The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) has called on the new Minister for Communications to urgently address the waste of precious public resources used to prop up RTÉ 2FM and ensure that action is taken to support real public service broadcasting.
The call comes in the wake of the publication of the latest radio listenership figures in the quarterly JNLR report which shows that RTÉ radio has 1.216 million listeners on a daily basis, included in this figure is the listenership of the pop music station 2FM which has slumped to just 366,000 daily listeners. This is in comparison with the combined independent radio stations across the country who command a massive 2.482 million listeners every day.
Overall the figures show that independent radio dominates the key weekday share of time spent listening to radio figure with 68.1% of the market share during peak daytime hours. RTÉ trails the independents with just 31.9%.
The IBI says that while the JNLR figures show that the public has “voted with its ears” in relation to 2FM, the RTÉ Annual Reports for 2012 – 2013 show for the first time the real cost to the public of 2FM.
“For many years RTÉ’s way of reporting obscured the public money used to subsidise 2FM and the line from RTÉ was always that the station was not in receipt of any license fee money,” said Lisa Ní Choisdealbha, Executive Director of the IBI “It is only recently that we have been able to isolate the amounts of license fee money that RTÉ is using to prop up 2FM.”
IBI says that recent RTÉ Annual Reports show that 2FM received at least €11.6 million between 2012 and 2013, a figure which it says it still has questions about considering that in addition to cash injections it believes that 2FM also benefits from huge non cash support from RTÉ which ultimately costs the license fee payers. All this for a station which according to RTÉ management has only 27 staff.
“2FM is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to policy decisions regarding the maintenance of a sustainable future for Irish radio broadcasting – whether State or independently owned”, said Lisa Ní Choisdealbha. “Alex White, the new Minister must act. For too long 2FM has had the best of all possible worlds, acting like a ruthless commercial operator when it suits its purposes and hiding behind RTÉ’s convenient cloak of a being a “public service broadcaster” when it needs the money to keep going . We are calling on the Minister to sensibly limit the currently unrestrained commercial mandate of RTÉ, which see tens of millions of euro poured into Montrose every year. 2FM is the most egregious example of this and the Government must address this while also ensuring the future of independent radio is secured”.
“The fact that the policy framework underpinning the current broadcasting regime in this country is unsustainable is acknowledged by politicians on all sides. It gives an unfair advantage to RTÉ, it cannot be justified and it needs to change. We have been exceedingly patient over the last number of years and have sought to engage in constructive dialogue with successive Ministers. Unfortunately it seems to have gotten us nowhere with the Government content to “kick the proverbial can down the road”. We are losing patience and will be “upping the ante” over the coming months.