Author: Richard Barbrook
BROADCASTING AND NATIONAL IDENTITY IN IRELAND by Richard Barbrook
Broadcasting was Invented in Ireland
On Tuesday, 25th April 1916, a transmitter from the School of Wireless Telegraphy in Dublin started sending messages across the airwaves. The morse code signals announced to the world that a combined force of armed nationalists and socialists were occupying central Dublin and had proclaimed an Irish Republic, independent from the British Empire. (Mulryan 1988: 1‑2) According to legend, this transmission was the world’s first radio broadcast. Before April 1916, radio technology had been used primarily for point‑to‑point communications between ships and shore bases. In contrast, the Irish rebels didn’t transmit to any particular recipient, but to anyone who happened to be listening. They hoped their messages would be picked up by a passing ship and news of the uprising relayed to the American press. Easter 1916 not only marks the birth of the Irish Republic, but also the invention of broadcasting. (McLuhan 1964: 304)
From the beginning, the independence of the modern Irish state has depended on control over its own electronic media. In the early years of independence, radio broadcasting was committed to the preservation of Ireland’s distinct national culture. Hence, Irish governments denounced the ‘spill‑over’ of signals from British stations within southern Ireland as a form of cultural imperialism. However, in recent decades, a new generation of Irish politicians has adopted completely different attitudes towards broadcasting. In their view, the national survival of Ireland depended on its successful integration within the European Community. Thus, Irish politicians have encouraged the electronic media to bring the ideas and cultures of the wider world into the homes of Irish people. Recently, the Irish government has even introduced a new means of television transmission to relay British stations to those regions outside their present coverage area. In turn, the rejection of cultural separatism also has created major changes in the structure and regulation of Irish domestic broadcasting. Therefore, in contrast to most other European Community countries, the development of the Irish electronic media is still heavily influenced by national policies for political, economic and cultural self‑determination.
A New State for an Old Country
The Irish Republic is the larger of the two states on the island of Ireland. In the north‑east, there is the British province of Northern Ireland, with a population of approximately 1,500,000. The rest of the island forms the territory of the Irish Republic, which has around 3,500,000 inhabitants. (Department of Foreign Affairs 1990: 2‑3) Within the European Community, Ireland forms part of the periphery of poorer states and regions which surround the rich core of southern Britain, northern France, northern Italy, western Germany and the Low Countries. As the European Community moves towards economic and political union, this uneven development between members states is a formidable obstacle to further integration. Along with Greece, Portugal or southern Italy, the Irish Republic has the classic problems of a peripheral region, such as lower living standards, state corruption, economic domination by foreign multinationals and overdependence on peasant agriculture. The creation of a federal European state may offer a solution to these difficulties through interventionist regional policies. But, as well as being a peripheral region, Ireland faces its own specific problems inherited from its unequal relationship with its closest neighbour: Great Britain. For centuries, Ireland was under British colonial rule. The present‑day Irish Republic was created by the independence movement against British domination. However, political independence hasn’t removed the large difference in the relative size of the two countries. Because southern Ireland has a much smaller economy and under a tenth of the British population, every Irish government must adopt policies to protect the nation’s autonomy from the hegemony of its powerful neighbour. Even the surrender of national independence to federal European institutions is only supported by most Irish politicians because integration will further weaken Britain’s influence over Ireland.
If Great Britain was the first nation state, then Ireland was the first colony of the modern epoch. Although British domination over Ireland can be traced back to the Norman conquests in the twelfth century, it was the Tudor and Cromwellian settlements which turned Ireland into an agricultural colony of Britain. From the sixteenth century onwards, the occupation of Ireland ensured rents were paid to foreign landlords and produce was provided for British cities. In addition, the Irish people became a source of cheap labour for the British army, factories and colonies. Ireland provided a large part of the money and people needed for the birth of industrial capitalism in Britain. The industrial prosperity of nineteenth century Britain was based on agricultural poverty in Ireland. The 1840s Irish Famine demonstrated the human cost of the British occupation of Ireland. In a few years, over a million Irish people starved to death while food was being exported to pay rents to British landlords. (Burns 1974: 22‑3) The inaction of the London government during the Famine also demonstrated the failure to integrate Ireland within the British state. In 1800, Ireland had been politically absorbed into Britain through the union of the parliaments of the two countries. But, unlike Scotland or Wales, the political fusion of the two nations didn’t result in the disappearance of the colonial status of Ireland.
During the nineteenth century, there was a rapid growth in Irish nationalism among all sections of the population. After the devastation of the Famine, there was widespread rural poverty throughout Ireland. From 1860s onwards, Irish nationalists organised campaigns for the ownership of land among the peasants. The nationalists saw the expropriation of the foreign landlords as the first step towards the achievement of political independence. After years of violent and constitutional agitation, the British government slowly conceded ownership of the land to the Irish peasantry. Between 1881 and 1903, a series of Land Acts gave security of tenure, fair rents and loans for land purchase to the tenants of the British landlords. (Lyons 1973: 160‑223) Before independence was achieved, the Irish peasantry had already won the social revolution in the countryside. The British government hoped the granting of land ownership would weaken the Irish peasantry’s support for political independence by encouraging social conservatism. Instead, the creation of a society of rural family property‑owners provided the economic basis for political separation from the urban industrialised economy of Great Britain. Moreover, social conservatism among the peasantry actually created more support for political separatism. The further development of capitalism in Ireland could only be accomplished by the replacement of individual property with more collective forms of ownership, such as joint‑stock companies. Thus, the Irish peasantry needed political independence to protect their individual property against the threat of economic modernisation from Britain. As in France, Malthusian attitudes among the peasantry created not only social conservatism, but also political radicalism.
Although they formed the backbone of Irish nationalism, the peasants were incapable of controlling the struggle for independence. As in other emerging countries, the urban intellectuals provided the political leadership for the peasant revolution. Therefore, the Irish nation was invented as a distinct political and cultural entity by nationalist intellectuals. (Anderson 1983: 66‑79) However, during independence struggle, this urban intelligentsia created two distinct forms of Irish separatism: secular republicanism and Catholic nationalism. Although many Irish revolutionaries attempted to combine these two strands of the separatist tradition, both forms of nationalism were based on fundamentally incompatible world‑views. The ideas of secular republicanism were imported from Jacobin France during the struggle against the enforced political union of Britain and Ireland. According to this political theory, the Act of Union was unjust because the Irish people hadn’t given their consent to the loss of their independence. For secular republicans, the democratic state could only be created through the active participation of its individual citizens. Therefore, the inhabitants of Ireland possessed the democratic right to form their own nation state, independant from Great Britain.
Many Irish nationalists were also attracted to secular republicanism as a way of overcoming the sectarian differences between the Protestant settlers and Catholic natives encouraged by the British colonial authorities. In republican theory, individuals became citizens through their membership of civil society rather than through their religious or ethnic origin. In Ireland, as in other parts of Europe and in the USA, secular republicans advocated the separation of church and state in an independent republic. By the late‑nineteenth century, most secular republicans were members of a Jacobin revolutionary conspiracy, called the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). This organisation wanted an armed insurrection to expel the British and to establish a completely independent Irish Republic. Because of this revolutionary strategy, the IRB’s form of separatism became known as ‘physical force’ nationalism. (Lyons 1973: 131‑3)
In contrast, ‘moral force’ nationalism was represented by the reformist Irish National Party (INP) in the late‑nineteenth century. Instead of armed resistance, the INP participated in elections to the British parliament. The party wanted to use its pivotal position within the House of Commons to win home rule for Ireland. The INP was descended from the campaign against the institutionalised discrimination against Catholics in British‑occupied Ireland. As a parliamentary party, the INP encouraged and benefited from the gradual extension of the franchise within the British state. (Farrell 1988: 18‑9) As the majority of these new voters were peasants, the ‘moral force’ separatists created their own form of nationalism to win their votes. During the struggle for land ownership, there was a strong Catholic revival within rural Ireland. The Church introduced new rituals and cults from continental Europe to encourage the public expression of piety. (Brown 1981: 27‑8) For many peasants, Catholicism acted as a mark of national ‘distinction’ between the Irish people and the inhabitants of the rest of the British Isles. (Bourdieu 1984; Brown 1981: 28)
But, Catholic nationalism was popular among the peasantry for more than separatist reasons. The Church also provided wider social regulation for the emerging economy of small property‑owners. The preservation of subsistence family farms depended on the successful transfer of ownership to the succeeding generation without excessive division. This problem was partially overcome by the massive emigration of younger children to the USA, Britain and other countries. The repressive sexual morality of the Church also helped to prevent the break‑up of rural property through premature marriages or divorces. The observance of pre‑marital chastity by the Irish peasantry expressed the Malthusian limits of a society based on individual land ownership. (Brown 1981: 19‑21) By the end of the nineteenth century, the faith in the Church of the peasantry was turned into Catholic nationalism by the INP. By cultivating a close relationship with the ecclesiastical hierachy, the party won support from pious voters for the campaign for Irish home rule. However, under this arrangement, the INP needed approval from the Catholic Church for the central parts of its political programme. Despite their committment to constitutional politics, the party’s leaders defered to the undemocratic authority of the clergy. In contrast to the IRB’s secular republic of equal citizens, the INP believed popular sovereignty would create a state representing the interests of the majority of Irish people: the Catholic peasantry. Even before partition, the dominant form of Irish nationalism not only excluded the Protestant minority for its pro‑British sympathies, but also for its heretical religious beliefs. Subjectively, the INP believed in a united Ireland, while, objectively, the parliamentary party was almost exclusively the representative of the Catholic population of Ireland.
The limitation of Irish identity to the Catholic inhabitants of the island was a reflection of the failure to find alternative marks of cultural ‘distinction’ between the Irish and the British. In other parts of Europe, nationalist intellectuals transformed local peasant dialects into formal languages to separate members of oppressed nationalities from their Austrian, Turkish or Russian masters. (Anderson 1983: 69) In Ireland, both secular republicans and Catholic nationalists tried to use the Irish language in a similiar fashion. From the late nineteenth century onwards, the Gaelic League campaigned for the revival of the local language, games, customs, place‑names and surnames in Ireland. These cultural nationalists saw themselves participating in a ‘Battle of Two Civilisations’ between native Irish and foreign British influences in Ireland. The Gaelic League and similiar organisations called for the ‘de‑Anglicising’ of Ireland as a central part of the liberation of the country from British imperialism. (Lyons 1973: 231‑3) However, although Irish was an ancient language, the long British occupation of Ireland had turned English into the first language of the majority of the population. At the beginning of the twentieth century, less than a fifth of the population used Irish in everyday life. (Lyons 1973: 635) Instead, most Irish people spoke a vernacular, creole version of English adapted from the official language of their colonial overlord. With its many borrowings from the old language, Irish‑English became the medium for many globally successful writers, from Oscar Wilde to James Joyce. However, the cultural nationalists rejected the new creole language in favour of traditional Irish. (Lyons 1973: 224, 238‑9) In contrast to the successful promotion of living vernaculars by East European nationalists, the Gaelic League and its allies were defending a dying language.
The idealisation of the peasantry by the cultural nationalists strengthened the role of Catholicism within the Irish independence movement. For secular republicans, the Gaelic revival was another way of creating a common identity outside religion which could unite both Catholic and Protestant Irish. But, instead of returning to the old language, the Irish peasantry expressed their cultural nationalism through the affirmation of their distinctive faith. Because of this weakness in Gaelic revivalism, the romanticisation of the peasantry evolved towards Catholic nationalism. In continental Europe, the Church’s intellectuals were advocating rural authoritarianism as an alternative to the urban ideologies of liberalism and socialism. The Irish Catholic nationalists attacked both Protestants and leftists as representatives of the foreign culture which was oppressing Ireland. In their view, the refusal of these groups to observe the national religion and culture threatened the natural social cohesion created in rural Ireland. This desire for cultural uniformity reflected the Malthusianism of Irish society after the Land Acts. The cultural nationalists created the romanticised Gaelic past as a metaphor for the emerging society of peasant property‑owners. In their de‑anglicised utopias, cultural homogeneity created a harmonious society without class or other social divisions. For them, the traditional Irish peasant lifestyle was ‘… a primal innocence miraculously preserved from the contaminating influences of civilisation.’ (Davis 1974: 235; Brown 1981: 92) This idealisation of rural life was a reaction against the slow spread of more advanced forms of capitalism from Great Britain into Ireland. In the view of many nationalists, the preservation of family property in land from industrialisation was the same as the protection of an Irish Catholic identity from foreign cultural influences. In both economics and culture, the assertion of national independence was encouraged by the fear of further social change.
During 1916‑21, both the IRB and the INP were eclipsed by the emergence of Sinn Féin, which successfully combined violent and constitutional methods of resistance to win independence from Britain. Before the War of Independence, Sinn Féin had already developed a synthesis of the two traditions of secular republicanism and Catholic nationalism. In its programme, the party rejected home rule within the British Empire and called for absolute political independence. Moreover, Sinn Féin didn’t just advocate political and cultural separatism, but also economic nationalism. It wanted an independent Irish state to develop local agriculture and manufacturing by imposing tariffs on goods imported from Britain and elsewhere. Crucially, this rejection of economic free‑trade also involved the abandonment of the liberal individualism defended by most secular republicans. For Sinn Féin, Ireland’s claim for independence wasn’t derived from the popular sovereignty of individual Irish citizens. Instead, the party asserted that the existence of the Irish people as a distinct race since the Dark Ages justified the independence of Ireland. In this argument, the collective needs of the Irish nation took precedence over the individual rights of any of its citizens. For many contemporaries, Sinn Féin’s advocacy of complete independence from Britain made the party closer to the IRB than the INP. However, the party’s policies of economic and cultural separatism were heavily influenced by the Catholic proponents of an authoritarian rural society. Thus, Sinn Féin’s separatist vision of Ireland implicitly excluded the Protestant minority as a threat to the cultural homogeneity of the Irish nation. As with the INP, Sinn Féin was partitionist in practice, if not in theory. (Davis 1974: 127‑9, 151‑2)
National Independence and the Nationalisation of Broadcasting
The goal of ending British rule over Ireland was partially achieved during the Irish War of Independence of 1916‑21. Through a combination of Sinn Féin election victories and guerilla warfare, the London government was forced to recognise the secession of Ireland from Britain. The present‑day Republic of Ireland is the direct descendent of the Irish Free State created by the War of Independence. However, the British government only agreed to withdraw from the southern 26 counties of Ireland. In the 6 northern counties, the Irish Protestant minority remained part of Great Britain. The partition of Ireland not only removed most Irish Protestants from the Free State, but also the most important industrial region in the country. As a consequence, the large majority of citizens of the southern state were both Catholics and peasants. Thus, the political partition of Ireland entrenched existing social and economic divisions between the two parts of the country. The influence of Catholic nationalism over the southern nationalist movement weakened opposition to partition within the Irish Free State. Although two factions of Sinn Féin fought a vicious civil war over the degree of Irish independence from Britain, neither side advocated ending partition by force. Despite rhetorical denunciations of the division of Ireland, the Catholic nationalism of both Sinn Féin factions had already excluded most Protestants from membership of the Irish people.
Despite the influence of church hierarchy, the political institutions of the Irish Free State were inspired by secular republicanism. The Irish nationalists had participated in the struggle for political democracy within Great Britain. In the War of Independence, Sinn Féin used these democratic rights to assert the right of the Irish people to national self‑determination. The will of the British government to maintain its rule over southern Ireland was destroyed by both Sinn Féin election victories and armed resistance. Therefore, when independence was won, the new state was established as a representative democracy with universal suffrage. As in Britain or France, the Irish Free State was ruled by a cabinet system of government, which derived its authority from a directly elected legislature. Similiarly, the new nation almost entirely recruited its civil service from the old colonial administration. (Farrell 1988: 20; Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 23) This institutional continuity reflected the political nature of the Irish revolution of 1916‑21. Despite the violent struggle for independence, there was no social upheaval after the departure of the British. The radical political changes in Ireland were underpinned by the stability of the country’s social structures. During the earlier phase of the nationalist struggle, the Irish peasantry had already the obtained ownership of the land. Therefore, the achievement of political independence was the culmination of the rural social revolution which had been won in the late‑nineteenth century.
Despite the pioneering transmissions of the Easter rebels, radio broadcasting almost disappeared in Ireland of the following years. By the end of the Irish War of Independence, radio stations were already broadcasting speech and music programmes to large audiences in the USA and elsewhere in Europe. While Ireland was winning its independence, the electronic media had been born. Once the civil war was over, the Free State government was able to tackle the country’s economic and social problems, including radio broadcasting. By the mid 1920s, the BBC was transmitting across mainland Britain and had started a regional station in Northern Ireland. But, the poor reception of contemporary radio sets prevented most people from listening to BBC programmes in southern Ireland. However, the example of British broadcasting encouraged enthusiasts in the Irish Free State to campaign for their own radio service. In their view, an Irish radio station would aid the revival of the ‘national spirit’ taking place in newly independent Ireland. (Cathcart 1984: 40‑2) From its moment of birth, the primary role of Irish broadcasting was defined as the defence of the cultural autonomy of Ireland.
