The National Childcare Scheme and the PSC

My quick thoughts on the requirement to have a PSC and a MyGovID account in order to access payments under the New Childcare Scheme. I was speaking about this on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE1 radio this morning.

  1. 1) The DPC has said this requirement is illegal in her report (published yesterday)
    “THE SPECIFIED BODY CANNOT REFUSE TO ENGAGE IN A TRANSACTION WITH A PERSON WHO DOES NOT HAVE A PSC AND WHO DOES NOT OBTAIN ONE” – DPC Report, Page 12
  2. The Government has argued with this finding in public, but it has not appealed it. It is now out of time to do so (21 days). Section 26(1) of the Data Protection Act 1988 is below, setting out that time limit.
  3. The text has been amended, but the 21 day time limit remains. The finding stands unchallenged. The time is up to challenge it. There can be no backdoor reset of the appeal time limit. The Department of Children has acknowledged it is aware that its policy is contrarty to the DPC’s finding.
  4. However, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has confirmed that, as things stand, online applications for the scheme will only be processed for people in possession of a verified MyGovID, the web equivalent of the physical PSC.
  5. “The Dept of Children is legally responsible for any breach it makes of the GDPR, but it appears to be reluctant to adopt its responsibility. “The Department of Children referred questions regarding the DPC’s decision to the Department of Social Protection, which it said is “considering it and will respond in due course”. “Officials in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs are liaising with them in this regard,” said the spokesperson.”
  6. The alternative system, without a PSC, is not available until Jan. But if the PSC isn’t needed in that system, it is not needed at all.”However, the manual, postal application process will not come on line until late January next year, meaning that for the first three months of the scheme’s life the PSC will be the only means by which people can access the plan’s subsidies.
  7. The DPC’s report acknowledged this trend to use the PSC not to access public services but to act as a barrier to them.“Rather than the PSC being any kind of enabler for the purpose of accessing public services (other than social welfare services and free travel), it can in fact operate as an impediment to accessing public services.”

RTÉ after Netflix: Recasting Broadcast

What is the point of a Broadcast TV station in a post-Netflix streaming world?

There is a crisis of relevance in the slow-moving and state regulated world of broadcast TV. What is the point of turning up and having programmes being beamed indiscrimiately across a specific geographical location when you can just stream or download anything, anytime, anywhere?

The Long Now

RTÉ is gasping financially, the government having kicked away any change in the structure of the licence fee for at least five years. The advertising market continues to gradually drain away to the online duopoly of Google and Facebook, in Ireland as much as internationally.

Meanwhile, Netflix has proved the streaming model so succesfully that a myriad of competitors are in the works, all basically slotting their own content into the familiar binge-watch choice model.

So, it might seem like a strange idea to suggest that now is the moment to focus again on the things that broadcast TV can do that others can’t. Specifically, broadcast is about Simultaneity- these are things (live events or broadcasts) which are happening at the same time, and in the same way in everyone’s home.

A football match, a political event, X-Factor, The Late Late Toy Show, god help us the Rose of Tralee. And, most crucially for the public sphere- the News.

They’re the backbone of public discussion. The things that happened, that we all saw, or that everyone else saw and we missed and now we have to catch up.

Netflix avoids the zeitgeist

Meantime, on Netflix, something weird hovers around the art direction of the shows it is building up. A Netflix original show doesn’t have to be a huge hit when it comes out (though they’d like it if it was). What it has to show is the ability to stick around- to be watched and rewatched over time, so you’re less likely to drop your subsription because then you wouldn’t have that comfortable favourite.

There’s a reason Netflix paid €100m for the rights to show Friends repeats. It’s basically pre-chewed tv for your brain.

But take a look at Gotham – (aka Young Batman). What decade is it set in? 1940s rotary dial phones on desks, non-specific mobiles in pockets, suit lapels that swell and shrink outside the bounds of fashion.

Netflix wants series set in the future, in the past or inside the memory of other stories.

