The Broadcasting Act, 2001 set the framework for digital terrestrial television services. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (“BCI”) became responsible for broadcasting services in the existing licensed independent TV and radio sectors.
Broadcasting services covers services transrouted by wireless, telegraphy, cable, microwave distribution systems or satellite. A transmission company was established to assume the former transmission function performed by the (RTE) broadcasting authority.
The BCI was empowered to enter digital content contracts for the supply of programme material or broadcasts for transmission. The legislation provides for the formation of multiplex companies to operate digital multiplexes. This is an electronic system that combines programme material related and other data in an additional form for the purpose of transmission by the transmission company. This is a combination of individual sounds and a common spectrum or stream which carries a combination of television, radio and other data services.
COMREG must grant a digital terrestrial TV licence to the transmission company and grant digital multiplex licences to the multiplex company authorising it to establish and maintain six multiplexes. Digital terrestrial television has been rolled out and the existing analogue signal has been recently discontinued.
COMREG manages the radio spectrum and broadcasting distribution. COMREG is the licensing body for cable TV and may grant wire broadcast relay licences.
A transmission company was established under the 2001 Act to assume the former transmission function performed by the (RTE) broadcasting authority.
The 2001 legislation provided for the formation of multiplex companies to operate digital multiplexes. This was an electronic system that combines programme material related and other data in an additional form for the purpose of transmission by the transmission company. It is a combination of individual sounds and a common spectrum or stream which carries a combination of television, radio and other data services.
COMREG, the communications regulator must grant a digital terrestrial TV licence to the transmission company and grant digital multiplex licences to the multiplex company authorising it to establish and maintain six multiplexes. Digital terrestrial television has been rolled out and the existing analogue signal has been discontinued.
The EU Directive on television without frontiers seeks to liberalise freedom to provide broadcasting services within the EU. Broadcasting services must comply with the national state of origin without being subject to additional requirements in other states.
Sates must ensure that broadcasts transmitted by broadcasters in the jurisdiction comply with the rules provided for in the Directive. They must ensure broadcasters reserve the majority of their transmission time for European works, 10% of their transmission time and programming budget to independent producers.
There are requirements in relation to advertisements, sponsorship and teleshopping. This must be identified as such. Subliminal advertising techniques are prohibited.
The Directive permits states to list events of major social importance that may be covered live and should be delivered free. Legislation in Ireland has designated certain sporting events as reserved for free television broadcast. Qualifying broadcasters may require to broadcast certain events and provision is made for a market rate fee.
The separate directives on electronic communication networks and services are much broader in scope than official broadcasting. Electronic communications cover fixed-mobile telecommunication, TV, satellite networks, internet networks. The Directive provides regulations for transmissions, networks and services.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is responsible for licensing broadcasting services other than those provided by RTE and TG4. It licences multiplex services and enters contracts in respect of electronic programmes guide.
The BAI may only grant a broadcasting contract with an associated wireless telegraph license from the Commission for Communications Regulations. Licences may be suspended in the event of a national emergency.
In licensing the Commission distinguishes between:
- Independent commercial broadcasting;
- Community broadcasting;
- Institutional and temporary broadcasting.
The application process is set out in the legislation and public policy statement. The Commission must seek expressions of interest, consult with COMREG on spectrum matters and ultimately decide on services to be licensed.
All national, regional, local special-interest and television content services are licensed for ten years. Community or community interest services are licensed for five or ten years. The Broadcasting Act, 2009 sets out the mechanism by which the BAI undertakes licensing of the various radio service providers.
The legislation provides that BAI on the recommendation of a contracts award committee may award sound broadcasting contracts. It must consider applications and agree on a common score for each applicant.
The authority may enter sound broadcasting contracts for periods of up to 30 days in a 12 month period. It may enter contracts for up to 100 days with community sound broadcasting contractors.
The licensing of digital cable MMD and satellite systems is an ongoing process. There are no time frames for applications or competitive licensing processes.
The legislation provides for criteria to which regard is had. The legislation sets out the terms and conditions which should be included in broadcasting contracts. The number and category of radio services are decided from time to time in light of its objectives and the available resources and other licensing activity.
The licensing policy published by the Commission sets out regulatory authorities which guide it in relation to licensing additional commercial services. The Commission seeks to operate a coherent and consistent regulatory licensing system capable of responding to technological and market developments. It seeks to be consistent in the application of practices, processes and procedures so as to ensure the necessary certainty for broadcasters both current and potential.
The policy objectives underlying the Commission’s actions are the diversity of services from a variety of sources, the viability of services both current and proposed, efficient use of the spectrum consistent with the EU regulations, the plurality of ownership and avoiding concentration.
The BAI has published its criteria in relation to each of the following as well:
- Community interest radio;
- Special interest radio;
- Temporary and institutional sound broadcasts;
- Digital radio services.
It seeks to implement a fair and non-discriminatory licensing regime that accords with Irish and EU law and facilitates broadcasting while ensuring diversity and pluralism in listed interests.
It seeks to be fair and reasonable and proportionate in the treatment of applicants and contractors. Conditions should be proportional to the objective sought.
