The Minister for Communications published the Broadcasting Bill 2008 (the Bill) on 14 May 2008. It is intended that the Bill 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. The Bill consolidates almost 50 years of Irish broadcasting legislation and repeals key acts that date from 1960.
The Bill 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 Minister believes "that such scrutiny and consultation will hopefully facilitate the more timely passage of the Bill through the houses of the Oireachtas".
The Bill 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 Bill mainly relating to the overseeing of public service broadcasters and the allocation of public funding. The legislation relating to RTE and TG4 has been updated in the Bill and the Bill 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 Bill 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 Bill 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 Bill 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.
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 Bill 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 Bill 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 Bill.
While the Bill provides in principle that a TV licence will be required for all devices capable of receiving a television signal, the Minister will have the power to exempt certain devices. The Irish Internet Association have expressed concern about the lack of clarity in this regard and have called on the Minister to clarify his intentions for internet users accessing audio visual content via the internet in Ireland.
The Bill also consolidates provisions regarding the televising of major events currently contained in the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999.
The Broadcasting Bill is a detailed and comprehensive legislative proposal which now goes to the Seanad for final approval.