The BBC was established in 1922. It was initially comprised of a consortium of commercial organizations, operating independent experimental stations which were ultimately pressed together by the Post Office.
One participant Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company had carried out some of its wireless telegraphy experiments in Cork. It had applied for permission to set up a station to the Irish provisional government in May 1922. This application and another application by the Daily Express were refused.
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.
In 1925 The Minister for Post and Telegraphs introduced a proposed scheme for broadcasting which ultimately found expression in the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926. A license fee at £1, double the UK equivalent, was provided for.
2RN (2 Eireann) commenced broadcasting on 1 January 1926. The station was an integral part of the Departments of Post and Telegraph. The station was financed by a combination of advertising/sponsored programs and a licence.
The legislative framework was introduced later in the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926. The licence fee was halved. Only a small percentage of those believed to have radios took out licenses.
Advertising yielded little revenue in the early years with the bulk of revenue being provided by duty. Sponsored programs were the feature, with priority being given for Irish manufactures over importers.
In 1930 the Dáil agreed to a proposal by the Minister for a new high-powered station in Athlone. Cork Studios had been opened but were closed down in 1930 save money. By 1931 the number of licences had reached 26,000.
The launch of the BBC’s Empire Service which later became the World Service prompted the Department of Post and Telegraph Broadcasting to establish an Advisory Committee to consider a short-wave radio station for the benefit of Irish person’s living abroad. The matter what is examined in more detail by an interdepartmental committee in 1937.
A short-wave radio transmitter was completed in 1939 in Athlone. The short-wave radio transmitter could reach North America, but the reception was sporadic. Attempts were made to boost the signal and the matter was largely abandoned during World War II. After the war, the project was reinstated.
A program of significant expansion took place to broadcasting and radio services with an increase in expenditure of 60% after the War. A second orchestra was created, and news coverage was strengthened with increased hiring. The inter-party government that came to office in 1948 cut back on expenditure as it was regarded as profligate.
Technological progress in the late 1940s and early 1950s improved broadcasting. The move to tape recording marked a considerable advance. In 1949, the restrictions on advertising were relaxed. Content was changing. New programs were launched for sports, children and undiscovered artistic talent.
Until the 1950s Radio Eireann was seen as a governmental mouthpiece. In the early 1950s, structural changes were proposed by the establishment of a Council who would advise and assist the Minister in the control and supervision of the service, which was now to be known as Radio Eireann.
The Council replaced an older advisory council. The latter was more of a listener’s representative body while the new Council was a management body. The old Council’s mandate expired in 1964 and was not renewed.
A number of members of staff were transferred to the Department of Post and Telegraph to works under the supervision of the Council. They ceased to be civil servants. Under the Council the broadcasting moved in for more sophisticated age. Listener research commenced.
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.
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.
By the mid-1950s, BBC Television was capable of being received on the Irish Eastern Seaboard. In 1953 BBC Northern Ireland commenced and a TV transmitter was installed in Belfast. It made TV more widely available in the Republic of Ireland especially, along the land border. .
In 1959 Ulster Television commenced operations. It was the Northern Ireland franchisee of the ITV network. The establishment of BBC Northern Ireland in 1953 and ITV in 1959 gave significant impetus to the establishment of an Irish television station in Ireland.
The Post and Telegraphs Committee reported to the government in 1953 and recommended the establishment of a limited TV service initially in Dublin. It argued for State control financed by advertisements and license fee. A further report was submitted to government in 1956 which once again favoured establishing a domestic television service.
It was decided in October 1957 to establish a television service as soon as possible under public control without cost to the Exchequer. A certain proportion of programs were to have a public service character. A Commission looked at the matter in 1958 at the behest of the Minister for Finance.
A number of British, American and Canadian enterprises expressed interest. The Commission preferred handing the state television to a private monopoly for financial reasons. Surprisingly, following Sean Lemass’s election as Taoiseach, it was decided that the new service will be provided as a public statutory service only. It later emerged, was later outvoted by his Cabinet on the issue as he favoured privatisation.
The Broadcasting Act 1960 established the Radio Eireann Authority which later became that Radio Telefis Eireann Authority. It was given wide latitude to run the new service. The government retained a certain input.
The Authority was obliged to bear in mind the aim of restoring the national language and promoting and developing national culture. Current affairs and matters which were subject of controversy should be presented objectively, impartially without expression of the Authorities’ view.
Section 31 which later in an amended form, became more controversial enabled the government to direct the Authority, prohibiting broadcasting specified material.
The new service commenced on the New Year’s Eve 1961. Simultaneously broadcasting was removed from the direct control of the government and with the Authority also taking over Radio Eireann.
Although the government did not generally interfere, it did take the view that the RTÉ was responsible to the government under law. It believed its programmes should not offend against public interest or conflict with national policy as defined in legislation.
The government did not accept that RTE should be wholly independent in its function. While obliged to maintain impartiality between parties, it was required to present programs informing the public regarding current affair while sustaining respect for the institutions of state. This approach caused considerable controversy and RTÉ responded with programs devoted to media freedom.
The pressure to form an Irish speaking station mounted through the 1960s. A pirate Irish language station commenced in 1970. This was quickly stopped. Radio na Gaeltacht commenced broadcasting in April 1973 from Galway with a number of subsidiary studios.