Broadcasters deserve a more level playing field
RTE is likely to get more of the taxpayers' scarce and hard-earned money. That is the upshot of a complex review process by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) published yesterday. The national public service broadcaster currently receives €184m in licence fees – the €160 all of us must pay each year.
The BAI also tells us that RTE will have to cut its advertising time in return for getting more funding. We sincerely hope this condition is followed through on.
Much of what RTE does is excellent and a valuable service to the nation. But equally, some of its output is decidedly commercial, and the organisation is in a rather privileged and protected position, getting a citizens' levy along with the right to sell advertising.
Its competitors in a very tough and open Irish media market are not so lucky. It is time to make some move towards creating a more level playing pitch.
Last year RTE raised €167m in commercial revenue to go with its licence revenue. No other media organisation enjoys this dual status, and a long hard look at the volume of advertising RTE sells is overdue. We trust that the authorities will do more than pay lip-service to this.
At the same time, the BAI has turned down a request from the mainly Irish language service, TG4, for more funding. We appreciate that times are hard, but this might be worth re-considering given that station's contribution to Irish culture and its overall modest budget.
The government body in charge of state companies, New ERA, has also been tasked with assessing how RTE can make more economies. Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte says there will be "no holds barred" in such a review, signalling that it should include a re-assessment of the questionable salaries paid to some 'star' broadcasters. The outcome of that review will be watched with interest.
Many of us struggling to find the €160 for the licence fee – soon to have its name changed to something else – will also be surprised to learn that almost one-in-five citizens currently does not pay. This 18pc rate of non-compliance is not acceptable and must be addressed immediately.