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RTÉ's finances 'not sustainable' and are 'undermining its capacity to stay relevant'

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RTE (stock photo)

RTE (stock photo)

RTE (stock photo)

MINISTERS have been warned about the "devastating impact" the Covid-19 pandemic has had on broadcasting.

A briefing prepared by Communications Department officials set out the stark effect cuts to the advertising market will have on the sector.

RTÉ was already in difficulty before the coronavirus crisis recording a deficit before tax and exceptional items of €12.6m in 2018.

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RTE Director General Dee Forbes

RTE Director General Dee Forbes

RTE Director General Dee Forbes

Officials say its finances are "not sustainable and are undermining its capacity to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive and fragmented broadcasting sector while continuing to deliver on its statutory responsibilities as a public service broadcaster."

TG4 meanwhile is said to face a "very challenging financial environment as a result of Covid-19."

The briefing says that the Irish language broadcaster has suspended all non-essential programme-making.

And it has ensured that essential programmes like Nuacht TG4 and Cúla4 ar Scoil "are produced in a safe manner".

The briefing says that though licence fee revenues have risen by €10m since 2014, this has not prevented the emergence of a growing deficit at RTÉ.

It adds: "While the 2017 land sale provided some relief to RTÉ, allowing it to repay debt, fund severance schemes and undertake much needed capital investment, the underlying trends affecting RTÉ's financial and commercial position remain."

It says that RTÉ's Annual Report and Group Financial Statements for 2019 are not yet finalised.

The official outline draft figures for last year and an income statement outlook for 2020 but the data is redacted in the documents published today.

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Priorities for 2020 in relation to the broadcaster is said to be engagement in relation to RTÉ's financial position and the implementation of a revised strategy for the years 2020 to 2024.

TG4 meanwhile, is implementing a series of measures worth at least €3m aimed at trying to sustain the independent screen economy.

The officials say: "These include new development rounds for television programmes and feature films , the re-acquisition of rights and the commissioning of long-form and short-form content which can be produced safely."

The briefing says Government and HSE guidelines during the Covid-19 crisis have had a significant impact on the independent audio visual sector.
"TG4 is working with companies to maintain continuity of employment and to provide guidance and funding through this crisis.

"The new measures announced will help ensure that the sector is secure for now and also ready for the recovery period when it starts."

This afternoon, RTÉ said that in its Revised Strategy published last year “income was no longer sufficient to deliver against remit, or fulfil RTÉ's national role as originally intended.”

RTÉ said that the financial challenges were “a serious threat to the future of public media.”

A statement said RTÉ “remains in discussions with government regarding both our short term financial challenges and longer term reforms to fix the broken TV Licence funding system.”

RTE did not provide a detailed outline of its financial outlook for 2020.

But the statement said: “while there has been a steady industry demand for advertising on RTÉ in August, following a number of challenging months, the situation remains uncertain.

“Also, at this point it is impossible to predict what TV Licence income for the year will be.

“What is clear, however, is that Covid-19 has provided further evidence of the need to reform the TV Licence system, a system that has for many years been consistently losing in excess of €50m per year through evasion and avoidance, and which no longer reflects how people consume public service content,” RTÉ added.


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