The importance of cultural separatism for the nationalist parties created a specifically Irish model of public service broadcasting. In Great Britain, the BBC was dedicated to the education of its listeners and the creation of a political consensus between the main parties. In contrast, the Free State government nationalised radio broadcasting to protect the national culture against foreign influences. At first, the government proposed granting a licence to a commercial consortium. However, it was soon discovered that a British newspaper company was a major shareholder in the proposed commercial station. Because the Free State government didn’t want the Irish radio station owned by a British company, its plans for commercial broadcasting were abandoned. (Bell 1985: 34‑5) Instead, the politicians decided that radio broadcasting should be organised directly by the state. In 1926, the Free State government passed the Wireless Telegraphy Act, which empowered the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to set up radio stations across the country. Under the 1926 Act, the stations were staffed by civil servants and the Minister was given ultimate control over what was broadcast. (Saorstát Éireann 1926: 27‑9). Before the Act was passed, the Irish Post Office had started broadcasting a limited service in Dublin. The Post Office now proceeded to open radio stations in other urban areas across the country.
Unlike other European countries, radio broadcasting was slow to develop in the Irish Free State. In 1929, just 30,000 receiving licences were issued for the whole country. By 1941, only 183,000 people were paying the licence fee out of a population of 3 million. The low number of licence‑holders was partially caused by widespread evasion of the charge, especially in rural areas. In addition, radio sets remained a luxury item for most peasant families throughout the first decades of Irish independence. (Fisher 1978: 20‑2; Brown 1981: 153; Cathcart 1984: 44) Because the licence fee was its major source of income, the restricted number of licence payers hampered the growth of the national broadcasting service. During the inter‑war years, there was only a small amount of advertising on the Irish radio station. The government was also unwilling to provide extra money to extend the service more quickly. Therefore, radio broadcasting only reached most rural areas with the opening of a long wave service in 1933. Although the Free State government saw the construction of a national broadcasting system as a central part of building a new nation, the radio stations weren’t used as direct agitational or propaganda instruments by the state. Instead, the Irish radio station concentrated on broadcasting educational, farming and music programmes, with only a limited news service. The Post Office’s radio station acted as a branch of the civil service and tried to avoid political or moral controversies. The distinctively nationalist form of public service broadcasting was created in the cultural programmes transmitted by the Irish radio station. From the beginning, the station transmitted programmes in Irish and provided education in the old language. In addition, traditional folk singers and bands dominated the schedules of the national radio station. (Mulryan 1988: 8; O Tuathaigh 1984: 102‑3)
The Irish Free State didn’t develop its own form of public service broadcasting for only cultural reasons. The nationalisation of radio broadcasting in Ireland also reflected the growing importance of state intervention throughout the whole economy of southern Ireland. As in radio broadcasting, the Free State government set up other nationalised companies to reduce Ireland’s economic dependence on Britain. Although the landlords and colonial officials had departed, Irish farmers still needed to export to the British market for their economic survival. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 106) The Irish economy remained predominantly agricultural, especially as partition had removed the main industrial region from the new state. In 1926, half the population owned or worked on family peasant farms. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 3) Ironically, one immediate effect of political independence was to reinforce the economic dependence of Ireland on Britain. In response, the Free State government established various nationalised companies to compensate for the lack of domestic investors in farming and manufacture. For example, state credit institutions made loans to peasant farmers, while the nationalised Electricity Supply Board extended the grid into rural areas. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 26) The nationalised radio station was a pioneer of this parastatal sector in the Irish economy. Crucially, this state interventionism was primarily Malthusian in intent. Because the majority of voters were peasants, the Free State government couldn’t industrialise Ireland by dispossessing the peasants of their land along Bolshevik or Fordist lines. As in the French 3rd Republic, the Irish state only intervened to protect the existing economy of small property‑holders from more advanced forms of capitalism.
National Autarchy and the Radio Monopoly
Although socialists had played a leading role in the 1916 Rising, the dominance of agriculture within the economy ensured that the Labour party never developed into an effective political force within the southern state. Instead, the defeated anti‑treaty nationalists emerged as the main opposition to the Free State government during the late 1920s. Under Éamon de Valera, the majority of the anti‑treaty nationalists decided to contest elections in a new party called Fianna Fáil. While the Free State government drew its support from the large farmers, professionals and capitalists, Fianna Fáil became the representative of the peasants, shopkeepers, artisans and some workers. (Lyons 1973: 524) In 1932, the party won a general election and immediately began dismantling the treaty settlement with Britain. During the 1930s, de Valera’s government removed the remaining constitutional and symbolic links with Britain, culminating in the adoption of a new constitution. (Boland 1982: 8‑10) By achieving the major objectives of the anti‑treaty nationalists through constitutional means, the Fianna Fáil government incorporated the defeated side of the civil war within the political institutions of southern Ireland. By abolishing the Free State in name, the partition state finally won the support of the mass of the southern Irish people. The reconciliation of the two sides in the civil war was completed by a government formed with Free State supporters. In 1948, this administration passed an act renaming the southern 26 counties as the Republic of Ireland. (Lyons 1973: 567)
The Fianna Fáil government didn’t just want to achieve complete political separation from Britain. The party was also committed to implementing Sinn Féin’s programme of economic autonomy as well. The Fianna Fáil government not only expanded state intervention into the economy to create Irish substitutes for foreign goods, but also introduced tariffs and quotas against British imports. (Lyons 1973: 614‑5) In response, the London government restricted Irish agricultural exports to Britain. The ‘Economic War’ between Ireland and Britain damaged the large farmers who supported the Free State, but helped the local businesses and peasants who voted for Fianna Fáil. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 28‑9) De Valera hoped these protectionist policies would isolate Ireland from the world economy and achieve national self‑sufficency in basic goods. In the first programme of Fianna Fáil, he had advocated an ‘economically self‑contained and self‑sufficing’ country based on peasant farming and rural industries. (Boland 1982: 36) This demand was an idealised vision of the everyday existence of the peasants and shopkeepers who supported the party. Furthermore, the protectionist policies of Fianna Fáil were also derived from the Malthusian fear of the emergence of Fordism held by these small property‑owners. Under De Valera, Irish nationalism became defined as ‘… preferring an Ireland of frugal God‑fearing country folk to any absorption of the country into industrial Europe.’ (Brown 1981: 145)
By implementing Sinn Féin’s programme of political and cultural autonomy in practice, Fianna Fáil finally codified the synthesis between secular republicanism and Catholic nationalism created in the years before independence. The clearest expression of this compromise between the two traditions within Irish nationalism was the 1937 constitution. De Valera introduced this new fundamental law to remove the remaining political links with Britain and to abolish the Free State in name. (Fanning 1988: 34) But, the 1937 constitution wasn’t only concerned with external affairs. It also legally defined the comprise between popular sovereignty and theocratic authority developed by Sinn Féin and supported by Fianna Fáil. Because this synthesis was successful, the 1937 constitution is still supported by all major political parties and remains the basic law of the Irish Republic. Thus, in the 1960s, a Supreme Court judge could speak of ‘the Christian and democratic nature of the state’ without seeing any contradiction between these two traditions. (Kelly 1988: 169)
During the nineteenth century, IRB had fought for a secular republic on French or American lines. In 1916, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic not only declared the independence of Ireland from Britain, but also promised civil and political rights to all of its citizens. (Lyons 1973: 369‑71) During the War of Independence, Sinn Féin supported these basic democratic liberties as an integral part of the struggle for national self‑determination. After independence was won, the Free State government was organised as a parliamentary democracy, with civil and political liberties guaranteed in the constitution. (Farrell 1988: 28) De Valera continued this republican committment to popular sovereignty and political rights in the 1937 constitution. Most of the document established the framework for the election and functioning of an executive elected by the universal suffrage of all adult citizens. Furthermore, under article 40, legal protection was promised for the ‘fundamental rights’ of each Irish citizen. (Bunreacht na hÉireann 1980: 126‑36) Thus, the 1937 constitution institutionalised the democratic demands of the secular republican tradition.
However, the 1937 constitution was also heavily influenced by the Catholic nationalist tradition of the INP. After partition, over nine‑tenths of the inhabitants of the Irish Free State were followers of the faith. (Brown 1981: 30) Moreover, the division of the country ensured that the Catholic faith remained one of the primary expressions of Irish nationalism. By the 1930s, both southern nationalist parties had become ‘… deeply partitionist in nature.’ (Coulter 1990: 18) Although Fianna Fáil believed its policies of complete Irish independence from Britain were a step towards a united Ireland, its policies of political and economic autonomy further entrenched the border between the two parts of Ireland. (Boland 1982: 7‑8) The creation of a socially and racially homogeneous southern state encouraged the cultural nationalists to campaign for a purge of the remaining British influences in Ireland. During the 1920s, the Free State government tried to revive the Irish language, especially through the education system. But, despite these political initiatives, there was a continuing decline in the numbers of Irish speakers in southern Ireland. (Brown 1981: 60‑2) The failure of this state‑sponsored Gaelic revival opened the way for a further intensification of Catholic nationalism. Without the Irish language as a mark of ‘distinction’, Catholicism became the major expression of the Irish national identity. According to de Valera, Ireland had a spiritual mission to save ‘Western Civilisation’ from the scourge of materialism by constructing a moral christian society. (Brown 1981: 36‑8)
During the 1930s, Catholic nationalism also acquired a distinct political ideology, known as Vocationalism. In his 1931 Quadragesimo Anno encyclical, Pope Pius XI rejected both liberalism and socialism in favour of a corporate society, modelled on elements of Fascist Italy. For the Pope, neither hedonistic individuals nor the nation state could create a moral society. Instead, the family and the clergy had to act as essential intermediaries between citizens and political power. Under Vocationalism, the needs of these social institutions took priority over the abstract rights of individual citizens. (Lyons 1973: 544‑6; Brown 1981: 160‑1) In southern Ireland, this political theology was taken up by some supporters of the defeated Free State party, who founded the fascist Blueshirt movement. Although this organisation soon collapsed, Vocationalism did win wider support among the southern Irish population. The frugal life of rural family farms and urban small businesses had already found expression in the ascetic morality and sexual repression of Catholicism. (Coulter 1990: 10, 18) After 1931, Vocationalism provided a specific political theory for Catholic nationalists who idealised southern Ireland as a society of self‑sufficent families united in submission to the one true faith.
In the 1937 constitution, de Valera successfully defused the conflict between secular republicanism and Catholic Vocationalism. On the one hand, the new constitution asserted the democratic nature of the Irish state against the threat of fascism from the Blueshirts and other authoritarian clericalists. On the other hand, the 1937 constitution also recognised the primacy of the Catholic religion over the southern Irish people. In a contradictory synthesis, the social and moral teachings of the Church were incorporated as part of the ‘fundamental rights’ of citizens. Alongside the equal rights of women as citizens, the 1937 constitution institutionalised the authoritarian power of fathers over the female members of their families. (Bunreacht na hÉireann 1980: 136‑52) Under the fundamental law of the southern state, popular sovereignty could only be exercised within the limits of the moral totalitarianism of the Catholic Church.
The influence of Catholic nationalism substantially weakened the protection of the freedom of communications in the 1937 constitution. Before the adoption of the new constitution, political instability within the southern state had already curbed the right to free speech in practice. From the 1916 Proclamation to the 1922 Free State constitution, Irish nationalists had defended the freedom of expression as an abstract democratic right of all citizens. But, during the civil war, the Free State government had imposed censorship as part of its struggle against the anti‑treaty faction. After the civil war, overt political censorship was gradually relaxed. However, both Free State and Fianna Fáil governments continued informal restrictions over opposition publications. During the Second World War, de Valera used the international crisis to impose formal political censorship on all publications once again (Murphy 1984: 59) But, because secular republicanism enshrined free speech as a fundamental democratic right, no southern Irish government was able to silence its political rivals completely. For example, de Valera was able to set up his own paper under the Free State government and the other major national newspapers continually criticised the subsequent Fianna Fáil adminstration.
These restrictions on political speech were minimal compared with the moral censorship imposed in southern Ireland. In 1925, the Free State government established a censorship board for all films exhibited in the country. This legislation was followed by the 1929 Censorship of Publications Act, which set up a similiar institution for the vetting of all books and magazines distributed within southern Ireland. (Lyons 1973: 686‑8) According to the Free State government, these laws were only designed to prevent the distribution of pornographic and family planning material. However, in practice, these censorship boards banned all types of films and literature on grounds of immorality. Between 1930‑9, the literature censorship board outlawed over 1,200 books and 140 magazines. Along with pornographic works, the list of forbidden books contained almost every major novel written by an Irish authors in the inter‑war years. (Brown 1981: 149; Carlson 1990: 1, 3‑4) Under these laws, cultural and political dissidents within the Irish Free State were the primary target. Because of Catholic nationalism, the observance of the faith had become the major expression of Irish cultural identity in the southern state. For many nationalists, artistic modernism and socialist politics threatened to the cultural self‑determination of the Irish people by questioning the repressive morality of the Church. In their view, the freedom of communications could only be exercised within the narrow limits of the teachings of the Catholic Church. According to the Bishop of Cork, the freedom of the press was defined as a ‘press that is legally free to print whatever is morally justified.’ (Murphy 1984: 60)
But, moral censorship wasn’t only aimed at dissidents within the Irish Free State. Many Catholic nationalists also wanted to remove the cultural influence of Britain within southern Ireland. Because of the common language, Irish people could easily understand films, books, magazines and other forms of cultural expression imported from other English‑speaking countries. The Catholic hierachy was convinced that the British media encouraged the spread of ‘pagan’ ideas among the Irish population. By reflecting the attitudes of an industrial society, foreign films and literature undermined the strict sexual morality of rural Ireland. (Brown 1981: 39‑40; Murphy 1984: 51) The Church’s campaign against moral corruption from Britain echoed the demand for cultural self‑sufficency by the Irish nationalist movement. Many secular republicans also believed in an ascetic morality, inspired by the French Jacobin’s vision in the 1790s of a Republic of Virtue. (Murphy 1984: 52) Even for those opposed to the Church hierarchy, the protection of repressive Catholic morality became a symbol of Irish self‑determination. For the Free State government, the censorship of British media was a declaration of cultural independence from the old colonial master. (Brown 1981 67‑70)
After its election, the Fianna Fáil government didn’t abolish the censorship of films and publishing. For de Valera, support for moral censorship was one means of synthesising the Catholic nationalist and secular republican traditions within his political movement. In his view, the Irish government ‘… should not give to the propagation of what is wrong and unnatural the same liberty as would be accorded to the propagation of what is right.’ (Pine and Thomas 1986: 7) Under de Valera, the freedom of communications of individuals remained limited by the moral values of the Irish people as a whole. Moreover, Fianna Fáil’s policies for economic autonomy encouraged further cultural protectionism in southern Ireland. The censorship of imported films and publications paralleled the imposition of tariffs against British manufactured goods. When de Valera wrote the 1937 constitution, he incorporated the existing forms of censorship within the right of freedom of communications. In article 40. 6.1 of the constitution, the freedom of communications was guaranteed as part of the ‘fundamental rights’ of every Irish citizen. But, compared with article 11 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France or the 1st Amendment of the American constitution, article 40. 6. 1 provided a very narrow definition of the freedom of communications
‘The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:‑
i ‘The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.’ (Bunreacht na hÉireann 1980: 133‑4)
This constitutional guarantee entrenched the restrictions on the freedom of communications for reasons of both national security and Catholic morality. In turn, the censorship of films and literature was also applied to the programmes of the state broadcaster. Under the Free State government, the national radio station never transmitted programmes offensive to the Catholic morality of the Irish population. Moreover, under the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act, the Post Office’s service station was banned from broadcasting not only obscene material, but also ‘… any message subversive of public order’. (Saorstát Éireann 1926: 23) This legal censorship of radio broadcasting was supplemented by adminstrative arrangements. Under the 1926 act, the national radio station was constituted as part of the civil service. (Saorstát Eireann 1926: 27‑9) Therefore, the Irish government could supervise the finances of the radio station, deciding the level of the licence fee, the price of advertising, appointments of managers, wages of the staff and the amount of capital spending.
When it was elected, Fianna Fáil used these administrative and financial powers to take control over the state radio station. Almost immediately, the Director‑General of the national broadcaster was sacked and replaced with a party loyalist. Like its predecessor, the Fianna Fáil government ensured the impartiality of the radio news service was tempered by censorship on behalf of the ruling party. (Cathcart 1984: 44, 48‑9) During the 1930s, Fianna Fáil expanded the services of the state radio station by collecting more licence fees. The national broadcaster also was given a more prominent identity by being named Radio Éireann. During the ‘Economic War’ with Great Britain, de Valera increased the radio news service to win support from the voters for his resistance to British pressure. The Fianna Fáil government was also interested in the further development of the cultural nationalist role of Irish public service broadcasting. Therefore, the state radio station increased the numbers of Irish language and traditional folk music programmes in its schedule.
