Friday 23 February 2018

RTE should get more funding, says broadcasting watching

But further stringent cutbacks needed at station

Mark O’Regan

RTE should receive an increase in public funding – but only on condition it imposes further “stringent” cutbacks at the station, the broadcasting watchdog has said.

Bob Collins, Chairperson of the BAI, said any additional funding to the state broadcaster should be granted on condition it outlines in advance what the money will be spent on.   

“Any additional funding that goes to RTE should be in return for clear plans set out in detail and in advance of what the money will be used for to ensure it is of a distinctly public service character,” he told the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

“We think there is a strong argument for saying that the level of programming available to an Irish audience needs greater investment.

“The interest of Irish democracy requires that there is a stronger level of domestic content than is available at the moment.

“For that reason we identified the need, subject to certain conditions, for additional funding to be made available to RTE.”

He said the authority’s recommendations of a funding increase were conditional on a number of factors.

These included slashing the state broadcaster’s cost base as “further reductions are possible.”

“This may not be the most productive time to look at issues of disposal of land, which were in RTE’s consideration some time ago,” he said.

He also suggested that Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte should “determine a point” at which RTE’s public funding would be matched with a reduction in its commercial revenue streams. 

While he believes RTE should make the best possible use of its “commercial opportunities”, he said these should be limited so “more are available to independent broadcasters.”

“There should be a mechanism to ensure that RTE gets less commercial revenue in the future,” he said.

“This will mean a rebalancing of the overall funding of broadcasting to enable commercial broadcasters to have access to a greater level of the commercial funding.

“This will increase everyone’s capacity to produce increased levels of Irish made content.”

He also stressed the need for RTE to be “fully present” in a digital environment and said the area needed “continued investment”.

“This is so that it is always ahead where the audience is and it is available to serve the audience wherever the audience chooses to receive its content.”

He also dismissed suggestions that the authority was in the business of “propping up” RTE, insisting it’s “not the cheerleader for anybody”.

“We take a detached, even-handed view and out primary concern is that the needs of audience are met.”

The meeting comes on foot of the BAI’s recently published five year review of public funding for public service broadcasters.

A BAI report, issued by Minister Pat Rabbitte in July, recommended a new approach to funding RTE which would separate license fee and commercial income streams.

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