Friday 28 October 2016

TG4's €9m slice of licence fee hits RTE drama plans

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Communications Minister Denis Naughten (Picture: Tom Burke)
Communications Minister Denis Naughten (Picture: Tom Burke)

More than €9m diverted from the TV licence fee to TG4 means there's less money to spend in RTE for big home-grown productions, new documents reveal.

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RTE's dire financial circumstances were laid out in stark detail to Communications Minister Denis Naughten ahead of a meeting with senior figures from the state broadcaster.

Huge drops in revenue and less spending on Irish productions - similar to Love/Hate and Rebellion - were outlined in the briefing prepared by his officials.

The briefing reveals that RTE's commercial income dropped by approximately €100m since 2009 and licence fee income has dropped by around €18m a year - including more than €9m diverted to TG4 - which means "less spending on Irish productions".

An estimated 300 jobs have been lost in the independent sector because RTE can only spend the bare minimum on outside productions, the report states, adding that RTE is "actively looking at how it can maximise the yield from its Montrose site".

In today's Sunday Independent Business section it is revealed that RTE believes that up 500 homes could be developed on a portion of its Donnybrook site currently being prepped for sale.

The level of TV licence evasion stands at 13.75pc, almost three times the 5pc rate in the UK.

Last week the Sunday Independent revealed that RTE staff are bracing themselves for further cost-cutting measures as losses for the year approach €20m.

Senior managers briefed employees to warn them of the worsening financial position and flag the possibility of redundancies and other cuts.

Mr Naughten has ruled out an increase in the licence fee but plans to bring in measures to tackle evasion.

The briefing by his officials - released under freedom of information - came ahead of Mr Naughten's meeting with RTE chair Moya Doherty and outgoing director of news Kevin Bakhurst on June 21.

The document notes that TV licence income has suffered as a result of the 2011 decision to cap Department of Social Protection contributions for 'free licences' at 2010 levels and a further cut of €5m imposed in 2014.

Such income was also hit by the decision to use €9.245m of licence fee receipts to part-fund TG4.

"This has reduced RTE's licence income by approximately €18m per annum -meaning less spend on Irish productions," the officials state.

They also note that RTE's spend on independently produced commissions has fallen from over €70m in 2008 to around €40m in 2014 - the minimum it's statutorily obliged to spend.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has twice recommended increases to the licence fee in line with inflation in recent years, the document says.

But it notes that the Government has "made clear that no consideration of increased funding should be undertaken until the scope of further efficiencies in RTE has been examined".

Along with highlighting licence fee evasion, the report states that 8pc of households say they don't have TVs.

Asked what the Government is doing to help RTE amid its financial difficulties, a spokesman for Mr Naughten said: "The Minister recognises the challenges that face the existing TV licence system and considers that the immediate focus should be on improving the operation of the licence fee system to provide an improved basis for funding into the future". This would include measures to tackle the "current unacceptable levels of TV licence evasion".

He said any consideration of the decision to divert licence fee funds to TG4 would be "confidential" as the estimates process for Budget 2017 is ongoing.

Sunday Independent

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