In addition, the Fianna Fáil government funded a series of regional studios for the broadcasting of programmes made in the rural areas. The ruling party hoped that the decentralisation of broadcasting would remove the corrupting influence of urban culture from Radio Éireann. In the countryside, radio broadcasters would reflect the values of the peasants, who represented the centre of the Irish identity for most nationalists. (Cathcart 1984: 45‑6) The political importance of cultural autarchy also forced the cancellation of plans to establish a commercial radio service aimed at a British audience, along the lines of Radio Luxemburg. Because this money-making enterprise needed urban and working class British listeners, it was proposed that the radio station would play mainly jazz music. However, the cultural nationalists opposed the broadcasting of ‘alien’ music from by the proposed radio station because its programmes would be heard by Irish listeners. For them, it was necessary to prevent the emergence of any alternative to their preferred style of traditional folk music. (Cathcart 1984: 43‑4)
This increased committment of the Irish government to public service broadcasting was encouraged by the reception of BBC radio signals in parts of southern Ireland. As radio set technology improved during the 1930s, Irish listeners were able to hear programmes broadcast by British and other European stations. During the Second World War, the BBC started making special programmes for listeners in southern Ireland. The British hostility to Irish wartime neutrality made these programmes appear politically threatening. In order to meet this challenge, de Valera’s government decided to set up an Irish international radio station, broadcasting on short wave. This external radio service was designed to present southern Ireland’s viewpoint to a global audience, especially listeners descended from Irish emigrants. However, before these plans came to fruition, the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and the war was over. Therefore, the extra money allocated to this international broadcasting project was redistributed to the domestic radio service. For the first time, Radio Éireann received sufficent funding to provide a comprehensive news service, classical and light music orchestras, theatre and mobile recording studios. Faced with potential competition from BBC stations, the Fianna Fáil government decided that the Irish national radio station should provide a comprehensive service for its listeners. (Cathcart 1984: 47‑8)
Under both Free State and Fianna Fáil governments, a specifically Irish form of public service broadcasting was created. The central difference between the Irish model and its European equivalents was the importance placed on the defence of the national culture from foreign influences. Under the British rule, the assertion of cultural autonomy was an integral part of the struggle for national self‑determination. Once independence was achieved, the existence of a common language between Ireland and its old colonial master maintained the political pressures for cultural separatism. The imperative of cultural nationalism shaped Irish public service broadcasting in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, the national radio station helped to reverse centuries of British repression against Irish political and cultural life. In its broadcasts, Radio Éireann presented news and current affairs programmes about the personalities and parties of the independent southern state. Thus, when de Valera spoke to his listeners, they were constituted as citizens of a distinct Irish national community. Moreover, Radio Éireann also created programmes aimed specifically at Irish listeners, from information for farmers to broadcasts in the old language. The Irish language and folk music programmes expressed a committment to preserving the traditional rural culture with the new electronic mass medium.
On the other hand, this committment to cultural nationalism by Irish public service broadcasting also had negative consequences. Underlying the defence of traditional peasant culture was a Malthusian fear of the modernisation of Irish society. This social conservatism not only led to cultural protectionism against media from the outside world, but also censorship of any opinions challenging the nationalist consensus. Radio Éireann never presented the work or views of artistic modernists or urban socialists. Above all else, as with films and literature, the questioning of the repressive morality of the Catholic Church was strictly forbidden. In the Irish version of public service broadcasting, the national radio station had to reflect the restricted political and sexual outlook of the peasant and petit‑bourgeois majority of southern Ireland. For Irish politicians, the freedom of communications of secular republicanism was always limited by the moral totalitarianism of Catholic nationalism. Hence, Irish public service broadcasting maintained cultural and intellectual poverty among the population by not presenting a more diverse range of programmes for its listeners. In Ireland, the state broadcasting monopoly was not only an expression of national self‑determination, but also of cultural exclusion.
The End of Autarchy
During the Second World War, Ireland stayed neutral throughout the conflict. With the rest of Europe engulfed by war, the country was forced to survive on its own resources. Although Britain continued to be the major overseas market for Irish food exports, De Valera’s vision of Ireland as a self‑sufficent nation of frugal and devout peasants was temporarily realised through the breakdown of the world system into armed conflict. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 4) However, once the war was over, the revival of the West European economies soon undermined the limited economic and cultural autarchy achieved by the southern Irish state. Despite protectionism and a world war, southern Ireland had neither industrialised nor urbanised its economy. Instead, Ireland remained a mainly agricultural economy composed of small family farms and businesses. As the techniques of production had changed little since the nineteenth century, the standard of living of the Irish peasantry remained low. (Lyons 1973: 603‑4) In contrast, the introduction of Fordist methods of production and economic regulation created rapid industrial growth in the rest of Western Europe. The workers in these countries were rewarded through higher wages and more welfare spending. During the 1950s, there was a growing disparity between the living standards of the Irish peasantry and the British proletariat. For the first time in Irish history, many rural proprietors decided working in a factory overseas was preferable to owning land at home. Soon, emigration to Britain, America and Australia was no longer confined to the younger children deprived of land under the primogeniture system. The departure of the inheritors of peasant farms from the countryside threatened the long‑term viability of the southern Irish state. (Brown 1981: 186; Wickham 1980: 57) By the end of the 1950s, the continued political independence of Ireland required the abandonment of the nationalist programme of economic and cultural self‑sufficency.
In 1958, the Fianna Fáil government accepted the recommendations of the Whitaker Report on Economic Development. This commission proposed that the Irish state should adopt the policies of ‘peripheral Fordism’ policies to speed up the modernisation of the country. (Lipietz 1987) At the centre of this strategy was an economic plan for the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation of southern Ireland. Under the plan, the state made grants to attract investments from foreign multinationals, carried out infrastructure projects and developed the nationalised industries. For the Whitaker commission, the survival of Ireland as an independent nation depended on its integration within the European and global economies. In its view, Irish businesses could only prosper by having access to a larger market than their domestic customers. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990:35‑40) By accepting the Whitaker commission’s proposals, Fianna Fáil adopted a new goal of transforming Ireland into a prosperous industrial region of Europe in place of its old aim of encouraging ascetic rural self‑sufficency. Moreover, Fianna Fáil not only abandoned the goal of economic autarchy championed by Sinn Féin and de Valera, but also their dream of cultural isolation. Once the Irish economy was opened up to the outside world, it would be impossible to prevent foreign media from reaching the Irish people. From now on, the prevention of mass emigration through rapid economic growth took priority over the protection of Ireland’s Gaelic and Catholic traditions. (Brown 1981: 214)
Ironically, Fianna Fáil’s success in completing the political independence of Ireland created the conditions for the abandonment of its own protectionist and Malthusian policies. By abolishing the Free State, de Valera created a stable political system within the southern partition state. By the 1950s, elections between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (the old Free State party) were fought over the economic prosperity of the voters, not the constitutional status of the state. Both nationalist parties had created electoral strongholds across Ireland by building patronage networks. As the dominant party, Fianna Fáil was more successful in making voters dependent on favours from its parliamentary representatives, especially in rural areas. (Coulter 1990: 9‑13) But, Fianna Fáil didn’t just help its traditional supporters among the peasantry and shop‑keepers. Under its new leader Seán Lemass, Fianna Fáil also became the party of the ‘mohair suits’, the new capitalists recruited as leading members of the party. (Lyons 1973: 584‑5) This transformation within Fianna Fáil’s leadership paralleled the dramatic switch in the party’s economic policies from national autarchy to integration within the European and global markets. Moreover, under the new planning system, Fianna Fáil had many more opportunities to use the nationalised industries and other forms of state intervention to reward its supporters throughout the country. The increased scope for patronage by the ruling party compensated for any loss of support caused by its ideological apostasy in abandoning de Valera’s dream of national self‑sufficency.
The opening‑up of the economy encouraged a campaign against the strict censorship of the arts and media imposed in the first years of independence. Throughout the 1950s, the Archbishop of Dublin was still organising the banning of books by internationally acclaimed authors – including many from Ireland – who offended his fundamentalist interpretation of Catholic morality. (Carlson 1990: 113) However, the end of economic autarchy had undermined the rationale for restrictions on cultural influences from abroad. In addition, the call for tolerance and modernisation by the 1962 Second Vatican Council further weakened the Irish Church’s moral authority over the arts and media. (Brown 1981: 198‑200, 294‑6) Although the strict controls weren’t abolished altogether, cultural censorship was slowly weakened during the 1960s. Many previously banned books were now allowed to be printed and sold. However, the Irish government didn’t abandon its attempt to control over local artists. In place of the direct censorship of culture, the Irish state created a system of informal supervision such as tax exemptions for artists and grants from the state‑funded Arts Council. (Brown 1981: 297, 315‑6)
The relaxation of cultural censorship was speeded up by the reception of British television programmes in parts of southern Ireland. After the war, the BBC restarted television broadcasting and rapidly built up a service covering both Britain and Northern Ireland. The programmes transmitted by the BBC and, later on, the ITV stations could be picked up on television sets owned by people living in the north and east of the Irish Republic. Because they were produced for an urban consumer society, these British television programmes challenged the rural Catholic morality of southern Ireland. More importantly, the advent of television broadcasting exacerbated the rural discontent over low living standards, which was already being helped by the availability of other British media throughout southern Ireland. The Irish peasantry knew about the higher incomes of workers elsewhere in Europe not only through the experience of emigrants, but also through British newspapers, magazines and radio or television programmes. (Brown 1981: 184‑5, 216‑7) By encouraging the exodus from the land, the British electronic media played a major role in ending Fianna Fáil’s policies of economic and cultural protectionism. In turn, the availability of British radio and television programmes in northern and eastern areas of the Republic foreshadowed the opening‑up of the whole Irish economy to European and global competition.
The Limits to Irish Public Service Broadcasting
Unlike radio in the 1920s, the Irish government was forced to create a national television service in response to the reception of British signals within the boundaries of the southern state. As a first step, the Fianna Fáil government established an independent commission to find a method of establishing an Irish television service without spending a large amount of public money. In 1959, the Murnaghan commission proposed that a commercial television station should be licenced under close state regulation. However, the Fianna Fáil government decided the new station would be easier to supervise as a nationalised industry. Therefore, Radio Éireann was transformed into RTÉ (Radio Telefís Éireann), a state‑owned monopoly providing radio and television broadcasting throughout southern Ireland. (Fisher 1978: 23; Bell 1985: 40‑1) At the same time, the government removed the state radio and television stations from civil service control in the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act. During the early 1950s, a coalition government had already set up an advisory council for Radio Éireann, which partially limited the control of the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs over the state radio station. (Mac Conghail 1984: 65) Building on this experience, the 1960 Act turned the national broadcasting monopoly into an autonomous state‑owned company. Like the BBC, the state broadcasting company was run by an independent board of management, called the RTÉ Authority. This body appointed the organisation’s Director‑General, other leading members of staff and supervised the management of the broadcasting corporation. (Irish Republic 1960: 16‑7)
Even after the opening‑up of the economy, the Irish cultural nationalist version of public service broadcasting still heavily influenced the development of RTÉ. Under the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act, the state broadcasting institution remained committed to the defence of the national culture and language. Under section 17 of the 1960 Act, RTÉ was charged with helping in ‘…the national aims of restoring the Irish language and preserving and developing the national culture…’ (Irish Republic 1960: 23) This duty was reinforced by the report of the 1974 Murnaghan Broadcasting Review Committee, which more closely defined the content of the national culture preserved by the Irish form of public service broadcasting. The Committee urged RTÉ to produce more programmes on the religion, languages, folklore, work and leisure activities of the country. (Howell 1980: 230) While the spread of the electronic media was a central part of the modernisation and urbanisation of Ireland, RTÉ was still legally committed to preserving the disappearing culture of the rural areas.
The growth of the electronic media particularly threatened the survival of the remaining Irish‑speaking areas. The traditional culture of the Gaelic peasantry couldn’t compete with the innovations coming in from the anglophone world, especially television and pop music. In 1958, a government commission had called for a new government initiative to preserve the language, including the provision of electronic media in Irish. Because the number of native Irish‑speakers had declined to around 50,000, RTÉ had to finance these services with hardly any money from advertising. Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Irish language radio station, didn’t start broadcasting until 1972. Although this service only attracted about 2% of the total Irish radio audience, RTÉ did obtain a substantial listenership among the Irish‑speaking minority. But, despite repeated promises, the lack of resources prevented the state broadcaster from establishing a television service for Irish‑speaking viewers. (Howell 1982: 41‑4; Kelly and Truetzschler 1986: 153) Even so, the setting‑up of a specialist radio service for the small minority of Irish‑speakers was given priority over demands by much larger groups for pop music, local and community stations. This decision demonstrated the continued importance of preserving the old language in the Irish version of public service broadcasting.
The influence of cultural nationalism also limited RTÉ’s committment to the West European public service broadcasting values of political pluralism and impartiality. In theory, the nationalised electronic media in Ireland were supposed to be unbiased and objective in their political coverage. Under section 18 of the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act, RTÉ had to ensure its news and current affairs were ‘… presented objectively and impartially and without expression of the Authority’s own views.’ (Irish Republic 1960: 23) The regulation of impartiality was strengthened by an obligation to respect political pluralism in the 1976 Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act. Under section 3, RTÉ was required to ensure that news and current affairs programmes were ‘fair to all interests’ in their reporting. (Irish Republic 1976: 5‑7) This legal regulation was reinforced by the internal regulations for broadcasters drawn up by the management of the nationalised broadcasting corporation. According to these rules, RTÉ was legally required to include the opinions of all major political parties and social groups within their programmes.
‘The requirement to be “fair to all interests” is seen as requiring the programme‑makers to present in an equitable manner the views of persons or interests involved in a significant way in a particular issue.’ (RTÉ 1989a: 53)
However, this committment to political and social pluralism was much more limited in practice. As in Radio Éireann, the freedom of expression by broadcasters working for RTÉ was restricted by the continuing influence of Catholic nationalism in Ireland. Thus, the state broadcaster wouldn’t broadcast programmes which offended against the conservative morality of the majority of the population. In its editorial guidelines, the RTÉ management stated that the corporation’s programmes ‘… must generally reflect the mores and repect the values of the society in which it operates, acknowledging its standards of taste, decency and justice.’ (RTÉ 1989a: 51) Radio and television programmes weren’t only censored by the defenders of the sexual and cultural mores of Catholic nationalism. The state broadcasting corporation also had to reflect the secular values of republican democracy. The constitutional dispute between the two major nationalist parties was ended by their mutual acceptance of the democratic constitution of an Irish Republic restricted to the southern 26 counties. As employees of the Irish national broadcasting organisation, RTÉ workers had to be impartial between the mainstream political parties, but they couldn’t be ‘neutral’ in their ‘basic philosophy and attitudes’. (RTÉ 1989a: 51) Thus, political and cultural pluralism with Irish broadcasting was limited by conformity to both Catholic nationalism and secular republicanism.
The prohibition against attacks on republican democracy has often been used as justification for control over broadcasting by the ruling party. In Lemass’ view, RTÉ was ‘an instrument of public policy’, which had a duty to explain the policies of the government to the Irish people. (Pine and Thomas 1986: 7; Bell 1985: 45) Despite separating the national broadcasting organisation from the civil service, the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act continued the political controls established for Radio Éireann. In southern Ireland, the electronic media remained under the control of the ruling party. Under sections 4‑7, the government could appoint or dismiss the chair and members of the RTÉ Authority at will. (Irish Republic 1960: 9‑10) The representation of opposition political parties or social organisations on the management board depended upon the benevolence of the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. Furthermore, the government also had control over the finances of RTÉ. Under the 1960 Act, the RTÉ Authority needed permission from the Ministers of Posts and Telegraphs and Finance before deciding on the amount and times of advertising, the level of the licence fee, capital investments or any borrowing. (Irish Republic 1960: 25, 29‑35)
This combination of political and financial controls ensured that RTÉ remained subservient to the ruling party. For example, in the 1960s, Fianna Fáil helped de Valera’s campaign for re‑election as president by concealing his physical incapacity from the voters through their control over the corporation’s news service. The same government also covered up personal scandals involving its ministers and banned protesting farmers’ leaders from current affairs programmes. (Ryle Dwyer 1987: 32, 49‑51, 175) In turn, Fine Gael and Labour also exerted their political control over RTÉ when they were in power. In 1984, the Coalition government prevented the RTÉ Authority from nominating a new Director‑General for the corporation because its members had been appointed by Fianna Fáil. (Coogan 1987: 124‑5) These formal powers over the RTÉ news service have been reinforced by informal links between journalists and politicians, especially as the ruling party could favour certain reporters with leaks of official information. With this strong influence over the national broadcaster, Irish politicians of all parties expected deferential and respectful coverage from its reporters.
As well these adminstrative and informal controls over RTÉ, Irish governments also retained powers of direct political censorship over the programmes of the state broadcasting organisation. Under section 31 (1) of the 1960 Broadcasting Authority Act, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs could order RTÉ ‘… to refrain from broadcasting any particular matter or matter of any particular class …’ (Irish Republic 1960: 35) In this wording, the law gave unlimited censorship powers to the Irish government over radio and television broadcasting. But, in practice, section 31 remained dormant until the outbreak of political unrest in northern Ireland. During the late 1960s, the Fianna Fáil government had supported the campaign to prevent discrimination against Catholics in the northern partition state. But, the alliance between the southern Irish government and the northern nationalists was ended by the descent of the north into civil war. After the peaceful campaign for civil rights was suppressed by force, the northern nationalists started violent resistance against British rule, led by the Provisional IRA. However, the southern Irish government refused to support the armed struggle of the northern nationalists. Despite the Republic’s constitutional committment to reunification, the Irish government wanted to prevent the civil war spreading south and to avoid a confrontation with Britain.
