Newspaper group cries foul over RTE's edge
IRELAND'S newspaper industry yesterday called on Communications Minister Eamon Ryan to stop unfair competition by RTE and prevent the company straying from its original public service remit.
The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) is particularly concerned about the position of www.rte.ie, which the group said was preventing newspapers from fully embracing the digital age. The site provides free content, but also links up with commercially focused websites offering cars, dating services and property.
The body made a submission to Mr Ryan's department and is seeking an urgent meeting with the minister.
The group said Mr Ryan had widespread powers under the Broadcasting Act 2009 that could be applied to RTE, but so far this had not happened. For example, newspapers want RTE to be forced to outline what is public service broadcasting and what is not.
The NNI, which includes Independent News & Media (INM) representatives, said the media had changed radically and RTE still retained a huge advantage via the annual €200m in licence fee income.
The group said RTE had strayed hugely from its traditional public service remit.
"RTE has gone far beyond the proper limits of its public service remit by, for example, providing news on its website and on mobile screens free of charge, and by advertising in areas far removed from this remit," the NNI said.
"RTE should not be able to use public funding in a manner that adversely impacts on newspapers and other publicly funded media," it added. The best way to deal with these issues was for Mr Ryan to control RTE using the Broadcasting Act.
NNI spokesman Frank Cullen said the newspapers were not "moaning", but it was time for fresh thinking.
There was an angry response last night from the state broadcaster, which described the call for RTE's website to be "constrained" by the Government as "impractical, inaccurate and regressive, based on a fundamentally flawed view of online activity in Ireland".
A statement from RTE said the NNI was unfairly implying that its online service was hindering competitors, explaining that funds for the website came from a separate business unit, RTE Publishing, and not the licence fee.
It said that the NNI's submission "defies rational analysis in the context of a modern, open, digital economy".
INM (Ireland) chief executive Joe Webb said that newspapers were not looking for handouts, but simply wanted a level playing field.
He said that existing legislation gave clear advantages to RTE.