Goodbye Aertel, hello new rules on channel prominence

You wait years for a spot of media legislation, then two Bills come along at once. Well, almost at once.

The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, a mish-mash of welcome updates to the existing 2009 Act, was at the committee stage when the last Dáil was dissolved and it has since been – as Minister for Media Catherine Martin’s department put it this week – “overtaken by events”.

The newer, bigger, more ambitious Bill in town is the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, now undergoing its own committee scrutiny. As the two Bills overlap, the broadcasting amendments will now be “integrated” into the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill – with some, ahem, amendments to the amendments.

A new one proposes the removal of the statutory obligation on RTÉ to maintain the teletext service known to older viewers as Aertel. To younger viewers, it is known as that weird text that appears on screen whenever they accidentally hit the wrong button on their parents’ remote control.

Expect the last vestiges of Aertel to disappear the second RTÉ is given ministerial approval to move on from this legacy of the age of cathode ray tubes. In Aertel’s heyday, the phrase “what’s on the box?” was not an anachronism and the service was a genuinely useful source of information on sun holiday offers, even news headlines. It is now a ghost service that RTÉ is crying out to shut down.

‘Easily findable’

Another interesting amendment will give the proposed Media Commission the power to insist pay-TV services such as Sky and Virgin Media “guarantee prominence to Irish public service channels and content”, so that they remain “easily findable and discoverable”, the Minister said.

The addition of the word content here hints this will involve more than a simple requirement to leave RTÉ One in the channel 101 spot on electronic programme guides (EPGs), which both Sky and Virgin Media do voluntarily at present.

Legislation in this area needs to take account of successive upgrades to pay-TV services’ user interfaces – which give greater emphasis to on-demand options, away from the EPG – if it is to be meaningful.

Four years ago, a UK representative of Sky publicly warned it would drop RTÉ from its platform if it was made pay to carry RTÉ channels. That suggestion is off the table, but it is safe to say the threat did not go down well.

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