RTE abuses its position, claim rivals
RTE is using its €200m annual cash injection from the licence fee to prop up its commercial activities, putting other media at a significant competitive disadvantage, according to the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI).
The association also says RTE is acting outside its remit as a State broadcaster, under the terms of both domestic legislation and EU protocols, and has blurred the lines between its public-service role and its commercial activities.
These include RTE promoting various internet-based commercial activities in association with outside companies, such as a dating site (www.dating.rte.ie), car sales through www.rte.ie/motors and even house sales and rentals through RTE property.
"It is unfairly leveraging the privileged position it has in online and mobile space," Frank Cullen of the NNI claimed.
According to the NNI, which represents 18 national newspapers and 35 local and regional papers, Montrose has gone far beyond the limits of its public service remit, by, for example, providing news on its website and on mobile screens free of charge and advertising in areas far removed from this remit.
NNI says this competition is manifestly unfair and that RTE should not be able to use public funding in a manner that adversely impacts on newspapers and other non-publicly funded media.
"All our members have had to implement wage cuts, redundancies and cost-cutting initiatives. Despite this, we still face problems sustaining our businesses. Meanwhile, RTE enjoys a privileged position through its receipt of state funding," the NNI said in a statement
"Ireland's newspapers are facing immediate challenges, which can to a large extent be addressed by the effective implementation of the existing legislation and competition (including state aid) rules.
"This requires, at the least, effective controls of RTE under the Broadcasting Act 2009 and a willingness of RTE to develop an effective policy to ensure fair trading vis a vis newspapers and other media."
The association called on Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to rein in RTE's commercial activities in digital media.
It added that Minister Ryan enjoyed widespread powers under the Broadcasting Act 2009, which could be applied to RTE. It is seeking a meeting with the minister.
NNI includes among its members Independent News and Media, which publishes the Sunday Independent. The company's chief executive (Ireland), Joe Webb, stressed that newspapers were not looking for handouts, but simply wanted a level playing field. He said that existing legislation gave clear advantages to the State broadcaster.
RTE rejected the contention that its online activities prevented newspapers from pursuing a profitable online model.
It said NNI's call was "impractical, inaccurate and regressive" and claimed it was based on "a fundamentally flawed view of online activity".