Licence fees 'give RTE site unfair edge'
THE newspaper industry last night claimed a €200m pot of funding from television licence fees was giving state broadcaster RTE's website an unfair advantage.
RTE rejected the claim, saying its news and entertainment website was part of the station's public service brief.
Its chief financial officer, Conor Hayes, told yesterday's Oireachtas Communications Committee meeting that the licence fee revenues of €200m per annum only covered half of RTE's operations last year. He said that the remainder was made up from commercial revenue such as advertising.
Frank Cullen, co-ordinating director of the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) group, said the money generated from the TV licence fees gave RTE an unfair advantage over other online news sites, which are struggling to generate revenues.
Mr Hayes said the rte.ie website was funded by commercial activity and a team of 70 people worked on the website, including journalists, web designers, and technicians.
Mr Cullen said he did not accept that all 70 people employed for RTE's online services could be paid purely from revenue generated by the company's website.
"The issue is that they have €200m per annum in state aid that is allowing them do things that the rest of us can't afford to do," Mr Cullen said on behalf of the NNI, which represents 18 national newspapers and 35 regional publications.
"They produce news and sport content with the benefit of the state subsidy and then they make that content available to rte.ie," he added.
Mr Hayes claimed the challenges faced by the Irish newspaper industry had been caused by an international shift to digital advertising and not by RTE's online activities.
He said RTE would not have any issue with following the practice in the UK, where the BBC provides its content to newspaper websites. This would involve a financial charge, Mr Hayes stressed. At the meeting, a solicitor for RTE also said that from a strict legal perspective, the inclusion by Google of RTE stories in its Google News online offering was a breach of copyright.