Saturday 17 August 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: 'In a world of choice, no one would choose to pay for RTE'

The Irish people's troubled relationship with RTE won't be fixed by forcing them to stay together, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

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Stock photo

Eilis O'Hanlon

It has come to the attention of the Government that some people are popping in to Abrakebabra to use the loo without even buying so much as a side order of fries out of courtesy, and have decided as a result to impose a tax on every single person in the country to help out the fast food industry. See how outrageous that would be?

When it's RTE, suddenly it's considered an appropriate funding model to slap a levy on every home in order to make up for the 12pc of households who don't currently pay the licence fee.

Six One News actually carried a story about the proposed "device independent broadcasting charge" on the day it was announced which contained not a single word from anyone who disagreed with it. That's some achievement when you think about it, considering that most people's immediate reaction to the news was to marvel at how many new ways the Government can find to fleece them of their hard-earned money.

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One man in the report did question how exactly the charge would be collected, but the main concern of RTE director-general Dee Forbes was that the new charge wouldn't come in for another five years, and that money was "bleeding from the system" in the meantime.

RTE clearly has some cash-flow problems. It managed to lose more than €13m last year while ostensibly cutting costs. The answer isn't, though, to go full Fagin on the Irish public, picking the pockets of everyone with an electronic device.

In the past, it was easy to get out of paying the licence fee. Just don't have a TV. Simples. Now you're going to have to chip in for Ryan Tubridy's salary whether you like it or not just because you happen to own a phone. You might not even be watching anything on it. You might just be using it to WhatsApp your friends, or surf the internet. It doesn't matter. Cough up, suckers.

Even if they do use portable devices to stream programmes, it's unlikely that most people are choosing to catch up with How to Cook Well or You Should Really See a Doctor. RTE knows it.

Commenting on that €13m loss earlier this year, Ms Forbes pointed out that broadcasting exists in a "highly competitive" environment; but since when was the answer to competition to have the Government run a protection racket on behalf of firms which fail to keep up with changing times?

If asked to describe Irish people's relationship with RTE, most of us would say it's complicated. We go back a long way. We do have feelings for it, forged at the fireside watching Glenroe on a Sunday evening or The Late, Late Toy Show at Christmas.

But the deep feelings we might once have had just aren't there any more. There's a world of choice out there now. That's why RTE would have a fainting fit if forced to join the 21st Century by becoming a subscription service, because they know that few people would willingly pay so much money for the occasional half-decent documentary.

It's like wanting to break up with someone you've been with for years. You try to break the bad news gently, but they just won't take a hint. "It's not you, it's me," you say, hoping that will soften the blow. It's not true, because the problem is them, but you're trying to be nice. They keep saying: "Please let's give it another go."

Eventually, you just have to come right out with it. "Look," you say, "the truth is that you're actually really boring, and I've been seeing Netflix, and I just don't think there's a future for us. We've grown apart, that's all, why not just accept it?"

Then they say: "Sorry, no can do, I'm now going to send heavies round to your house to extract money with menaces in order to keep me in the style to which I've become accustomed."

And you think: "Well, that escalated quickly."

Relationships only work if they're mutually beneficial and based on consent.

This one is more like an arranged marriage, which we never asked to be in and now can't get out of. It's time to put in for an annulment.

Sunday Independent

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