Wednesday 21 February 2018

Bold decisions must be taken to preserve its critical remit as a public broadcaster

Dee Forbes, Director General of RTE. Photo: David Conachy
Dee Forbes, Director General of RTE. Photo: David Conachy
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The catchphrase coined by the United Nations for this year's International Women's Day celebrations was "be bold for change".

It's a catchphrase that Dee Forbes, the inaugural female director general of RTÉ, is taking to heart as she seeks to guide the State broadcaster - nursing losses of some €20m in 2016 alone - not just to safer shores but into survival territory.

Today, RTÉ brings just over a quarter of its existing 32.12 acre campus at Donnybrook to market, a move that will secure at least €75m for the broadcaster. The sale, which is expected to exceed the guide price significantly, is desperately required to shore up RTÉ's balance sheet.

We're unlikely to get much public sympathy, I know. But one of the most devastating phenomena for journalists - and by extension the public interest - over the past decade has been the evisceration of our ranks as a centuries old economic model fell away in the face of a global recession and advances in technology.

Like all media, RTÉ is facing into a perfect storm of falling ad revenues, consumers migrating to digital and mobile devices, Brexit and other factors such as high licence fee evasion levels. But unlike other media, RTÉ hasn't seen the sheer scale of job losses and cuts - or rationalisation in management speak - that have ravaged sectors such as the print media.

It's not too far fetched to say that the crisis facing our media, which like it or not is critical to democracy, is facing an existential crisis.

That is why Ms Forbes must be bold and instigate changes that will protect RTÉ's critical remit as a public broadcaster.

Her task will not be easy.

The former president of Discovery Networks Northern Europe does not have the freedom to implement cuts that she may have enjoyed in her former role. And she has to contend with easily offended politicians vulnerable to swings in public mood and a workforce that is essentially civil service in form, if not nature.

But Ms Forbes must make bold changes - the price of not doing so is one we as a society can't afford to pay.

Irish Independent

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