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A new report presented to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) by independent consultants Crowe Howarth supports the claims made by independent broadcasters that they should have access to public funding for programming that provides a service to the public.

That’s according to John Purcell, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland the organisation representing Ireland’s independent radio broadcasters.

The report into the BAI administered Sound and Vision Scheme which since 2010 has distributed a total of €43.5 million to make radio and television programmes on both State and Independent Broadcasters examined the funding of public service programming on Irish media outlets.

The report found that “public service programming is not the exclusive preserve of RTÉ” and pointed out that the current situation which pertains in relation to the publicly funded Sound and Vision Scheme which benefits both State and Independent broadcasters, clearly undermines RTÉ’s position as having an automatic entitlement to all of the funding available for public service broadcasting.

Welcoming the report, John Purcell said that the document which has been adopted by the BAI and sent to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte is an enormously significant addition to the debate on the future viability of Irish broadcasting.

“The IBI has long being making the case that independent radio stations which are obliged under the terms of their licenses to provide a minimum of 20% public service content should have access to license fee revenue,” said Purcell.  “This money is currently ring fenced for RTÉ. The report makes clear that RTÉ, who as well as having a public service obligation also operate in a purely commercial manner and are effectively ‘having their cake and eating it’. The report also makes it clear, indeed it explicitly acknowledges that our member stations have a valid role to play in broadcasting public service content to Irish audiences and this should be supported by license fee funding.”

Furthermore he says the report highlights international and European examples where this practice is already in operation.

“In New Zealand for example all money raised through broadcast licensing is distributed between State owned and Independent broadcasters based on the type of material they provide while closer to home in Croatia a portion of the license fee is distributed directly to regional and local broadcasters,” according to Purcell.

“Sound and Vision makes funding available for a narrow range of programming, with the advent of the new broadcasting charge due to come into being in the near future, the time is now right to open up the funding of news, sport and information programming to independent broadcasters as well as to RTÉ,” according to John Purcell.

“Minister Rabbitte needs to give serious consideration to the findings of this report and ensure that its conclusions and recommendations are reflected in the legislation currently being drafted by his Department.  There is a fundamentally unfair divide in the way that current public policy is applied to RTÉ and independent broadcasters and the notion that RTÉ has a monopoly on public service is as absurd as it is untrue. Much more importantly it is an insult to the 67% of the audience who choose Independent radio as their station of choice every day. Minister Rabbitte has the opportunity to redefine public service broadcasting so that it reflects where the listeners are as opposed to who is controlling the broadcast.“

The Crowe Horwath report on Sound and Vision is available on the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources website here