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Tuesday 20 February 2018

To suggest that Newstalk is not public service is plain nonsense

How can we choose which broadcasters to subsidise when they're all offering the same thing, writes John Masterson


John Masterson

Pat Kenny used to be a public service broadcaster when he was with RTE - but now that he's on Newstalk and TV3, he apparently isn't. Riddle me that.

The world changes all of the time and you can always rely on the Government to be the last to notice. I racked my brains for the last time I saw vision from a political leader.

I had to go back to Micheal Martin and the smoking ban - a world first. The current lot can't even contemplate a sugar tax.

The broadcasting world has changed beyond recognition in the last quarter-century but we still labour under the notion that RTE does public service and needs a massive subsidy, while the commercial sector does worthless rubbish and should survive on advertising alone.

I am not against the public financing good programmes. I value journalism. We need standards - because social-media keyboard warriors have none. That got three of us talking about radio last weekend. One, a teacher, was now listening mostly to Newstalk. The other, stayed with RTE. Our listening was largely between Radio 1, Newstalk and local radio. We took out a newspaper and compared the national stations.

I get up at 6.30am. Newstalk has a business programme. RTE has music. From 7am to 9am there is news and current affairs on both. Then both stations give us features and current affairs for three hours, with Pat Kenny against Ryan Tubridy and Sean O'Rourke. Midday and RTE is back to music, before both are back to news.

Then take your pick between Joe Duffy and Sean Moncrieff, followed on both stations with similar Drivetime programmes until 7pm. Then Newstalk goes sporty and RTE a bit artsy before Tom Dunne's music vs John Creedon or Fiachna O Braonain's.

Good broadcasting in either schedule. But we could not come up with a good reason why only one should be subsidised. To say that Newstalk is not public service is patent nonsense. And paradoxically it is by doing public service that the local radio stations (in which I declare an interest in KCLR96FM as a shareholder and presenter), get their audiences and beat the nationals hands down by two to one countrywide. These are small businesses which survive on advertising and effort.

Every politician I have discussed this with says it is wrong and will change. When? I haven't seen any of them with a plan.

I spent happy years working in RTE TV. I know RTE has additional responsibilities. But just as there is real public service programming in radio, so there is with television - and TV3 doesn't get a penny.

No politician can talk about money shortage in this case. What is needed is a bit of vision to rearrange the sharing of the pie and that is in the interest of a well-informed democracy.

Sunday Independent

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