Business Irish

Sunday 25 August 2019

'It's incredible value for money' - RTE's new director general thinks licence fee should be doubled

  • RTE must 'adapt or die' - Dee Forbes
  • Licence fee 'incredible value for money'
  • RTE Two television service to be 'assessed'
  • 2FM is helping fulfill RTE's remit to 'younger demographic'
  • Production of 'Fair City' will stay in-house
  • Does not rule future sales of lands at Montrose

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

Laura Larkin and Jane Last

RTE’s new Director General has said she thinks the licence fee should be double the current charge.

Dee Forbes revealed today that she believes the current charge of €160 is “incredible value for money”.

Speaking to RTE Radio One's Today with Sean O'Rourke programme, she said; "The licence fee is 40c a day. I think it's incredible value for money... quite honestly I think it should be double that.

"If you look to places like the Scandinavian markets where their licence fee over double that and you see what you're getting for that, quite honestly the content is singing," she said.

"What I'm saying to you is the more money we have to play with content the more we can do."

A request has been made to the Government for a licence fee hike but no response has yet been received. She did not specify how much of an increase had been sought.

An overhaul of how the fee is paid is also in the pipeline.

Ms Forbes said a tender will be issued this year for a revamp of how the licence fee is collected.

She spoke about a model in Italy where collection rates were low and the licence fee was added to electricity bills.

Ms Forbes made her comments during a lengthy interview on the RTE radio programme.

However, in a follow up statement after the show Ms Forbes said:

"The current licence fee, at just over 40c a day, is I believe great value. Any notion that it be doubled is nonsense. What I am focused on is reform of the fee collection system to recover some €40m per annum that is lost to the entire Irish sector every year through evasion."

Ms Forbes say the national broadcaster must "adapt or die".

She outlined elements of the five year strategy to restructure RTE which is subject to approval from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Under the proposed strategy, the Television, Radio and Digital departments will now come under one Head of Content.

News and Current Affairs will remain outside of this structure as an independent entity.

“Today I will be announcing some changes to the structure which will consolidate us as an organisation around a philosophy which I’m calling ‘one RTE’,” she said.

“What I want to do is to bring us to a place where we are focused on content and how we bring that content to our viewers.”

Ms Forbes told broadcaster Sean O'Rourke that RTE must become more efficient and address the challenges it faces for the future.

"It's a case of adapt or die. And that's where we are now," she said.

“We do need to make these cuts they are necessary to the survival of the organisation,” she said. 

Money that will be raised from the sale of nine acres of land at Montrose will be put towards the purchasing of new IT equipment and "buildings refresh" which will allow RTE "play catch-up", Ms Forbes said.

She did not rule out further land sales in the future.

“We are the National Broadcaster and we strive to ensure that we can represent the best in Irish content… I think it’s fair to say given the financial situation of recent years our program budgets have suffered.

“What we have to do when we look at budgets going forward is that content is protected,” she said.

“The case where we are is critical… we’re fighting for survival,” she said.

“What I have to do with the team here is ensure that we do survive. We have to make choices.”

However, she said the voice of the public service broadcasting has never been more important than it is now.

"Public service broadcasting has never been so crucial. We are living in a world where fake news is dominating - for Ireland right now.... the independent voice of public media is vital," she said.

When pressed by O'Rourke who asked whether television service RTE Two could now be served on a digital platform only and now broadcast on a TV platform, Ms Forbes did not give any assurances.

"It's important to say we are evaluating everything critically," she said.

The main emphasis in the strategy is the question on whether RTE creating the right content for their audiences.

She did not stay whether RTE Two would remain a television service.

Regarding the future of 2FM, Ms Forbes said the radio station plays an important role in for RTE in meeting their younger demographic. She also cited DJ Jenny Green's work with 2FM and the RTE Orchestra reaching out to newer audiences as important for RTE. RTE has a very broad remit, Ms Forbes said, and 2FM is helping them fulfill their obligations to a younger demographic.

In relation to 'Fair City', Ms Forbes said production here was not going to be outsourced.

She confirmed the set is located on lands due to be sold - but it would be moved further up the RTE campus.

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