Speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, at its meeting today Mr John Purcell, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) said that “Ireland’s broadcasting landscape is unfairly skewed in favour of RTÉ and legislative change is essential if Ireland’s unique broadcasting landscape involving both a healthy independent sector and a viable RTÉ is to be achieved”.
A delegation from the IBI, including Chairman John Purcell, Director Tim Collins and Executive Director Lisa Ní Choisdealbha addressed the Committee on the creation of a fair broadcasting sector and how public monies can best be spent to achieve this.
“The success of independent local, regional and national radio stations can be seen in the comprehensive lead in listenership we have over RTÉ in every franchise area in the country. We are providing a level of service to listeners that cannot be matched by the State owned broadcaster. Nearly the entire licence fee goes to RTÉ despite the fact that they also have a strong commercial mandate. Despite the huge public service contribution of independent radio stations we are almost completely excluded from public funding” said IBI Chairman John Purcell.
“Even though we have 70% of the market share in radio listenership our members are struggling in a commercial environment where revenues have fallen by up to 40% in recent years. The impact of this decline will have a disastrous effect on the programmes that can be delivered by independent stations unless the Oireachtas takes steps to reform an unfair broadcasting environment” continued Purcell.
“While we recognise the need for a healthy and “fit for purpose” State broadcaster, the current system not only enables RTÉ to have an unfettered commercial mandate, it also allows it to monopolise the vast majority of public monies and gives it the luxury of largely being able to write its own rules in huge areas of its operations,” John Purcell told the Committee. “The State broadcaster is permitted to pay vastly inflated salaries to some of its broadcasters, is permitted to run a huge deficit and can set up new services without seeking the permission of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. At the same time it can slash areas of vital public service such as maintaining a London Bureau.”
The funding of the industry regulator the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is also a major bone of contention with the IBI. “Independent Broadcasters are forced to pay a levy to fund the industry regulator based on a percentage of commercial revenue. RTE’s contribution is not only subsidised by the license fee but because of the scale of the support they receive from the license fee it is proportionally a far smaller amount that what IBI members pay.” Purcell told the Committee
Accepting that legislation is required to rectify the situation, the IBI called on the Oireachteas Committee to press Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte on the introduction of the legislation. “What we are seeking is quite simple,” said Purcell, “legislation needs to be drafted to:
- Introduce the new Public Broadcasting Charge to replace the television licence fee;
- Provide for Public Service Broadcasting on Independent radio stations
- Define and limit the commercial mandate of RTÉ
- Fund the BAI through the Public Broadcasting Charge
Any change to the broadcasting sector must be based on the interests of the audience and this in turn has to begin from the basis that that status quo is unfair and is unsustainable.