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Forbes admits RTÉ weight-loss show involves ‘possible triggers’ but defends health benefits

Broadcaster is in talks with Google over payment for content

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Operation Transformation stars, from left, fitness coach Karl Henry, dietician Aoife Hearne, host Kathryn Thomas, GP Dr Sumi Dunne and principal clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy

Operation Transformation stars, from left, fitness coach Karl Henry, dietician Aoife Hearne, host Kathryn Thomas, GP Dr Sumi Dunne and principal clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy

Operation Transformation stars, from left, fitness coach Karl Henry, dietician Aoife Hearne, host Kathryn Thomas, GP Dr Sumi Dunne and principal clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes has admitted the station’s weight-loss TV show, Operation Transformation, involved “possible triggers”.

Green TD Neasa Hourigan told the Public Accounts Committee the programme had been criticised by body image and eating disorder groups.

“Where’s the test of how you’re doing that, and who is deciding what is in the public interest?” she asked Ms Forbes.

Ms Forbes said in the course of her reply: “I appreciate that there were possible triggers for people within it, but I think in the overall health of the nation and the overall benefits that are taken from it, we get very strong feedback.”

She said public service by its nature is about “entertaining, educating and informing”.

She added: “It’s important to say that every year the BAI [Broadcasting Authority of Ireland] assess how we deliver on our remit.”

She said there had been a “very positive reaction again” to Operation Transformation, but there had been possible triggers.

“The creators of the programme, in conjunction with ourselves, are very aware and across the issues you mentioned,” Ms Forbes told TDs and senators.

“We have evolved the programme, it has changed, and certainly we hope it is fulfilling a more holistic approach to the overall health issue.”

Asked about standards for the programme and whether particular groups reviewed the content to see “whether you have the right end of the argument”, Ms Forbes said RTÉ had carried out “independent research around this”.

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She did not name the research body, but said the effort had been made “to gauge any improvement that could be made to the programme”.

She told Ms Hourigan: “I’ll come back to you on where that research was carried out.”

Separately, RTÉ is in talks with Google about receiving payment for its content, it has emerged.

Ms Forbes told the Public Accounts Committee about the contact with the international web giant.

She said the station was involved in seeking a fair exchange value for its material.

It was not yet in discussion with Facebook, the largest social media platform, she said.

Ms Forbes also emphasised that RTÉ was not seeking an increase in the €160 annual licence fee, which has not been raised since 2013.

She said the station had argued instead for reform of the collection system.

Three in 10 households are currently not paying the licence fee – half of them legitimately because they don’t have a TV, although they may have other devices.

Ms Forbes said an increase in the licence fee without maximisation of collection and compliance would be “unjust” on those who were paying.

But there was an indicated shortfall in licence fee revenue of €65m – the same figure as RTÉ’s accumulated borrowings.

“If you are in a non-TV household and watching the RTÉ player, or listening to RTÉ radio, the current Broadcasting Act says that’s OK,” the director-general commented.

She said the evasion rate with the €160-a-year licence fee rose to 15.2pc in 2020, while at the same time 15.1pc of households no longer had a television, although they may be streaming on devices.

Meanwhile, RTÉ is committed to ironing out “issues” with its Player streaming service, the station’s head has said.

The station was allocating money to continually upgrade the Player, she said. What was needed to make it fit for purpose was ”significantly more than we’re spending now”.

Ms Forbes said: “I’ll be honest with you, we don’t have the resources or the money of some of the streamers or the likes of Channel Four where they have invested significantly in this.”

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said she had tried the RTÉ Player herself and regularly gave up in frustration.

James O’Connor of Fianna Fáil said the Player was “a disgrace”. “It is just not where it needs to be,” he added.


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