advertising time — the 10 per cent is enough”.20
72. On the basis of data, for the five year period ended Autumn 1980, supplied by RTE’s management consultants, it would appear that radio advertising rates have increased somewhat faster than inflation but that the reverse is the case in relation to television advertising rates. Although the consultants adverted to fairly long delays in obtaining decisions on applications for rate increases, the Committee has formed the impression that general market factors have a very considerable bearing on the amount and timing of advertising price increases.
73. The Chairman of the Authority informed the Committee that the Authority had decided to defer for a year the phasing out of the advertising of beer; and that at the end of the year they would review the decision in the light of an educational programme which the Irish Brewers’ Association “promised to develop in conjunction with the Health Education Bureau, the National Council for Alcoholism and the Department of Health — which would cover schools and advertising with a view to promoting responsible and moderate drinking … It is their responsibility to come back to us, but, failing their presenting this programme by the end of this year, we will commence phasing out all liquor advertising”.21 In RTE’s opinion the elimination of drink advertising would most likely lead to an overall loss of advertising revenue of 4 per cent of total.22
74. In evidence the Chairman of the Authority stated, “RTE are set up to get approximately 50 per cent of their revenue from licence fees and the other 50 per cent from advertising. We do not propose to make any drastic change in that”.23 However, it is the Committee’s view that revenue from advertising should be maximised so that the cost of licences is kept to a minimum.
75. The Assistant Director-General explained to the Committee how prices charged to advertisers vary according to figures set out on a rate card—“It is what is termed a pre-empt rate card and it is based on a Dutch auction system, whereby an advertiser, who is prepared to pay at a higher rate up to a certain period before transmission can, in fact, obtain the more popular spot. At its peak, this adds up to 50 per cent to the value of an individual segment. That has been in operation for two years and it is at its most sophisticated this year and will add most significantly to the value of our earnings from advertising”.24
76. The Committee agrees that RTE should make the most sophisticated use possible of rate card structures, so as to optimise income from advertising. The Committee notes that, on RTE 2 television and Radio 2, advertising time is far from being fully sold. The Committee therefore recommends that RTE devote its energies towards filling this particular gap.
3.4 RTE Relays
77. The cable television activities of RTE are carried out by a division, known as RTE Relays. This division holds a number of licences from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to provide cable television services.
78. RTE Relays makes a twofold contribution to RTE’s income:
(i)Through a licence fee, amounting to 15 per cent of gross revenue (excluding installation charges and VAT), which, in common with other Cable TV firms, it pays to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and ultimately to RTE (less the Department’s collection costs); and
(ii)A direct net contribution, related to its operating surplus. This amounted to £525,000 in 1980, an increase of 65 per cent over 1979.
By and large, RTE Relays has shown a very satisfactory performance, expressed in terms of growth in net contribution to RTE.
3.5 RTE Guide
79. The RTE Guide is a weekly magazine providing information and comment on radio and TV programmes. Since 1977, when it was set up as a separate cost centre, it has operated consistently at a loss. In 1979, the loss was £92,600 compared with a loss of £90,700 the previous year.
80. In evidence, RTE stated that the poor performance of the Guide was due to a number of factors; viz.
—“the cover price always has been too low for a glossy weekly magazine of its kind”;
—it has “experienced in past years, increases in the cost of production, the cost of paper”;
—“there is considerably more work in producing it than, say, some of the women’s magazines of comparable size”;
—“it must be accurate up to Monday evening, and it is printed on Tuesday night. There is a high labour content”;
—“it was not such a popular advertising medium for a long time … [but] its advertising income has been trebled [recently].”25
RTE told us that they had made approaches to the IBA and the BBC to obtain permission to publish their programme schedules and had been refused in both cases. The Assistant Director-General told us that “if we had that information in any form, it would be a great help, particularly in the Dublin and east coast area”.26
81. The Committee fails to understand why the RTE Guide, which has the largest circulation of any weekly magazine in Ireland, cannot achieve a break-even situation at the very least. The Committee recommends that, if it proves impossible to achieve that situation, serious consideration should be given to restructuring or hiving-off the magazine.
3.6 Programme Sales
82. During the course of our hearing, the Authority Chairman referred to sales of programmes such as “Strumpet City” and “The Year of the French”. He told the Joint Committee that “they will never really make money but they will provide high quality broadcasting for home broadcast and will reduce considerably the cost of producing such programmes”.27 Different methods of financing are used. RTE financed “Strumpet City” totally, whereas “The Year of the French” is a joint production with French Television and with some American finance.
83. The text of a memorandum received from RTE in relation to “Strumpet City” is reproduced as Appendix 12. The direct programme cost budget for that production was £345,500 (i.e. not taking into account staff salaries or any apportionment of general RTE overheads). When queried during the course of evidence regarding the total cost, RTE’s Financial Controller replied “roughly … £800,000, including all the people involved, the cost of their salaries while participating”.28 As regards sales of “Strumpet City”, RTE has intimated that gross confirmed sales at early May 1981 amounted to £353,020; and that in addition a contract for the United States was being concluded which would yield a further £60,000, bringing the total to £413,020 by mid-1981. RTE anticipates that the net profit29 on sales will exceed £300,000 by the end of 1981.
84. The Committee would point out that RTE in computing its net profit for “Strumpet City” does so by reference to direct programme costs and not by reference to total costs. The Committee recognises that while the total costs of producing “Strumpet City” will not be covered, nevertheless the total expected sales revenue outlined above will go a long way to meeting the extra costs incurred over and above a more modest drama with limited sales potential.
85. With regard to major productions, the Director-General told the Committee:
“The tendency nowadays is to engage more and more in co-productions; you would get another broadcasting organisation or a film company to come in and join in a venture to make a series or a particular programme. In relation to ‘The Year of the French’… we will supply the manpower, but the financing of it is coming mainly from other organisations involved. At the end of the day, when the programme has been finished and sold. we reap some of the benefits from the sale”.30
This approach appears to the Committee to be the best one for RTE to adopt in the making of major productions.
3.7 Other Sources of Revenue
86. In their submission to the Committee, RTE referred to other sources of revenue, present and potential (e.g. vision circuit sales, sale of facilities, text transmission, video recording) none of which appeared to offer significant prospects for income improvement. The Committee wishes to encourage RTE to keep continuously in view the objective of positive cash flow from such situations. There is little point in putting further strain on licence fees and advertising through generating net expenditure from other sources.
87. The Committee is seriously concerned at the rate of increase of RTE’s costs, particularly over the last five years. We single out the areas of labour cost, expenditure on programme-making and travel expenses, for particular study. Appendix 8 illustrates the growth rate in RTE’s expenditure over the past decade.
88. The numbers of staff serving in the period 1975/1981 are shown in Table 3 below:
Number of RTE Staff serving at 30 September each year since 1975
Note: RTE does not anticipate that the latest staff figure shown above will have changed significantly by 30 September 1981.
89. According to RTE’s management consultants, RTE’s gross payroll (i.e. basic pay, superannuation, allowances and overtime) between 1975 and 1979 increased by 111 per cent; and basic pay over the same period rose by 115 per cent.
