Speech by President Michael D. Higgins At a reception for the 20th Anniversary of Community Radio
Áras an Uachtaráin, Thursday 17th September, 2015
A Dhaoine Uaisle,
Tá áthas orm an ócáid seo a óstáil chun 20 bliain ar an bhfód Raidió Pobail a athaint agus a cheiliúradh. Is mian liom fíorchaoin fáilte a fhearadh romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin tráthnóna.
I am delighted to host this reception to acknowledge and celebrate 20 years of Community Radio. It is a fantastic achievement and one that each of you should be most proud of.
I would like to welcome today to the Áras all the members of CRAOL and at the outset I would like to congratulate CRAOL on its ongoing work supporting and developing Community broadcasting in Ireland. I would also like to thank in particular the current Chairperson, Mary Lennon, for writing to me about this important anniversary and for all her hard work and support that she provides to the sector at large, as well as being station manager of Athlone Community Radio.
When the Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC) introduced a community radio pilot project in 1995, issuing licences to community groups across the country, it was my sincere hope that these new stations would succeed.
When I appointed the second board of the IRTC in 1993 as the then Minister for Arts and Culture, I suggested that consideration would be given to developing community radio in Ireland.
I was keenly aware of the need for a stronger legislative footing for this important third strand of broadcasting, sitting alongside commercial and public service broadcasting, and I am delighted to see that after many years of piloting and licensing of community radio services by the IRTC and its successors, community sound broadcasting was ultimately provided for on a legislative basis in the Broadcasting Act 2009. Today we have 21 community groups on air throughout the country, from Dublin to Connemara, and Dundalk to Youghal.
Radio is a simple technology that is available to every individual and the programmes broadcast encourage the listener to become involved in discussions relating to their community. Ireland has the highest radio listenership in the EU. Irish people listen to radio for an average of 4 hours every day and it is estimated that 2.5 million people tune in on a daily basis.
It is estimated that every week, over 2500 Community Radio volunteers engage with over 300,000 people listening to 21 fully licensed Community Radio stations and many more which are at different stages of development.
Community Radio stations provide a unique social benefit to the communities they serve. They allow for community access and participation and the output of each station reflects the special interests and needs of its listenership. Your support for the Irish language, the arts, Irish music and local community groups is to be highly praised. The standard of programming is exceptional, especially considering the budgets available. The fact that stations are managed and operated by their members ensures the continuing level of success.
Community radio contributes hugely to society, catering to the special interests and needs of your listeners. While technology has become a way of life for many, the ability to reach remote communities, vulnerable or isolated individuals and ensuring inclusion in society through radio is indispensable.
Training and first-hand experience for individuals interested in the broadcasting sector can be difficult to access. The opportunities provided by community radio to transition year students, 3rd level students and individuals are invaluable and I feel I should acknowledge those who support this area. The skills developed and nurtured by community radio stations have so often gone on to find expression in local and national broadcasting.
It is important that the community radio sector continues to offer quality programming of interest and of relevance to audiences, ensuring plurality of services and diversity of content to the communities that it serves. With the support of the BAI, CRAOL, the Community Radio Forum has worked to achieve this objective. Despite the recent economic downturn, community radio is still thriving. Resources were scarce during this period, and competition for listeners high, but community radio is still here and will be for the foreseeable future.
I am also aware that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) supports community radio through a range of funding supports including the Community Broadcasting Support Scheme, and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that support also. The fact that they operate on a “not-for-profit” basis means that the funding available from the scheme is of extreme importance to the sector. The success of community radio proves how well this funding is being utilised.
The BAI also provides funding support to CRAOL to support a range of initiatives including the preparation of a report on the impact of community radio, skills development, regional training workshops and the annual training Féile which was hosted in Dún Laoghaire by Dublin South FM in June this year. And I was interested to read that the first ever National Community Radio Day also took place in June of this year.
Through CRAOL’s efforts, I believe this day was a success with a number of live performances and outside broadcasts taking place, as well as workshops and parties. I hope that this will become an annual event to celebrate your achievements and attract new volunteers and audiences to your stations.
A healthy media sector is critical to any democracy. Ensuring variety and plurality in media is central to this health but it remains a challenge for a small country to deliver this on an ongoing basis. As an essential element of the broadcast and media ecosystem in Ireland, Community Radio has a vital role in contributing to the level of variety and plurality of content being delivered.
A central theme to my Presidency has been the importance of discourse, the means by which the exchange of ideas can take place within a community. I believe that the level and quality of how ideas are exchanged and discussed in society is critical to the health of democracy and to the capacity of society to resolve its difficulties and to build a more hopeful future. So much of our culture and our communications is in danger of being debased by commercialism and the reduction of information to the level of a commodity which can be priced, bought and sold.
Community radio is an important example of something much richer and more vital – the value of communication in society for its own sake. If we are to rebuild in Ireland a Real Republic worthy of the name, we must reconnect the various discourses in our society, reconnecting our considerations of politics and economics with considerations of ethics and community.
Your work in the community radio sector has an important role to play in this regard.
I wish you and your stations well and I am sure that you will have many more productive years serving your communities and the people of Ireland.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.