In the early 1970s, the Fianna Fáil government introduced a series of repressive measures against the supporters of the Provisional IRA and other ‘physical force’ republican groups in Ireland. As part of this clamp‑down, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs used section 31 of the 1960 Act to forbid the appearance of anyone advocating political violence on RTÉ’s programmes. However, there was no attempt to ban newspapers or other publications supporting the armed struggle in northern Ireland. The management and staff of RTÉ protested against this discriminatory censorship of news and current affairs programmes. In 1972, the corporation decided to challenge the section 31 ban by broadcasting an interview with the military leader of the Provisional IRA. After this programme was screened, the Fianna Fáil government reasserted its control over the nationalised broadcasting corporation. The entire membership of the RTÉ Authority was sacked by the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs for supporting their news staff’s defiance of section 31. (Mac Conghail 1984: 71‑2)
At the time, the opposition parties protested against the arbitrary and unlimited powers of the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs under the 1960 Act. But, when Fine Gael and the Labour party formed a new government, they didn’t abolish the political censorship of RTÉ’s radio and television programmes. Instead, the Coalition government introduced the 1976 Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act to limit ministerial discretion over the censorship of radio and television programmes. In the Coalition Minister of Posts and Telegraphs’ view, the aim of the legislation was the replacement of the ‘absolute power’ of censorship over any matter with a narrower restriction on the appearances by members of ‘armed conspiracies’ on RTÉ programmes. In his view, continued censorship of the electronic media was needed because interviews by the national broadcasting corporation gave ‘legitimacy’ to the views of the Provisional IRA and similiar organisations. (O’Brion 1975: 39‑40; Mac Conghail 1984: 72‑3) Therefore, under the 1976 Act, the government introduced a system of approval by the Irish parliament for the banning of specific groups from the airwaves. (Irish Republic 1976: 31‑3) From 1976 onwards, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs has issued annual directives to all radio and television stations to censor any appearances by members of the Provisional IRA and other named groups. Thus, the legal restrictions on the expression of political opinions in the programmes of RTÉ and other broadcasting organisations were the joint creation of both Fianna Fáil and Coalition governments.
For the Provisional IRA, the broadcasting ban was a capitulation by the southern nationalist parties to pressure from the nation’s colonial oppressor, Great Britain. For example, under the section 31 restrictions, any group declared a ‘proscribed organisation’ in Northern Ireland by the British government was also banned from the Irish Republic’s radio and television stations. (RTÉ 1989a: 59) But, for the southern Irish nationalists, the section 31 restrictions weren’t simply a panic measure enacted under foreign influence. In their view, the censorship of political speech in RTÉ programmes was an integral part of the Irish version of public service broadcasting. As part of its national role, RTÉ had to uphold the principles of republican democracy. Therefore, the national broadcasting organisation couldn’t transmit the opinions of revolutionary groups dedicated to overthrowing the constitutional system of the Irish Republic by force. For southern nationalists, the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle against partition was also an attack on the constitutional settlement agreed between the main political parties within the Irish Republic. This revolutionary organisation not only wanted to end British rule over the north of Ireland, but also to abolish the southern partition state as well. Under section 31, the constitutional protection for the freedom of speech in radio and television broadcasting was restricted to those people who participated in politics within the rules laid down by the constitution of the Irish Republic.
In 1982, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs banned RTÉ from transmitting any party political broadcasts for the general elections by Sinn Féin, the legal political party of the Provisional IRA. (RTÉ 1989a: 59‑60) In response, Sinn Féin challenged the constitutionality of this directive under article 40.6.1 of the 1937 constitution, which guaranteed the freedom of speech. (Bunreacht na hEireann 1980: 133‑4) In their submission, Sinn Féin argued that the prevention of their party political broadcasts was ‘… inconsistent with the democratic nature of the State’ because the party was prevented from expressing its views to the voters through radio and television programmes. (Supreme Court 1982: 5‑6) However, the Supreme Court judges ruled that the section 31 restrictions were consistent with the ‘democratic nature’ of the Irish Republic. In their view, article 40.6.1 not only guaranteed the freedom of speech in the mass media, but also placed specific obligations on the ‘organs of public opinion’, such as radio and television broadcasting. According to the Supreme Court, the constitutional provision prohibited any individual or group from using the electronic media ‘… to undermine public order or public morality or the authority of the State.’ (Supreme Court 1982: 11; Bunreacht na hEireann 1980: 133‑4) Because the leaders of Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA called for the abolition of the southern partition state, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs was justified in banning members of these organisations from RTÉ programmes as a subversive organisation. (Supreme Court 1982a: 11‑3) Thus, in their judgement, the Supreme Court judges reiterated the established view of southern Irish secular republicanism, where the defence of republican democracy for all citizens was more important than the right of free speech of individuals.
‘A democratic State has a clear and bounden duty to protect its citizens and its institutions from those who seek to replace law and order by force and anarchy.’ (Supreme Court 1982a: 13)
By declaring the section 31 ban to be constitutional, the Supreme Court confirmed that Sinn Féin supporters had no right of free speech in radio and television broadcasting. Under Irish broadcasting law, they could be not only prevented from arguing for support for the armed struggle in northern Ireland, but also from expressing an opinion on any other matter as well. During the 1970s and 1980s, Sinn Féin members were banned from participating in radio phone‑ins, giving eye‑witness accounts of events or even reading the lesson for a televised mass. (Irish Reporter 1990: 13) Moreover, the section 31 restrictions didn’t just affect members of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. The ban was also used to impose a ‘total blackout’ on the coverage of the civil war within Northern Ireland in RTÉ news and current affairs output. Because of section 31, all programmes on the north had to be supervised by the highest levels of RTÉ’s management. (RTÉ 1989a: 60) Through fear of direct intervention, successive Irish governments restrained broadcasters from making critical programmes about the problems of northern Ireland. In the opinion of many people, ‘… a credible and comprehensive programme about the political situation in the North could not be made today [in the 1990s] by RTÉ.’ (Irish Reporter 1990: 14)
After the introduction of the section 31 controls, Sinn Féin spokespeople continued to be interviewed on the BBC’s and ITV’s news bulletins, which were widely available in southern Ireland. However, in 1988, the British government introduced its own ban on appearances by Sinn Féin members on British radio and television programmes. The British censorship of Sinn Féin ended this major loophole – and removed any embarassment for the Irish government over its own media clampdown on supporters of the Provisional IRA. Ironically, the tightening of censorship during this decade coincided with the increasing participation in electoral politics by Sinn Féin, with the 1984 party conference recognising the constitution of the southern partition state. But, these changes in strategy did not remove Sinn Féin’s intimate connection with the Provisional IRA, which acted outside the Irish constitution. The overt imposition of political censorship clearly distinguished the Irish version of public service broadcasting from its equivalents in most West European countries, which instead emphasised political pluralism over internal security. However, since the 1970s, the radio and television stations in most other members of the European Community hadn’t had to deal with armed revolutionary groups with a substantial political base operating in their territory. As with other institutions, the specificity of Irish public service broadcasting was shaped by the persistance of the colonial past in the present.
The Modernisation of Ireland
Although Fianna Fáil remained formally committed to ending partition, the introduction of repressive measures against the Provisional IRA and its supporters finished any real attempts to achieve reunification by the party. When Fianna Fáil was founded, its members believed that the full political and economic independence of Ireland could only be achieved by the end of British rule over the northern counties of the country. (Boland 1982: 7‑14, 140‑2) But, after many years of government, Fianna Fáil’s committment to Irish reunification had become rhetorical. The constitutional settlement had not only reconciled the party’s members with the southern partition state, but also attracted a new generation of supporters. In the 1920s and 1930s, Fianna Fáil had been run by the ‘comrades in arms’ from the Civil War period. By the 1960s, Lemass had transfered power within the party to the ‘mohair suits’, who were close friends of the rising capitalists of southern Ireland. The end of help for the northern nationalists was a crucial victory for these new members over the republican old guard within Fianna Fáil. For the ‘mohair suits’, Fianna Fáil was an electoral machine, which delivered patronage to its voters and power to its politicians. In modern Ireland, winning elections and making money were more important than fulfilling republican aspirations. (Ryle Dwyer 1987: 39; Coogan 1987: 20‑3, 40) While the Provisional IRA continued the fight for complete national independence, Fianna Fáil wanted to run southern Ireland as a thriving region of the European Community.
The shift in political position by Fianna Fáil also reflected the rapid modernisation of southern Ireland. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Republic had the highest growth rate in Western Europe. After the end of protectionism, foreign multinationals invested heavily in the Irish economy as a low‑cost, English-speaking base within the European market, especially in engineering, pharmaceuticals and electronics. By the 1980s, over half of the businesses operating within the Irish economy were subsidiaries of foreign multinationals or banks. In turn, the opening‑up of the Irish economy encouraged some local firms to expand into overseas markets. Soon, there were multinational companies owned by Irish entrepreneurs, notably in food‑processing and construction. Underpinning this rapid expansion of the economy was the strategy of peripheral Fordism followed by the Irish state, which helped foreign investors through grants, taxbreaks and infrastructural investments. However, this state aid for industrial investments was financed through ever increasing foreign loans and budget deficits. (Coogan 1987: 4‑5, 126; Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 74)
In 1972, over two‑thirds of the electorate voted in favour of membership of the European Community by the Irish Republic. (Lyons 1973: 588) For most Irish people, the goal of an autarchic nation state was no longer credible or desireable. What is more, the abandonment of protectionist policies had actually lessened Ireland’s economic dependence on Great Britain by creating new export markets in the other West European countries. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 39) The acceptance of European integration by the Irish voters also reflected the rapid fall in the number of self‑sufficent farmers within the country. From the 1960s onwards, there was a massive shift in employment from farming into industrial or office jobs. Although the European Community’s agricultural policies subsidised agriculture, Ireland rapidly changed from a nation of peasants into a society of wage‑workers. In parallel, individual property in land ceased to be the dominant form of wealth. Instead, manufacturing and financial joint‑stock companies were at the centre of the economy. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 54‑9) While agriculture remained an important employer and exporter, the majority of jobs and overseas trade were within the manufacturing, food‑processing and service sectors. (Department of Foreign Affairs 1990: 8‑10) This modernisation of the economy had rapidly diminished the numbers of self‑sufficent peasants and shopkeepers, who were the social basis of de Valera’s autarchic nation‑state. Ireland was turning into a Fordist industrial country, with a growing class division between the owners of joint‑stock companies and the workers who were employed by them.
Accompanying the growth in wage‑labour was the decline of the rural population. Whereas only one‑third of the population lived in towns in the 1920s, over half of southern Irish people were living in urban areas by the 1970s. This urbanisation was concentrated in a few cities, with over a third of the population living in the Dublin area. (Brown 1981: 257‑8) The spread of wage‑labour and urban living started changing the social attitudes of the Irish people. Instead of the peasant extended family, the Irish started living in urban nuclear families. In turn, there was a slow increase in the number of women entering paid employment. In place of frugal rural living, these new wage workers could enjoy the commodities of the consumer society. As Irish Catholicism had been built around the puritan morality of the peasantry, the Church’s teachings on sexual morality and personal frugality were increasingly ignored by the urban population, especially among younger people.
By 1990, three‑quarters of teenagers approved of sex before marriage and nearly two‑thirds agreed with the right to divorce. (Black 1990) Although the Church had slowed down this process of secularisation by building strong congregations in most urban areas, it was unable to reverse the slow decline in the faith. (Brown 1981: 219‑21) Moreover, the modernisation of Ireland led to a dramatic fall in the number of clergy and nuns. Without their cheap labour, the Church slowly had to relinguish some of its control over the education and health services to the state. All these developments combined to spread secular attitudes within the overwhelmingly Catholic Irish Republic. For example, in an important hearing on the legality of contraceptives, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual rights of citizens took precedence over the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Within the southern partition state, the process of modernisation was strengthening secular republicanism at the expense of Catholic nationalism. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 108‑11)
Modernisation as Commercial Broadcasting
The availability of the electronic media encouraged these social and cultural changes in Ireland. Although set ownership spread slowly in rural areas, almost everyone in urban areas soon had a television. The rapid success of television reflected the changing lifestyles of the Irish people. The television set was the centre of the new urban household. Watching the box had become the favourite leisure activity of the Irish, with the average viewer consuming around 3 hours each night. (Brown 1981: 261; Ox Pictures 1990) In their programmes and adverts, the radio and television stations usually reflected urban life, rather than the rural concerns of traditional culture. According to Bishop Cathal Daly, any foreign visitor watching RTÉ television wouldn’t guess that Ireland had the highest rate of church attendance in Western Europe. (O’Tauthaigh 1984: 100) However, unlike the Church, the Irish electronic media were able to articulate the new cultural and moral world of an urban Ireland. For example, in many people’s view, Gay Byrne’s radio and television programmes played a major role in encouraging the emergence of more liberal social and sexual attitudes in the south. (Coogan 1987: 2)
The modernisation process also changed the nature of the Irish electronic media. Over the decades, RTÉ had created a specifically Irish model of public service broadcasting based on the defence of the national culture. The electronic media had been nationalised to provide Irish programmes reflecting the distinct world‑view of the country. However, from the 1960s onwards, RTÉ steadily increased the proportion of imported programmes in its schedules. The corporation continued to provide a comprehensive news service, but increasingly relied on imports for its entertainment programmes. In 1978, this process was accelerated by the launching of the second RTÉ television station, Network 2. While the corporation produced nearly 60% of its own programmes in 1965, the number of home‑made shows fell to below 40% in 1980. By this date, RTÉ was showing more imported programmes than any other television company in European Community. (Howell 1982: 46) The existence of a state monopoly over broadcasting was no longer restricting the influence of foreign ideas on Irish society. On the contrary, the RTÉ was spreading the consumer culture of the USA, Australia and Britain throughout the country.
For the RTÉ management, the abandonment of the basic tenets of Irish public service broadcasting occured for pragmatic reasons. The introduction of television had been initially financed by the licence fee. But, after the early years of rapidly rising revenues as set ownership spread, the growth in income for RTÉ was limited to increases in advertising revenue. In this new situation, the corporation had to transmit programmes which would attract audiences for their advertisers. As in other countries, most Irish viewers wanted to watch many hours of entertainment programmes. Hence, RTÉ filled its schedules with soaps, dramas, comedies, films and game shows. With the introduction of Network 2, the corporation didn’t have the resources to fill the increased hours of broadcasting with its own programmes. As a result, its management decided to buy cheaper American, Australian or British entertainment programmes to fill the gaps in their schedules. By stages, RTÉ had changed the definition of Irish public service broadcasting from defending cultural separatism to pleasing the Irish viewers and advertisers. In place of national identity, the corporation embraced the logic of commercial competition.
In 1978, RTÉ launched both Network 2 and 2FM, a second national radio station. The new television channel mostly transmitted entertainment programmes and gave little airtime to educational or minority interests. Similiarly, 2FM provided a Top 40 format for younger listeners with only minimal speech content. (Mulryan 1988: 60‑1) Both these stations reflected the transformation of Irish public service broadcasting during modernisation. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Radio Éireann had provided a variety of programmes for the whole Irish nation. Insulated by state funding, the corporation’s success was judged by its contribution to national cultural self‑sufficency. But, by the 1970s, RTÉ’s reliance on advertising for half its revenue had changed these goals. The management of Network 2 and 2FM were aiming to win the maximum possible audience. Instead of uniting the Irish people within a common national culture, RTÉ started segmenting its audience into distinct target groups. The adoption of a Top 40 format by 2FM was a recognition of the generational and class divisions appearing within Irish society. Unlike de Valera, the ‘mohair suit’ politicians were unwilling to fund RTÉ adequately from the licence fee or taxation to maintain the cultural unity of the nation. With protectionism over, they were happy for the state broadcaster to divide its audience into distinct groups if this policy increased the amount of money raised from advertising.
Despite commercialisation, RTÉ encountered a growing financial crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When the recession restricted advertising, the corporation was unable to cover its increased costs by selling more commercials. By 1982, RTÉ had deficit of I£2.8m out of a total income of I£56.4m. (Bell 1985: 28) Without help and reorganisation, the Irish state broadcasting organisation was heading towards bankruptcy. The financial crisis speeded up the development of commercial attitudes within RTÉ. In response to the global recession, the Fine Gael and Labour coalition government restructured all Irish nationalised companies to prevent further losses. (Mitchell 1990a) The Minister of Communications commissioned independent consultants to examine the ‘efficency’ of the corporation. In this report, the defence of the national culture took second place to the ‘value for money’ of RTÉ. (SKC 1985: 3) The consultants recommended cutting 15% of the staff, as well as raising advertising rates and introducing sponsorship. (SKC 1985: 20‑1, 25) In addition, they proposed that RTÉ should extend its involvement in other media ventures, such as cable television systems, local radio stations and broadcasting to Great Britain. (SKC 1985: 23) By internal restructuring and diversification, the corporation was able to recover its profitability by the late 1980s. The corporation was even able to increase the number of home‑produced programmes to half of its schedule in primetime. (RTÉ 1989: 2) But, this financial recovery was achieved through further commercialisation of this national institution. By the late 1980s, RTÉ was not only a public service broadcaster, but also an entrepreneurial multi‑media company.