It is not interested in telling stories about us, now. Because it wants its programming to still be as (non) contemporary in 5 years as it is now.

Broadcast lets the nation talk

That’s 100% fine as a commercial entertainment entity. But it leaves the field wide open to public service broadcasters to do the things they are meant to do- to be a nation talking to itself, about itself.

Except RTÉ approaches this space hobbled- as it has always been- by the founding errors of the Broadcasting Acts. Hemmed in on one side by public subsidy (via the Licence Fee) which no Govt is in a hurry to pay the political price needed to update and on the other by advertising revenues which are structurally doomed to dwindle away.

This week sees the current Director General of RTÉ warning of cuts and structural changes to come as it continues to run at a loss.

There is talk of dropping the public service elements of RTÉ (LyricFM, orchestras, etc) in favour of activities which raise money via advertising. It is possible for a broadcaster to be profitable if it limits its output to whatever it can sell more ads against. But it isn’t possible for them to remain a Public Service Broadcaster. It’s just commercial telly with a weird tax subsidy.

If we’re going to preserve the value RTÉ offers us- it’s audience and it’s owners, both- we are going to have to take control of the discussion. This is never going to be solved at the political level, where there are no votes in imposing price increases to fund more scrutiny of the political class. It isn’t going to come from RTÉ’s executive level, who have no access to any of the levers of power that might change their structurally broken legislative underpinnings.

Heresies to set us free

If we’re going to seize control of the discussion, l’d like to set out the heresies we should start with that nobody else will touch.

  1. A very substantial increase in public funding.
  2. Eliminate advertising.
  3. Presenter salaries are a distraction. We need to be able to discuss RTÉ without having the conversation derailed by a sterile bunfight of almost zero financial significance. Just… forget it.

Number 1 and number 2 are two sides of the same coin. If we’re going to get rid of advertising, we’ll need to replace the fund with money from elsewhere. It’s a public service broadcaster we want. So, like the BBC, we need to fund it from the public.

How that funding is delivered isn’t straightforward- a TV licence looks like a weird model in a world where screens can live in your pocket. But direct funding from central funds leaves the station open to direct influence and threat year to year in every budget. The BBC’s Charter comes up for renewal every 10 years, and it still distorts and influences output as it approaches. An annual leash for a broadcaster would be hobbling.

Removing Advertising from RTÉ would, ironically, also serve the rest of the media market who do rely on ads, giving them all a suddenly bigger slice of that slowly shrinking pie.

That’s the sort of conversation we need. We need to ask how we deliver the service we want without introducing new problems. This is the heart of constructive dialog.

Number 3 is about making room for that structual conversation by just parking the nonsense that has distracted us- the audience- from having it. Presenter salaries are a piece of shiny paper on a stick, drawing attention from the structural and legislative changes RTÉ needs. We can’t solve the real problems of a €300 million company if the only thing we can talk about is the €3m spent on the top ten presenters. The deficit is €13million. Fire them all and replace them with ads for sliderobes and you still haven’t addressed anything.

It doesn’t matter, so… just forget it.

RTÉ has serious flaws and failings. The programmes are too frequently baggy and aimed at people who think middle aged men are young. There’s a lack of originality. It’s instiutionally frozen in the headlights of the internet. There’s [insert your criticism here]. But none of that can be fixed while its starving to death.

If we want RTÉ to change, we need it to survive.

So, first things first.

Why the BAI is not the body to regulate the internet

The Sunday Independent had an eyecatching report this weekend.

Headlined “First social media controls revealed: Irish watchdog to police content across EU” it sets out the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s proposals to Government as to how the the AV Services Directive should be transposed into Irish law. If it stopped at those sensible and straightforward proposals, there would be nothing objectionable in the sensible idea of the BAI becoming the local implementing body of EU requirements for common age classification on Netflix, or an increase in EU produced material to protect Europe’s cultural identity.

