- Irish Television and the Newspapers, 1962–72:An Armed Truce?
The launch of the Irish Republic’s first television service on New Year’s Eve 1961 at a gala event in one of Dublin’s premier hotels gave little indication of the trials and tribulations that were to beset its early years. These ordeals reflected, in a manner that has not yet been fully examined, the complex relationship that was to develop between old and new media, the impact of television on the media market generally (and in particular on the market for media advertising), and the faint but discernible fault lines that were to emerge on the core issue of freedom of the press. Such conflicts arose at a time when old cultural and political certainties were being scrutinized, questioned, and tested as never before, and when new structures were being put in place for the governance of public-service broadcasting. A study of the sources, and in particular of newspaper attitudes to the various controversies that affected the infant Irish television station in its first decade or so, provides at least circumstantial evidence for the view that the print media were frequently uncertain and inconsistent in deciding what attitude to adopt to their brash new rival, and for these reasons were sometimes surprisingly low-key defenders of the principles of media freedom for television journalism—principles that they held dear in relation to their own media.
The public discourse around the inauguration of the new Telefís Éireann1 as reflected in the print media was—to put it mildly—limited. Newspaper controversy tended to focus on two concerns, neither of them really central to the statutory and structural issues involved. One was the impending appointment to the chairmanship [End Page 95] of the proposed new television authority of Eamonn Andrews, a longtime broadcaster in radio and television whose links with commercial broadcasting in Britain had rendered him suspect in the eyes of some. The other was the concern of many of these critics about the future of the Irish language and, to be more precise, the extent to which it could secure the place they felt it deserved (and needed) in the new broadcasting service in order to further a policy of revival. By contrast to the attention paid to these two issues, the dual-funding model on which the new television service was established had already been the subject of a controversy that was largely carried out beneath the radar of the print media. This conflict was evident in the internal cabinet discussions that pitted the advocates of a dual-funding model against those who believed that no public monies whatsoever should be invested in what they considered a suspect enterprise. The proponents of the latter point of view were initially led by the taoiseach Seán Lemass. That they were defeated by those who supported the dual-funding model (it must have been one of the few, and perhaps the only, occasion in which Lemass’s view was substantially modified by his cabinet colleagues) was largely a result of the influence of the secretary of the department of posts and telegraphs, Leon Ó Broin, a literate and persuasive public servant who had long been an admirer of the Reithian public-service broadcasting concept. Ó Broin, though conscious of the dangers of even partial commercialization, warned the cabinet effectively that national aims (including, but not limited to, the revival of the national language) would get short shrift in a service totally driven by commercial considerations.
When print publications did weigh in on the media newcomer, a concern was the impact on advertising. A full nine months before the new station went on air, the most successful commercial newspaper group in the country, Independent Newspapers, warned its readers (and, more significantly, its shareholders): “In the past we have increased revenue by periodic increases in the price of our papers and in our advertisement rates, but there must come a time in this process when the law of diminishing returns will begin to apply. Moreover, we are now faced by a lively new opposition in the form of a commercial television service.”2 More than once...