In other European countries, the funding of radio and television stations by advertising had also encouraged commercialism within public service broadcasting organisations. In Ireland, the pressure to win large audiences was intensified by competition from British television stations. Because of a mountain range in the middle of the country, only viewers in northern and eastern Ireland were able to receive the signals from these foreign stations. Intensifying existing social divisions, the country was separated into urban ‘multi‑channel’ and rural ‘single‑channel’ areas. (Howell 1980: 227) Facing competition from British stations in the richer urban areas, RTÉ orientated its programmes towards the town‑dwellers. As Radio Éireann, the state broadcaster had tried to preserve the traditional culture of the peasantry. However, RTÉ could no longer transmit this type of programmes against competition from British stations. The need to win mass audience marginalised previously revered types of programmes, such as broadcasts in the Irish language. (Kelly and Truetzschler 1986: 155)
During de Valera’s rule, leading nationalists had denounced the influence of foreign broadcasting in Ireland as a form of cultural imperialism. Once autarchy was abandoned, most Irish politicians completely changed their attitudes towards foreign cultural influences. From the 1960s onwards, they started welcoming the availability of British television stations within southern Ireland. Many believed exposure to programmes from an industrialised country would help the development of Ireland by encouraging an urban outlook. In the mid‑1970s, the Coalition government proposed relaying the programmes of BBC1 in the ‘single‑channel’ areas of the Irish Republic. In part, Conor Cruise O’Brien, its Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, was trying to win permission from the British government to broadcast RTÉ signals across Northern Ireland. (O’Brion 1975: 40‑1) But, he also wanted to expose the Irish people to the cultural influences of British television. In his view, BBC programmes were an antidote to the parochial and insular attitudes of many inhabitants of the Irish Republic. For O’Brien, the English language was no longer seen as a barrier to national identity, but a means of participating in the wider world. (Moran 1990) In a parliamentary debate, the Minister completely repudiated the old arguments in favour of cultural protectionism:
‘…I believe that to open windows rather than to close them is the more natural function of broadcasting and television and also the one of which our national culture, generously interpreted, stands the more in need.’ (Howell 1980: 231)
Because of this ‘open window’ policy, the Irish government tolerated the growth of cable systems relaying British television services in the urban areas. (Moran 1990) During the late 1960s, private cable operators started building primitive networks to distribute British television signals to homes with reception difficulties in the ‘multi‑channel’ areas. In 1974, the government introduced regulations for cable operators and imposed a 15% levy on subscriptions to compensate RTÉ for the increased competition. (Kelly and Truetzschler 1986: 160) By the early 1980s, the desire to watch British television stations had created the highest density of cable users within the European Community in Dublin. However, RTÉ didn’t suffer because of the loss of its viewers to British stations. As part of its policy of diversification, the corporation took over the major private cable operators, including the largest cable network in Dublin. (Moran 1990; Bell and Meehan 1989: 99) Thus, through its cable subsidiary, RTÉ introduced satellite television stations for its subscribers in the late 1980s. Once again, instead of protecting an autonomous Irish world‑view, the corporation extended the availability of foreign influences for commercial reasons.
Despite the popularity of British programmes, Irish viewers consistently showed a strong demand for home‑produced programmes. When a referendum was held on the proposal to relay BBC1 programmes to the ‘single‑channel’ areas in 1975, a two‑thirds majority opted for a second RTÉ station instead. (Howell 1980: 234) Similiarly, in the late 1980s, no satellite television service was able to build up a dedicated audience apart from MTV. There was even only a limited demand for the premium satellite services, such as film channels. (Bell and Meehan 1989: 102‑4) The favourite programmes of Irish viewers tended to be Irish programmes, with nine out of the ten top shows on RTÉ1 being home‑produced in 1988. (RTÉ 1989: 15) Responding to its audience’s tastes, the state broadcaster reduced its use of imported material in its schedules during the late 1980s. This policy increased RTÉ’s share of the audience in ‘multi‑channel’ areas from 40% to 45%. (RTÉ 1989: 2, 9) When it led to higher ratings, the corporation was willing to fulfill its traditional public service committments.
But, RTÉ was less successful in dominating the expansion of radio broadcasting in Ireland. For decades, there was only one radio station within the Irish Republic, which aimed to produce programmes for the whole nation. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, the modernisation of the country created the social conditions for a home‑grown variant of the global youth culture. Van Morrison and other Irish rock pioneers were laying the foundations for the later international success of Planxty, U2 and other local bands. Interestingly, the popularity of many Irish artists was based on their synthesis of traditional folk music with modern African‑American styles. Before the advent of 2FM, the RTÉ national radio station was unable to satisfy simultaneously the conservative tastes of their older audience and the desire of a new generation for pop music. The pirate radio stations soon won the younger listeners by adopting a Top 40 schedule. (Mulryan 1988: 22‑3) With a growing listenership, the music pirates attracted advertising from companies selling to this lucrative market. Once illegal broadcasting became profitable, the hobbyist stations were replaced by commercial operations in Dublin and other big cities. Although outside the law, these ‘superpirates’ used large transmitters, introduced formats for their programmes and employed professional presenters. By 1983, the most successful Dublin unlicenced station had reached a turn‑over of around I£1m a year. Four years later, another ‘superpirate’ became the most popular station in the captial city among listeners under 50. With the industry still illegal, commercial radio stations were earning over I£2.5m each year in Dublin alone. (Mulryan 1988: 87‑144)
The pirate radio stations were able to evade the law against illegal broadcasting through loopholes in the 1926 Act. Over time, inflation had weakened the fines imposed for defying the law. In 1983, a major attempt to close down the pirates ended in failure because of these light penalties. (Mulryan 1988: 10, 112‑3) But, the survival of the pirates also depended on their popularity among potential voters. No Irish government was strong enough to close down the pirates before providing an alternative service for their listeners. (Mitchell 1990a) In 1978, RTÉ set up a second national station with a pop music format. However, the corporation had difficulties adopting the techniques of commercial music radio in its most traditional sector of activities. For years, many listeners thought 2FM ‘… was like a priest running a disco.’ (Mulryan 1988: 76) Once RTÉ had failed to stop the rise of the ‘superpirates’, many politicians decide to tolerate the illegal stations. In the 1981 elections, all major parties contributed to programmes on the major Dublin pirates. (Mulryan 1988: 77‑8) Some pirates were even more closely involved with the political parties. During the 1982 election, a Dublin ‘superpirate’ not only campaigned for Fianna Fáil, but also set up a unlicenced propaganda station for the party. (Mulryan 1988: 91‑3)
Throughout the 1980s, successive Irish governments attempted to pass new legislation on radio broadcasting. On the one hand, these bills were designed to repress the pirates by raising the penalties for transmitting without official permission. On the other hand, these laws also legalised these illegal operations by providing licences for more radio stations. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supported the legalising commercial stations under some form of regulatory body. While a Fianna Fáil government tried to establish an Independent Radio Authority in 1981, a Fine Gael minister introduced legislation for a Local Radio Commission in 1985. (Mulryan 1988: 65; Pine and Thomas 1986: 13) But, each party was unable to pass an act through the Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. During this period, Fianna Fáil never stayed in power long enough to complete its legislation and Fine Gael’s attempts to introduce an act were blocked by its Labour coalition partners.
In the 1985 Local Radio Bill, the Fine Gael Minister for Communications proposed the granting of licences for both commercial and community stations. However, the Labour Party sabotaged the introduction of legal commercial radio stations. In their view, commercial operators were just interested in quick profits and would only provide ‘lowest common denominator’ programmes for the listeners. (Mulryan 1988: 110, 153) Instead, the Labour party wanted to restrict licences to community stations, owned by voluntary organisations or co‑operatives. During the 1980s, a few pirates were run as community radio stations, giving access to the airwaves to many groups for the first time. (Mulryan 1988: 81‑3) Represented by the National Association of Community Broadcasters (NACB), these stations campaigned the licencing and regulation of community stations as part of any expansion of radio broadcasting. However, although unimpressed by the ‘superpirates’, the NACB didn’t oppose the licencing of all commercial stations. Instead, the main oppostion to commercial radio stations came from RTÉ, which was afraid of losing its advertising revenue to increased competition. The corporation wanted to take a leading role in any new radio stations, by running their technical facilities and having a substantial share‑holding. However, the Fine Gael Minister for Communications was not prepared to allow RTÉ to dominate the new independent stations. In his view, ‘I would prefer to do nothing and sit and wait until the time was opportune to do something rather than do something that I didn’t believe in’. (Mitchell 1990a) With Labour party refusing to compromise, the Minister for Communications tolerated the existence of 70 illegal stations within the Irish Republic. (Pine and Thomas 1986: 13; Mulryan 1988: 117‑8)
The success of the ‘superpirates’ effectively broke the RTÉ’s monopoly over the Irish‑owned electronic media. The emergence of a commercial sector of broadcasting was the culmination of the decline of the specifically Irish version of public service broadcasting. Once protectionism was ended, the policy of cultural separatism was also doomed. In competition with British stations, RTÉ could have emphasised the national distinctiveness of Ireland, especially its Catholic heritage. But, because it needed to large audiences to raise advertising revenue, the corporation offered a similiar mix of urban entertainment programmes as its foreign rivals. Far from insulating the Irish people from alien ideas, RTÉ became a major supplier of imported programmes and foreign television stations to the Irish viewers. During the 1970s and 1980s, RTÉ had evolved from a defender of the national culture into a semi‑commercial multi‑media corporation, with limited public service committments. However, the commercialisation of the state broadcasting company made the continuation of its monopoly increasingly unteneable. For most Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians, there was little difference between 2FM and a ‘superpirate’ as both were playing pop music and were funded by advertising. The successful adoption of commercialism by RTÉ opened the way for a fully independent commercial broadcasting sector in the Irish Republic.
The Neo‑Liberal Consensus
Like other members of the European Community, the Irish Republic was severely affected by the ‘monetarist shock’ of the early 1980s. The international recession exacerbated internal economic problems caused by rising foreign debts and continuous budget deficits. When the world economy faltered, the strategy of peripheral Fordism followed by successive Irish governments was already reaching its fiscal limits. In response, Irish governments adopted the neo‑liberal policies introduced in other industrialised countries, such as the USA, Great Britain and France. Under a Fine Gael and Labour coalition government, public spending was reduced and the nationalised industries were restructured to cut their losses. These deflationary policies were coupled with ‘supply‑side’ measures to encourage new private enterprises, such as financial services. In opposition, Fianna Fáil defended its traditional sources of patronage by advocating increased support for the nationalised industries and more welfare spending. However, after its victory in the 1987 election, the party implemented the same neo‑liberal economic policies as its Coalition predecessor. As in 1958, Fianna Fáil abandoned its fundemental principles to retain its dominance over Irish political life. With increasing support from private enterprise, the party was no longer dependent on its traditional patronage networks in the government bureaucracy and the nationalised industries. Instead, Fianna Fáil created business opportunities for its richer supporters through the deregulation and privatisation of the economy. by the late‑1980s, there was a complete consensus within the Irish political establishment over the adoption of neo‑liberal economic policies for the southern state. (Breen, Hannan, Rottman & Whelan 1990: 209‑221; Coogan 1987: 71‑3)
The change in policies by Fianna Fáil reflected the urbanisation of the Irish population, which undermined the social basis of the division between the two nationalist parties. As the mass of the population were turned into wage‑workers, the traditional competition between the two ‘cross‑class’ parties became increasingly anachronistic. From the 1960s onwards, the Labour party tried to move Irish politics towards the European system of antagonistic class‑based parties. In the 1970s, a split within the revolutionary nationalist movement led to the creation of the Workers’ Party, which also campaigned on a socialist programme. However, the class polarisation of Irish politics between conservative and social democratic parties was never fully achieved. The Left has never become either the government or the main opposition within the Irish Republic. Instead, during the 1970s and 1980s, the Labour party participated in coalition governments with Fine Gael. Although its leaders became ministers, the unpopularity of these governments delayed the achievement of the Left’s long‑term goal of creating a social democratic alternative within Irish politics. However, the neo‑liberal consensus between the two nationalist parties in recent years has increased pressures for a realignment within the political system. (Coogan 1987: 14, 62‑8) In November 1990, an alliance between Labour and the Workers’ Party secured the victory of Mary Robinson in the election for the presidency of the Irish Republic. Although the president’s powers were limited, the polarisation of voters between conservative and social democratic candidates in the presidential election weakened – if only temporarily – the old system of two rival nationalist parties.
For the Right, neo‑liberalism was a replacement for the traditional synthesis between Catholic nationalism and secular republicanism. In 1983 and 1986, fundamentalist Catholic pressure groups won two referendums in favour of constitutional prohibitions on abortion and divorce. As in the past, voters supported the repressive morality of the Church to protect the family ownership of land and other property. (Coogan 1987: 81, 97‑111; Breen, Hannan, Rottman and Whelan 1990: 108‑11) However, while few nationalist politicians openly opposed the Church, all right‑wing parties continued the economic policies which were undermining the social basis of repressive catholic morality. Since 1958, no major conservative party had advocated a return to economic and cultural separatism. But, if Catholic nationalism was unable to supply a coherent economic or social programme for the southern nationalists, secular republicanism also couldn’t provide a distinctive right‑wing programme. With failure of the Provisional IRA to secure the support of more than a committed minority in the south, all major parties within the Irish Republic were advocates of a republican democracy limited to the 26 counties. In place of these traditional ideologies, the Irish conservative parties followed their American and European colleagues by adopting neo‑liberal economic policies of deregulation and privatisation. From the 1950s onwards, both nationalist parties sought political power through raising the living standards of Irish voters by increased economic growth. Although Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had abandoned peripheral Fordist economics, the party leaderships maintained their political strategy of winning votes through increasing the incomes of the electorate. As in 1958, the national autonomy of Ireland took second place to the need for economic development.
But, the neo‑liberal consensus between the nationalist parties disguised the instability within these political organisations. The social democratic alternative could only be created by the realignment of all right-wing parties into one block. During the 1980s, leading nationalist politicians competed to build a conservative alliance based upon the common programme of neo‑liberalism. With increased urbanisation and the privatisation of the economy, the traditional networks of state patronage run by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were weakened. Instead, both conservative parties became increasingly reliant on their supporters within corporate and small business sectors. With the end of ideological differences, competition between these two party machines was reduced to a battle between celebrity leaders and their financial backers. Despite the split by the Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil reemerged as the dominant party within the Irish political system. As a ‘catch‑all’ party, Fianna Fáil retained most of its support among the peasantry and petit‑bourgeoisie while implementing the economic policies of big business. Moreover, under Charlie Haughey’s leadership, the party was able to carry out the ‘strokes’ and ‘deals’ needed to hold onto political power during a series of indecisive elections during the late 1980s. (Coogan 1987: 46‑7) After national autarchy and peripheral Fordism, Fianna Fáil had now become the champion of deregulation and privatisation.
Controlled Liberalism in Broadcasting
The decline in the traditional patronage networks of the nationalist parties lessened the dependence of voters on personal favours from politicians. Instead of direct contacts, politicians increasingly had to win support through appearances on the electronic media. Many Irish politicians had an ambiguous relationship with radio and television broadcasting. On the one hand, they needed to appear on the electronic media to win elections. On the other hand, they didn’t trust the state broadcaster to treat their party favourably in its news and current affairs programmes. These contradictory attitudes were particularly held by Haughey when he led Fianna Fáil. During elections, he ran presidential‑style campaigns centred on the electronic media. Yet, Haughey also resented the decline in deference among radio and television journalists. (Ryle Dwyer 1987: 175) During the 1960s, Haughey had censored RTÉ news and current affairs programmes for Fianna Fáil. However, by time he had become party leader, Haughey could no longer directly control the nationalised broadcasting corporation. By winning autonomy from the politicians, RTÉ began setting its own news agenda in the coverage of national political life. Imitating the journalists of other European public service stations, ‘most [RTÉ] reporters will go for the story and not for the political niceties of the time.’ (Gagan 1990)
Because he never accepted the independence of journalists, Haughey continually came into conflict with the mass media. In 1982, a Fianna Fáil minister was discovered to be tapping the telephones of reporters working for newspapers hostile to the government. During the Progressive Democrats’ split, Haughey blamed the internal crisis of Fianna Fáil on a ‘media conspiracy’ led by RTÉ. (Ryle Dwyer 1987: 191‑8; Coogan 1987: 50) According to Haughey, the corporation’s news team was dominated by members of the Workers’ Party, ‘Dublin 4 intellectuals’ and trade unionists. Because of their left‑wing sympathies, the RTÉ journalists had formed an alliance with two national newspapers to discredit the government in their political coverage. (Ryle Dwyer 1987: 201; McCann 1990; Mulryan 1988: 139) For Fianna Fáil supporters, these accusations were proved by the stories covered in RTÉ’s news programmes. Many Fianna Fáil members blamed television coverage of the cuts in health spending for preventing an outright victory in the 1987 election. This controversy was soon followed by an accusation of corruption against the Minister of Tourism and Transport made by a RTÉ journalist during a radio interview. For Fianna Fáil supporters, one of the main tasks of the Haughey government was ending the left-wing bias of the corporation’s news programmes. (Dempsey 1990; Gagan 1990)
Despite appointing an RTÉ Authority dominated by Fianna Fáil supporters, it was no longer possible to impose direct political censorship over news and current affairs programmes on the state-owned channels. Looking for another solution, the Haughey government decided to end the corporation’s monopoly over the coverage of national politics by licencing new commercial radio and television stations. (Murphy 1990) According to Ray Burke, the Minister for Communications, the ‘fundamental objective’ of Fianna Fáil’s media policies was to create alternative sources of news and current affairs programmes outside the control of RTÉ. (Burke 1990: 1571; Burke 1990c) To achieve this goal, the Minister didn’t just create licences for local commercial stations, as in the previous Coalition bill on broadcasting. Ignoring the advice of his officials, Burke decided to award franchises for a national radio station and a national television service as well. (Moran 1990) The Fianna Fáil leadership believed the introduction of commercial broadcasting would politically benefit their party in two main ways. Firstly, commercial radio and television stations were more likely to provide sympathetic coverage of the neo-liberal politics of Fianna Fáil than the ‘left‑wing’ news team of RTÉ, especially if these new media outlets were owned by members of the party. Secondly, the competition from these new commercial stations would bring pressure for a more ‘balanced’ news coverage by the state broadcasting corporation. In the past, Fianna Fáil had tried to control the electronic media through the nationalisation of broadcasting. Under Haughey, the party hoped to achieve the same aim through the privatisation of radio and television broadcasting.