90. It would appear that the average increase in earnings of RTE employees has not been excessive, compared to the usual national indices. However, it is in terms of the overall growth of numbers of employees (see Table 3) that the Committee finds cause for concern. We have referred earlier to RTE’s tendency to provide services because its giant “competitors” have them.
3.9 Home-Originated TV Costs
91. A memorandum received from RTE in the matter of Home-Originated TV Programme Costs for the years 1976/77 to 1979/80 is reproduced as Appendix 9. The Committee is concerned at the rise in the cost per hour of home-originated programmes. Over the four year period 1976/77 to 1979/80, the cost per hour grew annually by an average of 16½ per cent as compared with an average annual increase in the Consumer Price Index of 12⅓ per cent. However, the Committee is pleased to see that the rate of increase in programme costs has been reducing over the last two years. Further, the Committee accepts that comparative costs of programmes are difficult to assess, because the costs of different types of programme vary enormously. Major drama productions and documentaries can cost very sizeable sums of money, when compared with a studio debate.
92. The Committee has already stated its views on the advisability of seeking other sources of funding for large productions.
3.10 Travel Expenses
93. Appendix 10 outlines the major sources of travel expense incurred in RTE in 1978/1979. Obviously, it is necessary to supply to viewers/listeners news and information derived in overseas locations. The more recent and more detailed information contained in Appendix 11, indicates that not infrequently teams of 6 to 10 people are sent overseas to produce 25 to 60 minutes of TV viewing. Clearly, the total cost in such cases is even greater than that shown in the Expense Schedules.
94. The Committee has formed the impression that RTE is at times cavalier with regard to its incurring of travel expenses. We draw this to attention as an area meriting the closest scrutiny and control.
3.11 Control of Costs
95. For budgetary purposes, RTE has eight principal operating divisions: TV Programmes, Radio Programmes, News, TV Production Facilities, Engineering, Financial Control, Sales and Personnel. RTE informed the Joint Committee:
“These divisions are divided into groups, departments and ultimately into cost centres. Budgets are structured on the foregoing basis and four-weekly statements report budgetary performance each period and year to date, viz. actual expenditure against budget”.
The Committee has studied carefully the RTE submission and the observations and recommendations of the Authority’s management consultants on budget control.
96. The Committee observes a tendency to base budgets on historical costs, adjusted for inflation, and not phased over the full 12 months making allowance for seasonal and other predictable factors. The Committee observes also that a “Contingency Fund” of almost £3 million was provided in the 1980 financial year. The Committee, fears that such a large “Contingency” helps to prevent really tight control and inhibits the salutary learning effect of frequent budget reviews.
97. In evidence, RTE pointed out that there can be considerable practical difficulties in the introduction of tighter budget control systems. Nevertheless, the Committee is of the view that RTE’s budget controls should be as effective as possible for each of RTE’s areas of operation. For management to manage, it must not only have overall information on whether it is operating at a profit or loss, but also information on how each area of operation is performing against budget. In turn, this requires the adoption of realistic budgets. In this regard a number of considerations should be borne in mind by RTE in developing its annual budgets. First, annual budgets should include all expected increases in costs e.g. the expected cost implications of prospective or known wage agreements and cost inflation. Second, the budgets should be broken into monthly budgets. Third, where “contingencies” are included in budgets they should be separately identified as such (See para 96). Fourth, efforts should be made to introduce “zero-base” budgeting.31 The Committee recognises, as pointed out by the Authority Chairman, that “a lot of people talk about it but do not know how difficult it is”.32 While it may be extremely difficult (or even impracticable) to consider a complete introduction of “zero-base” budgeting, some steps along this road should be considered. RTE could, with advantage, introduce a planned cost reduction programme, involving a phased and thorough review and overhaul of its major cost centres. It must be recognised, however, that even if the budgetary system is overhauled this in itself does not effect control. Rather it highlights areas where action is required to redress unfavourable trends. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that in addition to reviewing its budgetary systems, RTE should implement cost monitoring systems which would identify where action has to be taken to redress unfavourable costs trends.
IV PROGRAMME POLICY
98. RTE now transmits a greater quantity and range of programmes to a larger number of Irish homes than at any time in its history. The Committee, not surprisingly, received more submissions on the question of programme policy, than on all other spheres of RTE’s activities taken together. Television and radio play an increasingly important part in people’s lives, both as a major form of entertainment and in the influence they have on society’s development. To quote the 1974 Broadcasting Review Committee report, “The radio and television facilities entrusted to the use of broadcasters are scarce public assets. Broadcasting is a means of simultaneously carrying what may be powerful sound and visual messages to a large number of people. The capital and operating expenses involved in providing transmission, link, studio and other technical facilities and the volume of private outlay on receiving sets represent a large commitment of financial resources. That irreplacable commodity, time, is also used by listeners and viewers”.
4.2 Radio Programmes
99. The role of radio as a communications medium has changed considerably over the last 30 years. Radio listening, which was once a focal point of family entertainment, with its major impact in the evening, has become:
“largely an individual pursuit and is frequently carried on as a background to other forms of activity—driving, eating or working in house, office or factory”.33
Not least of the results of this is that the listenership distribution has changed. Not only in Ireland, but in most of Western Europe, there is a large listening public available in the early morning for a sustained period and for shorter intervals at mealtimes. At other times of the day, the level of interest in radio is less. RTE’s approach to this situation is:
“The more popular programmes are scheduled in the daytime when audiences are larger; in the evening, when television attracts the greater audience, radio concentrates on programmes for minority tastes and interests”.34
100. RTE transmits 5 different radio services, each aimed at particular types of audience and interest, viz. Radio 1, Radio 2, Raidió na Gaeltachta, Cork Local Radio and Community Radio.
101. Radio 1, at peak hours, has the most universal appeal of all RTE’s transmissions. As RTE describes it, Radio 1 “is a comprehensive national channel covering news and current affairs, music to suit most tastes, drama, education, religion, sport, agriculture, features, documentaries and light entertainment, including programmes in Irish in most of the above categories. It is a fully national service independent of, and not complementary to, Radio 2, with programme origination not only from the Radio Centre in Donnybrook, but from provincial studios in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Belfast. Radio 1 broadcasts for seventeen and a half hours a day—from 6.30 a.m. to midnight—on medium wave (592m) from Tullamore and for part of the day on a VHF network shared with Raidió na Gaeltachta”.34
102. On the basis of the available data (see Appendix 14) in recent years, there would appear to be an increase in the percentage of Radio 1 output devoted to Music and Light Entertainment, at the expense of Drama, Features, Current Affairs, etc. While the Committee recognises the need to stay attuned to listeners’ requirements, it nevertheless believes that a proper balance should be maintained between Music and Light Entertainment on the one hand and Drama, Features, Current Affairs, etc. on the other hand.
103. The Committee is concerned at the absence of continuous VHF transmissions of Radio 1 material. We were made aware of RTE’s application for another VHF channel. While a decision on this is pending (and, indeed, should the application prove unsuccessful), the Committee would urge that RTE ensure that Radio 1 receives optimum coverage, even should it involve dislodging another service at times from the existing VHF channels.
