The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) have written to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications asking it to urgently investigate the use of licence fee revenue by RTÉ to cover losses of over €13 million at 2FM in the 3 years between 2010 and 2012.
“There is a huge amount of confusion and uncertainty over how 2FM is funded and whether it is appropriate for RTÉ to use millions of euro of public money to prop up Irelands most expensive but least listened to music station,” said John Purcell, Chairman of IBI.
“For years in response to the questions raised by the IBI over whether it is appropriate for 2FM to be regarded as a “public service broadcaster” RTÉ repeated the mantra that 2FM was self – sufficient, generating its own revenues and not using any license fee money. We’ve always doubted this claim feeling that it was unlikely to be the case given the huge resources at the disposal of 2FM through the State broadcasting network. It now looks like they’ve changed their tune and are seeking to justify a massive injection of public funding on the basis that 2FM is somehow a public service broadcaster – this simply doesn’t wash with us.”
According to RTÉ’s own report it now appears that the gap caused by losses at 2FM in excess of €13 million over 3 years has been plugged by license fee revenue. The IBI says questions have to be asked as to whether this is appropriate and whether RTÉ has been upfront with the public about the costs of the station and how the sharing of services across RTÉ channels has been accounted for over the years.
“The support to 2FM has never been revealed in this way before and explodes the myth that 2FM is some sort of self- sufficient semi State broadcaster which has a neutral impact on public funding,” said John Purcell “There are stunning inconsistencies in the messages coming from RTÉ about 2FM that need to be investigated urgently”.
The new Head of 2 FM is on record as saying:
“2FM is 27 people in total – that’s about the same as a local radio station. It’s as lean as you are going to get but in here it is absolutely about value for the taxpayer”*
“How could a station of “27 people in total” which has just a little over 7% share of the Irish radio listening market according to independent research in the JNLR cost over €11 million to operate?” asks John Purcell. “This doesn’t look remotely like value for money and the vast majority of what is broadcast by 2FM could not be regarded as ‘public service broadcasting’. The question now has to be asked whether 2 FM should be kept on State financial life support”.
“2FM was established in 1979 in a different era, to play pop music aimed at young people when there were no legally licensed broadcasters other than RTÉ. With the passage of time 2FM has been totally eclipsed by independent radio stations, doing what 2FM used to do, doing it far better and at a fraction of the cost. Now, although 2FM has been relegated to being something of a fringe player in the Irish radio market it still enjoys funding from the license fee as if it was 1979 all over again“, said John Purcell. “The question has to be asked – “Has 2 FM outlived its usefulness?”
The IBI says that this issue feeds into the hugely important debate about the future shape of Irish broadcasting and it is seeking the involvement of the Joint Oireachtas Committee as the situation needs to be urgently addressed.
“Our members passionately believe in the value of broadcasting to society and the need to ensure that broadcasting serves the public, however for too long RTÉ has been “having its cake and eating it”. It has enjoyed an unrestricted commercial mandate and yet when it is faced with a loss making situation – such as that revealed at 2fm – it plugs the financial gap with public funding, without any reference to the type of service broadcast or the level of public interest in its offering. This situation is no longer tenable. Independent broadcasters meanwhile operate in a highly regulated environment, with onerous responsibilities as to the content we broadcast and with a requirement under the Broadcasting Act to provide costly news and current affairs output. If our members had the luxury of access to millions from public funding to support our operations over the last few years, job losses would have been avoided and indeed new jobs – multiples of the 27 jobs in 2FM – could have been created in the independent sector.”
The IBI says it will shortly be presenting proposals to the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte who is currently understood to be preparing new broadcasting legislation.
“The funding of 2FM throws open the whole question of what is public service broadcasting; who provides it and how should it be supported and nurtured. We’re asking the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communication and Minister Pat Rabbitte to put 2FM under the microscope as part of this process. It’s the elephant in the room that can no longer be ignored,” says John Purcell