I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to speak on Deputy Penrose’s Bill which proposes to introduce a quota for Irish music on the radio by way of an amendment to the Broadcasting Act.
Firstly, I would like express my support for the Irish music industry. We are all here this evening due to our interest in the area and our wish to discuss any possible assistance we can offer.
There have been a number of attempts to create a definition to enable the introduction of an Irish music quota. Previous Ministers and my Department have met with a number of groups and tried to formulate a definition. However, it has not been possible to come up with a satisfactory or workable definition.
The Deputy is proposing the introduction of a 40% quota for Irish music to be played by Irish radio stations.
The definition in this Bill is extremely vague and I do not believe it would assist the Irish music industry if introduced. Rather, because of its vagueness, I believe it is likely to exclude a range of types of music written by Irish musicians. It will also be unworkable from a practical regulatory point of view.
The wording refers to “musical composition that relate to some distinguishing element of the culture of the island of Ireland”. Who is to decide what those distinguishing elements might be? Will it, for example, encompass electronica music like techno, ambient and downtempo?
Furthermore, in a multi-cultural society like we have now, how should we treat music written or even enjoyed by those Irish citizens of African or Eastern European heritage?
I fully recognise the efforts that Deputy Penrose has made in attempting to come up with a useful definition. He has, for instance, tried to avoid the pitfall of setting a definition based on nationality or residence which would be in breach of EU law on the grounds that it would discriminate against other European artists.
The introduction of a quota along these lines was attempted previously and was rejected by the European Commission.
This definition was then replaced by one that was so vague as to be unworkable and this is the same situation that will arise if Deputy Penrose’s amendment is enacted.
The current system, where stations volunteer Irish music commitments in their Programme Policy Statements, was introduced to avoid this problem.
This system does work well and, while I believe there is room for improvement, I do not believe that Deputy Penrose’s proposals would lead to any improvement.
RTÉ is the biggest supporter of Irish music and artists in Ireland. Irish artists and musicians receive significant support across radio, television, orchestra and online platforms. There are a number of shows, on both TV and radio, dedicated to the airplay of Irish music.
In the case of commercial radio stations, these already have a 30% Irish music quota as part of their licence agreement with the BAI. Many of these stations play over and above this percentage.
Editorial independence is essential to ensure diversity and the imposition of a quota representing a certain type of music is not workable.
Independent radio stations are reliant on commercial revenue and their business plans are guided by audience levels. Stations broadcast what their audiences wish to hear and if they didn’t, audiences would switch stations resulting in decreased listenership and thus reduced revenues and potential job losses.
The quota in France is frequently raised in this debate. It should be noted that this quota requires the airplay of music in the French language.
A similar quota for Ireland would require that the music played was in the Irish language and this would be too restrictive and, indeed, contrary to the purpose of the Deputy’s Bill.
A quota system was also introduced in South Africa in July of this year. Difficulties have already arisen with the implementation of this quota.
The Johannesburg-based station Metro FM, for example, has lost over 3 million listeners since the introduction of the quota as their playlists have had to change significantly. This is a serious loss of revenue and not a situation I would like to see in Ireland when stations are already having to compete with internet radio and online streaming.
It is my view that the best approach to be followed on this issue is one that takes account of all the relevant stakeholders, where we can have direct engagement with the radio sector with a view to establishing a mutually acceptable treatment of Irish music. This approach is likely to produce a far more successful and sustainable position on this issue, rather than seeking the imposition of an artificial quota.
At my request, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment are currently carrying out a broad review of the funding of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland including a public consultation and engagement with relevant stakeholders.
One suggestion that has arisen from the Committee’s discussions has been the creation of a Forum on Broadcasting and I have confirmed to the Committee my support for this proposal.
This is an important issue which requires careful consideration. It affects both the Irish Music Industry and the Irish radio industry.
This is why I oppose this Bill and suggest that this issue be discussed in the proposed Forum, which would be a more appropriate course of action rather than seeking a legislative solution which would have the opposite outcome to what the Deputy is seeking to achieve.