104. Radio 2, to quote RTE, “is a popular music channel, catering almost exclusively for young people who comprise about half of the population. There is a restricted speech content but short news bulletins, traffic and weather information are included. In addition, consumer information and details of leisure and sporting activities are covered. The Irish language is used in a traditional music context. It frequently covers popular concerts throughout the country. Radio 2 broadcasts for over nineteen hours daily—6.30 a.m. to 1.50 a.m.—on medium wave (490m) from Athlone, Dublin (240m) and VHF (stereo) on its own network”.35
This is a comparatively new service, being just two years’ old and, as yet, there is insufficient evidence on which to evaluate its contribution.
105. Raidió na Gaeltachta, established in 1972, broadcasts on low-power medium-wave transmitters to audiences in the Gaeltacht areas and on VHF throughout the country. It now broadcasts for 35 hours a week. To quote RTE, “Its major achievement has been to link the various Gaeltacht communities together and to provide them with a sense of identity and common interest.”
106. Cork Local Radio broadcasts on medium wave (253m) “as an opt-out” from Radio 1, from Monday to Friday from 12.30 to 13.30 hours. RTE has told the Committee that this service has a large listenership in its own area; and that there is strong local demand for an extension of broadcasting hours on this service.
107. Community Radio/Raidió Phobal visits about eighteen locations each year where a mobile studio with a producer and technical staff advises and assists the local community in the preparation and transmission of a schedule with a strictly local appeal. Low-power MF and VHF transmitters, with a range of five-seven miles, provide transmissions for four hours per day (11.30 to 13.30 and 16.30 to 18.30) for about one week in the selected locations. RTE has told the Committee that these experimental transmissions have been a marked success; that the demand for this service far exceeds RTE’s capacity to meet it; and that the concept and mode of operation provide a blue-print for future developments.
4.3 Television Programmes
108. The development of television in recent years has been remarkable, to the point where it now constitutes probably the major communications medium in the world. In Ireland, the vast majority of homes (785,000 at the last count), now possess television sets.36 Strongly discernible trends are the demand for choice of viewing and for programmes of local interest.
109. RTE provides two television services, viz. RTE 1 and RTE 2. RTE has set out to:
“provide a comprehensive service across two channels on a complementary basis, i.e. the channels are not unrelated or competitive, but are scheduled to cater for the widest range of viewer preference and to provide the greatest degree of choice. RTE 1 is the premier channel, carrying the main News service, coverage of major events and popular, established material. In 1979, some 43 per cent of programming was home-produced. RTE 2 was established as a result of public demand for viewing choice and in order to give the former single-channel areas as wide a selection as possible of the British TV material available in the multichannel area. On foot of its obligations in this context, RTE 2 at present carries 80 per cent of imported material, though it is foreseen that audience demand will eventually require an increase in the home-produced content”.37
110. RTE has informed the Committee that television programming (home-produced) is costed on a direct basis which does not apportion overheads or payroll costs to particular programme projects. In September 1980, RTE gave the following examples of costs per hour of programmes:—
111. The Committee recognises that the price paid for imported programmes is substantially lower than their actual cost because the supply companies only expect a marginal contribution from them. Equally, the Committee is aware that the Direct Programme Cost substantially understates the actual cost to RTE of producing its own programmes.
4.4 Statutory Obligations
112. The Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 (as amended by the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976) included a number of provisions in regard to programme policy. First, the legislation places certain general duties on RTE with respect to national aims — these duties are detailed in paragraph 3. Second, the legislation lays down that in carrying out its functions RTE shall be bound by certain provisions in relation to objectivity and impartiality in (i) reporting and presenting news, (ii) the broadcast treatment of current affairs and (iii) the presentation of written, aural or visual material published by the Authority.38 Third, the legislation empowers the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, where he is of the opinion that the broadcasting of a particular matter or any matter of a particular class would be likely to promote, or incite to crime or would tend to undermine the authority of the State, by order to direct the Authority to refrain from broadcasting the matter or any matter of the particular class.39
113. One of the general duties imposed on RTE by the legislation is to “be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community”. It is the opinion of the Committee that this duty implies a positive role of leadership in highlighting the aspirations and the problems of the people.
114. Television has become a major factor in the lives of people throughout the world. Average viewing in Ireland is estimated at 15 hours a week.40 In a submission made to RTE in November 1980 by the Women in Broadcasting Study Group, it was stated that United States studies show that the average adult will spend nine years of his or her life watching television and that in Britain children watch on average 25 hours of television per week. Whatever the individual reality, it is evident that television is an all-pervasive force that occupies a large portion of our leisure time.
115. The role of RTE as the national public service station is of particular significance. Apart from the fact that for more than half the population it represents the sole television medium, for everybody it is in some way identified with the orthodox, not to say official, mainstream of thinking in the country. From this position, its ability to influence thinking through a variety of ways, overt and hidden, is immense.
116. The Committee is most concerned about the growth in the amount and ferocity of violence being shown on television. The Committee is aware of authoritative opinions on the effect that such violence may have, particularly on the minds of the young. Eysenck and Nias in their book, “Sex, Violence and the Media”, tell us:
“The evidence is fairly unanimous that aggressive acts new to the subject’s repertoire of responses, as well as acts already well established, can be evoked by the viewing of violent scenes portrayed on film, TV or in the theatre. There is ample evidence that media violence increases viewer aggression, and may also increase viewer sexual libido”.
“A given country, at a given time, has a certain moral climate; this climate can easily be disrupted by propaganda in the media and elsewhere”.
However, the Authority Chairman in evidence pointed out that a paper presented to the Authority, “suggested that social researchers were by no means agreed on the effects of television violence”.41
117. The Committee put it to RTE that the number of films with violent scenes being screened from time to time could scarcely be designed to further peace and understanding. The following is a summary of the points made by RTE’s Director of Television Programmes in the matter. Complaints regarding violence run at a rate of less than 6 a month. RTE’s evaluation process includes auditioning at source, and an ‘in-house’ preview by a corps of very experienced, mature and artistically aware people. Villainy and sex have been part of the dramatic form since the earliest times but RTE strenuously attempts to avoid the gratuitous inclusion of either in any of the programmes transmitted. RTE takes care that programme material does not have “analogous violence” which could give inspiration to sections of the community here. Programmes which appear to give approbation to the use of wholesale violence, even in the support of right, are not transmitted. RTE is also sensitive to the effects of non-physical violence. In case of doubt in the previewing process, there is a system of upward referrals, so that a decision can always be taken to a more senior level. RTE attempts to meet public acceptability with regard to violence by not screening serials with a high level of violence in the two television schedules at the same time. Programmes which may be disturbing are not transmitted before 9.30 p.m. (this pattern being modified to take account of school holidays). Particularly disturbing material is announced in advance and the scheduling is arranged to have an attractive alternative on the other channel.42
118. The Committee concluded that the responsibility of the Authority in a country, where violence is a very present factor, is far higher than if it were a country where no violence existed. The Committee is convinced that there is an excessive level of violence in RTE transmissions and believes that programmes with any significant element of violence should not be screened before 10 p.m. The Committee is gratified at RTE’s assurance that the amount of material with violent scenes is being phased down, 43 and trusts that this process will be continued and accelerated.