In Fianna Fáil’s media policy, the political goal of news services outside RTÉ control took precedence over any consideration of the economic constraints on commercial broadcasting in southern Ireland. (Hogan 1990) At the same time, the introduction of commercial broadcasting formed part of the neo‑liberal economic policies adopted by the Fianna Fáil government. According to the Irish Development Agency, southern Ireland needed to create a ‘post‑industrial’ economy based on the information technology sector, including the electronic media. In its view, the success of this post-industrial strategy could only be secured by the further integration of the Irish economy within the world market through deregulation and privatisation. (Bell and Meehan 1989: 106‑7) Similarly, Burke argued that the dismantling of the state monopoly over broadcasting and the licencing of new commercial stations was an integral part of the liberalisation of the wider Irish economy. In adopting this strategy, the Minister was inspired by the examples of other European Community members, who were licencing commercial stations as part of their neo‑liberal economic policies. (Burke 1990b: 1148; Burke 1990c) Moreover, Burke believed that the recent history of Irish broadcasting had created the conditions for the introduction of commercial radio and television stations. In his view, the success of the ‘superpirates’ had already demonstrated ‘… a dissatisfaction with the monopolistic state‑run broadcasting services and a failure on their part to respond and adapt to public demand.’ (Burke 1990: 1571) The Minister claimed that a greater choice of services for Irish listeners and viewers could only be created by the application of neo‑liberal policies in the electronic media. (Burke 1990c) As in other areas of the economy, the needs of consumers could only be satisfied by market competition between different producers.
In accordance with the principles of ‘supply‑side’ economics, Burke initially wanted to introduce a mainly ‘self‑regulatory’ system of commercial broadcasting in southern Ireland. In his view, the financial dependence of commercial stations on advertising largely removed the necessity for close regulation by the state. Instead, the competition between the stations for an audience would make the new services respond to the needs of the public. (Mulryan 1988: 151) However, even in this deregulatory approach, it was necessary to outlaw pirate radio stations altogether. With the support of all parties, the Minister for Communications introduced legislation which closed all loopholes in the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act. Under articles 6 and 12 of the new law, the size of fines was substantially increased and the number of offences connected with unlicenced broadcasting considerably extended. In addition, in articles 4, 5 and 7, the 1988 Broadcasting Act prohibited the provision of a wide range of services to pirate radio stations, including electricity, telephone lines and premises. Crucially, the buying of advertising on unlicenced stations was outlawed by the new law. (Irish Republic 1988: 5‑18) After a decade of tolerance, the 1988 Broadcasting Act signalled the end of pirate radio stations in southern Ireland. Within months of the passing of the legislation, most unlicenced stations had closed down and were preparing to apply for one of the new commercial radio franchises.
Although there was little opposition to the law against the pirates, the Minister for Communications encountered more difficulties in winning support for a second piece of legislation implementing his proposals for lightly regulated commercial stations. At first, Burke decided against setting up any form of supervisory body for this new type of broadcasting. As part of his scheme of minimum regulation, the Department of Communications would oversee the commercial sector itself, including the distribution of franchises for the new stations. However, the opposition parties strongly denounced these proposals. Under the Coalition government, a Local Radio Commission had been established to licence and regulate stations during its abortive broadcasting bill. According to Fine Gael and Labour, an independent regulatory authority was necessary to prevent the Minister for Communications awarding licences his friends or ignoring infractions of the law in return for political favours. (Mitchell 1990a) Under pressure, Burke agreed to abandon his scheme for deparmental control over the commercial sector. Instead, the Minister established an autonomous regulatory body, called the Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC).
Under article 4 of the 1988 Radio and Television Act, the IRTC was set up to licence and regulate the new commercial stations. (Irish Republic 1988a: 4‑5) The new law protected the autonomy of the IRTC by preventing the Minister from sacking its members without the approval of both houses of parliament. (Irish Republic 1988a: 16) As with the RTÉ Authority, the institutional self‑awareness of the IRTC prevented its complete subservience to the ruling party. Moreover, the IRTC had inherited its officials from the Department of Communications, who had been trained the civil service tradition of impartiality. These bureaucrats also acted as a partial check on overt political favouritism by the IRTC commissioners. But, despite these arrangements, this regulatory body was not really independent of the ruling party. Under the second 1988 law, the members of the IRTC board were directly appointed by the government for a period of 7 to 10 years. The Minister for Communications was under no obligation to nominate representatives of the opposition parties or autonomous social groups as IRTC commissioners. (Irish Republic 1988a: 16) The Fianna Fáil government rejected proposals for the appointment of the IRTC members by the independent Local Appointments Committee. (McCartan 1990) What is more, Burke had no scruples about using these powers of appointment in the 1988 Radio and Television Act. Although its first chairman was a Supreme Court judge, the 9 other members of the Commission were avowed supporters of the government. (Connelly 1990) In the words of Dick Spring, the Labour party leader, ‘… with the exception of the chairman, [the IRTC] was loaded to the gills with prominent Fianna Fáil activists.’ (Spring 1990: 1603)
The Legalisation of Commercial Radio Broadcasting
The IRTC was kept under close political control because of its extensive powers over commercial broadcasting. The Minister for Communications did retain some important powers over this new legalised sector, such as choosing the number and location of the radio franchises across the country. (Irish Republic 1988a: 6) However, all other important decisions were delegated to the IRTC, including the licencing and regulation of every commercial station. Under article 6 of the 1988 Radio and Television Act, this regulatory body was charged with awarding radio franchises to the ‘most suitable applicant’. The law defined ‘suitability’ in two distinct ways. On the one hand, candidates for radio licences had to possess the money and expertise to run a station. On the other hand, the aspiring operators had to promise to observe various public service committments, such as making their programmes for a specific locality or interest group. (Irish Republic 1988a: 8 ) In addition, the 1988 Act retained many elements of the Irish model of public service broadcasting. The IRTC was supposed to award franchises to those stations which could produce programmes on ‘Irish culture’ and provide ‘new opportunities for Irish talent in music, drama and entertainment.’ (Irish Republic 1988a: 7) After the franchise was awarded, the IRTC was charged with enforcing these public service duties on the commercial radio stations, including any committments made for the ‘quality, range and type of programmes’. Furthermore, the IRTC was empowered to remove the licence of any station which committed ‘repeated breaches of his obligations’. (Irish Republic 1988a: 13‑4)
But, unlike previous broadcasting legislation, the regulation of commercial radio stations wasn’t really centred on the promotion of the national culture. These obligations under the 1988 law were largely decorative. For the Minister, the principal aim of the legislation was the requirement to provide a news and current affairs service alongside any entertainment programmes. (Burke 1990c) In article 9, the 1988 Act stated that ‘not less than 20 per cent. of the broadcasting time’ of commercial radio stations had to be devoted to news coverage. Furthermore, the fulfillment of this quota had to include at least two hours of news and current affairs during the primetime of listening between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.. (Irish Republic 1988a: 9) The Minister didn’t only want to create an external pluralism of news between RTÉ and commercial stations, but also to ensure that there was internal pluralism on the new stations as well. Under the 1988 law, the IRTC regulated the content of the news and current affairs programmes on the new commercial stations as well. Each franchise-holder had to ensure that the news was presented in ‘objective and impartial manner’. (Irish Republic 1988a: 9) The IRTC also had to draw up a code of practice which regulated the availability of party political broadcasts on stations and ensured balanced coverage for elections. (Irish Republic 1988a: 10; Connelly 1990)
As with RTÉ, the freedom of communications on the new stations was limited for reasons of public security and Catholic morality. The section 31 censorship of members of Sinn Féin and other revolutionary nationalist organisations was extended to the news coverage of the commercial radio stations. In addition, no programme could present ‘anything which might be regarded as offending against good taste or decency’. (Irish Republic 1988a: 10) Through regulation, the IRTC forced the new stations to copy the public service rules securing and limiting political pluralism established by the public service broadcaster for their own news coverage. The enforcement of these requirements on commercial stations realised Fianna Fáil’s ambition of creating sources of radio and television news outside the control of RTÉ. While the protection of national culture was left to self‑regulation, the Minister was determined that the private operators would be obliged to broadcast large amounts of political speech. Crucially, the obligations to respect internal pluralism between the parliamentary parties ensured would report the viewpoints of Fianna Fáil.
After a period of IRTC consultation, the Minister for Communications announced that 25 local radio licences would be granted alongside a national commercial radio service. By creating so many franchises, Burke ignored the research carried out for the Coalition government, which had shown only a few regional stations could be economically viable. (Moran 1990; Mitchell 1990a) Instead, the Minister decided to licence one station in every city or rural area within the Irish Republic. During 1989, there was fierce competition between the rival applicant groups for the franchises. On the one hand, voluntary organisations and the Church supported bids from the community radio movement. On the other hand, former pirate operators and local business people wanted to set up commercial radio stations. Unlike the Coalition’s broadcasting bill, the 1988 law had not distinguished between commercial and community radio services. According to the IRTC chairman, despite the existance of successful pirates and the NACB, there were no coherent principles for the creation of a non-profit-making independent radio sector in Ireland. Moreover, because they could attract the audiences of commercial broadcasters, he refused to provide for a special tier of community radio stations in addition to the existing 25 franchises. (Kenny 1989a: 6)
The IRTC decided between the competing commercial and community applicants in a series of public hearings. While this procedure limited overt favouritism towards Fianna Fáiil supporters, the national franchise and 22 of the 25 local radio licences were awarded to the commercial radio applicants. Not suprisingly, many of the businessmen involved in the successful commercial applications happened to be supporters of the ruling party. (Murphy 1990) Although the IRTC was supposed to favour candidates who promised to respect public service principles, the community groups were largely seen as interlopers into commercial radio. In the opinion of the IRTC chairman, the new radio stations were simply ‘… a new form of commercial industrial activity.’ (Kenny 1989a: 6) For Fianna Fáil, the predominance of private operators ensured that the new stations would be more friendly to the neo-liberal attitudess of the party than the more radical community radio groups. For example, during the first year of broadcasting, Horizon was the only station which ‘stretched the limits’ of the 1988 act by transmitting a programme by gays and lesbians. (Connelly 1990) Unlike most other licensees, this station in Bray was run by a community group. In addition to the formal censorship of the 1988 act, there was now also the ‘self‑regulation’ of the commercial radio stations by their private owners.
The Dismantling of the National Television Monopoly
The spread of cable television systems and the ‘spill‑over’ from British transmitters had already ended RTÉ’s monopoly of television broadcasting in the northern and eastern counties of the Irish Republic. However, the nationalised broadcasting corporation had offset the effects of this competition by taking over the private cable companies in Dublin and elsewhere. In the view of Burke, the ownership of the Dublin cable network by RTÉ was slowing down the expansion in the system. Therefore, in 1990, the Minister forced the corporation to sell its cable interests to Telecom Éireann, the nationalised telecommunications corporation. (Spandler 1987: 13; Sheeney 1990) Although the new owner promised to invest heavily in its acquisition, the rapid growth in cable television couldn’t remove the unequal availability of television stations across the Irish Republic. In 1990, over half the southern Irish population could still only receive the signals of RTÉ 1 and Network 2. Furthermore, less than 10% of the population was able to watch satellite or cable channels on their television sets. (Ox Pictures 1990) As in the 1970s, this division in the provision of television services mirrored the social divide between the cities and the countryside. While most urban viewers were able to watch British and satellite stations, the country‑dwellers were largely restricted to the RTÉ stations. Because the party still received strong support from the rural areas, the Fianna Fáil government was determined to end this division in the availability of television channels. However, it was too expensive to provide cable television networks for the sparsely populated country areas. Therefore, the Minister for Communications decided to introduce a multiple microwave distribution system (MMDS) network to provide British, satellite and cable stations for the rural population.
In some country areas, British television stations were already supplied to subscribers using illegal transmitters, known as ‘deflectors’. While these pirates relayed the British channels for as little as I£5 a year, the proposed annual subscription for the MMDS service was around I£100, with extra charges for watching any film channels. (Ox Pictures 1990) For the ‘deflector’ viewers, the new distribution system was a ‘big step up in cost’ compared with their existing service. (Connelly 1990) Despite protests from the pirates and their viewers, the Minister pressed ahead with the introduction of MMDS. As soon as each microwave transmitter started operating, he promised to close down any ‘deflector’ systems in its area. Because the pirate transmitters only covered around 80,000 homes, Burke was determined to introduce MMDS to cover the more than 500,000 households with only RTÉ television channels. (Spandler 1988: 12; Ox Pictures) In his view, ‘… MMDS is the only practical and legal method by which multi‑channel television can be brought to the rural communities.’ (Burke 1990c) Once every MMDS transmitter was operational, British and other foreign television stations would be available across the whole of the Irish Republic. Far from defending the national culture, the Fianna Fáil government now was determined to ensure that the remotest rural areas of southern Ireland would be able to watch stations from Great Britain or other countries. The old fear of cultural imperialism has been replaced by the desire to win rural votes by providing more television channels.
The Minister for Communications tried to offset the extended coverage of foreign broadcasters by granting a licence to TV3, a third Irish television channel run by a commercial operator. For Burke, this new television station would ‘balance influences coming in from abroad’ by providing an alternative source of Irish programmes for the viewers. (Ox Pictures 1990) Originally, TV3 was going to be distributed only on the cable and MMDS networks. However, the new television station’s owners complained that only 50% of households were likely to subscribe to either a cable or MMDS system. Therefore, Burke allowed the new television station to broadcast using terrestial transmitters as well. But, these frequencies granted to TV3 were supposed to be allocated to an Irish‑speaking television service. Once again, the protection of the national culture took second place to the development of commercial broadcasting. (Moran 1990; Spandler 1988: 13; Ox Pictures 1990) Yet, under the 1988 Radio and Television Act, the IRTC could only grant the commercial television licence to a contractor who would ‘… have special regard for the elements which distinguish [Irish] culture and in particular for the Irish language …’ (Irish Republic 1988a: 15) The new television station wasn’t only supposed to promote the national culture, but also fulfill other public service committments, such as encouraging the ‘liberty of expression’. However, in practice, these public service committments were understood to be largely rhetorical. As in commercial radio broadcasting, the principle aim of the Fianna Fáil government was the provision of ‘a reasonable proportion of news and current affairs programmes’ on the new television station. (Irish Republic 1988a: 15)
Under the 1988 Act, the news and current affairs programmes of TV3 were subject to the same rules on internal pluralism and censorship of subversive or immoral views as the commercial radio stations. (Irish Republic 1988a: 14) Although the franchise was granted to an entrepreneur associated with Fine Gael, the regulation of commercial television ensured that the views of Fianna Fáil would still be represented on the station’s news coverage. Furthermore, as RTÉ’s ratings demonstrated, TV3′s owners knew that it would need news and current affairs programmes to win a large audience for its advertisers. As Irish‑made entertainment programmes were also more popular than imports, it would also be forced to transmit a wide range of domestically made material. In imitation of Channel 4 in Great Britain, TV3 intended to commission the majority of its home‑produced programmes from independent television producers based in southern Ireland. The franchise‑holders claimed that the independent sector could provide new programmes more cheaply than the in‑house production system used by RTÉ. (Ox Pictures 1990; Connelly 1990) Yet, although the creation of a sector of independent television companies was an integral part of the post‑industrial economic policies of neo‑liberalism, this economic aim was only a secondary goal of the Fianna Fáil government. Instead, the political goal of establishing a source of television news outside the control of RTÉ remained the primary aim of the 1988 Radio and Television Act.
