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Following the last general election, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission obtained independent research into public awareness and knowledge of the Oireachtas.
The public was disgruntled, apathetic and disengaged, especially younger age groups, who displayed little or no knowledge or interest in politics or voting.
The response was the Oireachtas Television channel, which was launched last September, broadcasting 24/7 the unedited deliberations of the two Houses and various Oireachtas committees.
Ireland is now one of 60 nations that broadcasts its parliamentary affairs, unedited and live, on television.
But Oireachtas Television can only be viewed on a pay-per-view basis, which accounts for 71% of all television households in the State. The other 29%, who depend on Saorview and its British free-to-air counterparts, account for 460,000 households. They are deprived of televised access to the Oireachtas, but are a substantial element of the national electorate.
The impediment is that RTÉ has refused to broadcast Oireachtas Television on Saorview, without charging the exchequer commercial rates.
RTÉ overlook the fact that the entire €61m in expenditure on digital terrestrial television, of which Saorview is a component and which now services 654,000 households, was funded by the public through television-licence revenue. RTÉ also has a statutory obligation to broadcast Oireachtas Television, under the Broadcasting Act 2009.
Unlike commercial cable and satellite companies, it has a unique public service mandate and that is the fundamental rationale for licence fee revenue of €182m.
It is strange for an Irish citizen, on the cusp of commemorating the centenary of the 1916 Rising, to still be dependent on the munificence of foreign-owned commercial cable and satellite companies for an insight into how the nation’s parliament conducts its business. This scenario amounts to a bad fail mark for the communications strategy of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and RTÉ.
With referenda and a general election pending imminently, it might be prudent and wise for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and RTÉ to take fresh stock of the public interest, and the drivers of negative attitudes towards politics, and begin broadcasting Oireachtas Television on Saorview by Easter.
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