Values of Society: Impartiality
119. Among RTE staff guidelines are the following:
“Broadcasting must generally reflect the mores and respect the values of the society in which it operates, acknowledging its standards of taste, decency and justice. It cannot. It cannot, therefore, be just a channel for any and all opinions, nor can it be neutral in its basic philosophy and attitudes. It must, however, be impartial. It must seek to widen and deepen the knowledge of the audience in programming which includes such critical examination of public issues as is considered necessary to fulfil the needs of impartial objective enquiry. It is recognised that the selection of material for broadcasting is inescapably bound up with the standards of the programmemaker. The process of selection should be carried out with the intention of fully informing society and not with the intention of giving expression to the views of the individual programme-maker”.
120. The Authority Chairman told the Committee, “we are happy that these guidelines are being observed in the programmes being made and produced”.44 The Director of Radio Programmes stated,
“There are very strict controls. In fact, in matters in the current affairs area … there is every week an editorial committee chaired by the Director-General and subject matters that will arise within the next week are discussed… The people who are to appear … are named and we ensure … there is a balance pro and con the particular subject. It is not always possible nor indeed necessary that one programme should deal with the subject and that in itself should be balanced, but that there could be a programme which would be pro and a programme a few days hence that would be con, so that we are satisfied that both points of view are put.”45
The Committee takes the view that in controversial matters it is essential that mainstream opinions get adequate representation on programmes. The Committee also takes the view that as a general rule pro and con standpoints should be presented on the same programme.
121. The Committee received a number of complaints alleging breaches by RTE of the aforementioned guidelines.
122. For example, the Irish Family League alleged, “RTE is increasingly using its monopoly power to disseminate what is objectionable ranging from vulgarity to open propaganda against the standards of morality and decency of the Catholic majority of their audience; and to the almost complete suppression of the views of those … who seek equal opportunity to defend these standards…”.
123. The Society to Outlaw Pornography claimed, “It is not enough to charge that RTE is letting the Irish people down by not observing the mandatory code of standards. It must be arraigned for debasing and corrupting the Irish people”.
124. The St. Thomas More Society claimed, “… there is considerable evidence of widespread concern … about the moral standards of many of the programmes being broadcast by RTE and the failure to respect traditional Christian values in its treatment of controversial moral issues”; and “… the decision to equate the time for Catholic services with that of the remaining 6 per cent of the population amounts to serious sectarian discrimination against the vast majority of the citizens of this country”.
125. From another standpoint, the Committee received a representation from the Unitarian Church pointing out that “… because of a crude numerical criterion on the basis of the Twenty-Six County area, we are for ever to be denied any time whatsoever on the air”.
126. The submission from the Knights of St. Columbanus argued for the establishment of “effective machinery … which in practice may be used by the people to correct any deviation from RTE’s specified role”. The Committee was impressed by the point made, in the course of evidence, by a former Supreme Knight, who defined the nub of the problem as he saw it. He said:
“There is no evidence as to whether or not they [RTE] are deviating from their role. As we all know, there is a large volume of criticism of lack of balance and everything else which may or may not be true. But we feel there is nobody who could be regarded as an honest broker or without a vested interest who could assess whether or not they are deviating”.46
This is a theme to which the Committee will return later in this Report — see Section 4.13
Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960
127. On 19 January 1978, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs made a statutory instrument, entitled “Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960 (Section 31) Order 1978 (S.I. No. 10 of 1978)”. It provided, inter alia, as follows:—
“Radio Telefís Éireann is hereby directed to refrain from broadcasting any matter which is an interview, or report of an interview, with a spokesman or with spokesmen for any one or more of the following organisations, namely,
(a)the organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army (also the IRA and Óglaigh na hÉireann),
(b)the organisation styling itself Provisional Sinn Féin,
(c)the organisation styling itself the Ulster Defence Association,
(d)any organisation which in Northern Ireland is a proscribed organisation within the meaning of section 28 of the Act of the British Parliament entitled the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1973”.
128. With regard to section 31 the Director of News stated,
“I do not think any journalist or broadcaster would attempt to defend section 31. We do not like it but it is the law of the land and, as responsible broadcasters and journalists, we observe it. It inhibits coverage of some events, particularly events in the North of Ireland. However, it does not inhibit them to the extent that people are being denied knowledge of what is happening in the North of Ireland because we still carry statements from legal and illegal organisations. We can refer to their activities; we publish their claims or denials of responsibility for certain events. It is not a complete inhibition but we feel it prevents the presentation of a complete and balanced picture of what is happening. Most responsible journalists feel it would be of benefit to the public if searching interviews could be held with certain people who are active in certain activities North and South of the Border.”47
The Authority Chairman informed the Committee that no complaint had been received from any Minister or Government Department or anybody else that there had been a breach of the Ministerial directive on the part of the Authority.48
129. While the Committee notes the journalists’ views on the problems caused by section 31, nevertheless the Committee holds that the section is a necessary contribution to public order at this troubled time in our history. Further, the Committee believes that the spirit as well as the letter of the section should be observed by RTE at all times and the Committee is of the opinion that this was not the case in early-May, 1981.
130. The Committee wishes to draw attention to the fact that, in several instances, the word “killed” has been used by RTE newsreaders, journalists, etc., to describe a situation where the word “murdered” would more accurately describe what had taken place. The Director of News told the Committee, “there is no rigid rule about it and quite often it is left to the journalist covering the story to decide which word to use.”49
131. RTE’s code of standards for broadcasting advertising includes instructions on the following:
(i)Advertising directed towards and viewed by children;
(ii)Advertising of medicines and treatments;
(iii)Illness for which treatments may not be advertised;
(iv)Advertising of alcoholic drink;
(v)Financial advertising; and
(vi)Certain statutory restrictions on advertising (e.g. restrictions imposed by the Betting Act, 1931, the Central Bank Act, 1942, the Copyright Act, 1963).
4.6 Coverage of the Whole Community
132. The Authority Chairman told the Committee, in evidence, that one of the problems facing his Authority is the present inadequate coverage of provincial events. The Committee understands that in large measure the problem derives from two constraints — first, difficulties caused by industrial relations problems connected with the use of the new ENG/EFP50 equipment; and second the non-availability of telephone circuits from the provinces which will become available when the Micro-Wave Link Network has been completed by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. With regard to the first constraint, the Committee was pleased to hear from the Secretary of the RTE Trade Union Group that “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”.51 With regard to the second constraint, the Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs informed the Dáil on 12 March 1981, that “a new TV micro-wave link network which will permit the more efficient use of ENG equipment is being installed and is expected to be ready for service in about six months time”.52 There can be no doubt that the present balance in production results in undue coverage of events and people in the Dublin area to the detriment of matters of interest in the provinces. This imbalance must be corrected as soon as is practical in matters such as current affairs, children’s programmes, phone-in programmes, political programmes, etc. This matter is returned to in Section 7.1 of this Report.
