Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by The Gaelic Society of London

  I have been asked by Ian MacLeod of the Gaelic Society of London to forward to you for the attention of Lord Puttnam draft amendments to the Communications Bill which would provide a facilitative framework for the development of Gaelic Broadcasting in the digital era. These were drafted after discussion with Waheed Alli about Government policy and the provisions of the Bill.

  This Bill is crucial to the future of Gaelic as a living language and culture in the UK because broadcasting is central to the Gaelic community's identity and communication networks.

  We do not wish in any way to prejudice Lord Puttman's position as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, but would welcome any comment which he is able to make on these amendments.


Proposed Amendments to the Draft Communications Bill ("The Bill") Published by DTI/DCMs on 7 May 2002



  The following points summarise the intentions behind the proposed amendments to the Bill drafted by the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee:

    —  the Committee is to be given new functions in addition to its current role of funding the production of Gaelic programming to permit it to commission the making of programmes and to arrange for the distribution of the programmes it has financed by whatever means in digital or analogue formats;

    —  the Committee is given more secure RPI indexed funding, which it receives directly from Government;

    —  the Committee is able to apply for and hold certain types of licence to enable it, where feasible, to provide a Gaelic programme service; and

    —  where it is able to provide a Gaelic programme service, such a service is to be provided as a public service subject to a public service remit and appropriate conditions and controls.


  Under section 17 of the Bill, OFCOM is given the duty to establish and maintain a Content Board. Certain persons are disqualified from being members of the Content Board, being members or employees of broadcasters with a public service remit (BBC, Welsh Authority and C4 Corporation). The proposed amendment ensures that the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee members and employees are also disqualified.


  3.1  Section 144 of the Bill sets out OFCOM's functions in relation to the regulation of the "BBC's Services". The "BBC's Services" are defined in a way which excludes all publicly funded services. As Gaelic Broadcasting Committee services are publicly funded, it should also be excluded from the relevant scope.

  3.2  The main insertions that are proposed to Part 3 Chapter 1 are new sections 146A to 146C. Section 146A redefines the function of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee from that set out in section 183 of the Broadcasting Act 1990. The proposed function is that, in addition to its existing role of funding the production of Gaelic programmes, the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee should be permitted to commission the making of programmes and to make whatever arrangements it deems appropriate in furtherance of its general remit to distribute the programmes it has financed and, if feasible, to provide a Gaelic programme service. The Committee is given a general remit to apply the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund in a manner which will secure the provision of high quality television and sound programmes in Gaelic with a view to their being made available for reception by Gaelic-speaking members of the public in the United Kingdom. Gaelic language provision is highlighted rather than the provision of services to a particular geographical area, to give the Committee flexibility to provide services outside of Scotland.

  3.3  To enable the Committee to provide a Gaelic programme service, it requires the ability to hold relevant licences. This is provided for in section 146A(5).

  3.4  As the BBC has a wider public service remit, which arguably should include the provision of Gaelic language programming for Gaelic licence-fee payers, section 146B proposes similar provisions to those contained in section 58 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 requiring the BBC to provide Welsh programmes to the Welsh Authority. The figure of seven hours is based on the reasonable figure of one hour of programming a day.

  3.5  Section 146C ensures that OFCOM is given power to regulate the provision of services by the Committee, similar to the powers OFCOM has over the Welsh Authority and the BBC.


  The amendments to Part 3 Chapter 2 of the Bill are to ensure that the Committee is not treated as an independent service provider under the relevant provisions of the Bill, but as a public service provider. The Committee is then regulated as a public service provider in the same way as the BBC and the Welsh Authority—see amendments to Part 3 Chapter 4. A number of amendments have therefore been drafted to ensure that the Committee is excluded from the relevant sections (section 147 (Regulation of independent television services) and section 168 (Regulation of independent radio services)).


  5.1  Amendments are proposed to ensure that, where the Committee provides a Gaelic programme service, it does so under a public service remit, given that it is publicly funded. The Committee is therefore included in the relevant sections (section 181OFCOM reports on the fulfilment of the public service remit), section 189 ((Programming quotas for independent productions), section 194 (Regional programming), section 199 (Categorisation of listed events), section 203 (Code relating to provision for deaf and visually impaired), section 205 (Meaning of "relevant date" in section 203), section 209 (Code of practice for electronic visual programme guides) and section 217 (Setting and publication of standards)).

  5.2  Section 225 (Corresponding rules for the BBC and the Welsh Authority) is also amended to include the Committee, which results in new insertions into Schedule 8 to govern the provision of programming services by the Committee. These provisions largely mirror the provisions in the Bill drafted for the Welsh Authority.

  5.3  Sections 229A to 229D are new sections in the same terms as addressed to the Welsh Authority in Part 3 Chapter 4, giving OFCOM the ability to regulate the Committee's public service remit. Only section 229D(2)(b) is new for the Committee's version of the relevant sections, being a Committee equivalent to the Welsh Authority provision at section 62 of the Broadcasting Act 1990.


  These amendments ensure that the relevant definitions used in Part 3 are included or amended.


  This amendment is simply to add a general definition for the Committee in the Bill.


  As the proposed amendments provide that the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee's funding be paid directly to it, only certain functions of the Independent Television Commission survive to be transferred to OFCOM.


  9.1  Schedule 8 imposes obligations on the BBC and the Welsh Authority in respect of their public broadcasting services and defines the public service remit of the Welsh Authority. Provisions similar to those for the Welsh Authority are included for the Committee.

  9.2  The exceptions are the new clauses at paragraphs 27 and 28. Paragraph 27 is included to give a Committee equivalent to the provision governing the Welsh Authority at section 63 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (Government Control over S4C). Paragraph 28 is included to give a Committee equivalent to section 64 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (Audience Research by the Welsh Authority).


  10.1  These provisions set out how the Broadcasting Act 1990 is to be amended by the Communications Act, once enacted. The Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, to the extent that it provides a Gaelic programme service, should be expected to give those that request it advance information about its programmes, and it is therefore included in the relevant provision at section 176 of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

  10.2  Section 183 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 established the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee. As the functions of the Committee are to be expanded by the proposed amendments, section 183 is amended to give the Committee more secure funding, using identical terms for the indexed funding afforded the Welsh Authority (see proposed amendment to paragraph 99 (Gaelic Broadcasting)). As there is no regulatory reason for the Committee's funding to be channelled through OFCOM, amendments are also made to section 183 to provide that the Committee's funding is paid directly to it.

  10.3  Amendments are also made to the Broadcasting Act 1990 to ensure that any public funding received by the Committee is not used to subsidise any commercial activities it undertakes, in similar terms to the restrictions placed upon the Welsh Authority. The Committee is permitted to engage in commercial activities to exploit the programmes it produces and the intellectual property rights contained in them, but any income it generates as a result must be fed back into the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund for use in the performance of the Committee's functions.

  10.4  Amendments are made to Schedule 19 of the Broadcasting Act (see proposed amendments to paragraph 104 (The Gaelic Television Committee)) to ensure that the Committee can apply the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund for the payment of members' and employees' salaries and for office accommodation and other facilities. Certain Independent Television Commission powers and functions over the Committee are therefore removed.


  This is a minor technical amendment.

June 2002

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