It is intended that the Broadcasting Act 2009 (the Act), which was enacted on 12 July 2009, will significantly change the broadcasting landscape in Ireland in that it seeks to deal with almost all aspects of regulation and provision of broadcasting in Ireland. In particular the Act has revised the law relating to broadcasting services, television licences and the regulation and provision of telecommunications services. The Act consolidates almost 50 years of Irish broadcasting legislation and repeals key acts that date from 1960.
The Act was approved by government following a wide-ranging and informed debate and, indeed, is the first such legislation to undergo such widespread consultation prior to its introduction.
The Act provides for the establishment of a single content regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which will assume the roles currently held by the BCI (Broadcasting Commission of Ireland) and the BCC (Broadcasting Complaints Commission). The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has been provided with new functions under the Act mainly relating to the overseeing of public service broadcasters and the allocation of public funding and its establishment is intended to promote accountability in the provision of 'high-quality, diverse and innovative programming'. The legislation relating to RTE and TG4 has been updated in the Act and the Act sets up the framework for two new public service broadcasters (an Irish film channel and Oireachtas channel).
The interests of viewers and listeners are protected in the Act by including a right of reply procedure where individuals who feel their reputations have been damaged may have this corrected in a further broadcast.
In addition to retaining existing broadcasting codes developed by the BCI, the Act explicitly contemplates the adoption of new broadcasting codes regulating, among other things, the objectivity and impartiality of news and current affairs programmes, access standards for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as a code restricting "junk food" advertising targeted at children. Other proposals relate to the modernisation of radio licence including the option of fast-tracked applications, licence enforcement, legal definitions regarding TV licences and contract awards.
The Act also sets out statutory provisions for the introduction of digital broadcasting and the switch off of analogue broadcasting services at a date to be decided by the Minister having consulted with relevant stakeholders. Analogue switch-off and switchover to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) will depend on the availability of multiplexes. In addition the Act provides that the "appropriate network providers" shall not be regarded as the publisher of content, shall not be liable for any infringement of copyright or related rights and shall not be under any duty to ensure that the material so transmitted on its network complies with the terms and conditions of the content provision contract between the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the broadcaster or the duties, codes or rules that apply to broadcasters pursuant to the Act.
Provision is made for the establishment by RTE and TG4 of audience councils to represent views of listeners and viewers. A number of appointments to the boards of the new authority will be made following the recommendation of the joint Oireachtas committee dealing with broadcasting matters. Regarding licensing, the Act provides for a possible suspension or termination of a broadcasting contract in the event of non-compliance with the broadcaster's contract or licence and for the imposition of fines of up to €250,000 for breaches of broadcasting codes. The Act does not propose and will not result in material changes to the existing licences issued by BCI for the duration, scope and other material provisions of existing licences will not be altered by the adoption of this Act.
While the Act provides in principle that a TV licence will be required for all devices capable of receiving a television signal, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will have the power to exempt certain devices. The Minister has previously expressed the opinion that devices capable of receiving on-demand digital content over the internet and through mobile phone devices are intended to be excluded from the requirement to hold a television licence.
The Act also consolidates provisions regarding the televising of major events currently contained in the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999.