4.7 RTE Production
Hours of Broadcasting
133. Under section 19 of the 1960 Act, as amended by section 14 of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, the Authority has fixed the following hours of broadcasting per year with the approval of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs:
RTE Audience Share
134. Mr Desmond Fisher in his book, entitled “Broadcasting in Ireland” (first published in 1978), states that in multi-channel homes, where British stations can also be seen, RTE’s audience share is about 60 per cent to 40 per cent for BBC/IBA. RTE 2 was established in November 1978. The Authority saw the role of RTE 2 “… as primarily offering choice to the then single-channel area, but helping also to arrest a decline in viewing share in multi-channel homes…”53 The Committee believes that, despite the establishment of RTE 2, there has been a decline in RTE’s audience share in multi-channel homes since 1978. The Committee is concerned about this development.
135. In March 1981, RTE informed the Committee that RTE home-produced programmes are now beginning to dominate in the TAM ratings of both RTE 1 and RTE 2, despite the competition of British services in the multi-channel area. For example, in the week ended 25th January, 1981 five of the Top Ten on RTE 1 (including the top three) were RTE produced programmes and four of the Top Ten on RTE 2 (including the top programme) were home-produced.
136. The Committee is of the opinion that the aforementioned facts indicate the impracticality of RTE attempting to compete with the UK giants on their chosen ground of expensive, glossy productions. The people are indicating to RTE that what is required is an increase in the number of programmes of local interest, produced in a distinctively Irish style. Clearly, an expansion of the number of local interest programmes will have to be done on a more modest basis than has applied heretofore.
137. The following Table in regard to Home-Produced Programmes (TV) has been compiled from RTE’s Annual Reports:
Home-Produced Programmes (TV): per cent of Total Hours
It is the objective of RTE to strengthen the position in regard to home-produced programmes.54
138. The technological tools are at hand to facilitate cheaper, more immediate programme-making throughout the country. In the event that RTE is unable to grasp this opportunity in its own production sections, it should actively consider the option of contracting out programme-making to local studios, thereby simultaneously helping to meet a public need and encouraging the development of a native industry.
4.8 Local and Community Radio
139. There is a distinction between:
Local Radio: Professionally operated stations, located in sizeable urban areas, offering items of interest to their local audiences, probably heavily funded by advertising revenue;
Community Radio: A socially very commendable enterprise pioneered by RTE which gives community groups responsibility for the preparation and presentation of programmes under the guidance and editorial control of regional RTE staff.
140. RTE recognise that there is a trend towards local radio with a strong element of access broadcasting. Its proposals for local radio stations and for nationwide community radio have been submitted to the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. With regard to commercial local radio, the Authority’s Chairman, in the course of evidence, stated,
“… if we give commercial broadcasting in Dublin city to a commercial interest, who is going to broadcast to the people of Connemara or Kerry where the cost of making reception available is almost prohibitive? That is the issue. It is a question of covering the whole of the island with broadcasting of a distinctive Irish flavour and having somebody to take responsibility for it. The arguments of providing more competition at home do not stand up at all in the context of having Irish public service broadcasting”;55
and the Director-General stated,
“if independent local radio is licensed in Dublin City alone … it will cost RTE between £1.5 million and £2 million per annum.”56
141. The issues raised in the preceding paragraph will fall to be decided upon when the Independent Local Radio Authority Bill, 1981 is considered by the two Houses of the Oireachtas. The Committee supports RTE’s plans for the provision of Community Radio.
142. In the 1976 National Prices Commission report, educational programmes were singled out as an area to which RTE devoted less resources than overseas stations. The Broadcasting Review Committee considered that the extension of schools television would be an important benefit to be derived from a second television channel. The Review Committee recommended that formal on-going consultation and liaison should exist between RTE, the Department of Education and the various other educational interests, in order to secure that the time available on television and radio is used to the best advantage.
143. The sad reality, as borne out by Table 5, is that the number of home-produced hours has actually decreased since the time of the Review Committee’s Report, and in 1979 there was no educational broadcasting on RTE 2. The problem appears to be lack of resources. The Authority Chairman said in evidence, “… with our present level of resources we could not contemplate educational broadcasting of the type available across the water”.57 In November 1980 the Minister for Education established a Committee, called the Educational Broadcasting Committee, consisting of representatives of the Departments of Education, Finance and Posts and Telegraphs, RTE, various organisations representative of the teaching profession, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Irish Industry. The purpose of that Committee is “to study the value of educational broadcasting at all levels of the educational system”. The Joint Committee trusts that the Educational Broadcasting Committee will report at an early date and that decisions on its recommendations will be taken as expeditiously as possible.
Hours of Schools/Pre-School TV Programmes
4.10 Irish Language Programmes
144. RTE, in its 1979 Annual Report, stated, “The Authority took the view that 20 per cent of home-produced programmes—spread over the whole spectrum of programme categories—represented the appropriate amount of Irish language material. In all cases quality was underlined as the paramount consideration”. In evidence the Authority Chairman told the Committee,
“Our ultimate objective in RTE is approximately 20 per cent of programmes in Irish with one substantial Irish language programme each night during peak viewing time…. We should like to extend these Irish programmes to cover sports and young people’s affairs. … There are plans for that. We have a very substantial programme of learning Irish language scheduled for next autumn … In relation to Irish language programmes, RTE will have achieved a large measure of the objectives in six to eight months”.58
The Committee was pleased to learn of these developments.
145. In view of the large volume of complaints and public disturbance created in recent years by Irish language enthusiasts, the Committee was surprised to find that no submission was made to it by any Irish language organisation.
4.11 Consumer Programmes
146. The Authority Chairman told the Committee, “Some consumer programmes in the past, admittedly, were ill-fated”.59 The DirectorGeneral told us that new structures which are now being set up in RTE will permit the strengthening of programmes on consumer affairs. There is an economic unit attached to the Newsroom and the whole Current Affairs area has been strengthened. The Committee welcomes these developments. It is evident that information on consumer affairs, and consumer education generally, are areas which are going to require increasing attention in future.
4.12 Role of Women
147. A number of submissions were made to the Committee regarding the portrayal of women in advertising and in programming generally. The main thrust of the arguments was that women were portrayed in a poor or discriminatory light in programmes and in advertisements. Too few women presenters were used so that the overall balance was maledominated. To quote Senator Gemma Hussey, “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…. 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”.60 The Administrator of the Rape Crisis Centre told us, “Women on television are all busily running around their kitchens with beautiful nails, while this real woman is in her kitchen at home in pieces, because the boredom is driving her to distraction… It is telling women: ‘you are odd if you do not live the way the advertisements or people on television tell you you should live.’ I do think it is a very powerful medium and should be seen as such”.61
148. The Committee was deeply impressed by the cogent manner in which the various women’s groups presented their case.
149. Since the Committee’s hearings concluded, we have received the Report to the RTE Authority of the Working Party on Women in Broadcasting (April 1981),62 and note their finding, “RTE in its programme output has not been fulfilling its statutory obligations [to be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community]”.
Among their recommendations were:
(i)News, Current Affairs and other programmes should more accurately reflect the contribution of women to Irish society, and programme staff should note the changes in women’s traditional roles;
(ii)There should be a television programme along the lines of, ‘Women Today’; and
(iii)The Authority’s Code of Advertising Standards should be amended to include a clause referring to the portrayal of women.
