Business Irish

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Cash-strapped RTE may face 'difficult choices' - BAI chief

DG Forbes to stress urgency of financial woes at first meeting with Bruton

BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe. Photo: David Conachy
BAI chief executive Michael O’Keeffe. Photo: David Conachy
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

RTE will have 'difficult choices' to make in relation to the range of services it can provide if the Government does not agree to increase its funding, according to Michael O'Keeffe, chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

The public broadcaster has long been seeking an increase to its licence fee or changes to how it is collected to improve its financial situation.

RTE is understood to have made a sizeable loss in 2018. It lost €6.4m in 2017 and almost €20m in 2016.

A decision on RTE's funding is due as early as March after the BAI recommended a €30m increase, while a cross-Government report on the collection of the licence fee is due in the first quarter of this year.

Asked about RTE's ability to keep delivering current levels of service without additional money, O'Keeffe told the Sunday Independent: "If funding doesn't improve for them, then they have difficult choices to make.

"There are two ways you can address the issue. One is you give funding for specific things. I know the commercial sector would be concerned that if you give them additional funding they'll go head-to-head in commercial terms. We're very clear that funding is around public service content, like arts, like culture, like drama, where significant funding is required."

He said it was up to the Government to take a view on the need for that content.

"If government says that it is not feasible or sustainable to give that level of funding, then the public broadcaster has choices to make. There will be difficult choices," he said. "If you don't get additional funding, then you are challenged."

RTE had no comment to make in relation to O'Keeffe's comments.

RTE director general Dee Forbes will shortly meet new Communications Minister Richard Bruton for the first time and will impress upon him the urgency of the broadcaster's financial difficulties.

Almost a year ago Forbes said that the broadcaster's situation was not sustainable.

The issue of RTE's finances and presenter pay was raised in the Dail last week. Bruton said RTE is independent in relation to its operations and noted RTE's commitment to reducing presenter pay.

Meanwhile, the minister has approved RTE plans to provide a new RTE2+1 television service as well as an extended 24-hour RTE One+1 service. Virgin Television had objected to these plans. RTE intends to make these services available on all platforms from February 13.

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