Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Reports Year of Significant Achievement in 2013
In a statement reviewing the work of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) during 2013, the Chief Executive, Michael O’Keeffe, described it as a busy year and one of significant achievement for the Authority.
“2013 was the final year covered by the BAI’s first strategy document and many projects were drawn to a successful conclusion. Most notable among these were the five-year review of funding for public service broadcasters; the introduction of a new Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs; the revision of the General and Children’s Commercial Communications Codes; and the introduction of the new Archiving Scheme.
“The BAI will be launching its new three-year strategy early in 2014, and we will aim to build on the achievements to date, working with broadcasters to ensure the continuation of a vibrant and successful sector, while ensuring that the fundamental interests and entitlements of the viewers and listeners are protected at all times,” Mr. O’Keeffe said.
PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) Activity
The BAI concluded a major piece of work in 2013, which addressed a five-year review of public funding for public service broadcasters. The outcomes of the review were submitted to the Government in June and the recommendations contained therein were largely endorsed by the Government, which considered the report in July. A series of further related projects were announced by the Minister at that time and work has been progressing since then among the various agencies: the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR), NewERA and the BAI.
The BAI also continued with its yearly work of reviewing the Annual Statements of Performance Commitments in respect of both TG4 and RTÉ. In addition, Annual Reviews of Public Funding for PSBs were completed and submitted to the Minister. These will be published by the BAI once they have been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The BAI was requested by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to undertake a Sectoral Impact Assessment (SIA) and Public Value Test (PVT) on the impact of proposed changes to RTÉ 2’s schedule in the 11.30am-2.30pm timeslot (which currently features children’s programming). A report on the outcomes of both the SIA and the PVT was submitted to the Department.
BAI Strategy Statement
The BAI undertook a public consultation on its new Strategy Statement for the period 2014-2016 and the submissions received were considered by the Authority in November. Broadly speaking, members welcomed the general endorsement of the draft Strategy among respondents, in particular the support articulated for the positioning of the audience as being core to the BAI’s decision-making; the positioning of the organisation and its strategy within a larger and evolving media environment; the proposal to increase collaboration and a partnership approach; the commitment given to better equipping audiences to engage with the complaints process; and the stated intention of reducing regulatory burden.
The final version of the Strategy will be launched early in the New Year, in addition to the organisation’s three-year work-plan.
Compliance and Complaints
During 2013, a total of 109 complaints were considered by the Compliance Committee of the BAI. The vast majority of complaints were in relation to matters under the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality, with 22 complaints being considered under the Code of Programme Standards. Of the 109 complaints received, 30 are still in process; 16 were dealt with by an adequate response from the broadcaster; 56 were resolved at either Compliance Committee or Executive Complaints Forum level; while seven were upheld in full or in part by the Compliance Committee
The complaints handling process was reviewed by the Compliance Committee. Changes to the process will be considered and introduced in 2014. The BAI Compliance and Enforcement Policy and Procedures were ratified by the Authority in November. The Policy will come into effect in 2014 and will govern the BAI’s compliance work, in addition to providing guidance in relation to the procedures for conducting investigations under the Broadcasting Act.
Sound & Vision
A package of funding recommendations under the Sound and Vision Scheme (Round 19) totalling €4.489m was ratified by the Authority at its December meeting and will support the production of 88 Radio and 21 TV projects. This brings the total funding awarded in 2013 to in excess of €13.35m and the total number of projects supported to 342.
A statutory review of the existing Scheme was completed during 2013 and submitted to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in July. Approval for the existing scheme expires at the end of 2014 and the BAI has launched a public consultation on a replacement scheme: Sound & Vision 3. This will require the approval of both the Minister and the European Commission, which will consider the Scheme in the context of State Aid rules. A public consultation process on the new draft scheme is underway and will close on 6th February 2014. It is intended that the new scheme will be in place by January 2015.
According to Michael O’Keeffe: “Round 19 of Sound & Vision marked a record in the number of applications received in any round of the scheme to date. As with previous rounds, the number of applications received was far in excess of funding available and, while the BAI was in the fortunate position of being able to allocate funding above that indicatively set for the round, we are also conscious that there were a significant number of quality projects that did not receive funding support. Our approach to the funding rounds in 2014, which was announced in recent weeks, recognises the finite resources available next year and the need for the BAI to adapt its approach accordingly through the provision of two open rounds and one targeted round of the Scheme, focusing on animation and education.”
The first round of the Archiving Scheme was opened in late January and, following assessment of 26 applications received, funding of €1.5m was allocated to seven different projects. A further round of the Scheme was announced in December 2013 and it is intended that funding of €2.8m will be made available over two rounds in 2014.
The focus to date has been on the safeguarding of historic material which is under threat, either through its fragile physical condition or its existence on a soon to be obsolete format.
Commenting on the success of the Scheme, Michael O’Keeffe said: “The establishment of the Archiving Scheme has been an important development for both the broadcasting industry and Irish audiences. The Scheme was developed through engagement with a wide range of broadcasters and expert groups and I am confident that it will contribute to the preservation of Ireland’s broadcasting heritage and provide the public with additional access to the very rich history and culture of broadcasting in Ireland.”
Consultations / Codes
A new Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs was launched on 9th April. In response to submissions received through the consultation process, the BAI made revisions to the rules dealing with conflicts of interest and presenters’ own views. An additional rule in respect of social media was also added to the Code. The provisions of the Code came into effect on 1st July.
Revised versions of the General and Children’s Commercial Communications Codes were issued on 4th June. The Codes were updated to include rules to be applied to the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food to children and came into effect on 2nd September.
The BAI hosted a ‘public conversation’ event in Smock Alley on 12th December. The event focused on the topic of standards in broadcasting and will tie into the revision of the BAI Code of Programme Standards. Feedback in relation to the event has been extremely positive and the Authority has committed to hosting further events of this nature in 2014.
Significant work was undertaken during 2013 on progressing the current licensing plan. The majority of licensing was undertaken through the fast-track application process. By year-end, 12 contracts had been signed, with the remaining applications received through the fast-track process in the final stages of assessment and scheduled for contract signing in the New Year.
Five franchise areas are the subject of a competitive licensing process, due to the receipt of more than one expression of interest in each franchise area. In the case of the Midlands (counties Laois, Offaly and Westmeath) and South-East regional franchise areas, one application was received respectively from the existing operator. Three applications were received for the niche music service, serving Dublin City and County, and two applications were received for each of the North Donegal and Sligo/North Leitrim/South Donegal franchise areas. All competitive processes are currently underway and will be considered by the Contract Awards Committee over their meetings in the New Year.
The BAI commissioned Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates to undertake a review of commercial DTT (digital terrestrial television) in Ireland. The findings of the review and policy implications arising were considered by the Authority and a submission was made to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in this regard. The findings of the review will be published in early January.
Sectoral Learning and Development
A budget of €342,000 was allocated under the BAI’s Sectoral Learning and Development policy towards six core areas of delivery to the broadcasting sector in 2013. €270,000 of this was specifically allocated to the support of networks such as CRAOL (community broadcasters’ network), Learning Waves, Community Television Association (CTA), the Association of Independent Radio Producers of Ireland (AIRPI), Media Desk Ireland and Screen Producers Ireland (SPI), among others. A budget of €347,000 has been approved for 2014.