WATCH: RTÉ Archives Reform – PMB

View bill here.

View explanatory memo here.

Full transcript:

I thank the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, for her time. I am delighted to bring forward the Bill to Second Stage. It is almost a year to the day since I introduced it, and the past year has certainly been interesting for broadcasting. It has perhaps shown the need for the Bill and made the need for it even more pertinent.

The Bill is simple. It will take some of the responsibilities of the director of the National Archives and apply them to the director general of RTÉ. It is about ensuring we will have not only the publication of archives but also the finding aids and other materials relating to the archives in order that they will be easier to search and use. These finding aids do exist and are used internally at RTÉ every day by staff who use the excellent archives at the broadcaster. Another change the Bill proposes is to make RTÉ’s archives freely available for personal research and academic use in line with the greater public interest. Currently, access is permitted on an ad hoc basis and it is usually at the behest of RTÉ, without a clear, formalised process.

I have met the people who manage the archives for RTÉ and I was very impressed by the diligent and hard work they do. Until the nineties, RTÉ was the only TV broadcaster in the country. It has a deep, rich archive and the staff are important custodians of a deep, rich cultural and social history of who we were as a country, who we are now and that journey we made. A lot has been written about the impact of RTÉ and its shows on Irish history and culture, and what I got from RTÉ was a great sense of the awareness of the importance of that archive as a national asset. It is about acknowledging that, trying to protect it and trying to expand it in order that everyone can benefit from access to it.

Many positive things are happening. A great deal of work is being done on a digitisation project, which is essential for the kind of thing I want to see but also for preserving that deep, rich, historical treasure that RTÉ holds. The question then has to be asked, however, even if we do digitise the entire archive, as to who is going to get to see this wonderful archive and who is going to get to use it. We get snippets of what is in there and RTÉ provides some curated access to its archives on its website, which are excellent, but it is about the purpose of creating this archive and who gets to see it.

Judging by the introduction of the deposit return scheme, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can look to other European countries and see what is working effectively. In the UK, there are transparent and accessible national archives through the BBC. Legislation requires the BBC to deposit the collection with the British Film Institute, which is then readily available for the public to view on site at the institute, and there is no reason we cannot implement a similar regime here. That takes the archive and makes it publicly accessible, which is ultimately what we want to do. I understand that similar processes are happening in the Netherlands and that similar good work is done in Switzerland to preserve archives.

Currently, as I said, there is limited access to the archive for those outside RTÉ, but since introducing my Bill on First Stage, a lot of researchers have approached me and spoken about how it is very ad hoc, opaque and hard for anyone who is doing meaningful academic research to get into that archive and access it. That is a shame, because it means this positive work being done on digitisation, careful curation and preservation is not being seen and the rich historical archive is not being seen.

What the Bill will do is very simple and straightforward. It will put that obligation on RTÉ such that it will need to do this in a way that is open and public. As I said, recent times have been quite interesting for RTÉ and have underlined for many people the importance of, and their desire for, public service broadcasting.

It has underlined for many people the importance of, and their desire for, public service broadcasting. Ultimately, RTÉ is about public service broadcasting and public service, but that cannot just be in the moment, namely, at the point of broadcast, it must reach back and include the archive. We must acknowledge that part of RTÉ’s public service is the good work it is doing at the minute in curation and preservation but we need to take that knowledge, that cultural, historical and social treasure, share it around and make it accessible. What this Bill does is very simply put an obligation on RTÉ to open up the archive. Where things are happening now in an ad hoc way, they would have to become significantly more streamlined.

I accept that this Bill may not be as simple as I would like to suggest and that there are issues that need to be ironed out. Since publishing the Bill, I have been contacted by people whose parents, husbands or wives are in the archives because they featured in TV shows that were broadcast 30, 40 or 50 years ago. They have asked how this legislation will affect their rights as actors or copyright holders. They have asked if it will lead to rebroadcasting and what the consequences of that might be. These are issues that need to be worked through but because my focus is on academic access, personal and non-commercial use, they will be easier to tease out and work through. These are not insurmountable issues. Equally, I appreciate that there may be concerns around editorial control and material being produced in one context but used in a different one and that being unfair to those in the archive material itself. Again, I highlight the fact that this is about academic and personal use and personal research, which sidesteps those legitimate concerns because it is about legitimate research and non-commercial use. It is not about opening up a free-for-all or wild use of the archive.

This is a very simple, neat and straightforward Bill that puts a clear obligation on RTÉ to facilitate access to its archives. Those archives are excellently curated and preserved. RTÉ is investing in, and doing good work on, its archives, as it should do because they are an important cultural, social and historical asset to everyone. In the interests of supporting and building public service broadcasting and of RTÉ rebuilding the trust of the population, the national broadcaster needs to provide us all with access to the archives. This Bill places an obligation on RTÉ, as part of its public service remit, to do just that but to do it in a controlled way for personal and research use but not for commercial use. The archives, the finding aids and the materials around them can be a rich source for the country as a whole and a continuation of RTÉ’s public service broadcasting obligations.