150. The Committee noted the announcement by the RTE Chairman that the Authority was willing in principle to implement the recommendations of the Working Party in the context of what was realistic and in accordance with a timescale which was practical.
151. In conclusion the Committee recommends that RTE should:
(i)review its guidelines to advertisers, and
(ii)review its programme policy,
so as to take cognisance of the recommendations of the Working Party on Women in Broadcasting and of points made in oral evidence to the Committee by various women’s groups.
4.13 Feedback and Surveillance
152. A vital function in the broadcasting world is to determine the level of interest of the general public in particular programmes. This information can be used by producers and others to effect improvements, change their schedules or make whatever other adjustments seem appropriate so as to hold the attention of the viewers and wean them away from whatever other source of entertainment may be attracting them. In a broadcasting organisation, this is carried out under the general heading of Audience Research and is an essential tool in the formulation of programme policy.
153. In its day-to-day liaison with the public, RTE has several methods of assessing reaction to programmes and monitoring public views on broadcasting generally. TAM surveys measure audience levels and RTE participates with the national newspapers in Joint National Media Research surveys to collect information on radio and television audiences for home and overseas channels. RTE audience research profiles and surveys for television and radio are professionally prepared and the results fed back to the programme planners. In addition, RTE commissions specialised surveys to enable audience needs to be assessed and to test the validity of broadcasting emphasis on different social or community changes such as increasing youth population, changing life-styles, etc. Letters, telephone calls, press comments, personal representations and requests in relation to programme content provide an interface with public opinion and attitudes.
Effects of Broadcasting
154. The Broadcasting Review Committee in its Report (1974) pointed out that the scientific investigation of the effects of broadcasting is of an entirely different nature to measurement of how many watch or listen to programmes and their reaction to them; and that this research is concerned with assessing the social consequences of television and involves long-term on-going investigation.
155. The Committee understands that some research has been undertaken in this area but nothing of an on-going or sustained nature. The Committee considers that the problem in this regard may well be that, to date, no single body has been charged directly with the responsibility for conducting such research (see paragraph 160).
Broadcasting Complaints Commission
156. The Broadcasting Review Committee recommended the establishment of a Broadcasting Commission which, inter alia, “should be responsible for the review of programme structures and performance, deal with complaints of partiality, etc.”. The Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976 did not provide for the suggested Broadcasting Commission, but it did provide for the establishment of a Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) whose functions are to investigate and decide on complaints in regard to alleged breaches by RTE of:—
(i)the requirements of objectivity and impartiality,
(ii)the prohibition from broadcasting or propagating anything which may reasonably be regarded as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State,
(iii)the prohibition from unreasonably encroaching upon the privacy of the individual,
(iv)the requirement to observe Ministerial directions under section 31 (1) of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960, and
(v)the Authority’s code of advertising standards.
157. When the Committee examined the range and diversity of the submissions laid before it, and contrasted them with the activities of the Commission in the four years since its inception (i.e. on 31 March 1977), we came to the conclusion that, in some way, this mechanism is not working effectively. For instance, in 1979/80 (the latest year for which a Report is available) the Commission received a very small number of complaints, most of which were not pursued. Although we understand that the number has increased since that year we are firmly of the view that a revision in approach in relation to the Commission is needed. Perhaps the case for this was best made by the Knights of St. Columbanus who pointed out in a written submission, “… the Broadcasting Complaints Commission is not the appropriate mechanism for monitoring the effective implementation of section 18 (1). It deals only with specific complaints relating to past events…. It is not geared to monitor on a general, broad and continuous basis”.
158. The Committee notes that the Complaints Commission is funded by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs from TV licence fees and feels that that may place an unnecessary constraint on the Commission.
159. The Committee is of the view that the Complaints Commission is not performing as effective a role as seemed to have been envisaged when the 1976 Act was passed.
160. The Committee recommends that legislation be introduced to alter the functions of the Complaints Commission so that it may:
(a)be responsible for the conduct of scientific investigations of the social consequences of broadcasting (see paragraphs 154 and 155);
(b)give guidance to Government and RTE on the impact of various types of programmes;
(c)be consulted in the preparation of broadcasting guidelines;
(d)deal with individual complaints of breaches of guidelines;
(e)give a response within 14 days to significant public charges of breach of guidelines; and
(f)be funded directly from the Exchequer.
5.1 Staff Levels
161. RTE, in its written submission, claimed that significant economies of scale had been achieved since the introduction of RTE 2 in November 1978 and of Radio 2 in May 1979. In support of this claim they submitted the statistics set out in Appendix 13. The Committee finds these indices of productivity (based on hours transmitted per head of staff and cost per transmitted hour), however, to be slightly misleading, because of the major changes which have taken place in the nature of RTE’s transmissions since the setting up of Radio 2 and RTE 22—see Appendices 14 and 15.
162. The Committee notes from the data in Appendix 13 that the hours transmitted by RTE per head of staff have increased by a factor of 48 per cent in the two-year period 1978 to 1980. However, most recent data show that there has been a marked shift in the nature of programme output. RTE Radio has increased its output of music and light entertainment; in contrast the proportion of programme time devoted to news, sport and drama have all decreased. On television, there has been a reduction in the percentage of programme time devoted to home-produced sport, news and information programmes, matched by an increase in the percentage of imported sport, information and drama programmes. The foregoing facts suggest to the Committee a change from more expensive to less expensive programme content and from labour-intensive to less labour-intensive operations. In the light of these changes in programme policy, the Committee is doubtful about the weight that can be placed on the index of productivity given by RTE, i.e. hours transmitted per head of staff. Clearly there can be no absolute index of productivity. However, the Committee inclines to the view that the index given in Table 6 below, showing a small reduction in the ratio of staff to home-produced television hours, provides a better index of developments. Given some of the changes in programme policy, that have taken place, the Committee could hardly regard the improvement shown in the Table as adequate. The Committee would expect that as the Station’s output increases, real economies of scale would be effected.
Productivity Indices—Television Only
163. As a counterpoint to the foregoing, the Director-General pointed out to the Committee that RTE had stopped recruiting; that in December 1980 it was operating with 50 people fewer than the approved establishment; and that, compared with other countries’ television services, RTE had less staff. He claimed that there are relatively few areas in which productivity could be introduced.63 He did not think that “[RTE’s] restrictive practices are any worse than those of anybody else”.64 He referred specifically to the increased productivity of the staff in the transmitter area, following the introduction of Radio 2 and RTE 2.65 The Deputy Director-General pointed out that broadcasting “is an amalgamation of all sorts of inputs from all sorts of areas… There are deadlines to be met. It is a very complex production process. It also has to operate 365 days a year. That places particular demands on us”.66 Further, the Director-General stated, “From the very beginning we have had to get more output from our studios than was ever intended. The studio centre … was built … to accommodate 12 hours of homeproduction per week. From the very beginning we have been doing 20 hours simply because we had to meet the competitive situation of the British channels”.67
164. Notwithstanding the case made by RTE, the Committee is of the opinion that there are areas in RTE’s operations in which there are apparently restrictive practices. The number of people required to travel abroad to provide an outside broadcast is one instance to which we would draw attention.68
165. The Committee has noted the reasons given by RTE for the growth in staff numbers in the period 1975-1980, viz. the introduction of the additional television and radio services.69 However, cognisance must be taken of the serious financial constraints under which RTE at present operates. Where restrictive practices exist, they should be dealt with in full and open discussion with the trade unions involved. The Committee formed the view from its discussion with the trade unions, that, given the opportunity for full consultation, the climate for productivity improvement exists. The Committee suggests that RTE should not rely on the fact that inefficiencies exist in other organisations elsewhere, but should work towards giving an optimum service to the community.
