RTE warns State it's facing big struggle to fund content
Published 17/09/2013 | 05:00
RTE has delivered a veiled threat to the Government that it will struggle to fund public-service news programming, plus its radio dramas, classical station lyric fm and the national orchestras.
The semi-state broadcaster released a five-year blueprint to "stabilise" RTE for the future – which set out a bid for a "modest" increase in public funding.
The TV licence fee of €160 is "significantly" below the European average, the report notes.
Noel Curran, director general of RTE, said they had been "working hard to reshape" RTE for the future.
"We have been through five turbulent years, and now we need to look forward," he said.
It depicts a 'leaner' broadcaster, which has cut its cost-base by over €100m since 2008, with staff levels down by one-fifth and pay cuts implemented.
Yet, as RTE was undergoing major cost-cutting, so too were advertisers, with a 35pc fall-off over a four-year period.
RTE's content and schedules have suffered in the cutbacks and it has lost audience share. It warned this was "not sustainable" as it was dual-funded and smaller audiences meant less income from adverts.
The blueprint warned it would struggle to support key public-service activities such as news and current affairs, RTE's lyric fm and the national orchestras.
It says "much is at risk", such as national regional coverage, investment in Irish sport and Irish-language services.
"Without action, there will be a decline in both RTE's relevance and commercial viability," it said. It sets out an option that if public funding is at least increased to take into account inflation, then spend on programme content will remain in line with 2013.
However, it also set out a second option for a "modest" increase in public funding, which would see it increase investment in drama, grow its breaking news News Now channel, deliver more science and history programmes, support investigative journalism and invest in new comedy.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte plans to send the New Era body into RTE to "probe operation efficiencies" as it continues its consultation on a new Public Service Broadcasting charge.
"I look forward to studying the plan," he said. "The licence-payer deserves value for money."
The broadcaster last month reported a €65.2m deficit for 2012, mainly due to a €46m restructuring charge. It has indicated it should break even this year.
The plan came as RTE's head of news said it may re-open its London bureau as soon as costs allowed. At a media conference in Dublin City University, Kevin Bakhurst said there was "no better way" to capture the finer points of a story than to have a reporter on the ground.
But at the same event, TV3 chief executive David McRedmond assailed RTE for its dominance in what he believes is an unfair market. "RTE's budget is about six times greater than its only competitor," he claimed
By Louise Hogan and Peter Flanagan