The Broadcasting Act, 1960 established the Broadcasting Authority as an independent body in control of RTE, the sole broadcaster. 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.
The Broadcasting Act provides that the authority must ensure that all news broadcasted by it is objective and impartial without an 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 way to news or current affair which are either subject to public controversy or current debate must be presented in an objective and impartial manner.
The Broadcasting Act prescribe duties of 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 authority may not accept advertisements directed towards religious or political ends in relation to an industrial dispute.
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.
The first directive was made under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in 1971. It directed the Authority to refrain from broadcasting matters calculated to promote activities or organizations advocating or encouraging political objectives by violence means. The Directive was renewed annually until 1994.
The ban was thought to be overbroad by prospectively banning all organizations worldwide that might fall into this category. Following a number of broadcasts of mute IRA figures and an interview with a senior IRA figure though not so named, the government demanded an explanation from the Authority. It agreed that the interview had been a lapse of editorial judgment. The government rejected the explanation; and dismissed the Authority. The interviewer later refused to identify the figure concerned in a trial in when he was later prosecuted. He was sentenced to prison and ultimately to a fine for contempt of court.
The 1976 Act was based on the final report of the Broadcasting Review Committee which supported public service broadcasting concept. It required the Authority not to broadcast anything which might reasonably be likely to promote or incite crime or undermine the authority of the State.
It maintained the requirements for impartiality and objectivity in matters of controversy. It required the Authority to be mindful for the need for understanding and peace within the whole Island of Ireland and to foster awareness and understanding the values and traditions of countries other than the State including other EEC states.
The right to dismiss the Authority was retained but required the approval of both Houses of Parliament. Ministerial directives could be rejected by the Parliament.
The RTE Authority produced guidelines on compliance with section 18 of the Broadcasting Act 1960 as amended. This set out requirements regarding the character and content of RTE programming. It embodies principles of impartiality plurality of opinions education of the audience fairness to all interests Persons appearing should face appropriate questions but were entitled to courtesy and fair play. Person should not be put on trial before the public by aggressive questioning.
In the context of lapsing of orders prohibiting representatives of prohibited organisations from speaking, the guidelines sought to ensure compliance with general prohibitions on inciting crime. The guidelines sought to respect the issue of privacy and counter that which unreasonably encroaches on individuals’ privacy.
Broadcasting Complaints Commission
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission was established by the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1976. Its chairperson was legally qualified.
The 1976 Act commenced a system under which standards of advertising would be upheld. It required the Authority to avoid unreasonable the invasion of personal privacy.
The Commission was was to adjudicate on complaints relating to news impartiality privacy advertising and published matters by RTE in its television and radio services. Its scope was increased to encompass the independent radio sector in the late 1980s.
Its functions now rest with the Broadcasting Authoriy of Ireland.
The Independents Radio and Television Commission issued guidelines in respect of independent broadcasting contractors. These guidelines covered matters such as Offences against the State act defamation and other general legal obligations. They emphasise the importance of free speech in democracy with a strong presumption against prior censorship of subject matters.
In matters of major public interest, the controversy or matter should be dealt with in a balanced way ensuring the opportunity for rebuttal where appropriate. Interviewers might ask spokesman of political parties justify policies and action even including political violence.
If a decision is made to interview members of an unlawful organisation caution should be adopted and such a broadcast should be in exceptional circumstances only.
Factual reporting is permissible. Broadcasters should adopt a careful and sensitive approach in relation to live material and should screen recorded material. Senior and experienced journalists only should conduct live broadcasts where this was appropriate