5.2 Number of Producers
166. RTE produced, in evidence, a report (1978) by Professor Michael Fogarty on industrial relations in RTE. This report referred to earlier reports which highlighted the problem described as the ‘plateauing’ of producers.70 The Director-General told the Committee, “In television we have an increase of 50 per cent in home originated programmes since the introduction of RTE 2. In comparison with 1975 there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of producers. The output per producer is nearly the same. In radio, on the other hand, the number of producers has increased by 32 per cent, and the number of home produced hours has increased by 100 per cent because of the nature of the type of programme we are doing. The answer to the question is that we do not have an excessive number of producers. All the producers in the organisation are now nearly fully occupied”.71 The Director of Personnel stated that those who did ‘plateau’ in recent years have been fully reactivated again in less pressurised departments.72 The Committee wishes to emphasise the need for making every effort to assist and rejuvenate those in positions requiring creative work; and that a situation should not be allowed to develop in which people can “dead-end” in positions which are central to the production of an effective broadcasting service.
5.3 Management Structure
167. In 1978 there was a re-organisation of RTE’s top committee structure and reporting relationships. Under the terms of that re-organisation, a new post of Assistant Director-General was created. In evidence, the Director-General told the Committee, “The directorate general work together but the Deputy Director-General tends to take responsibility for the output divisions, the television programme division, the news division and the facilities that go with them. The Assistant-Director General takes responsibility for the service divisions, engineering, sales, personnel and financial control. That is a method of lessening the load on any individual. I take direct responsibility for radio programmes and Raidió na Gaeltachta as well as the corporate activities in the organisation”.73 The Authority Chairman averred that the re-organisation had settled down totally.
5.4 Role of Women
168. The following Table was supplied by RTE:—
Male/Female Numbers in Senior RTE Posts
169. The Authority Chairman told the Committee, “No more than any other institution in this country, women in RTE have not … had the same opportunities in the past as perhaps they should have”.74 The Director-General stated, “… we were among the first to give equal pay to women; one of the first to start maternity leave; we were among the first to introduce retention of women after marriage …. One of the problems is that women do not seem to come forward for executive positions, whether in the public arena, or within the organisation”.75 The Director of Personnel pointed out that in 1979 and 1980 RTE had held 22 executive competitions but at least nine of them had no female applicants. However, he maintained that progress was being made in certain areas, e.g. in early 1978 there were three female producer/directors and there are now 12; in 1975 there were three female journalists and there are now 15. He added that RTE is having some success in making technical operational type jobs more available to women.
170. The Report of the Working Party on Women in Broadcasting (April 1981) contained, inter alia, recommendations in relation to the employment of women in RTE. Among such recommendations were:—
(i)Female participation in grades which influence programme output must be improved.
(ii)Training facilities should be expanded to improve career development opportunities for women.
(iii)All interview boards should include at least one woman.
(iv)Programme assistant grades should be recognised as promotional outlets towards editorial grades, where women are under-represented.
(v)Age limits on recruitment should be dropped.
(vi)Creche facilities should be established urgently.
(vii)There should be a continuing Equality Committee, representing RTE management and trade unions to monitor progress.
As has already been stated (see paragraph 150), the RTE Chairman has intimated that the Authority was willing in principle to implement the recommendations of the Working Party in the context of what was realistic and in accordance with a time-scale which was practical.
171. The Committee recommends that the recommendations of the Working Party be given careful consideration. While recognising the difficulties involved in increasing the level of utilisation of women in the organisation structure, the principle of equal opportunity must be adhered to and there should be a definite commitment to the principle of having true equality in as short a time as possible.
VI INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
172. Professor Michael Fogarty in his Report on Industrial Relations in RTE (1978) said that he could come to no simple conclusion about industrial relations in RTE. He felt that there was plenty of room for improvement, but that the record in recent years, which he said should be remembered had been for RTE a time of rapid expansion and upheaval, had been in many ways positive. He identified a number of priorities for action. He put at the top of his list the changes needed to equip management and unions better, not only to deal with issues as they arise from day-to-day but on a long term basis. These included:
(1)Changes in the Directorate-General and the management committee structure;
(2)Increased staffing of the Personnel Division and the extension of regular — not merely ad hoc — personnel work into the Divisions;
(3)Completion of arrangements for the full-time release of RTE Trade Union Group officers and the adequate staffing of their office;
(4)The formalisation of industrial relations procedures in RTE, and in particular the creation of an RTE Industrial Relations Tribunal;
(5)The introduction of new machinery for joint consultation and action in areas such as safety, health, welfare and career development; and
(6)The establishment of an RTE House Journal or “free press”.
173. Many of the aforementioned changes have already been implemented. The changes in the Directorate-General were made in 1978 (see paragraph 167). The Personnel Division has been expanded. The development of the RTE Trade Union Group has been facilitated by the full-time release of a staff member as whole-time Group Secretary. A decision in principle was taken jointly by RTE and the Trade Union Group sometime ago to introduce formal industrial relations procedures of the kind recommended by Professor Fogarty but the Group has difficulty in moving too quickly on issues of this kind. Some progress appears to be in prospect in the development of new machinery for joint consultation and action in areas such as safety, health, etc. Finally, an RTE house-journal (ACCESS) has been in existence since the Autumn of 1979.
174. The Committee is of opinion, from what it has heard in evidence, that the climate of industrial relations in RTE has improved since 1978 and would like to see this improved climate converted into tangible results such as a more flexible approach to staffing levels and control of costs generally. The Committee has already drawn attention to its fears on the question of manning levels and other issues of wastefulness. The Committee must emphasise that a good industrial relations climate is one in which, not only is work carried out in a spirit of co-operation and without disputes, but one in which positive joint moves are being made to improve the useful contribution of every person in the organisation, to encourage a flexible approach to working and the elimination of wastefulness.
175. Professor Fogarty noted that in 1977 there were long delays in clearing grievances (only 62½ per cent of the cases were cleared within six months) and there were 32 instances of actual or threatened industrial action (including 8 stoppages). He said that it seemed to him that RTE management had not a cohesive approach involving comprehensive and long range policies in industrial relations and staffing problems; that only a handful of people in RTE management had been in a position to see the whole picture and to act in their own area of responsibility accordingly; that there had been a degree of confusion over the roles of the Authority and top management and the respective roles in industrial relations of senior management and the Personnel Division; and that middle and junior managers had often been unclear about what was expected of them and how far they could properly go. However, he said that in a number of respects the situation had already been put right, and the problem now  was to point the way to what more might be done.