But, in response to a specific set of queries from the Minister the BAI went further than the implementation of the EU law. They suggested that their role be hugely expanded to become a general regulator of all content (in any form, rather than just video) on the internet. And not just public content. They suggest that they, acting in a new role as an Online Service Regulator (OSR), should have the power to block or censor private communications between individuals.

“The OSR should be able to issue HOC Notices to both “open” online services (e.g. social media platforms) and “encrypted” online services (e.g. private messaging services).”

Taken simply on its own, this demonstrates why making a Broadcasting Regulator a regulator of individuals’ private communications is a bad idea. Institutionally, the instincts of regulating Broadcast (with all its panoply of editorial controls, licencing arrangements etc) should not be applied to private messages between citizens. After that comes the question of how the BAI would propose to access encrypted private messages- and whether it has made that suggestion unaware of its impracticality.

In addition, the BAI outlines its approach to how it would go about implementing EU Law:

Extract from BAI Proposal

To that extent, the key question in determining whether essential functionality applies from a constructive perspective is not to ask if the Directive applies, but rather should the Directive apply such services having regard to the need for protections to be put in place for audiences and the European Institutions’ intentions.

 

This commitment to implementing what the law should say over what it says is, to my knowledge, a novel approach to implementing EU Law.

The proposal also addresses one of the more difficult issues in regulating completely unalike media- Broadcast and Internet.

It does this by simply asserting they can both be treated the same. Problem. Solved.

The BAI welcomes the greater degree of regulatory consistency between on-demand and linear broadcasting services which is reflective of changing consumption patterns amongst audiences… As a general regulatory principle, the BAI takes the view that it is desirable for “like” services to be obliged to follow “like” rules. Given the significant convergence of the market for audiovisual media over the past decade, the BAI endorses the more level playing field envisioned by the Directive between television broadcasting services and on-demand services….

To the extent that an area of regulation is harmonised by the Directive, however, the BAI feels that it is entirely appropriate that television broadcasting services and on-demand services should be obliged to follow similar rules ensuring similar standards of protection for audiences. Taking measures to ensure greater equivalency in these areas is both a legal obligation and desirable from an audience perspective.

The BAI is a creature of the Broadcasting Act 2009. I have written previously about the inappropriateness of that Act to a modern society in the past.

Section 39 (1) (d) of that act says;

Every broadcaster shall ensure that “anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence, or as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State, is not broadcast by the broadcaster,”

This section puts causing offence to be just as serious a breach as undermining the authority of the State. But no society can ever improve itself, can ever acknowledge what is wrong and address how to make things better, if we can only say things that cause nobody any offence.

By outlawing the giving of offence Section 39(1)(d) is a ban on open discussion on our airwaves, making the broadcasting complaints process a happy hunting ground for people who don’t want to be disturbed in their cosy beliefs.

If the BAI thinks that this is the appropriate standard to apply to online discussion- and they do say that they would seek to censor things which were not illegal- then that, by itself is a demonstration that it has all the wrong impulses to be left responsible for the most important communications and social medium in human history.

From PIAB To InjuriesBoard to PIAB again

New PIAB Logo

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, or PIAB, was created by statute in 2003. It was set up as an institution to deal with injured people's claims- back injuries, falling over on a banana skin in the supermarket, you name it.

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Blue Peter: England’s dream of childhood

It is the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter. Described airily as a “magazine show” to those unfamiliar with its sui generis format, Blue Peter has sat in the BBC schedule as unwaveringly as the 9 O’Clock News for a televisual eon.

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When the Sheriff loses it

Here's an interesting specific (and extreme) example of an administration body which becomes sociopathic by losing sight of its purpose. It is a institutional disorder which seems to be endemic across corporate entities. It's most serious in state bodies, because of they're gifted with state coercion powers.

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Trump v Nixon: Disapproval rating

Donald Trump has been President of the US for just over a fortnight now. Gallup, the polling people, have been tracking his approval and disapproval ratings daily. Today, his disapproval rating hit a new high of 53% of all US adults.

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