Wireless Telegraphy

Wireless telegraphy was patented by Marconi in 1896 and his Wireless Telegraphy company commenced exportation the following year. In 1904 parliament, prohibited the establishment of wireless telegraphy stations and installations except under license from the Postmaster General.

The British Broadcasting Company was licensed in 1923. The company was replaced by the British Broadcast Corporation in 1927.

The BBC took part in the early development of TV and experimental transmissions commenced in 1929.  It was licensed in 1935 to provide a public television service which was introduced in 1936. A second television broadcasting service in the United Kingdom commenced with the establishment of the Independent Television Authority in 1954.

The Wireless and Telegraphy Acts which commenced in 1926 provide a general system of licensing of wireless telegraphy broadcasting and receiving equipment.  Generally, a person may not have in his possession any apparatus for wireless telegraphy unless authorised by and licenced under the Acts.

He may only use or work the apparatus in accordance with the conditions of the licence.  Failure to have the requisite apparatus is an offence punishable on summary conviction in the District Court but with a further fine on the basis of each day the offence continues.

The operation and maintenance of a signalling station broadcasting equally require consent and licence.  The Minister may prescribe the fees in respect of the various types of receiving and broadcasting licences. The legislation contains powers to investigate the possession of wireless telegraphy apparatus, issue of search warrants and so on.

RTE Broadcasting Authority

In the early years of the State, the principal focus of the legislation was on radio licensing,  The only permitted radio broadcaster in the State was Radio Eireann.

The Broadcasting Act, 1960 established the Broadcasting Authority as the sole broadcasting authority in the context of the launch of television broadcasting in Ireland.  It was to establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service (Telefis Eireann) and shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose. Raidio Eireann became Raidio Telefis Eireann (RTE).

The functions of the authority were:

  • To establish and maintain national television and sound broadcasting services;
  • To establish and maintain services of a local community or regional character;
  • To provide broadcasting services of interest to only certain members of the community and which may be made available on subscription or pay per view
  • To transmit by electric means other than broadcasting services;
  • To originate pure programming, collect news, arrange information and arrange with broadcasting authorities the distribution and relay of programmes;
  • To organise, provide and subsidise concerts and entertainments;
  • To prepare, publish and distribute magazines, books, records and visual materials.

Duties of Authority

The Broadcasting Act provides that the authority must ensure that all news broadcasted by it is objective and impartial without any expression of the authority’s own views.  The broadcast treatment of current affairs including matters of public controversy or current debate must be fair to all interests concerned and presented in an objective and impartial manner.

Any matter which relates to news or current affairs which are either subject to public controversy or current debate must be presented in an objective and impartial manner. The Authority may not accept advertisements directed towards religious or political ends in relation to an industrial dispute.

The Broadcasting Act prescribe duties for the Broadcasting Authority to be responsive to the interests and concerns of the whole community and to ensure that programming reflects the culture of Ireland particularly by reference to the distinctive features of the culture and the Irish language, to uphold the democratic values defined in the Constitution, particularly in relation to liberty of expression, to have regard for the need for formation of public awareness and understanding of values and traditions of other countries, in particular, the EU.

Competition in Broadcasting; the BCI

Until the Radio and Television Act, 1988 RTE had an effective monopoly on radio and television broadcasts from Ireland.  In the vacuum, a large number of pirate radio stations evolved in the 1970s and 80s. The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1988 provide stronger enforcement powers against unlicensed broadcast.

The Radio and Television Act 1988 introduced the first comprehensive system of licensing of independent radio and TV broadcasters. It established the Independent Radio and Television Commission.

The Commission was empowered to enter a contract for the provision of sound broadcasting services and television programmes.  It awarded licences.  The purpose was to ensure a viable, sustainable industry characterised by a variety of ownership which would deliver a diversity of content to viewers and listeners.

The Radio and Television Act placed similar conditions on sound broadcasters licence as imposed on the RTE authority by the broadcasting legislation.  Broadcasting programmes in a broadcasting service may include advertisements.

The broadcasting legislation established TV4 as a statutory body with the function of providing national free to air television service which shall have the character of a public service and be made available insofar as reasonably practicable to the whole community on the island of Ireland.

Award of Television Broadcast Licence

The Radio and Television Commission was also authorised to enter into a television programme service contract.  The initial award was made to the TV3 consortium the only applicant.  The award was made and withdrawn in the context of financial difficulties.  The High Court quashed a determination to withdraw the award to TV3 due to failure to follow due process.  TV3 secured the first independent television station licence and commenced broadcasting in 1998.

The procedure in relation to the award of sound broadcasting involves invitations for expressions of interest.  The invitation must be published.

The legislation sets out the matters to be taken into account by the BCI in determining the most suitable award.  This includes in particular:

  • the character of applicant;
  • the quality type range of programmes proposed particularly those related to Irish language and culture;
  • the extent to which the applicant will create new opportunities for Irish talent in music, drama and entertainment;
  • the desirability of allowing persons to have control or groups of persons to have control or a substantial interest in an undue number of broadcasting services in respect of which a broadcasting contract has been awarded.



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