The Limitations of Commercial Broadcasting
Before awarding the licences, the IRTC researched the radio audience across Ireland. The Commission wanted to ensure that the commercial radio stations reflected the musical tastes of their audiences in their formats. In the IRTC’s view, Ireland was divided between the rural and urban areas. While the country‑dwellers preferred listening to either traditional or ‘Country and Irish’ music, the city listeners wanted to hear pop and rock songs on the airwaves. (Connelly 1990) What is more, this difference in tastes extended across the whole radio schedule. In the countryside, there was a strong demand for speech radio among the listenership of the new stations. As one owner put it, ‘country people like to talk. On MWR, we have successfully recreated the western “rambling house”. Guests drop into the studio unannounced to discuss life, sex or whatever springs to mind.’ (Curran 1990: 11) Not surprisingly, the rural commercial radio stations had little difficulty in meeting their 20% target for news and current affairs. (Connelly 1990; Murphy 1990) In contrast, fulfilling this quota presented far more problems for the urban commercial stations, especially in Dublin. The ‘superpirates’ had broadcast a continuous music format based on the constant rotation of the most popular records, which was very successful with the urban audience. According to Capital Radio in Dublin, the 20% news quota discouraged listeners from tuning into the new legal services. In the city, listeners wanted continuous music services, rather than the speech‑orientated radio of the rural areas. (Hogan 1990; Ox Pictures 1990)
Despite the news quota, the urban commercial stations continued the music formats pioneered by the ‘superpirates’. In Dublin, Capital played contemporary hits aimed at listeners in their teens and twenties, while 98FM used a classic pop format to attract an older audience. Using overseas experience, these formats were constructed by careful research of the tastes of the target audience. (Hogan 1990; Barbrook 1990: 205‑7) As with 2FM, the division of listeners by age and class was a rejection of the old vision of a homogeneous Irish audience united in a common national culture. Moreover, the Dublin commercial stations won large audiences by playing mainly Anglo‑American pop music. Both Capital and 98FM also refused to follow the self‑imposed quota of domestic music adopted by RTE for fear of losing listeners. In 1990, 2FM played more records by Irish artists than 98FM, Capital and the national commercial radio station combined. (Playback 1990)
During the 1980s, the internationalisation of Irish rock music gathered pace through the success of Sinéad O’Connor, the Hothouse Flowers and other bands. However, the Dublin commercial stations played little part in nurturing this growth in local rock music. Because of the intense competition between stations, the commercial stations didn’t promote records by new Irish artists. (Hogan 1990) Although their music policy pleased the listeners in the short‑run, some commentators believed that the conservative programming policies of the new radio stations was causing long‑term damage to the Irish music industry. (Grahem 1990) The Anglo‑American and Irish records played by the Dublin commercial stations were firmly within the rock tradition, which was partially derived from Celtic folk music. But, in the 1980s, new forms of popular music were emerging in the USA and Europe, such as rap and house. Yet, the rigid observance of formats excluded even pop‑orientated dance records from the playlists of contemporary hits stations, such as Capital. (Hogan 1990) While other European musicians were experimenting with computers and house rhythms, the formats of the Dublin stations were perpetuating the old-style rock within Irish popular music. In turn, this musical insularity lessened the chance of local artists achieving international popularity in the future. (Grahem 1990) Ironically, commercial radio stations playing imported music proved to be as culturally protectionist in their own way as Radio Éireann was in the past.
Under the 1988 Act, a greater choice for listeners was supposed to be created by the IRTC licencing specialist music services, such as a jazz or dance station. (Irish Republic 1988a: 14) In Dublin, at least 4 FM frequencies were available for more city‑wide stations, along with space for local community radio services as well. However, whether in Dublin or elsewhere, the major limitation on the number of commercial or community radio stations was financial. Compared with piracy, the overhead costs of legal radio broadcasting proved to be two or three times greater. In part, this inflation in costs was caused by the much higher royalty payments and wages needed for running a licenced station. Above all, the sheer amount of news and current affairs coverage also dramatically increased the costs of the commercial stations. To fulfill the news quota, the legal stations had to employ many more journalists and presenters than their pirate predecessors. (Curran 1990: 8; Hogan 1990) Because the news quota was imposed for political reasons, the Fianna Fáiil government failed to examine the economic feasibility of their plans for commercial radio broadcasting.
As in other European Community countries, the Fianna Fáil government discovered the financial constraints on the expansion of broadcasting funded by advertising. Although commercial radio attracted just under a quarter of all Irish advertising revenue during 1990, this revenue was insufficent to maintain all licenced stations in profit. (Curran 1990: 8 ) In the view of one commercial operator, the Minister for Communications ‘… overestimated the amount of money in the marketplace to operate the radio stations.’ (Hogan 1990) Most advertising agencies also thought that there wasn’t enough money from advertising to support the large expansion of commercial radio broadcasting envisaged by the ruling party. (Curran 1990: 9‑10) Moreover, these new private stations were faced with the prospects of even greater competition for advertising revenue from a third television channel. According to one commentator, a successful TV3 would ‘suck up all the advertising’ and send the commercial radio sector into a financial crisis. (Hogan 1990)
Already, by 1990, Radio West Galway had gone bankrupt and been taken‑over by 98FM, a Dublin station. (Playback 1990a) In the view of one station owner, only 7 out of the existing 25 commercial radio licence‑holders were likely to survive until 1992. As with Radio West Galway, the unsuccessful stations would be absorbed in a series of regional networks run by the more successful commercial radio operators. (Hegarty 1989: 17; Curran 1990: 11) In part, the concentration of ownership within commercial radio was a response to the increased costs of legal broadcasting, especially the news quota. However, it was also caused by continuing popularity of RTÉ’s stations among Irish listeners. Despite commercial competition, RTÉ Radio 1 still had half of the total listenership in Ireland. As a consequence, it could sell more advertising slots than any other station in the country. (O’Regan 1990; Kenny 1990: 6) When it was started, Century, the national commercial radio station, planned to compete for listeners with Radio 1. Unfortunately for its owners, this scheme failed when Century was unable to persuade Gay Byrne to leave the RTÉ station. Having failed to poach this major star, Century was forced to reorientate its service towards the pop music audience served by RTÉ’s 2FM. (McCann 1990) However, most of the local commercial radio stations were also trying to attract the same listeners, especially in the urban areas. Moreover, 2FM was in a strong position to defend its ratings, with an established audience and popular presenters. Both the national and local commercial stations encountered great difficulties in taking both listeners and advertising money from RTÉ. When Radio West Galway collapsed, its owners partially blamed its demise on ‘unfair competition’ from its public service rival. (Playback 1990a)
While the Fianna Fáil government expected some local stations to go bankrupt, the financial crisis of the national commercial radio station was far more politically serious. From the begining, Century encountered major engineering and programming problems. In turn, poor reception and unfocused formating resulted in low listening figures. In Dublin, Century not only failed to beat the RTÉ radio stations, but also came behind Capital and 98FM in the ratings. (McCann 1990; Kenny 1990: 6) By the end of 1990, Century had already lost around I£4m in capital and running costs. (Fox 1990: 13) Faced with financial disaster, Century’s owners attempted to blame their own failings on RTÉ. According to them, the reason for Century’s low advertising revenue was predatory pricing by their public service competitor. Using licence fee money, RTÉ was subsidising 2FM to undercut Century’s rate card. However, these charges were not only rejected by RTÉ’s management, but also by the advertising agencies. In their view, Century was failing because ’2FM still delivers better audiences and better coverage than its competitors.’ (Kenny 1989: 1‑2; Kenny 1990: 7) However, despite these rebuttals, Century continued with its campaign against RTÉ. Its owners called for intervention from the Fianna Fáil government to save the national commercial radio station. In their view, there was a ‘need to equalise the situation’ between the licence‑funded RTÉ and its competitors dependent upon advertising revenue alone. (Kenny 1989: 1) What is more, Century was supported by TV3 in its demands for government action. Just as Century was being squeezed by Radio 1 and 2FM, the commercial television operators feared strong competition from RTÉ 1 and Network 2 would wreck their business plans. (Kenny 1989: 1)
In 1989, RTÉ was still winning nearly half the audience among households connected to cable television networks. Ironically, despite this ratings success, its share of national advertising spending in Ireland fell during the late‑1980s. Contrary to Century’s claims, new commercial radio stations and publications had already eroded the state sector’s dominance over the Irish advertising market. But, although the corporation faced increased competition and a freeze on licence fee rises, RTÉ increased its profits during the late‑1980s, with around a 5% annual surplus by the end of the decade. (Fox 1990: 13; AAI 1990: 2; RTE 1989: 2) During this period, RTÉ had been effectively transformed from a public service broadcaster into a multi‑media corporation. For example, it had formed a partnership with RTL, a major European commercial operation based in Luxemburg. In 1989, the two corporations collaborated in launching Atlantic 252, a long‑wave pop music station aimed at listeners in northern Britain. Unlike the 1930s, there was no opposition to the national broadcaster making programmes for a British audience. Acting like a commercial multi‑media company, RTÉ set up Atlantic 252 to generate profits from advertising for the corporation as a whole. After its restructuring during the 1980s, this public service broadcaster was a powerful and determined competitor for the private radio and television station owners. Moreover, with advertising revenue limited, the success of the corporation created financial difficulties for its commercial rivals. In turn, the fear of bankruptcy created growing pressures from the private operators on the Fianna Fáil government for some action against RTÉ. Unless the competitive power of the public service provider was curbed, the commercial broadcasting sector was heading towards some embarassing financial failures.
In order to save his overambitous plans for commercial broadcasting, the Minister for Communications rapidly started searching for methods of restricting RTÉ’s dominance over Irish broadcasting. Above all, there were strong political reasons for Burke to save Century in particular. The two owners of the national commercial radio station were close friends of the Fianna Fáil leadership. (McCann 1990) Soon, the Minister was repeating the charges against RTÉ made by his political allies at Century. According to Burke, the corporation was using the licence fee to sell advertising at ‘below cost’ rates. RTÉ had adopted this strategy to dominate the advertising market and remove any competition from the commercial sector. In his view, Century’s difficulties weren’t caused by the incompetence of its owners, but by the impossibility of ‘fair competition’ under the existing arrangements. Because of its dual funding from the licence fee and advertising, RTÉ had become too competitive for its commercial rivals. (Burke 1990: 1573; 1990c) To tackle this problem, the Minister proposed introducing measures to create a ‘level playing field’ between the public service and commercial broadcasting sectors. In place of his earlier enthusiasm for ‘self‑regulation’, Burke now claimed that tighter legislation was needed to create ‘fair competition’ within Irish radio and television broadcasting. (Burke 1990c; Burke 1990: 1573; Ox Pictures 1990)
‘Examination of the process of transistion from monopoly control or dominant market share to competition in any sphere…will show that it requires an increase in regulation and not deregulation.’ (Burke 1990: 1572)
In its 1990 legislative programme, the Fianna Fáil government had planned to introduce a new broadcasting bill. Originally, this law was only intended to ‘tidy up’ various omissions in the 1988 laws, especially the remaining loopholes in the legislation against unlicenced broadcasting. However, with Century in financial difficulties, the Minister suddenly decided to add new clauses curbing the power of RTÉ into the bill. In a few weeks, the officials of the Department of Communications drew up some ‘hasty proposals’ to curb some of the financial advantages enjoyed by the nationalised broadcasting corporation. At first, the Minister proposed to remove around one‑fifth of the licence fee revenue from RTÉ. Instead, this money would be given to the IRTC for dispersal to the national and local commercial radio stations. According to Burke, the licence revenue was being reallocated to subsidise the public service requirements imposed on the commercial radio stations, especially the news quota. In addition, the Minister suggested that 2FM should cease being a pop music station. Because the commercial stations were already providing this type of service, the RTÉ radio station should concentrate on broadcasting education and farming programmes. (Moran 1990; Fox 1990: 12)
Not suprisingly, both RTÉ’s management and the opposition parties strongly attacked these proposals. In their view, the reallocation of licence fee revenue ‘… was making a gift of a large amount of public money to some of the wealthiest business people in the country.’ (De Rossa 1990: 1615) Because many of these owners of commercial stations were supporters of Fianna Fáil, the public subsidy of private radio services was denounced as a form of political corruption. However, the opponents of this proposal were too successful in their campaign to preserve the income from the licence fee exclusively for the nationalised broadcasting corporation. In the view of one commentator, the RTÉ management ‘shot themselves in the foot’ by creating a major scandal over Burke’s original scheme. (Moran 1990) Under political pressure, the Minister was forced to abandon his plans for the redirection of licence fee revenue to the commercial radio stations. Instead, he decided to introduce new clauses into the 1990 broadcasting bill, which restricted the amount of advertising raised by RTÉ. Under article 3 of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, only 7.5% of total broadcasting time on its radio and television stations could be used for advertising, with a maximum of five minutes of commercials in any one hour. The only service exempted from this limit was Atlantic 252, the long‑wave station aimed at a British audience. In addition to this curb on the number of commercials, article 3 also restricted the total amount of advertising revenue raised by RTÉ in any one year. To ensure compliance, any excess income in one year would be deducted from the corporation’s budget for the next year. (Irish Republic 1990: 4) Under this clause, the Minister limited RTÉ’s total income from advertising to the amount of money granted to the corporation from the collection of licence fees.
‘…it shall be the duty of the Authority to ensure that the total revenue derived by it from advertising, sponsorship or other forms of commercial promotion in broadcasts in any year does not exceed the amount paid to the Authority…[from licence fees].’ (Irish Republic 1990: 4)
According to Burke, the advertising restrictions on RTÉ were an anti‑trust measure designed to prevent the former broadcasting monopoly from driving its commercial rivals into bankruptcy. The Minister claimed his new legislation was based on the terms of the recently passed European Community Directive on Television Broadcasting. Under its provisions, the individual governments of European Community states were obliged to ensure the ‘freedom of expression’ within television broadcasting by preventing ‘the creation of dominant positions which would lead to restrictions on pluralism’. (European Community 1989: 23‑4) Citing this obligation, the Minister argued that his 7.5% limit on advertising time on RTÉ stations was derived from the 15% restriction laid down in the European Community directive. (European Community 1989: 28‑9) Since half of its budget came from the licence fee, the corporation was only being allowed to sell half the advertising time available to commercial television stations under the European Community directive. (Burke 1990a: 1264) These tougher restrictions on RTÉ advertising income were justified by the duty to ensure political pluralism imposed by European legislation. For the Minister, the diversity of opinions within the electronic media could only be created by external pluralism between many competing radio and television stations. In his view, he had a duty to ensure that there were sources of radio and television news outside the control of RTÉ. Restricting the dominance of the public service broadcaster over the Irish advertising market would guarantee the freedom of communications within the Irish Republic.
‘The whole principle behind this legislation is the need for pluralism of information and of the media generally and of entertainment within this country coming from Irish sources.’ (Burke 1990a: 1240)
According to Burke, the 7.5% limit on RTÉ would divert around I£12m from the nationalised broadcasting corporation to the commercial radio and television stations, as well as the newspaper industry. This figure was considerably larger than the amount of licence fee money which was to have been diverted to the commercial radio and television stations. (Moran 1990) In his view, commercial broadcasting and newspapers needed increased revenue from advertising to survive the strong competition coming from RTÉ. (Ox Pictures 1990; Burke 1990c) Moreover, the Minister claimed that the cuts in the corporation’s income wouldn’t effect the quality or range of the corporation’s radio and television services. He believed that RTÉ could make substantial savings by cutting the costs of programme‑making through the better management of its resources. (Burke 1990c; Ox Pictures 1990) However, the RTÉ management strongly disagreed with this optimistic view propounded by the Minister. According to its Director of Television Programmes, the corporation had entered a period of ‘structured decline’ caused by rising costs and falling income. With licence fee frozen and advertising revenue capped, the only source of increased income was an effective clampdown on those people who weren’t paying their licences. (O’Brien 1990) But, despite this campaign against defaulters, RTÉ was still unable to raise its income in line with inflation. Soon after the 1990 Broadcasting Act was passed, the corporation announced 200 immediate job losses among its staff, with another 350 redundancies to follow shortly. An extension of European and international news coverage on RTÉ’s stations was also abandoned. (Ox Pictures 1990; Dowling and Moloney 1990; McCartan 1990) In turn, both the reduction of RTÉ’s budget and the fall in the number of commercials screened severely impacted upon the independent television companies. Working on short‑term contracts, they were the first victims of any cut‑backs. (Fox 1990: 13) Contradicting Burke’s optimistic prognosis, the decline in RTÉ’s income inevitably led to an erosion in the quality of the radio and television programmes broadcast by the nationalised broadcasting corporation. (Gagan 1990)
As a state‑owned institution, RTÉ was prevented from too strongly criticising the government. Moreover, the RTÉ Authority was almost entirely composed of supporters of Fianna Fáil. (Mitchell 1990a) However, the opposition parties had no such inhibitions. For some politicians, setting up a third private television channel was like a ‘cargo cult’ for the Fianna Fáil government. Because TV3 represented the application of neo‑liberal policies to the electronic media, Burke was willing to sacrifice RTÉ to prevent the failure of their plans for commercial television. The Fianna Fáil government was afraid that a major bankruptcy within the commercial broadcasting sector would discredit not only Burke’s media legislation, but also Haughey’s whole economic strategy. (Higgins 1990: 584) What is more, as with Burke’s original proposals, the charges of ‘political cronyism’ and ‘moral turpitude’ were repeated in attacks against the revised broadcasting bill. (Spring 1990: 1608; Higgins 1990: 584) For many opposition politicians, the capping of RTÉ was a repetition of the Ryan Air scandal when the Fianna Fáil government had also intervened to curb competition from a nationalised industry against one of their supporters. According to the leader of the Labour party, the advertising restrictions on RTÉ were introduced solely to help a ‘failing commercial enterprise … run and managed by political associates of the ruling party.’ (Spring 1990: 1608; Kenny 1990a) Moreover, many opposition politicians linked the restrictions on RTÉ with the long‑standing hostility between the corporation and the ruling party. In an infamous incident, the Minister had promised to ‘screw’ RTÉ on the night of the 1987 election count because of its coverage of the health issue during the campaign. (Mitchell 1990: 1585) For the opposition parties, the 1990 Broadcasting Act had turned this threat into reality.
