New broadcasting authority to be established this week


A NEW authority with powers to regulate all broadcasting, both commercial and RTÉ, is due to come into existence this week.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is expected to begin operations next Tuesday once the Cabinet approves five nominations to its board by Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan.

The remaining four board members will be appointed by the Government on the nomination of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications.

The powerful new authority takes over the functions of the existing Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, as well as many functions of the RTÉ Authority and the board of Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4).

The current term of the BCI board ended last December, but the board remained in place until now because of delays in the passage of the Broadcasting Bill 2008 through the Oireachtas. It eventually became law last July.

Mr Ryan is also due to appoint members of two key committees of the new body, which will have responsibility for the awarding of broadcasting licences and the monitoring of radio and television stations to ensure they are in compliance with the terms of their licence.

One of the first tasks of the new authority will be to draw up new rules governing the advertising of junk foods on television, something which is specifically provided for in the new legislation. A new code to govern religious advertising is also in planning.

Conor Maguire, who is stepping down as chairman of the BCI next week after 11 years, said he believed the commission had successfully expanded the range of stations available to the public while maintaining a robust broadcasting sector.

About nine new commercial stations and 10 community stations have been licensed in the past decade.

Mr Maguire, who is better known as Bertie Ahern’s barrister at the Planning tribunal, said he believed the BCI had been “flexible but consistent” in relation to new licenses and he pointed out that it had successfully defended 16 legal challenges by disappointed licence applicants.

He stressed the importance of corporate governance issues for the industry, in particular the separation of powers between the board of a station and its staff.