Decision making should be clear and transparent. Public availability documentation in a timely fashion is sought to the extent possible.
The BAI has published its guides for applicants of content provisions contracts. A content provision content contract is for a minimum of three and a maximum of ten years.
A content provision contract is required by a person who wishes to supply a compilation of programme material for the purpose of inclusion as part of the multiplex or for the purpose of being transmitted as a broadcasting service in the State or part of the State by means of electronic communications network, satellite network, MMD, terrestrial network, cable television or internet protocol television.
Digital Terrestial Televisoion
The BAI licence commercials, digital terrestrial television in the State. Digital broadcasting is through cable MMD or satellite. The BAI licenses DTT multiplex operators.
Separately RTE has been assigned to a single DTT multiplex to ensure continued availability of the four existing free to air stations. RTE runs this independently of the BCI licensed multiplexes in fulfilment of its public service obligation.
The authority is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance by contractors with the terms of their contract. They must also comply with statutory obligations and with broadcasting code and rules.
RTE and TG4 are carried on the first television multiplex. It also carries the House of the Oireachtas, Seanad and Irish film channel and other public service material.
The BAI must make arrangements for the establishment and operation of additional multiplexes. The CCR must make licences for digital terrestrial television services available to RTE and other multiplex providers.
The CCR is required to make licences for digital terrestrial television services available to RTE and other providers. They are to allow for the possibility that they may so far as reasonably practicable be made available to the whole community in the State.
The BAI is to direct the contract awards committee to invite applications to establish and operate multiplexes. The terms of multiplex contracts are provided for. Provision is made for the eventual switch off of analogue.
Broadcasters must record and keep broadcasts for the purpose of enabling the BAI to perform its compliance functions. The BAI prepares codes including the continuance of existing codes.
The compliance committee of BAI may conduct an investigation into the affairs of a broadcasting contract in respect of adherence to the terms of their contract and any wireless telegraphy licence on the recommendation of the compliance committee. A broadcasting contract may be suspended or terminated.
Investigating officers may be appointed to report on apparent breaches. Procedures for investigations are set out in the legislation. The compliance committee may apply to the High Court for the imposition of financial sanctions.
The matter may be dealt with by the compliance committee rather than the High Court. The compliance committee may impose a sanction up to €250,000. Its decision may be appealed to the High Court.
RTE and TG4
The broadcasting legislation provides for the continued separate existence of RTE and TG4. Each must draw up codes of content in respect of interest, natural behaviour on the part of staff advisers, category of contractors for services. They must establish audience councils to represent the interests of viewers and listeners. They may establish advisory committees.
Each must prepare public service broadcasting charters outlining activities they propose to undertake in a five year period. They must prepare annual statements of commitment outlining outputs in the following period. They must accord with the statutory objectives and public service broadcasting charter.
Each may enter subsidiaries or joint ventures for the purpose of performing functions with the consent of the Minister for Finance. They must prepare a code following guidance from the BAI setting out principles they will apply when commissioning programmes from independent producers.
RTE must supply one hour per day programmes to TG4 and TG4 must provide proper material in respect of RTE television services to communities abroad. The minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance may pay RTE out of Exchequer funds an amount equal to the TV licence received less the cost of collecting the same, referred to as the broadcasting funds. Provision is also made for Exchequer funding to both RTE and TG 4 for public service purposes.
The Broadcast Complaints Commission investigates complaints in relation to failures of broadcasters to comply with their statutory duties, for example, in relation to privacy, impartiality, etc. It may investigate the complaints relating to broadcasts in relation to impartiality, objectiveness, fairness. The Broadcast Complaints Commission must give the accused broadcaster the opportunity to comment and respond. The Broadcast Complaints Commission publishes its decisions but no specific enforcement follows.
The authority may investigate and adjudicate upon viewer or listener complaints. Viewers or listeners may refer complaints to the broadcaster in the first instance. If they are not happy there is a code of practice for complaint handling on each broadcaster’s site. There is a provision for a right to reply scheme.
Complaints may be made on the basis of:
- ack of fairness, objectivity or impartiality;
- Anything which may cause harm or offence or be likely to promote a or incite crime;
- Harmful or offensive offences material;
- Breach of code off programme standards published by the BAI;
- Breach of general commercial communication code regarding advertisement, shopping, sponsoring, product placement;
- Breach of children’s commercial communications code;
- Breach of rules on advertising and teleshopping.
The 2009 Act updates the provisions in respect of television licences. An Post has been designated an agent of the minister regarding collection and enforcement of television licence fees.
Television licence inspectors may enter on premises for the purpose of ascertaining if a TV is on the premises and whether a licence is in force. A special notice may issue to a person requiring them to complete and return a form of declaration.
Provision is introduced for the operation of a fixed penalty system. It may be applied after the issue of two reminder notices. Provision state prosecution of offences for failure to have a television licence.
The provisions in relation to major events television coverage are preserved. Provision is made for arbitration arrangements where a fee cannot be agreed for qualifying broadcaster access to the events.