In addition to the criticism from opposition politicians, the new broadcasting act was also attacked by the advertising industry. In its view, the advertising restrictions on RTÉ were unworkeable in practice. According to the main agencies, the financial difficulties of the commercial stations were caused by the limited size of the Irish economy. As they pointed out, the Irish Republic only had the same population as Greater Manchester in Great Britain. Yet, the Minister expected this small economy to support 3 television stations and numerous radio services mainly through advertising. Moreover, the spending on all forms of advertising by Irish companies was lower as a proportion of national expenditure than in most other European Community states. If other sources of broadcasting finance weren’t found, there were too many stations to be supported by the small economy of southern Ireland. (AAI 1990: 1; Fox 1990: 12; Hogan 1990)
The advertising industry also believed that the Minister had wrongly forecast the consequences of the capping of RTÉ. Ironically, the first effect of the restrictions was to increase the corporation’s dominance over the Irish advertising market. With the supply of RTÉ advertising limited, the big advertisers would be forced to compete for the available commercials, especially within highly rated programmes. As a consequence, there would be a large increase in the price of commercials on public service stations. Because RTÉ could raise its permitted advertising income more quickly, the corporation would have greater control over the advertising market by being able to offer free commercials to clients who were not using other radio or television stations. (AAI 1990: 2; Dowling and Moloney 1990) Moreover, even if RTÉ didn’t engage in such aggressive tactics, there was no guarantee that the restrictions would make advertisers switch their spending to TV3, the commercial radio stations or the newspapers. Much of advertising was specific to a particular type of mass medium. For example, food companies tended to buy television commercials, while the housing industry advertised in the local press. If the main television advertisers were prevented from buying commercials on RTÉ, it was unlikely that they would purchase airtime on the commercial radio stations or space in the national newspapers instead. (AAI 1990: 3; Ox Pictures 1990)
although the 1990 Broadcasting Act restricted advertising on RTÉ, there was no alternative source of television advertising in southern Ireland. Although the restrictions came in force in October 1990, TV3 had still not started broadcasting. There was also no guarantee that this new commercial station would win a large audience for the commercials shown within its schedule. Instead, the advertising industry predicted that many advertisers would switch their spending to Ulster Television (UTV), the British commercial station based in Northern Ireland. Already, UTV could reach half of the southern Irish population and had more potential viewers within the Irish Republic than within the north. Using the cable and MMDS networks, UTV was already planniing to increase its coverage to the rest of the Irish Republic. Withprogrammes from other ITV regions, UTV was well placed to challenge TV3 for its place as access to third television channel within southern Ireland. In the advertising industry’s view, UTV was becoming a very ‘cost‑effective and attractive alternative option’ for advertisers from the Irish Republic. (AAI 1990: 2‑3; Playback 1990b) Ironically, one of the unintended effects of Fianna Fáil’s broadcasting act might be the ending of partition within television broadcasting!
If advertising revenue did move mainly to UTV, the economic aim of the 1990 Broadcasting Act would have failed. For both advertisers and opposition politicians, this possibility demonstrated that external pluralism within Irish broadcasting was more likely to come from British or other foreign television stations than from another domestic channel. (Mitchell 1990: 1244; Fox 1990: 12) In fact, the establishment of TV3 threatened to strengthen the influence of these outside stations by weakening the national broadcasting corporation. Instead, the advertisers prefered one strong domestic broadcaster with a large audience to two television companies with weaker ratings. (AAI 1990: 1) In response to Burke’s policies, there was a rehabilitation of the traditional Irish view of public service broadcasting as a defence of national culture. No mainstream party or major lobbyist was advocating a return to the old forms of cultural protectionism. Yet, both politicians and advertisers wanted the nationalised broadcasting corporation to have adequate funds to produce programmes of sufficent quality. Then, RTÉ could compete sucessfully against the challenge from British and satellite television stations. Furthermore, for many politicians, the creation of a stable domestic broadcasting system was a prerequisite of reversing the flow of electronic media between the Irish Republic and Great Britain. In this view, the common language between the two countries was no longer a threat to Irish cultural identity. Instead, because English was the dominant global language, the Irish broadcasting industry could export its programmes to audiences in the wider world. The nurturing of national broadcasting was also necessary for the success of Irish radio and television stations among international audiences in the future.
‘Are there any steps we can take to allow RTÉ, TV3 and Century to penetrate the British market in particular, or do we have to sit back while they rape our market, leaving us with no hope of access to theirs.’ (Mitchell 1990: 1598)
The National Question and the Electronic Media
The 1990 Broadcasting Act was the result of a long process of change within the Irish electronic media. Long before the 1916 Uprising, the existence of autonomous Irish-owned forms of cultural expression has been closely associated with the political independence of Ireland from Great Britain. In the first years of independence, most Irish nationalists feared the continuation of ideological domination by old imperial master. Despite the end of direct British rule, southern politicians believed that its larger neighbour could influence the opinions of the Irish people through the mass media. Moreover, as the population of both countries spoke English, there was no linguistic barrier preventing the comprehension of British publications and programmes by Irish audiences. Under both Free State and Fianna Fáil governments, the southern Irish state adopted a policy of cultural protectionism against this perceived threat from Great Britain, including the establishment of a nationalised broadcasting monopoly. However, from the early 1960s onwards, this isolationist model of public service broadcasting has been slowly abandoned. By the 1990s, no major party within the Irish Republic was arguing for a return to the cultural protectionism of the past, especially within the electronic media.
However, there was no agreement on the future development of Irish broadcasting among the conservative and social democratic parties within southern Ireland. On the one hand, the Fianna Fáil government licenced commercial radio and television stations alongside the existing RTÉ services. In its view, new sources of news and current affairs had to be established outside the control of the nationalised broadcasting corporation. Although the Fianna Fáil government was criticised by other conservative parties for favouring its political friends, both Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats advocated similiar schemes for a duopoly of private and public broadcasting organisations. Moreover, all conservative politicians believed that competition between the two sectors would increase the freedom of communications within the Irish Republic. For them, this political right was guaranteed by the external pluralism of competing radio and television stations. However, few conservative politicians supported the undiluted adoption of neo‑liberal policies within the electronic media. The Fianna Fáil government abandoned its lightly regulated broadcasting policy for tighter controls over the electronic media. In its place, new laws were enacted to ensure the provision of news and current affairs programmes by the new commercial stations, as well as to limit the dominance of RTÉ over the Irish advertising market. But, some consistent neo‑liberals did argue against interventionist policies for the electronic media. In this view, the freedom of communications promised in article 40.6.1 of the 1937 constitution could only be guaranteed by competition between radio and television stations under minimal regulation.
‘This Article does not permit legislative provisions seeking to make broadcasting the preserve of the State. Under the freedom of expression provision, there is an open market to publish or broadcast.’ (ILT 1990)
On the other hand, the social democratic parties championed the adoption of the West European version of public service broadcasting in southern Ireland. In their view, the licencing of commercial radio and television stations had only partially increased the freedom of communications. Because stations were dependent on selling commercials, the advertisers could control the content of programmes more fully than old forms of state censorship. (Gilmore 1990: 969) In the battle for ratings, controversial views or unfamiliar musical styles were shunned as threats to the audience share of the new stations. Despite the regulation of commercial broadcasting, both Labour and the Workers’ Party doubted that external pluralism between competing stations could fully protect the freedom of communciations. Instead, they believed that this political right had to be guaranteed by a strong nationalised broadcasting corporation. In the West European model of public service broadcasting, freedom of communications was created through internal pluralism within its programmes. Already, RTÉ claimed to reflect ‘the diverse factors and views of a pluralist society’ in its schedule. (RTÉ 1989: 3) For the social democratic parties, this committment could only be fulfilled in practice when public service broadcaster was not only adequately financed, but also democratically accountable to its audience and workforce. (Workers’ Party 1990: 4)
In addition, as defenders of RTÉ, the social democratic parties also retained some allegiance to the Irish version of public service broadcasting. With British and other foreign stations available across most of southern Ireland, many on the Left were convinced that a strong domestic broadcasting organisation is needed to produce programmes expressing Irish culture. Because of commercial pressures, RTÉ’s domestic rivals were unlikely to include many cultural programmes in their schedules. Therefore, ‘… the protection of our culture can only be achieved by a state broadcasting institution.’ (McCartan 1990) However, for the Left, this promotion of Irish culture didn’t involve a return to protectionism. Instead, the RTÉ stations guaranteed the expression of the national culture within a multi‑channel radio and television system, which includes stations from other countries. The social democratic parties didn’t support public service broadcasting as a defence against moral corruption from abroad, but as part of their committment to the freedom of communications for Irish citizens. For them, this political right included not only the right to receive a variety of radio and television stations, but also the ability of Irish citizens to express their opinions on the airwaves. This definition of the freedom of communications as access to the electronic media was championed by the community radio movement in southern Ireland. In this form of broadcasting, local people were encouraged to participate directly in both programme‑making and administration. (Murphy 1990) For the NACB, the freedom of communications was transformed into the right to communicate.
‘…The achievement of a two‑way flow of information, of free exchange, of access and full participation, opens up a wide new and exciting media dimension to us.’ (Byrne 1990)
Although their rhetoric often hid self‑interest, both conservative and social democratic parties used a common ideological discourse to argue about the future of the electronic media in the Irish Republic. Both sides claimed that their media policies would increase the freedom of communications for the Irish people. As in other areas, the underlying ideological consensus within the Irish media debate reflected the dominance of secular republicanism over Catholic nationalism within the southern partition state. By the 1990s, no major party was committed to defending the moral economy of the peasantry and petit‑bourgeoisie through censorship and protectionism against British cultural imperialism. Yet, in 1921, the independence of southern Ireland was soon followed by the establishment of a state monopoly over radio broadcasting, which was designed to provide specifically Irish programmes for the domestic audience. This cultural nationalist version of public service broadcasting reflected the partition of the island of Ireland. In the south, a homogenous society of small property‑holders was created, centred on family farms and small businesses. For the peasantry and petit‑bourgeoisie, Catholic nationalism provided a Malthusian moral code, which protected their family property against subdivision.
After the failure of the language movement, the Catholic faith also became the national mark of cultural ‘distinction’ against the British. (Bourdieu 1984) In the independence movement, both secular republicans and Catholic nationalists worked for the cultural separation of the Irish people from British influences as part of the struggle for political self‑determination. The Irish nationalists demanded a sovereign nation‑state, completely separate from the rest of the world. Along with other European nationalists, the Irish independence movement believed that ‘as a single individual, [the nation‑state] is exclusive against other like individuals.’ (Hegel 1971: 275) Across Europe, nationalist intellectuals fostered cultural distinctiveness to create their own ‘historic people’, each needing a separate state. (Hegel 1971: 275‑6; Hegel 1975: 124‑51; Anderson 1983) Thus, the struggle for cultural and political separation by the Irish nationalists was part of a wider process encompassing the whole of Europe. As the continent was divided into competing nation‑states, each political unit based its claim to political independence on long‑standing cultural differences from its neighbours.
‘A nation is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make‑up manifested in a community of culture.’ (Stalin 1936: 8 )
Despite the constitutional basis of the new state, Catholic nationalism expressed the desire for complete separation from Great Britain more effectively than secular republicanism. The creation of an Irish version of public service broadcasting was an integral part of this quest for national autarchy. In its early years, Radio Éireann’s programmes reflected a distinctively Irish culture, centred on frugal rural living and Catholic spirituality. For Catholic nationalists, the freedom of communications was only tolerated within the confines of the moral totalitarianism of the Catholic church. In turn, this censorship justified direct political controls by the ruling party. Both Free State and Fianna Fáil governments believed that there was a single homogenous Irish audience, which could be served by a national broadcasting monopoly. But, this Irish model of public service broadcasting slowly disappeared after the end of 1950s. With the spread of Fordism across western Europe, the old policy of national autarchy was no longer credible. From the Whitaker Report onwards, the southern nationalist parties decided to encourage the modernisation of the Irish economy. Whether using policies of peripheral Fordism or neo‑liberalism, successive governments integrated the Irish economy within the European and global market‑place. In the 1970s, the Irish government simultaneously refused to support the armed struggle of the northern nationalists against British rule and decided to enter into the European Community. These two choices were symbolised by the abandonment of the traditional goal of complete national sovereignty by southern Irish politicians.
Although independence was only won after a long struggle, the Irish Republic encountered less difficulties in pooling national sovereignty than the old imperial states like Great Britain. In part, this embrace of federalism was caused by the economic benefits of membership, such as gaining access to a wider market and subsidies from the Community’s agricultural or regional policies. As a result, European Community membership reduced Ireland’s economic dependence on Britain more effectively than the former strategy of national autarchy. As a small state, the national interests of southern Ireland were best served inside the framework of collaborative European institutions. (Wickham 1980: 69) In addition, the Irish Republic’s enthusiasm for European federalism reflected the appropriateness of its political structures for further integration. According to the principles of ‘subsidiarity’ espoused by the European Commission, ‘… we never entrust to a bigger unit anything that is best done by a smaller one.’ (Delors 1989: 1) In this approach, the larger nation‑states have to be broken down into smaller federal units for complete European unification. While the British state was too large, the Irish Republic was already the correct size for a region‑state of a future European Federation. (Fouéré 1980: 78, 115‑29) Under this form of European unification, southern Ireland not only would maintain control over its domestic concerns, but also would be able to participate fully in decisions which have to be taken at a federal level. For both the president of the European Commission and most Irish politicians, this type of federalism was:
‘…a way of reconciling the irreconcilable…the need for a European power capable of tackling the problems of our age and the absolute necessity to preserve our roots in the shape of our nations and regions…’ (Delors 1989: 1)
The goal of transforming southern Ireland into a region‑state of the European Community was based on its economic integration within the wider continental economy. The urbanisation of the Irish economy had already changed individual property‑holders into wage workers or capitalists. The development of the electronic media was closely connected with this modernisation process. From the 1960s onwards, the television set was not only a Fordist commodity in its own right, but also helped to spread the new culture of consumerism among the Irish people, especially in its commercials. The electronic media helped to open up the Irish economy by spreading urban secular attitudes among the rural Catholic population. The Irish radio and television stations disseminated foreign culture throughout the country, whether through imported television programmes shown by RTÉ or Anglo‑American pop music played by commercial radio stations. Moreover, the British electronic media were no longer seen as forms of cultural imperialism, but as a window on the wider world. The common language between the two countries ceased to be a threat to cultural independence and became a means of reaching global anglophone audiences. In turn, the end of cultural separatism changed the nature of the nationalised broadcasting corporation, which evolved from the protector of traditional culture into a multi‑media corporation, with some public service committments. Faced with competing domestic and foreign stations, RTÉ no longer addressed a homogneous audience united by its Catholic nationalist culture. As elsewhere in Europe, the nationalised broadcasting corporation segmented its audience by class and age to maximise its ratings. Instead of creating national unity through its output, the 1990s RTÉ aimed to satisfy the information and entertainment needs of its diverse Irish audience. The Europeanisation and modernisation of southern Ireland was reflected in the common ideological discourse used for debates on the development of the electronic media by both conservative and social democratic parties. In modern Ireland, secular republicanism provided the inspiration for political arguments, rather than Catholic nationalism. Both Right and Left claimed that their media policies were based on extending the freedom of communications for the Irish people. On one hand, the conservative parties argued for the application of neo‑liberal policies in the mass media, with regulation to prevent monopolies and to protect political pluralism. On the other hand, the Left parties advocated the application of social democratic policies in the media, including a revitalised public service broadcasting corporation, community stations and tighter regulation. By becoming a region‑state of the European Community, the Irish Republic was no longer committed to the achievement of complete national sovereignty. By the early 1990s, the protection of the national culture had ceased to be a major aim of the broadcasting policies of the southern Irish state. Instead, the political debate over the future of the electronic media was conducted between different methods of ensuring the freedom of communications for Irish citizens within the limits of the constitution, such as the Section 31 restrictions. As in other member countries, policies for the electronic media were justified in terms of democratic rights, not national self‑determination. With the emergence of media regulation by the European Community, the broadcasting policies of the Irish Republic had to be consistent with those adopted by other member states. The freedom of communications had replaced the struggle for national cultural identity in Irish broadcasting policy. From now onwards, the rights of Irish citizens would take precedence over the need to create a nation‑state for Ireland.
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Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.