176. With regard to development since Professor Fogarty reported, the Personnel Director told the Committee, “We have continued to develop that policy from that point. We have acknowledged that there is a lack of information and indeed of interest in certain areas of the organisation…. This is a continuous educational programme we have been engaged in. In the past two years we have engaged in a series of supervisor courses to acquaint people of their responsibilities as supervisors in these areas, and to get them to understand clearly the personnel function within the organisation as a whole. We think we have made substantial progress in this regard.”76
177. RTE does not come within the scope of the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act, 1977. In evidence, the Director of Personnel said that he was not opposed to the idea of worker directors. However, it was his belief that the appointment of worker directors was not the solution to many of the problems affecting Irish industry, and RTE in particular. It was his belief that what was needed was a lot more consultation below Board level within the organisation and this has been developing. There is now a regular process whereby the trade union officers meet with the Director-General and senior executives to discuss any matters which are of interest to them. This includes the discussion of financial problems facing the organisation.77
178. The Director of Personnel told the Committee that, “The climate which existed in RTE in 1977/78 does not exist today”; that the major changes and expansion of the last two years could not have been achieved without a tremendous amount of staff co-operation, despite the fact that there has been a growth in staff numbers; and that the expansion could not have been achieved without the acceptance of tremendous technological change. 78 The Committee congratulates the Authority and its staff on the progress achieved in this area.
7.1 New Technology
179. Major improvements in the flow of programme material from the provinces will become possible when two technological improvements are introduced i.e. Electronic News Gathering (ENG)/Electronic Field Production (EFP) equipment; and a new TV Micro-Wave Link Network.
180. The national micro-wave link distribution system for broadcasting is provided and maintained for RTE by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs on a rental basis, with the exception of a link between Donnybrook and Kippure which is maintained and operated by RTE as a special service link. RTE considers that the operation and maintenance of the entire micro-wave broadcasting link network should be under its control, rather than under the control of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. RTE argues that it is illogical that it has responsibility for the making of programmes but that it should have no control over the means of relaying these programmes to its own transmitters throughout the country. Finally, RTE considers that the entire broadcasting chain, from the point of programme initiation through the links to the transmitters and the subsidiary transposers, should be its responsibility.
181. As has been stated in paragraph 132, the Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs announced on 12 March, 1981 that the new TV micro-wave link network is expected to be ready for service “in about six months’ time”. The Committee is of the view that discussions should be initiated between RTE and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to see whether responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the micro-wave broadcasting network can be better coordinated. The Committee is also of the view that RTE and the RTE Trade Union Group should make every effort to achieve agreement at an early stage on the matters which at present prevent the use of the new ENG/EFP equipment.
7.2 Future Challenges to RTE
182. Of the total population, approximately 45 per cent are in a position to receive BBC and ITV channels, as well as those of RTE. This number may shortly be increased through the extension of cable TV services. There will soon be a fourth British channel, which is likely to be received by those in multi-channel areas.
183. Additional competition for viewers may be expected from the advent of Direct Broadcasting by Satellite (DBS). In Geneva in 1977 the World Broadcasting-Satellite Administrative Radio Conference drew up a world plan (excluding the Americas) for DBS for the period 1 January 1979 — 31 December 1993. Under this plan, European countries have been allocated orbital positions for satellites for direct broadcasting together with frequencies for providing television channels. Each channel will be able to offer national coverage at powers sufficient for the transmissions to be received directly by individuals using relatively simple home receiving equipment. France and West Germany announced plans in 1979 to co-operate in the development of direct broadcasting satellites. They hope to launch pre-operational satellites, one for each country, in 1984. The Nordic countries and Switzerland are planning DBS services. In the U.K. the development of DBS services is under active consideration. The possibility of foreign DBS services being received in Ireland could have important implications for this country’s existing broadcasting system. RTE’s Director-General told the Committee, “In ten years time, I think, a number of [foreign DBS] programmes will be available”.79
184. The advent of video tapes and ultimately the video disc are further elements of competitive challenge for RTE. However, RTE’s Director-General believes that the cost of original tapes is high and “people will not buy them everyday”. He does not think that the video disc will affect television viewing to any great extent.80
185. The Committee is of the view that increased competition for RTE is an inevitable outcome of current trends. Since competitive services are becoming more and more a factor, RTE must prepare itself to face a far more competitive situation in the years ahead.
186. The Committee heard oral evidence from RTE, the RTE Trade Union Group, the Women in Broadcasting Study Group, the Knights of St. Columbanus, the Rape Crisis Centre, the St. Thomas More Society and the Irish Family League.
A list of organisations and individuals who submitted written evidence is contained in Appendix 17.
The Committee is indebted to all who provided evidence.
(Signed) EOIN RYAN
Chairman of the Joint Committee
7 May 1981
1 1996 Broadcasting Authority Act, Section 16 (1).
2 Appendix I sets out a Broadcasting Chronology for the period 1923-1979.
3 1976 Broadcasting Authority Act, Section 16 (1).
6 Evidence (Questions 208-210).
7 Evidence (Questions 1 and 2)
8 Property to the value of £249,000 was transferred to the RTE Authority under section 32 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960.
10 Surplus (Deficit)—£0.14m. (1976); £1.52m. (1977); £1.23m. (1978); (£0.51m.) (1979); £0.05m. (1980).
11 Television Audience Measurement Ltd. (TAM) is the company which measures television viewing patterns on behalf of RTE.
* For 1979, the trend has changed due to lower charges made by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs as a result of the postal dispute.
18 In Norway it is possible for police to enter premises and seize a set in an extreme case [Evidence (Question 17)].
20 Evidence (Questions 72 and 76).
25 Evidence (Questions 110 and 111).
29 Net of residuals, cost of sales promotion and commission to the RTE Sales Agent.
31 The management consultants to RTE stated that a system of budgetary control, where each year’s expenditure budgets are set principally by reference to actual costs of current or previous years, may not identify or weed out existing inefficiencies or waste. For this reason, every cost centre’s budget should be built up in absolute terms, item by item, so as to ensure that all budget costs can be justified, rather than purely by reference to the recorded costs of previous years with allowance for inflation. Such a system of compiling budgets item by item, in absolute terms, is known as Zero-Base Budgeting.
33 RTE Submission to Committee.
34 RTE Submission to Committee.
35 RTE Submission to Committee.
37 RTE Submission to Committee.
38 Section 18 of 1960 Act, as amended by section 3 of 1976 Act.
39 Section 31 of 1960 Act, as amended by section 16 of 1976 Act.
40 Broadcasting in Ireland, Desmond Fisher (1978).
42 Evidence (Questions 251, 277 and 278).
50 Electronic News Gathering/Electronic Field Production.
52 Answer to Parliamentary Question 6 of 12 March, 1981.
62 The recommendations of the Working Party in regard to the employment of women in RTE are dealt with in paragraph 170.
63 Evidence (Questions 130-132).
70 i.e. The problem of staleness in the case of long-serving producers.